Luke Easterling's 2016 NFL Draft interior defensive line rankings

My full interior defensive line rankings for the 2016 NFL Draft.

*Interior defensive line refers to any prospect projected to play either 4-3 DT or 3-4 DE.


1. DeForest Buckner | Oregon | 6'7" | 291 | Senior | 1st Round

Versatility is king in today's NFL, and few defenders in this year's draft have as much as Buckner. His rare blend of size, power and athleticism should allow him to play just about anywhere along the defensive line in any scheme, though his best fit will be as a 5-technique in a 3-4. No matter where he lines up, he's a rare athlete who could be a key building block for any NFL defense.

2. Sheldon Rankins | Louisville | 6'1" | 299 | Senior | 1st Round

There's something for everyone at the top of this position group, and if your team is looking for an explosive 3-technique who wins with quickness, power and leverage, Rankins is your guy. His film is inconsistent because of how often he was asked to line up at end, but he showed at the Senior Bowl how dominant he can be in one-on-one situations against interior blockers.

3. Robert Nkemdiche | Mississippi | 6'3" | 294 | Junior | 1st Round

The questions about his character and work ethic will certainly merit plenty of digging by NFL front offices, but Nkemdiche is still a rare talent who could warrant a top-five pick based on his physical ability alone. He still needs to refine his technique quite a bit, but in the right situation, he could use his incredible blend of size, explosiveness and power to become a star at the next level.

4. Jonathan Bullard | Florida | 6'3" | 285 | Senior | 1st Round

Bullard played both inside and outside for the Gators, but his best fit at the next level is at defensive tackle in a 4-3. He's explosive and violent at the point of attack, using his combination of quickness, power and a nasty mean streak to blow up run plays in the backfield and make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks by collapsing the pocket from the inside.

5. Vernon Butler | Louisiana Tech | 6'4" | 323 | Senior | 1st Round

It's not often a man of Butler's size could be considered a "rare athlete", but he certainly fits that description. Butler jumps off the tape with his massive frame and sudden, explosive playing style, with powerful hands and impressive agility. He could play anywhere from the nose to a 5-technique in the NFL, which will add to his value. He was one of many defensive tackles who impressed during Senior Bowl week.

6. Jarran Reed | Alabama | 6'3" | 307 | Senior | 1st Round

He may not be the flashy, pass-rushing type, but Reed is the best pure run-stuffer in this entire group. Many of his teammates got more attention last season, but Reed was quietly a driving force behind arguably the nation's most dominant defensive front. Stick him at the 5-technique and forget about that spot for the next 10 years.

7. A'Shawn Robinson | Alabama | 6'4" | 307 | Junior | 1st Round

Speaking of massive run-stuffers coming out of Tuscaloosa, Robinson was the anchor in the middle that helped set the tone for another title run for the Tide in 2015. Like Reed, he won't give you much in terms of pass-rushing production, but he can collapse the pocket and create chaos for opposing quarterbacks, while eating up space in the run game. Though he played nose tackle in college, he's a better fit at the 5-technique in the NFL.

8. Kenny Clark | UCLA | 6'3" | 314 | Junior | 2nd Round

Make that three run-defending specialists in a row. Clark is another versatile player who lined up in multiple spots for the Bruins, using his stout frame and solid technique to anchor against the run with consistent success. He's more space-eater than quick disruptor, but he's still got room to grow and could quickly develop into a quality NFL starter with scheme versatility.

9. Andrew Billings | Baylor | 6'1" | 311 | Junior | 2nd Round

Few players in this class jump off the tape with the kind of power and explosiveness Billings has, which is why you're likely to find him higher on many other boards. But while I love his physical tools and motor, Billings still has a lot of rough edges to smooth out in his game if he wants to maximize that talent. His inconsistent read/react ability too often renders his positive traits irrelevant, but he's a promising player who could be dominant with good coaching.

10. Javon Hargrave | South Carolina State | 6'1" | 309 | Senior | 2nd Round

Hargrave's performance during this year's Shrine Game practices sent many analysts running back to his tape, myself included. What we all found was an undersized but explosive and powerful defender who uses his lack of height to his advantage by getting consistent leverage against his opponents and taking effective angles to the ball.

11. Austin Johnson | Penn State | 6'4" | 314 | RS Junior | 2nd Round

Big enough to play nose tackle but athletic enough to play the 3-technique or 5-technique, Johnson is yet another versatile player in this group who can eat up space but also cut through double-teams to make plays in the backfield. The depth of this position group could end up pushing him down the board a bit, which could make him a steal.

12. Hassan Ridgeway | Texas | 6'3" | 303 | RS Junior | 2nd Round

I got to Ridgeway's film a bit later than many others, but once I got there, I found a player who could end up being one of the true gems of this entire draft class. He showed the ability to consistently beat his opponents in just about every way possible (quickness, power, technique), and he could be one of the biggest steals of the draft if he comes off the board anywhere near his current 3rd-4th round projections.

13. Jihad Ward | Illinois | 6'5" | 297 | Senior | 2nd Round

For some prospects, it's all about "what can he be/do", not "what has he been/done". That's Ward in a nutshell. His usage and production in college doesn't even come close to telling the story of what he's capable of physically. Getting a front-row seat to his performance during Senior Bowl week, I saw a massive, versatile player with quickness and power who is barely scratching the surface of his potential.

14. Chris Jones | Mississippi State | 6'6" | 310 | Junior | 2nd Round

Fans would do well to forget his wardrobe malfunction while running the 40 at the combine and pay more attention to his tape, where Jones flashed the kinds of things NFL decision-makers will be much more interested in. Jones can line up inside in a 4-3 or at the 5-technique in a 3-4, and has the frame to even add some more bulk and play nose tackle, if necessary. His combination of natural talent and solid technique should allow him to have an instant impact at the next level.

15. Bronson Kaufusi | BYU | 6'6" | 285 | Senior | 3rd Round

He's not a dynamic edge-rushing playmaker like his former teammate, Ziggy Ansah, but Kaufusi is another raw talent with impressive athleticism who has his best football ahead of him. That's saying something, too, considering his production for the Cougars over his career, but Kaufusi has the frame to add some bulk and play the 5-technique in a 3-4, or even stay in the 280s and play strong-side end in a 4-3.

16. Adolphus Washington | Ohio State | 6'3" | 301 | Senior | 3rd Round

17. Maliek Collins | Nebraska | 6'2" | 311 | Junior | 3rd Round

18. Sheldon Day | Notre Dame | 6'1" | 293 | Senior | 3rd Round

19. Willie Henry | Michigan | 6'3" | 303 | RS Junior | 3rd Round

20. Ronald Blair | Appalachian State | 6'2" | 284 | RS Senior | 3rd Round

21. D.J. Reader | Clemson | 6'3" | 327 | Senior | 4th Round

22. Matt Ioaniddis | 6'3" | 299 | Senior | 4th Round

23. Aziz Shittu | 6'2" | 284 | RS Junior | 5th Round

24. Shawn Oakman | 6'8" | 287 | RS Senior | 5th Round

25. Adam Gotsis | Georgia Tech | 6'4" | 287 | Senior | 6th Round

26. Lawrence Thomas | Michigan State | 6'3" | 286 | RS Senior | 6th Round

27. Nile Lawrence-Stample | Florida State | 6'1" | 320 | RS Senior | 6th Round

28. Trevon Coley | Florida Atlantic | 6'1" | 307 | Senior | 6th Round

29. Antwaun Woods | USC | 6'0" | 318 | RS Senior | 6th Round

30. Luther Maddy | Virginia Tech | 6'0" | 287 | Senior | 6th Round

31. Dean Lowry | Northwestern | 6'6" | 296 | Senior | 7th Round

32. Connor Wujciak | Boston College | 6'2" | 291 | RS Senior | 7th Round

33. Quinton Jefferson | Maryland | 6'4" | 291 | RS Junior | 7th Round

34. Delvon Simmons | USC | 6'5" | 295 | RS Senior | 7th Round

35. A.J. Zuttah | Dartmouth | 6'2" | 290 | Senior | 7th Round


Gerald McCoy is set at one defensive tackle spot, but the rest of the unit is full of question marks. Both Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence have struggled with injuries, and may lack the versatility to be effective in defensive coordinator Mike Smith's new hybrid scheme. With Tony McDaniel and Henry Melton not returning, there's not much depth, either. This is easily the deepest position in this year's draft, and there are plenty of versatile players who would be perfect fits in Tampa Bay. It's not one of their biggest needs, but the Bucs would be wise to take advantage of such a strong class and address the position early.

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