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Ranking the top 10 interior defensive linemen in the 2019 NFL Draft

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This year’s class features depth and star power.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL Draft gets a lot of hype for the edge rushers headlining the class, but the group of interior defensive line prospects deserves serious excitement. This class could see anywhere from four to maybe even seven defensive tackles taken in the first round. Here’s how they stack up.

Rankings are based on tape and workouts. I am neither a doctor nor a team official who can quantify how injury or character concerns impact projection. Concerns are noted but not factored into the ranking.

10. Isaiah Buggs, Alabama: Many will argue the Crimson Tide defender benefited from another player on this list, but taking advantage of favorable matchups is a great quality. Buggs had impressive production (9.5 sacks, 13.5 TFL) and is a quick twitch athlete. Teams are concerned about size and motor, but at the least Buggs has a place in the NFL as a pass rushing specialist.

9. Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois: A Senior Bowl star, Khalen Saunders has a unique build at six foot and 324 pounds. Saunders was very disruptive at Western Illinois and teams will be drawn into his stoutness against the run and how he uses leverage and a high motor to attack quarterbacks.

8. Gerald Willis, Miami: It’s hard to ignore anyone who tacks on 18 TFLs in a season. Gerald Willis was a big time player for Miami this year and teams project the 6’1”, 304 pound tackle as a classic three-technique. He is more adroit as run defender than a pass rusher. Willis has some off field questions to be answered regarding passed suspensions and his transfer from Florida, but there’s no question what Willis can provide on the field.

7. Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State: With Nick Bosa out most of the season, Dre’ Jones was Ohio State’s star prospect on defense in the fall. The 6’2”, 280 pound defender will raise a lot questions about size and fit in the NFL, but it is hard to ignore how consistently disruptive he was. Jones checks all the athletic boxes and has a high motor to match. Can he overcome his size to be as productive in the NFL?

6. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson: Dexter Lawrence burst onto the scene as a freshman and hasn’t looked back. The 340 pound tackle is a unique athlete who can disrupt on every down. While he doesn’t produce eye-popping numbers, his ability to free up blockers for his teammates is an invaluable trait.

5. Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame: Jerry Tillery was the cornerstone of Notre Dame’s defense this year. He is a huge player at 6’6” with room to add weight to his frame. He’s a fantastic pass rusher with flashes against the run. Murmurs of character questions have come to light, but Tillery will have a lot of teams on the hook for his talent alone.

4. Christian Wilkins, Clemson: Christian Wilkins will be seen as one of “slam dunk” players in this year’s class. While his ceiling isn’t as high as some of his peers, Wilkins checks all the boxes for a very good player right now. Not only is he a good athlete who produces and disrupts on every down, he is by all accounts a stand-up person and teammate. Wilkins graduated in less than 3 years and is viewed as a leader by teammates and coaches. This sort outstanding character isn’t a prerequisite to being a great football player, but teams have already probably fallen in love with Wilkins the person.

3. Jeffrey Simmons, Mississippi State: Simmons has had a tumultuous offseason to say the least. He didn’t get invited to he combine due to an altercation he got into a few years ago that got him in a lot of trouble. Simmons then tore an ACL during offseason workouts. Simmons is no doubt a very good player who had 18 TFLs for the Bulldogs this year, but teams will see a lot of risk in taking him early.

2. Ed Oliver, Houston: I think that Ed Oliver was great for so long that people got bored of just how damn good he is. Oliver’s name fell slightly out of favor when his junior year ended early, but there’s very little room between him and the best player in the class. Oliver had 53 TFLs in 32 career games and his athletic testing is off the charts. Oliver will get dinged for not producing as a pass rusher, but the way teams honed in on him during passing downs explains why he only had 13.5 sacks in three years. Oliver is going to be a special NFL player.

1. Quinnen Williams, Alabama: For many, Quinnen Williams is the best player in the class. Williams had a tremendous year for Alabama, tallying 19.5 TFLs and eight sacks. Despite being a first year starter and only a redshirt-sophomore; Williams displayed veteran instincts every game. Teams might worry a bit about Williams playing under 300 pounds as a defensive tackle, but he was unstoppable at Alabama.