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Ranking the top 5 defensive tackles in the 2019 NFL Draft

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The group has the Eagles’ attention.. who should they target?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We know the Philadelphia Eagles love this defensive line class. Is that love justified? For the interior defensive linemen, there surely isn’t a lack of top end talent. This could help push down other excellent interior prospects throughout the draft. The depth of the class isn’t what I thought it would be, but there’s a good mix of specialists once you get past the obvious headliners.

I’ve finished preliminary grading on the top of the class and present to you, gentle reader, my pre-Combine rankings.

Important Context You’ve Already Scrolled Past:

  • Height/weight listings are from (probably unreliable) school listings unless otherwise noted.
  • Players listed have at least 3 games of film study done.
  • Final Grade results from a formula that takes into account universal factors (play strength, mental processing, etc.) and position-specific traits (use of hands, first step explosiveness, pass rush ability, etc.)
  • Grading not final. More film may be required & athleticism score includes elements of athletic testing.

1. QUINNEN WILLIAMSAlabama (6’4”, 295)

My top ranked player in the entire class, Williams is a slam dunk lock to be off the board in lightning speed. In his first full season as a starter, he racked up 8 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. That’s tremendous production for an interior defensive lineman.

Williams has the first step, heavy hands, flexibility, motor and a full toolbox of pass rush moves that teams will covet. His games against LSU and Ole Miss were two of the best films I’ve seen from any player this year. You won’t find an easier evaluation in this years’ class.

Summary: Immediate impact starter. Run to the podium.

Grade: 85.7 (Early 1st Round)

2. ED OLIVERHouston (6’3”, 292)

Oliver received a ton of hype coming into the season, but he failed to move the needle further in 2018. The 2017 film looks very similar, which is where the problem lies. Well, not really a problem, as he’s still an incredible prospect. Still, Oliver failed to develop counters and improve on his hand usage while being embroiled in a weird situation with his coaching staff.

There are also some concerns over Oliver’s size and some teams have reportedly considered moving him to linebacker. That listing of 292 pounds feels like a big fat lie, but I’m not as concerned as others. If teaching a potentially dominant 3-tech to be a linebacker seems foolish, it’s because it probably is. Besides, if you’re interested in rewiring Oliver’s brain to read runs from an off-ball alignment and teach him how coverage works, you probably won’t value him high enough to draft him anyway.

Oliver is a 3-tech, plain and simple. He may need to add 10 pounds to be effective from that alignment in the NFL, but he’s likely only a loaf of bread a day away from reaching that mark.

All that aside, Oliver remains a disruptive force with crazy athleticism for his size. A potential move to linebacker wouldn’t even be discussed if he wasn’t a freak on the move. He’ll have issues with play strength against gap schemes, but more times than not he’s going to beat you with his explosiveness and flexibility. Top tier prospect.

Summary: Immediate starter at 3-tech and instant upgrade to pass rush.

Grade: 81.0 (Early/Mid 1st Round)

3. JEFFERY SIMMONSMississippi State (6’4”, 310)

Love the player, hate the backstory. It’s going to be a challenge for teams to balance those two aspects. On one hand you have a monster of a man that is a force against the run and pass. On the other, do you want to make the face of your draft haul a player that pleaded “no contest” to simple assault on a woman?

On the field, Simmons has a red hot motor with the range to consistently make plays outside of the core of the formation. His length and get off allow him to secure his gap early in the rep and his 18 tackles for a loss in 2018 speak to those qualities.

Simmons’ polish as a pass rusher is always on display, which is a heavily weighted factor in my grading formula. He’s going to provide a solid interior push along with clean wins in passing situations.

Summary: Immediate, 3-down starter. Background flag.

Grade: 80.3 (Early/Mid 1st Round)

4. CHRISTIAN WILKINSClemson (6’4”, 315)

Wilkins just gets after it. Whatever he lacks in length, he more than makes up for with high quality traits. He understands how to use his hands and read his keys while possessing good balance and flexibility. He also has better movement skills than you would expect from a man his size. A dog in pursuit, Wilkins is a playmaker whether being run at or away from.

Wilkins works from snap-to-whistle and will refuse to stay blocked in passing situations. Does a great job leveraging himself into a position to disengage and brings the requisite juice needed to be productive in the NFL. You’ll see his name linked to the Eagles a ton as we work through the pre-draft process.

Summary: Immediate starter from multiple inside alignments. 3-down player.

Grade: 74.6 (Early 2nd Round)

5. DRE’MONT JONESOhio State (6’3”, 286)

If Jones had better discipline with his pad level he’d be a first round prospect. Freeze frame him at the first step after the snap and too often he’s the highest player off the ball. This is going to lead to him getting washed out of plays when a lower pad level would’ve given him a fighting chance.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about why I still value Jones so highly. First off, dude can boogie. We’re talking fantastic quickness and bend around the arc from the interior, which should show up in his Combine numbers. 13 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2018 point to his disruptive ability.

You’ll be able to move him around in passing situations, which plays well into what the Eagles like to do with their front four. Jones may start his career as a situational pass rusher until he adds bulk and gains polish, but defensive line coaches should be salivating over his skill set.

Summary: Situational pass rusher with future 3-down starter potential.

Grade: 69.6 (Late 2nd Round)

Rounding Out the Group…

  • TexasCharles Omenihu is a player a value highly that is going to require more vetting on my end. There’s a very good chance he ends up grading higher than Dre’Mont Jones, but more tape study is needed. The first two games I watched of him were against fast paced offenses in Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which made the entire defense gas out quick. Is it a cause for concern? Probably not, as Omenihu has showed much better in the other games I’ve viewed. Tough evaluation, but a very good player regardless.
  • Michigan’s Rashan Gary is a frustrating evaluation that will likely test well and go high, but is he an interior defensive lineman? I think he’s a strong side defensive end that you’ll need to kick inside for passing downs. I currently have a second round grade on Gary. His lack of consistency, sputtering motor, and lack of a plan as a pass rusher are to prevalent on film for me to feel comfortable selecting him in the first round.
  • The Combine will be important for Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, who has some stiffness to his lower body that’s accentuated by pad level issues. 7 sacks in 2018 is hard to ignore and right now providing an interior push will be his early path to success while the rest of his game develops. Risky boom-bust prospect. Fit with the right coaching staff will be key.
  • Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence keeps getting mocked in the first round, and to the Eagles as well, but I don’t see the appeal. I left his summer evaluation of 2017 film underwhelmed, but gave him the benefit of the doubt due to a foot injury. In 2018 I saw more of the same. He’s going to be a fantastic run defender, but I have serious questions about his ability to stay on the field in passing situations. How much value you place on run defense will dictate how much you value Lawrence. My grading system has more of an emphasis on rushing the passer, which pushes him down the board.
  • Arizona State’s Renell Wren takes care of his gap, which is nice, but that’s about it. Too many plays he’s in position to make go right around him. There’s still enough there to like as a reliable run defender, if you’re into that kind of thing. I kind of am, but mainly in the Day 3 range.
  • Texas A&M’s Daylon Mack impressed during Shrine Week, which earned him a meeting with the Eagles. He was then bumped up to the Senior Bowl where he continued to have a solid pre-draft process.

“The 320-pounder racked up 5.5 sacks in 2018, but still has plenty of room to refine his pass rushing. Early in his career Mack will have to earn his keep as a run stuffer, where his low center of gravity will allow him to control the point of attack against double teams.” - Me, Michael Kist

  • More film study needed on Alabama’s Isaiah Buggs and Miami’s Gerald Willis but early returns indicate they would not threaten the top 5 of the group.