Eric Galko, Optimum Scouting
In recent years, from Marcel Dareus to Ndamukong Suh to Gerald McCoy, teams are focusing on the interior defensive line thanks to its value in setting up the pass rush as well as generating pressure without sending extra blitzers.
While this draft class isn't going to have the top 5 DT pick that we've seen in years past, but here are the next five defensive tackles to watch in round one this year.
1. Devon Still, Penn State
While the rushers below him may be better athletes in some ways and "flash" on film more, none have been as consistent, as important to their team both as a leader and on the field, and can't stop the run as well as Devon Still. He could move over to a 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme, but ideally, he'd be a great nose tackle in 4-3 scheme where he can consistently take up two blockers and use his reaction and vision to be a run defense staple. He still gets too high off the snap and could keep his hands inside more efficiently, but he has all the makings of a defensive tackle stable force.
2. Dontari Poe, Memphis
Such a tough prospect to project and has been subject of many debates in NFL war rooms. Poe wasn't very productive, didn't show a consistent stream of pass rush or ability to take on two blockers, and isn't quite an ideal nose tackle for 3-4 teams as of now. But his athletic ability, high ceiling, and likely mold-ability into whatever DL coach gets him, he could be a nose tackle (or 5-technique) version of Haloti Ngata at the next level despite lackluster college production.
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We've seen Fletcher Cox shoot up draft boards, and in some ways for good reasons. When a defensive tackle with his ideal size, flashing ability at 3 and 5-technique in college, was productive and dominant at times in college, AND is still very raw, it's hard to pass on Cox. He still needs quite a bit of technique work before he can utilize his abilities against NFL offensive lines, but his ceiling is through the roof, and that could make Top 10 teams bite.
4. Brandon Thompson, Clemson
Sometimes lost in the shuffle, Thompson didn't have the dominating year some scouts were expecting. However, despite not flashing as much as his SEC counterparts nor the Combine winner Poe, Thompson still should a consistent burst off the line, great hand placement and decisiveness off the line, and plays within himself as well as any defensive line prospect in the draft. He could be a quick gap shooting nose tackle, a 3-technique for some schemes, and play 5-techinque as well. He may not appear as "imposing" as the defensive tackles around him, but Thompson wouldn't be a reach in round one.
5. Mike Brockers, LSU
Once Brockers declared, the former highly thought of recruit with the length and flashes that scouts dream of, many were expecting his stock would fly up and he'd be a lock for the drafts best defensive tackle. However, he didn't show the athleticism many were expecting in workouts, he doesn't show elite pass rushing ability on film, and is more of a 5-technique only prospect, and one that needs time to develop. He has Top 10 flashes on film, but don't rely on him being worth a Top 25 pick.
Others to Watch: Jared Crick (Nebraska), Mike Martin (Michigan), Alameda Ta'amu (Washington), Jerel Worthy (Michigan State), Kendall Reyes (UConn), Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati)
Eric Galko is a contributing NFL scout for Patriots Insider at Scout.com.
Eric Galko is the Owner, Director of Scouting of Optimum Scouting and lead editor for OptimumScouting.com. He has been scouting college football for eight years, and for pro teams and other sports professionals for the last four years. Eric is also a member of the FWAA.
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