Position Analysis: Defensive tackles

The Vikings will need to find an eventual replacement for Kevin Williams soon and this year's draft is loaded with potential starters at defensive tackle, including plenty anticipated to be stars at the position. We present the analysis, stats, measurables and projections on the top 10 options at a very deep position this year.

POSITION OVERVIEW: The defensive tackle position tends to run hot and cold on draft weekend. This year would be one of those "up" years. Four defensive tackles are guaranteed to come off the board in the first round and as many as six might hear their names called. If not, there may be five or six to come off the board in the second round. At a time when teams are trying to devise ways of collapsing the pocket from the inside, this could be one of the deepest and most talented draft classes in recent history. Expect at least half of the teams in the NFL to address defensive tackle in the first three or four rounds of the draft.

VIKINGS DEFENSIVE TACKLES – Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Chase Baker.

VIKINGS NEED – There is no question that this position needs an immediate upgrade. Williams is the oldest member of the Vikings and 2013 is the last season on his restructured contract. Guion, Evans and Ballard are ideally suited to be reserves who play a 20 or so snaps a game, not playing critical roles in the defensive front. Currently armed with two first-round picks, the Vikings may well use one of them on a defensive tackle – if Sylvester Williams is still on the board, he will be a logical choice at No. 23 or 25. Don't be shocked if the Vikings dip into the defensive tackle well twice in the first four rounds because the talent pool runs deep here in legitimate pro prospects. It's a good year to be a team in need of help at the tackle position.

THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Sharrif Floyd, Florida, 6-2¾, 297 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 92 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in that span…Was suspended the first two games of the 2011 season for taking improper benefits from a booster, only to be legally adopted by the booster's family (at age 20) later that year…Played defensive end in 2011 and defensive tackle in 2012…Has elite quickness off the snap and is typically the first defender moving on the snap…Very versatile, having played both DE and DT at a high level in the SEC and fits in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense…Uses his hands very well to shed blockers and cut a gap into the pocket…Has excellent lower body anchor strength…Has good lateral agility to chase plays to the side…Consistently collapses the pocket from the middle…Has struggled when he gets doubled by a guard and center and gets steered away…Still a little raw at the nuances of the tackle position…Is vulnerable to getting his legs cut out from under him…Has to work on not coming out of his stance too high because he can get neutralized when he does…Chose not to lift at the NFL Scouting Combine, but ran a 4.87-second 40-yard dash with a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: A team player who moved inside in 2012 due to team need. That sort of unselfishness could have hurt his stock, but he is on the rise so quickly now that it's hard to imagine him making it past Oakland at No. 3.

Star Lotulelei, Utah, 6-2½, 311 – Fifth-year senior who spent two years (one playing football) at Snow College in Utah…Two-year starter who had 86 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries…Is married and has two children…Was shut down at the combine when medical tests determined a "low-ejection fraction" – a restriction of blood flow into and out of his heart but has since gotten the medical OK to resume his NFL pursuit…The best pure nose tackle in the draft, he has incredible core strength and power…Has excellent burst off the snap and consistently pushes centers backward into the pocket…Has a strong hand punch and is able to maul offensive linemen…Has ideal anchor strength…Has good field awareness and locates the ball quickly and forces the action…Finishes tackles and does so with force…Plays with inconsistent levels of intensity…Didn't face elite competition very often…At times appears to slow down before making contact instead of flashing closing speed…Relies too much on his God-given talent and has yet to become a student of the game and learning nuances…Has trouble shedding blockers once they lock on…Was sent home from the combine after medical testing revealed his heart condition. PROJECTION: The player I had slated as the No. 1 overall pick prior to the combine, Lotulelei's heart condition diagnosed at there remains a troubling issue for NFL decision-makers. Able to play a DT in a 4-3 or nose tackle or DE in a 3-4, he won't last long. The scare received in Indianapolis dropped him into the middle of the first round, but, with an all-clear now, should take his rightful spot in the top 10 on draft day.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri, 6-2½, 294 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at College of the Sequoias in California…One-year starter who had a monster season – 75 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three passes batted down, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Had right shoulder surgery in the spring of 2012…A classic three-technique defensive tackle who is disruptive in the middle on almost every snap and has the best snap explosion of any DT in the Class of 2013…Has a jolting hand punch, uses his hands well and gets a violent surge off the snap…Has very well-distributed weight, muscle and bulk…Holds his ground well in short-yard situations and at the goal line…Is agile and can make plays to the outside…Great production in 2012…Doesn't have a variety of pass-rush moves – gets by on pure strength…Gets his legs cut out too often and too easily…Only a one-year starter…Has had problems with authority and some question his motivation once he gets a big contract…Doesn't chase down plays consistently when they are run away from him…Ran a 4.97 40 at the combine with 30 reps of 225 pounds, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: An immensely talented player with questionable character and only one full year as a major college player. His talent will have him off the board by the middle of the first round, but he will be viewed by some scouts as a high-priced gamble on greatness.

Sylvester Williams, North Carolina, 6-2¾, 313 – Fifth-year senior who spent two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College…Started all 25 games he played for UNC, he had 96 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks…Got a job out of high school and took a year off from football…Has excellent burst off the snap and has the agility to split double teams and blow up plays…Has a thick build and can hold the line on running plays…Has the best swim move in the draft class…Has a good variety of pass-rush moves and techniques…Very coachable player and respected by his teammates…Played a variety of positions and appears to be a solid fit in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme…Is already 24 years old, which works against him…Is inconsistent in his production…Has had issues with weight gain because he doesn't take strength and conditioning seriously…Has added about as much bulk and muscle as his frame can handle without sacrificing speed and burst…Doesn't have great field vision and will lose sight of the ball…Ran a 4.93 40 at the combine with 27 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: The most sure tackler in this year's class, Williams doesn't have the big upside of the players rated in front of him, but could end up having the longest and most productive career. He should be off the board by the first 20-25 picks.

Kawann Short, Purdue, 6-3, 299 – Fifth-year senior…Started all 50 career college games…Finished with 186 tackles, 49 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, 17 passes deflected, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…Set a school record with eight blocked kicks in his Boilermaker career…Has excellent burst off the snap and gets over the line quickly…Has incredible body strength, able to bench press 400 pounds and squat 600…Has the combination of strength and agility to require double teams because one interior lineman can't stop him on his own…Has long arms and disrupts passing lanes…A durable starter with the most experience of the top DT prospects…The best pass rusher in the draft at this position…Doesn't chase down plays and only seems to give full effort on plays coming in his direction…Doesn't play with a mean streak and will get frustrated and, at times, appear to be pouty…Will go long stretches without being a factor…Not a player who lives for the game…Did not work out at the combine due to a right hamstring injury. PROJECTION: Short is a veteran receiver with 50 starts to his credit at a time when most top prospects have half that many or fewer. But his body of work has shown a hot-and-cold player that makes the same type of mistakes over and over. If harnessed, he could be a long-time NFL starter, but his question marks will drop him into the second round.

Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, 6-3, 320 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 122 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and four sacks…Has a high football character and his coaches are effusive in their praise of his work ethic…Has a rare blend of strength, size and foot quickness…Has good arm length to battle O-linemen before they get into his body…Has great first-step quickness off the snap and takes the battle to the offense…Plays with very good leverage…Has good lateral movement skills and will chase plays to the sideline…Relies a lot of brute strength and needs to refine his technique and protect himself from cut blocks…Doesn't have great closing speed in pursuit…Will get gassed late in games and his production tends to slide as the game progresses…Draws a lot of penalties because he grabs and throws when he gets off-balance or out of position…Doesn't spend enough time working on his conditioning and doing the little things to improve his game…Didn't bench press at the combine due to an undisclosed injury, but ran a 5.13 40 with a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A tough run defender who has the strength to be a starter. If a team drinks the Kool-Aid Ohio State is putting out, he could go late in the first round. But more likely he will fall into the second round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

John Jenkins, Georgia, 6-3¾, 346 – Fourth-year senior who spent his first two years at Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College…Started 20 0f 27 games at Georgia, recording 78 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and four sacks…Was declared academically ineligible prior to the Capitol One Bowl vs. Nebraska…Is monstrous and almost impossible to move in the middle when he digs in vs. the run…Has excellent upper and lower body strength…Can neutralize double-teams with good anchor strength…Has surprisingly nimble feet and can slide down the line to find the ball…Has good burst off the snap and can completely blow up plays…Does not play with consistency or intensity from one series to the next…Is not an effective pass rusher and doesn't bring much to the table in being a third-down DT…Doesn't use his hands effectively – rarely flashes a jolting hand punch…Needs to improve his technique and field awareness…Doesn't have ideal conditioning and wears down very quickly and needs to be part of a rotation…Didn't run or jump at the combine due to back and thigh injuries, but did 30 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Similar in many respects to B.J. Raji of the Packers, Jenkins is a two-down nose tackle that fits much better in a 3-4 scheme than a 4-3. Because of that exclusion, he will likely remain on the board well into the second round.

Jesse Williams, Alabama, 6-3½, 323 – Fourth-year senior who spent two years at Arizona Western Community College…Started all 26 games he played at Alabama, recording 61 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and three passes deflected…A native of Australia, he grew up playing rugby…Played defensive end in 2011 before moving to nose tackle in 2012…Has very good burst and speed off the snap…Has a low center of gravity and is difficult to get off of his spot…Incredible weight room strength – holds the team record for the bench press at a whopping 600 pounds…He keeps his hands active and firing out…Has developed good awareness for where the ball is and is quick to react and get into the hole…Doesn't let up until the whistle and doesn't take plays off…Is viewed as a one-trick pony who is a two-down nose tackle who doesn't have the quickness to blow up the pocket on the pass rush…Has short arms, which is a problem in keeping blockers away from his body…Has an overdeveloped upper body and NFL linemen will be able to take advantage of that and pop him off balance…Comes out of his stance too high at times and blockers can get under his pads…Isn't overly flexible…Still learning the position…Didn't run or jump at the combine due to a right knee injury but did 30 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: He reminds me of a poor man's Vince Wilfork, a massive road grader in the middle of a 3-4 defensive line who will be asked to be a two-down nose tackle. Unlike Wilfork, he isn't a polished product. Given the lack of competition for nose tackles in the NFL, he will likely remain on the board until the start of the third round.

Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern, 6-1¼, 335 – Fifth-year senior…Granted medical redshirt in 2009 after rupturing a disc in his back…Started 30 of 42 career games, registering 191 tackles, 52.5 tackles for a loss, 27 sacks, 14 batted passes and six forced fumbles…Is very well put together and has ideal upper body core strength…Uses his hands well to extend and jolt offensive linemen…Had eight or more sacks in each of his last three seasons…Has excellent anchor strength vs. the run…Has a good first step to blow up plays before they can develop…Played for a Division II school and has never faced elite competition – was a man among boys in most games…Very top-heavy, and savvy NFL linemen will use that against him and take away his leverage…Plays too erratic and bites on play fakes and misdirection and takes himself out of too many plays…Has durability questions – only played one full season…Despite elite sack production, he isn't an electric burst-off-the-line type of player and it doesn't translate to the same level of success in the NFL…Set the standard in weightlifting at the combine with 38 reps of 225 pounds, as well as a 4.85 40, a 29½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Initially, I saw him as a mid- to late-round pick because he has a long learning curve in front of him, but, after he made a strong showing at the combine, he now strikes me as a third-round type that would be ideal on a team with a couple of aging veteran DTs that still have some gas left in the tank.

Bennie Logan, LSU, 6-2, 309 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 102 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles in that span…Two-time Louisiana All-State selection in high school…Wore No. 18 in 2012 – a number typically given to the Tiger who best represents the program on and off the field…Passes the eyeball test with long arms, a thick trunk and strong, muscular legs to hold his ground…Uses his hands very well and flashes a strong hand punch…Has good field intelligence and sees plays developing before the actually do…Excellent upper body strength to drive blockers back into the pocket…Has a good first step…Very coachable and a strong work ethic…Doesn't have prototype size and arm length…Seemed to level off his play from 2011 to 2012 when more was expected of him…Still refining his technique…Doesn't have much variety in his pass rush – he's full throttle all the time and offensive linemen can adjust to that…Doesn't use a swim move much and can be neutralized consistently when two linemen get hands on him…Suffered a right hamstring injury at the combine that kept him from running the 40-yard dash, but he did 30 reps of 225 pounds, had a 25-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: Any productive player in the SEC gets more attention than most because just about every scout has seen them. He doesn't have the star power of other LSU defensive tackles from recent drafts, but he has a good chance of coming off the board before the end of Day 2.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Josh Boyd, Mississippi State, 6-2¾, 310
Will Campbell, Michigan, 6-5, 318
Everett Dawkins, Florida State, 6-2¼, 292
Kwame Geathers, Georgia, 6-5½, 342
Cory Grissom, South Florida, 6-1½, 306
Jordan Hill, Penn State, 6-1¼, 303
Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin, 6-4, 329
Chris Jones, Bowling Green, 6-1¾, 302
Anthony McCloud, Florida State, 6-1¾, 309
Michael Purcell, Wyoming, 6-2½, 303
Caraun Reid, Princeton, 6-2, 283
Brent Russell, Georgia Southern, 6-1½, 298
Akeem Spence, Illinois, 6-0¾, 307


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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