NFL draft positional analysis: Defensive tackle

A deep class of defensive tackles offers a variety of skills that will be on display at the NFL level. We review the strengths and weaknesses of the top 10 prospects at the position.

VIKINGS DEFENSIVE TACKLES – Linval Joseph, Sharrif Floyd, Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen, Kenrick Ellis, Isame Faciane, Toby Johnson.

TEAM NEED – The Vikings have good depth with a dominant pair of starters in Joseph and Floyd, a strong veteran backup in Johnson and a pair of young developmental types in Stephen and Ellis. There is always room for improvement, but the Vikings appear to be pretty well settled in that regard and there may not be a reason to use a high pick here unless someone they have highly rated falls into their lap, much the same way Floyd fell to them in 2013.

POSITION ANALYSIS – This is one of the strongest and deepest draft classes in some time at defensive tackle. There are going to be players taken from here throughout the draft. While it isn’t overly top-heavy – there may only be three or four taken in the first round – there will be several taken in every round throughout the draft and a lot of teams will end up with new defensive tackles from the Class of 2016.


Sheldon Rankins, Louisville, 6-1¼, 299 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 11 tackles, 26½ tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…Is consistently quick off the snap and shoots gaps effectively…Has good power off the snap and uses his hands well…Has good lower body strength and can hold up well against the double team…Plays with a lot of hustle and dominated the week of drills at the Senior Bowl before injuring his right knee…Doesn’t have a variety of pass rush moves and needs to improve his technique…Has some durability questions that will be a medical red flag for some teams…Doesn’t have long arms and NFL offensive linemen will get into his body quicker than most…Ran a 5.03 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A strong, disruptive player who looks to be a decent fit in both a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme, he could well be the first defensive tackle off the board somewhere in the middle third of the first round, but his injury history may scare off some teams early.

A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama, 6-3¾, 307 – Third-year junior…Two-year full-time starter who recorded 95 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 3½ sacks and a fumble recovery in the span…A consensus All-America in 2015…Is very strong and can dominate at the point of attack…Has good height and extremely long arms to push and steer blockers out of his way…Can handle double teams and not give up any ground…Has good leverage and balance and can scrape and mirror plays down the line and still make plays…Does not have good initial burst off the snap and needs his power to generate movement…Is not in ideal condition and tends to wear down at the end of games and at the end of long opponent drives…Has not been a factor as a pass rusher and needs to learn some technique…Ran a 5.20 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 26-inch vertical jump and an 8-10 broad jump.
PROJECTION: Like so many other Alabama players, they’re seen so often by scouts that all the strengths and weaknesses show up more than others. Robinson has all the needed attributes a defensive tackle needs in the pros but will need some refinement. His skill set shouldn’t allow him to escape the first round without getting picked.

Jarran Reed, Alabama, 6-3, 307 – Fourth-year senior…Spent two years at East Mississippi Community College before coming to Alabama…Started 28 of 29 career games and had 111 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and one fumble recovery…Is very strong in the run game, getting a jump off the snap consistently and being able to read and diagnose plays quickly and effectively…Has prototypical upper body size and strength…Has the agility and balance to play inside in a 4-3 or at end in a 3-4…Plays with good technique and consistently plays with good leverage…Can get pushed back by double teams and loses as lot when his initial momentum is stopped…Is almost a non-factor as a pass rusher and doesn’t make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage…Doesn’t have a consistent jolting hand punch to shock blockers…Did not lift at the Combine with a left shoulder injury, but ran a 5.21 40 with a 31-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A classic two-gap run-stuffing defensive tackle, he will have to play inside, whether in a 4-3 or a 3-4 at the next level. He has a lot of positives and his negatives can be corrected with coaching, so he has every reason to believe he will get drafted on opening night.

Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, 6-3½, 294 – Third-year junior…Started 34 of 35 career games, recording 98 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and eight forced fumbles…A nice combination of size, strength, speed and athleticism…Has a very strong lower body to anchor and a jolting hand punch to keep offensive linemen off of him…Can collapse the pocket and blow up plays in the middle…Takes on double teams aggressively and can still get a push…Has had numerous off-field incidents that will be a huge red flag for some teams, including being suspended for the Sugar Bowl…Has had some problems with coaches that could be viewed as a problem…Doesn’t always play under control and will take himself out of plays when he freelances too much…Ran a 4.87 40 at the Combine with 28 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: If not for his off-field issues, he would be a lock to be picked in the first round. But a lot of teams at the end of the draft are those unwilling to take chances on players with sketchy backgrounds, so he could be a player someone ends up trading up for in the second round.


Kenny Clark, UCLA, 6-2¾, 314 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 133 tackles, 16½ tackles for a loss, six sacks and one fumble recovery in that span…A high school state champion wrestler…Very strong player who has both elite upper and lower body strength…A natural knee bender who stays low and typically wins leverage battles…Was extremely versatile at UCLA, putting in time at all of the line positions during his time there…Doesn’t have an elite initial burst off the snap…Has to improve his gap discipline and recognition because he takes himself out of plays at times…Is viewed as short for the type of college player he was and that can accentuate in the NFL…Ran a 5.06 40 at the Combine with 29 reps of 225 pounds, a 28½-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An accomplished Pac 10 player who is hard to block one-on-one and can anchor on double teams. He is a bit undersized by NFL nose tackle standards, but is too good to last beyond the second round.

Andrew Billings, Baylor, 6-0½, 311 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who had 77 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, eight sacks and one forced fumble in that span…Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2015…Is quick off the snap and consistently comes in low and pushes offensive linemen back off the snap…Has a violent hand punch and can stop blockers in their tracks with one shot…Has extremely good power and can dominate the middle of the field…Is short by NFL standards and you can add height at the next level…Is stiff-legged and doesn’t offer much in the way of scraping down the line and chasing plays to the outside…Does not have ideal football instincts to read, react and diagnose in an instant…Ran a 5.05 40 at the Combine with 31 reps, a 27½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player who will likely be of the most value to a 3-4 defense, he’s someone we give a second-round grade to but would be surprised if someone like Washington or Green Bay makes a move on him in the first round. If he makes it past them, the drop could be steep.

Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech, 6-3¾, 323 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter who had 116 tackles, 22½ tackles for a loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…Has good agility and short-area lateral quickness to make plays that are going away from him…Is massive and has a nice combination of height, weight and strength…Has a quick first step and is consistently the first player off the snap on the defense and blows up plays…Could have spent a little more time in the weight room and working on conditioning to refine his game…Didn’t play against top competition, so he will have a significant learning curve…Isn’t very consistent in reading what is happening in front of him and will too often get walled off because he didn’t see the play developing quick enough…Ran a 5.33 40 at the Combine with 26 reps of 225 pounds, a 29½-inch vertical jump and an 8-8 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A guy who plays with a lot of intensity, his lack of elite competition will likely drop well into the second day. But in the right system he could become a very good pro.


Austin Johnson, Penn State, 6-4½, 314 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 127 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, 7½ sacks and four fumble recoveries in that span…Has a strong lower body and anchors very well at the point of attack vs. the run…Has a very strong work ethic, plays to the whistle and chases plays to the sideline…In 2015 he showed a lot of improvement in the pass game (6½ sacks) and proved capable of blowing up plays…Doesn’t have a variety of pass-rush moves and will need some refinement in that aspect of his game…Tends to come out of the snap too high and struggles winning leverage battles when his pad level isn’t right…Ran a 5.32 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds, a 26-inch vertical jump and a 8-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: He isn’t the most athletic player in the draft, but he has a motor that always runs high and that shows up on tape. It wouldn’t be surprising to see somebody take him in the middle of Day 2 and potentially develop him into a long-term starter, although he will likely be a two-down player in the NFL.

Adolphus Washington, Ohio State, 6-3½, 301 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who had 97 tackles, 17½ tackles for a loss, 8½ sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception he returned 20 yards for a touchdown in that span…Has very good power and pop at the snap to hold his ground and push back the pocket…Has some scheme versatility, being able to play a five-technique in a 3-4 defense and, in a 4-3 scheme, can play a one-technique…Has a big frame that, if needed for the team he plays with, can add 10 pounds or more of bulk strength and muscle…Is not overly instinctive and can be directed out of plays and walled off too often…Has some significant off-field red flags, including being kicked off the team for the Fiesta Bowl after being arrested for soliciting a prostitute…Is inconsistent and will disappear at times during games, getting his tackle production in short-time bunches…Ran a 5.17 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 27-inch vertical jump and an 8-3 broad jump.
PROJECTION: A player from a power school who has a lot of good attributes, including strength, speed and big-play ability, he should come off the board in Day 2, but his off-field issues will need to be vetted by teams, which could drop his stock a little bit.

Sheldon Day, Notre Dame, 6-0¾, 293 – Fourth-year senior…Became a starter five games into his sophomore season and started the last 32 games of his career, posting 118 tackles, 28½ tackles for a loss, 5½ sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in that span…Versatile athlete who excelled playing a 3-4 scheme and a 4-3 during his college career…Has an explosive first step and can get in between blockers immediately off the snap…Has a strong motor and chases down plays and will get tackles most defensive tackles don’t…Has a long injury history that will turn off some teams immediately – or greatly devalue him…Is undersized by NFL standards in terms of weight and arm length and may be pigeonholed only to 4-3 teams at the next level…He plays a little out of control and will miss plays that he shouldn’t if he stayed assignment-sound…Ran a 5.07 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 30-inch vertical jump and an 8-6 broad jump.
PROJECTION: An undersized player who looks to only be a glove fit in a 4-3 defense, he will likely take a lot of teams out of the mix that will consider him. But he plays with a lot of passion and has enough intangibles that he will be either a late Day 2 pick or a priority pick on Day 3.


Trevon Coley, Florida Atlantic, 6-1, 307
Maliek Collins, Nebraska, 6-2, 311
Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech, 6-4½, 287
Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State, 6-1½, 309
Willie Henry, Michigan, 6-2¾, 303
Matt Ioannidis, Temple, 6-3½, 299
Cory Johnson, Kentucky, 6-3, 292
Chris Jones, Mississippi State, 6-5¾, 310
Nile Lawrence-Stample, Florida State, 6-1, 320
Davis Onyemata, Manitoba, 6-3¼, 304
D.J. Reader, Clemson, 6-2¾, 327
Hassan Ridgeway, Texas, 6-3½, 303
Antwaun Woods, USC, 6-0¼, 318



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