Brian Filipiak’s DL Prospect Quick Hits

As the 2015 NFL Draft nears closer, Inside The Pylon takes a glance at a deep defensive line class that offers an abundance of scheme versatility and star potential. From the consensus day one selections to those flying under the radar, Brian Filipiak highlights a handful of the NFL’s future big uglies in the middle.

This defensive line overview focuses on true defensive linemen and has purposely omitted hybrid defensive end / outside linebacker prospects – another area of the draft offering significant depth. Here are ten prospects ‒ some already well-known and some that will have to make a name for themselves in the NFL ‒ to keep an eye on during this year’s draft.

First Round Studs

DE/DT Leonard Williams (USC)

Listed at 6-foot-5, 305-pounds, the 20-year-old Williams has the physical tools to be a dominant presence for years to come in the NFL. A first-team All-Pac-12 selection following his junior season, Williams tallied 21 sacks and five forced fumbles over three seasons at USC. .

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Leonard-Williams-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Leonard-Williams.jpg”]

Williams can squeeze a gap, shed and tackle or flat-out penetrate with excellent closing speed for a player his size. His ideal length and good change of direction agility allows him to impact a great number of plays made in between the tackles, however, he doesn’t show up often on pursuit plays from behind or sideline to sideline. He also has a tendency to fire out of his stance sluggishly off the snap and doesn’t always play with supportive lean ‒ failing to convert a strong base into more functional upper body strength. Williams has a high ceiling because his technique has yet to match his talent.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

With experience in multiple fronts and techniques, the former Trojan has the positional flexibility to flourish in almost any role along a defensive line save for nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He also has room to fill out his athletic frame to become a thicker player in the trenches (depending on defensive system/usage). Williams’s top three draft status is well deserved based on raw ability alone – the right coaching staff should make him into an All-Pro if his technique catches up with his tools.

DT Danny Shelton (Washington State)

This 21-year-old weighs in at nearly 340-pounds packed onto a 6-foot-2 frame – the prototypical build of a 3-4 run stuffing nose tackle. But don’t let Shelton’s size alone fool you – his sneaky athleticism and short-area quickness led to a nine sack season in his senior year for the Huskies. The first-team All-America recipient also recorded 93 total tackles with 16.5 going for losses in his final season. In addition to his high-level of production, Shelton also demonstrated outstanding stamina, playing in an estimated 90 percent of the Huskies defensive snaps – an unheard of percentage for a typical player his size.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Danny-Shelton-Cutup1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Danny-Shelton1.jpg”]

Extremely quick off the snap for a heavyweight, Shelton can compromise the integrity of a pocket in the blink of an eye. He displays good flexibility in his knees and hips while also playing with strong, active hands ‒ which he needs to rely on given his less than ideal arm length. Shelton can anchor at the point of attack, stack blockers and shed toward the ball like a typical nose tackle but also possesses impressive lateral agility from sideline to sideline. If he has one glaring negative, it resides in his discipline, as his aggressiveness when one-gapping occasionally leads him too deep into the backfield, taking himself out of plays and exposing holes in the run game.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

While Shelton appears to be a perfect fit as a 0-technique nose tackle in a 3-4, his initial burst and penetration mentality/experience actually may best suit a 1-technique position out of a 4-3 defense. Because of this, NFL teams running either front as their base defense should have Shelton ranked highly.

Second Round Steals

DT Malcom Brown (Texas)

A breakout performer for the Longhorns during his junior year, the 20-year-old Brown was showered with post-season accolades – from a first-team All-Big 12 selection to ESPN’s Big 12 defensive player of the year to a consensus first-team All-American. The 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive tackle registered 70 total tackles (13 for losses), 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his final season for Texas.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Malcom-Brown-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Malcom-Brown1.jpg”]

Brown flashes an intriguing combination of power, quickness and solid technique – attributes that make him a good fit for almost any interior spot along any defensive front. Brown is quick off the snap and can close on a target in tight spaces making him tough to block solo. The lineman carries his weight well, moving more like a sub-300-pounder at times on tape but does struggle to consistently anchor against double-teams. While an effective pass rusher in college, he relied mostly on his first step quickness to gain penetration and may currently lack ‒ at the NFL level ‒ the necessary counter moves to win battles once initially stalled.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Given his overall skill set, Brown’s best fit may be a 1- or 3- technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense or 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense where his gap penetration ability can thrive. He could easily sneak into the back half of the first round, but if not, some team on day two will pick up a day one talent.

DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Appearing in 48 games over his four seasons at Clemson, the 22-year-old Jarrett capped off his senior year with first-team All-ACC honors. The 6-foot-1, 304-pound defensive tackle finished with 73 total tackles (10 for losses), 1.5 sacks, 12 QB pressures and two forced fumbles over 13 games in his last season as a Tiger.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Grady-Jarrett-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Grady-Jarrett1.jpg”]

Jarrett has the short, squatty frame of a 3-4 nose tackle but would need to add additional mass to thrive. However, bulking up may affect  his exceptional quickness and flexibility in his hips/knees. This may be an unfavorable trade-off given the rest of his skill set. He has strong hands with good pop and placement ‒ a must-have characteristic for a defensive lineman with such short arms (31.75-inches). A high effort player, Jarrett flashes potential from sideline to sideline and on pursuit plays, showing spurts of good lateral movement, but the defender operates best in confined areas and has the short-area speed to close in a hurry. Jarrett exhibits an explosive first step, which is his number one weapon as a pass rusher. He otherwise struggles to disengage due to his current lack of counter moves once a blocker latches onto him.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

In the right scheme – as a 1-technique or even 3-technique defensive tackle – Jarrett should be able to find immediate success as a penetrating force against the run and pass.

Under The Radar

DE/DT Henry Anderson (Stanford)

After redshirting his first year, Anderson played in 48 games for Stanford, accumulating 17 sacks and 32 tackles for losses. Saving his most productive season for last, the 23-year-old defensive lineman notched 65 total tackles with a team-leading 15 for losses, including 8 sacks ‒ credentials that earned him first-team All-Pac-12 honors. At 6-foot-6 and 294-pounds, Anderson still has room to fill out his already impressive frame.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Henry-Anderson-Cutup1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Henry-Anderson1.jpg”]

Anderson has experience all over the defensive line, playing out of both odd and even fronts in multiple techniques for the Cardinals. His great length and huge hands are a major physical asset. He doesn’t always take full advantage of his natural tools but when he does, Anderson packs a heavy punch with the ability to standup blockers, shed and tackle.

The lineman fights hard for leverage but must work on playing with better balance and staying low at his height in order to maximize his functional strength. Against the run, Anderson holds up well at the point of attack with the power to drive opponents back on their heels, resetting the line of scrimmage in the process. An energizer-bunny-type, Anderson ‒ though not the swiftest athlete on tape ‒ moves well through traffic when in pursuit and can make an impact from sideline to sideline.

He did end up on the ground a little too much in the games reviewed, but often made up for it with his relentless motor. As a pass rusher, Anderson lacks an elite first step and is more of a grinder that needs to build up momentum. He does possess a decent arsenal of pass rush moves with the ability to counter, transitioning well from initial penetration into a gap to power once engaged.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Assuming he adds 15-20-pounds of healthy weight in preparation for the NFL, Anderson is an ideal fit as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense, with the versatility to kick inside in sub-packages.

DE/DT Bobby Richardson (Indiana)

One of the draft’s most underrated gap penetrating defenders at his position, the 22-year-old Richardson led all Hoosier defensive linemen with 35 tackles ‒ 9.5 for losses ‒ and 5.5 sacks in his senior year. The 6-foot-3, 286-pounder also added two blocked kicks on special teams. The team captain was an All-Big Ten honorable mention in his final season.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Bobby-Richardson-Cutup1.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Bobby-Richardson.jpg”]

Richardson possesses big time burst off the line with terrific closing speed. He has quick hands, great length, and the lateral movement skills to make an impact on the perimeter. Richardson does tend to straighten out and expose his chest more than desired ‒ risking leverage for sneak peeks into the backfield ‒ but generally has the bend in his knees to play low and in control.

He can get too upfield at times when penetrating against the run and could shore up his tackling technique based on the games watched.Despite those concerns, Richardson has agile feet with the ability transfer his weight and change direction abruptly without losing much momentum. He also transitions well as a pass rusher, starting with a quick first step with the ability to convert speed into power and then back into a finesse counter move such as his adequate spin maneuver.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Sort of a “tweener” at his current size, Richardson has the athleticism to overcome his mass/height shortcomings but a little more muscle and bubble in the behind wouldn’t hurt him. Although he has experience in a 3-4 scheme at defensive end while at Indiana, the lineman may be a better NFL fit in a 4-3 defense in need of an interior pass rush threat.

Good… But Overrated

DT/DE Michael Bennett (Ohio State) At 6-foot-2 and 293-pounds, Bennett closed out his Buckeyes career with a second-team All-Big Ten selection and a third-team All-America nod. The true senior tallied 41 total tackles with 14 going for losses while adding three forced fumbles. Bennett compiled back-to-back seven sack seasons to finish out his collegiate career.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Michael-Bennett.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Michael-Bennett.jpg”]

Bennett plays with a low center of gravity, firing out quickly off the snap with busy hands that fight hard for inside leverage. He possesses good length and a wide frame, but doesn’t have much room to add more mass, thus limiting his positional / scheme flexibility. Against the run, Bennett is capable of holding his gap against straight up double-teams but struggles to maintain his balance and lateral pursuit after facing combo blocks from tough angles.

He also has a tendency to bury his head at contact with a blocker, failing to consistently stack, track and shed toward the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, Bennett relies heavily on his violent hands and initial burst, but also flashes an adequate spin move that he will need to further develop as a counter.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Bennett is a solid mid-round prospect with a safe square-peg-for-square-hole projection, meaning he’s a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 front and nothing more.

DT/DE Gabe Wright (Auburn)

The true senior followed up a promising junior season with a disappointing finish to his career at Auburn. Despite receiving more snaps, the 23-year-old’s production dipped from 31 total tackles to 24, 8.5 tackles for losses to 4.5, and three sacks to just one. The 6-foot-3 defensive tackle weighed in at an even 300-pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine and appeared in all 52 games during his four years as a Tiger.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Gabe-Wright-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Gabe-Wright.jpg”]

Wright has very noticeable explosion in his initial step when firing out and follows that burst with a low pad level at contact. Because of his sound technique out of his stance, Wright isn’t overmatched against double-teams like a lot of defenders would be at his size, but he’s at his best as a gap penetrator in the run game. While Wright is flexible below the waist, he doesn’t appear to have enough lower body strength to consistently augment his upper body power. This also leads to issues with stacking or standing up a blocker in order to track the ball carrier, shed and tackle.

Wright rarely makes plays beyond the tackle box and has a tendency to crash gaps recklessly and end up behind the action. As a pass rusher, the lineman flashes a solid spin move that acts as a finesse counter to his normal power-based maneuvers.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Some projections have Wright as a round two or three selection but that seems too generous given his up-and-down production and inconsistent tape while at Auburn. The defensive lineman has the makings of a good rotational interior rusher out of four-man front ‒ how he was basically used in college ‒ but lacks the lateral agility and run-stuffing prowess to make a more significant impact.

Late Round / UDFA Keeper

DT – Rakeem Nunez-Roches (Southern Miss)

After having his 2013 season cut short due to a season-ending knee injury, the 6-foot-2, 307-pound Nunez-Roches bounced back in a big way as a redshirt junior, finishing with 58 tackles (14 for losses), three sacks and seven QB hurries in 11 games. The 21-year-old’s final season as a Golden Eagle earned him first-team All-Conference honors as voted on by the league’s coaches.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Nunez-Roches-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Nunez-Roches.jpg”]

He displays a quick first step off the snap with good agility and balance for a player his size. Plays with excellent pad level and can plow through one-on-one blocks with great leg drive but needs to use his hands more tactically. Nunez-Roches shows good instincts in the screen game and will make more plays sideline to sideline than he should based on high effort-level. While he doesn’t get home much as a pass rusher, he grinds hard and can collapse the depth of the pocket but is limited as a pass rusher.

Nunez-Roches lacks ideal length, which is especially noticeable when he tries to standup a blocker and find the ball carrier. He needs to recognize play action quicker and will also need to add more bulk in order to anchor against double-teams. An average athlete, he struggles when forced to redirect, losing significant momentum, and has sub par closing speed. Exhibits awesome celebration gyrations.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Nunez-Roches may never be a household name, but as a one-gap, upfield defensive tackle, he can make his mark. The former Golden Eagle is a likely mid- to late- round pick ‒ a bargain at that point in the draft for a potentially solid rotational 1-technique for a 4-3 defense in the NFL.

NT Terry Williams (East Carolina)

Playing at a reported 353-pounds, the 6-foot-1 Williams rolls off the line of scrimmage like a bowling ball, capable of treating opposing offensive lineman like candlepins. A linebacker when he arrived at East Carolina, the 23 year old has impressive athleticism for a man of his stature. The redshirt senior closed out his Pirates career with 34 total tackles (7.5 for losses), 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in ten games. An NFL Scouting Combine snub, Williams did not help his draft stock after pulling up lame on his second 40-yard dash attempt at East Carolina’s Pro Day.

Quick Scouting Report:

[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Terry-Williams-Cutup.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Terry-Williams.jpg”]

Based on height/weight alone, very few nose tackles can play with a lower center of gravity than Williams ‒ and his tape backs up that assumption. Incredibly tough to dislodge from his gap even against double-teams, the defender displays ideal pad level in the leverage game in order to hold and even reset the line of scrimmage.

Used mostly as a 0-technique nose tackle, Williams did occasionally shift to a 1-technique alignment, exhibiting good initial burst and short-area quickness as a gap penetrator. Extremely aggressive when shooting a gap ‒ sometimes to a fault in the run game. He can constrict the pocket as a pass rusher but will struggle to close. Did execute one of the best spin moves you will ever see from a 350-pounder (shown above) and flashes decent footwork and lateral mobility on line stunts. Williams was suspended for violating team rules in 2012 and again in 2013, missing ten games overall.

Projection/Scheme Fit:

Interestingly, a slimmed down Williams weighed in at just below 330 pounds at East Carolina’s Pro Day – which may make him appealing to some 4-3 defenses around the NFL. However, Williams projects best as a true nose tackle and has proven that he can carry more mass without sacrificing his surprising burst. A difficult prospect to gauge given his fluctuating weight and character issues, Williams could be a day two pick for some team intrigued by his combination of size and big-man agility. But he’s just as likely to be a priority undrafted free agent once the draft dust settles.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.

Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense,  how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.

All game footage courtesy of the DraftBreakdown.com film vault.

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