VIKINGS POSITION NEED – The Vikings addressed defensive tackle hard last year, signing Joseph and Johnson in free agency and selecting Stephen late in the draft. All three of them stepped up in the rotation with Floyd and gave the Vikings four quality defensive tackles. As a result, defensive tackle likely won’t be a pressing priority in the draft, unless a player the Vikings have rated head and shoulders above anyone else is still on the board when they make a selection.
POSITION ANALYSIS – This is one of the stronger defensive tackle classes that we’ve seen in recent years, especially at the top. Leonard Williams likely won’t be on the board after the first two or three picks and, by the time the first round is over, as many as four DTs could be selected. There is solid depth throughout the draft here and, a few years from now, we may look back at 2015 as a time when defenses took a big step forward in combatting a game that has turned significantly more offensive-minded in recent years.
THE CREAM OF THE CROPLeonard Williams, USC, 6-4¾, 302 – Third-year junior…Started 35 of 40 career games, finishing his career at USC with 218 tackles, 36½ tackles for a loss, 21 sacks, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries…He played both defensive tackle and defensive end…A two-time first-team All-Pac 12 selection…Nicknamed “Big Cat”…Has a rare blend of size, power and athleticism…Has a well-defined upper body and long arms to shed and swim past blockers…Is a force in run-stopping…Is legitimately tough, playing through almost the entire 2014 season with an ankle injury…Will struggle at times with leverage because of his size…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves…Isn’t always aware when passes are going to be thrown and doesn’t get his hands in throwing lanes enough…Didn’t lift at the Combine with a right shoulder injury, but ran a 4.97 40 with a 29½-inch vertical jump and a 8-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A dominating college DT, there isn’t much fault to find in Williams. He could go as early as No. 2 to Tennessee, but if he’s still on the board at No. 3, he either goes to Jacksonville or a team trades into the third spot to land him. He has Pro Bowl ability and will be an immediate starter.
Danny Shelton, Washington, 6-2¼, 339 – Fourth-year senior…A three-year starter who had 192 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 11½ sacks and seven fumble recoveries in that span…A huge player who is a natural wide-body that forces teams to use two offensive linemen to engage him…Has very good football smarts and awareness, which was evidenced by his number of fumble recoveries – none of which he caused…Has a quick get-off and often splits double teams and blows up plays…Dominating in the run game…Is not much of a pass rusher and won’t be counted on to create havoc with QBs in the backfield…His arms are a little shorter than you want from a big man in the middle…Showed up out of shape at the Combine, which turned off some coaches and scouts…Ran a 5.64 40 at the Combine with an impressive 34 reps of 225 pounds, a 30½-inch vertical jump and a 7-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: The best pure nose tackle in the draft, Shelton has the skills to play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, which will make him a candidate for any team looking. He has the skill and potential to be a top-10 pick.
Malcom Brown, Texas, 6-2½, 319 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who had 140 tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 8½ sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…An All-America in 2014 and a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski Award (top defensive player) and the Outland Trophy (top interior lineman)…Has a wide frame and natural athletic movement skills…Uses his hands well to penetrate and get a leverage edge at the snap…Consistently the first player moving off the snap…Doesn’t get pushed backward in run defense…Needs to work on his technique to disengage from blockers…Freelances too often and takes himself out of plays as a result…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves…Ran a 5.05 40 at the Combine with 26 reps, with a 29½-inch vertical jump and a 8-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He’s an immense talent who is a bit undisciplined on the field. In the right system, he could be an elite player early on in his career.
Eddie Goldman, Florida State, 6-4, 336 – Third-year junior…A two-year starter who had 54 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in that span…Played defensive end as a sophomore and defensive tackle as a junior…Very fast off the line and consistently pops O-linemen with his hand punch…Has the lower body power to set the edge at end in the run game and the leg drive to push the pocket back at tackle…Plays with balance and leverage and rarely gets his legs cut…Not a consistent pass-rush threat…Needs a little work on his technique and coming up with varied moves to get an advantage…Is not consistent in his effort from one game to the next…Did not run or jump at the Combine with a right ankle injury and chose not to lift.
PROJECTION: He could have helped his stock at the Combine, but he’s a player who doesn’t have a lot of holes in his game and could be on the cusp of a late-first round pick or a premium pick very early on Day 2.
THE NEXT LEVELJordan Phillips, Oklahoma, 6-5¼, 329 – Fourth-year junior…One-year full-time starter who had 39 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, two sacks and one fumble recovery in 2014…Missed nine games in 2013 with a back injury…A well-put-together big man who demands double teams…Has very good awareness and recognition skills…Has good speed and lateral agility for his size…Has yet to reach his full potential and appears to be more imposing than he is too often…Takes plays off and doesn’t play with the same fire or passion from one game to the next or one series to the next…A 2013 back surgery will have some teams a little leery about his long-term durability…Ran a 5.17 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and a 8-9 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A scheme-versatile player who can fit in just about any system, his talent will get him drafted higher than his experience or production warrants, but he’s a guy who could turn out to be a “Steal of the Draft” candidate.
Carl Davis, Iowa, 6-4¾, 320 – Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 76 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, 3½ sacks and one fumble recovery in that span…A prototype blend of size, strength and athleticism…Has the skill set and versatility to play in virtually any scheme and perform well…Has a strong upper body to stack and shed blockers…Plays smaller than his size would indicate and doesn’t dominate like it appears he should…Does not have ideal change-of-direction skills and plays in a confined area more times than not…Doesn’t have the kind of consistent production you think he should have…Chose not to lift at the Combine but ran a 5.05 40 with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 8-7 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He was one of the players who shined at the Senior Bowl, showing he could play in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense and fit in well. He clearly looks the part, but it hasn’t all come together for him. When and if it does, he could be a great value in the second round.
Michael Bennett, Ohio State, 6-2, 293 – Fourth-year senior…A two-year starter who had 83 tackles, 25½ tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has an excellent combination of balance and coordination and rarely loses leverage battles…Has a nose for the ball and is a disruptor who rips the ball loose…Has very good burst off the snap and can split gaps and blow up plays…Doesn’t have elite strength to blow people off the ball or consistently push the pocket backward…Is undersized for an NFL defensive tackle, both in height and arm length…Has a motor that runs too hot and cold…Did not lift, run or jump at the Combine with a right groin injury.
PROJECTION: He didn’t help his stock by not being able to work out at the Combine and his skill set is such that he seems like he will only fit with a 4-3 scheme because he doesn’t have the mass or bulk to be a nose in a 3-4. That will reduce the number of interested teams and could see him drop farther than his talent would dictate.
THE BEST OF THE RESTXavier Cooper, Washington State, 6-3, 293 – Fourth-year junior…Started 34 of 36 career games, finishing with 121 tackles, 31½ tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has natural size and mass…Plays with a lot of passion for the game and never lets up …Chases plays to the sideline even if he doesn’t have a chance to make a play…Numbers dropped in 2014 because he was miscast in WSU’s new 3-4 front…Has a hard time getting blockers off of him when they get in his chest in the run game…Is more of a grab-and-drag tackler than an explosive hitter…Ran a 4.84 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 29-inch vertical jump and a 9-2 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A productive player and a hard worker who will compete almost immediately for a starting job, but his NFL future is almost surely to be in a 4-3 system.
Gabe Wright, Auburn, 6-2¾, 300 – Fourth-year senior…A two-year full-time starter who had 55 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, four sacks and one fumble recovery in that span…Has outstanding quickness and burst off the snap…Has good upper-body strength at the point of attack…Has good straight-line speed and lateral agility to chase plays to the edge…Doesn’t appear to put the same effort in run defense as he does when rushing the passer…His production was far lower than one would expect with his skill set…Has short arms and has effectively maxed out how big he can get in the NFL…Ran a 5.07 40 at the Combine with an impressive 34 reps, a 26½-inch vertical jump and a 8-4 broad jump.
PROJECTION: His limited production at Auburn is troubling, because he gives the effort to be much more productive. He will likely end up battling for a starting job his entire career, but may never get there, which could drop him to the end of Day 2 or into Day 3 of the draft.
Darius Philon, Oklahoma, 6-1½, 298 – Third-year sophomore…He started 18 of 25 career games, posting 93 tackles, 20½ tackles for a loss, 7½ sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Has a body that can add 20 pounds of muscle and bulk at the next level…Has very good quickness off the snap and is often the first player moving on the snap…Is a demon in the run game and can chase plays down to the edge because of his speed and agility…Is undersized and too short for a classic NFL defensive tackle…Is a raw prospect with limited experience…Needs to refine his instincts because he plays all-out and often takes himself out of position by his own design…Ran a 5.00 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a 31-inch vertical jump and a 8-11 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He would have done himself a huge favor by coming back for one more season to get experience, grow a little more (he’s going to be a 21-year-old rookie) and improve his technique, but, as things stand, he will be a part-time player whose off-the-snap explosiveness will get the attention of teams late in Day 2 or early in Day 3.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Henry Anderson, Stanford, 6-6¼, 294
Christian Covington, Rice, 6-2½, 289
Tyeler Davison, Fresno State, 6-1¾, 316
Kaleb Eulls, Mississippi State, 6-3, 305
Marcus Hardison, Arizona State, 6-3¼, 307
Grady Jarrett, Clemson, 6-0¾, 304
Derrick Lott, Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-4, 314
Joey Mbu, Houston, 6-3, 313
Ellis McCarthy, UCLA, 6-4¾, 338
Bobby Richardson, Indiana, 6-2¾, 283
Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa, 6-1, 290
Xavier Williams, Northern Iowa, 6-2, 325
SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS
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