As we get closer to draft night on the 25th of this month, Turn On The Jets lead NFL Draft Editor, Chris Gross, will be doing a series of positional rankings that will highlight the top 10 players in this year’s draft, by position. Today, we begin with a look at our top 10 defensive tackle prospects. Be sure to check back, as we will continue our rankings series right through the start of round one in just under a month from now.
1.) Sharrif Floyd, Florida – 6’3″ 297 lbs – Floyd, to me, is the best player in this draft, albeit by a small margin over the likes of a few of the other top players in this year’s class. While Floyd is very quick and powerful, it is his motor that separates him from the rest of the defensive tackle draft hopefuls. Relentless pursuit and drive combine with what may be the best hand technique and footwork at the position since Ndamukong Suh was coming out of Nebraska in 2010. While Floyd may not possess the pure power of Suh, his overall game can allow him to be equally disruptive at the next level. Floyd projects best as a playmaking 3 technique in a 4-3 scheme, but his qualities will allow him to succeed in any position in any scheme along the interior of the defensive front.
2.) Star Lotulelei, Utah – 6’2″ 311 lbs – There is certainly some parity between Floyd and Lotulelei. While Lotulelei has some medical concerns, it does not seem serious enough for teams to shy away from his tremendous talent. While his style of play is more about explosive power than agility, in comparison to Floyd, Lotulelei certainly does posses the elite level of quickness that is necessary to be dominant at the position at the next level. His motor is nearly on par with Floyd’s, but doesn’t quite show the same recovery skills in working in a second move if his first fails. He projects best as 3-4 NT, but has the versatility to slide out to a 1 or 3 technique, which will be useful for nickel sub packages. Overall, Lotulelei is certainly a top 10 talent. It would be difficult to see him slide past Tennessee at 10, but in an extremely unpredictable draft, anything is possible.
3.) Sheldon Richardson, Missouri – 6’2″ 294 lbs – While Richardson isn’t as complete as Floyd or Lotulelei, he has a rare athletic skill set for the position and should transition very nicely to the NFL. He has a tremendous first step getting off the ball, uses his hands very well – in terms of keeping the opposing offensive lineman’s hands off of him – while showing an excellent arsenal of escape moves and overall maneuverability. He has a very good, consistent, motor and has shown a high level of versatility. Richardson has proven to be effective as a 1 technique, a 3 technique, and shows an ability to get to the edge on stunts. His motor ranks right up at the top of this class, as he constantly chases down plays from behind or to the opposite side of the field. His leverage consistency isn’t as good as most would like it to be, but that is a very coachable aspect of his game that he can improve upon moving forward.
4.) Sylvester Williams, North Carolina – 6’3″ 313 lbs – After the top 3 defensive tackle prospects, I do believe there to be some talent drop off. Williams is ahead of the remaining prospects on this list by a decent amount, but I’m not sure he’s quite to the level of Floyd, Lotulelei, or Richardson just yet. That being said, Williams is a very aggressive defensive tackle. He uses his hands very well to evade the initial move by the opposing offensive lineman and has seemingly developed a knack for evading blocks at the point of attack. He has a very quick first step with extremely active hands. Going through about 5 games of his from 2012, I lost track of how many double teams he was facing last year. In response, Williams developed an uncanny ability to split double teams and get through to the opposing backfield. When he doesn’t split them, he does a very good job of holding his ground and not getting driven off the line of scrimmage. He is deceptively elusive for the position and will do well at the next level.
5.) Bennie Logan, LSU, 6’2″ 309 lbs – Logan seems to be overlooked by some, most likely due to the fact that he was overshadowed by some immense talent on the LSU defense last year, but I think he has the talent, motor, and tools to be a force at the position for years to come at the next level. Like many of their defensive playmakers last year, LSU schemed to have Logan play a good amount reading the flow of opposing offensive lineman, and playing laterally, rather than as a pure penetrator. Logan has a knack to read and react to blocks quickly, while adjusting to the flow of the play without giving up ground at the line of scrimmage. He does an excellent job of fighting across the face of the blocker to get back to the ball carrier, once the ball carrier commits. In his pass rush, he may not always get to the quarterback, but he constantly works upfield, working in move after move, and more often than not, does a good job of getting in the quarterback’s face and forcing him to move outside. I think Logan surprises a lot of people with the quality of play he will bring to his next team.
6.) Kawann Short, Purdue – 6’3″ 299 lbs – Short is a player that I thought stood out at the Senior Bowl. Throughout the week of practice and into the game, he was proving to be very powerful with good short area quickness. He demonstrated a strong initial punch and generally played with great leverage. The issue is his consistency. His 2012 tape shows flashes of how he played at Senior Bowl week, but there are stretches where he gets flushed out of his gap or ridden too far upfield, creating some cutback lanes underneath him. The talent and size are certainly there for Short, but I’d like to see him do what he does so well more consistently. If he can do that, there is no doubt that he will be a successful defensive tackle at the next level.
7.) Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia – 6’4″ 346 lbs – Jenkins is a very intriguing prospect due to his immense size and overall power. At 346 lbs, he profiles as an excellent 3-4 NT, with the ability to occupy multiple blockers and keep them off of linebackers at the second level. Athletically, he shows some good flashes for his size, but I don’t see him as the disruptor that one of the players aforementioned can be. That being said, he has experience two-gapping from Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, and I think if he can improve his overall agility and lateral mobility, he has the tools to become dominant for the position, however, I wouldn’t expect him to be a heavy penetrating interior defensive lineman.
8.) Jesse Williams, Alabama – 6’4″ 323 lbs – Williams is another very intriguing Alabama defensive prospect. He has immense upper body strength and can be a force with it when he plays with the proper leverage. What concerns me is his reliance upon this. There were times at Alabama when he would seemingly want to be a world beater and take on double teams with that terrific upper body strength, only to sacrifice his leverage, not get a quality base from the hips down, and get moved off of the ball. Conversely, he has very good athleticism and maneuverability. Where he fits is interesting. He has the size and strength to play NT in a 3-4, but will his leverage inconsistencies kill him there in the NFL? Athletically, he can probably slide out to a 3 technique or possibly a 5 technique as a 3-4 DE. His physical style of play can grow into something similar to Justin Smith, but he has to develop a better habit of maintaining that leverage and using all of his strength to take on blocks, rather than just his upper body.
9.) Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, 6’3″ 320 lbs – While Hankins is another big, strong defensive tackle prospect, there are some holes in his game. He relies upon his very good initial charge at the point of attack, but doesn’t demonstrate a great amount of escapability. Too often, he seems to get locked up with the opposing offensive lineman, seemingly trying to go right through them, rather than working in an escape move to shed the block and penetrate the backfield or get to the ball carrier. This becomes apparent in his pass rush, particularly when two linemen are being used to block him. That being said, I think Hankins has some of the physical tools to succeed at the next level. Strength is good, mobility is average, but fundamentally, he will need to get more consistently creative. I don’t see him making the immediate impact of some of the guys ranked higher on this list, but there is certainly the talent and tools needed to be coached into an effective player in a couple of years.
10.) Jordan Hill, Penn State, 6’1″ 303 lbs – Hill, to me, has one of the best motors in this class. While he may be limited due to his height, he has all the tools necessary to be a successful defensive tackle in the right role. It is tough to project him as an every down player because of his size limitations, but the tenacity, drive, and work ethic he plays with will make him an excellent rotational player, similar to a Mike DeVito type. He is explosive, deceptively strong, and extremely quick. He reads blocks well and screams down the line of scrimmage in pursuit. His lack of height cold be a concern without the proper reach to get extension and separation, but the leverage and quality hand placement he plays with have allowed him to compensate for it thus far. The question remains, however, will it be enough at the next level?