Shane Alexander’s 2017 NFL Draft Defensive Line Rankings

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Click here for a full explanation of methodology and categories used in the chart above.

About the class:

“Malik McDowell: Enigmatic and Supremely Talented”

I have a prediction about Malik McDowell: In three years, he will either be blossoming as one of the premier young defensive linemen in the NFL or he will be “just another guy” playing out the final year or two of his rookie deal. He is an exercise on assessing scouts and teams’ risk tolerance. A team might be getting a player whose talent is almost alien – when you watch McDowell play the way he plays with his physique; it can seem like the next advancement of defensive linemen. A true 6’6’’, 295 pounds, McDowell has condor-like 34 ¾’’ arms, can broad jump 112’’, and ran his forty-yard dash in 4.85 seconds. At Michigan State McDowell played tackle and end for the Spartans defense, and was nicknamed “Gumby” because of his flexibility. He’s going to play 3 technique to 5 technique in the NFL, but the fact that he is so fluid at his size is extra enticing in today’s game where positions can often be a construct. On his Mockdraftable web the likes of Leonard Williams and Gerald McCoy show up. What can’t be measured is his football character, which has been questioned by many. Rumors of a lack of effort and poor attitude have scared many away from mocking him in the early-to-mid first round. I understand those concerns and if I were making decisions at the team level, I would surely weigh those concerns more than I do as an independent evaluator. As such, I don’t consider those things as heavily and only try to identify the best players. Malik McDowell, as an interior lineman, is one of the best prospects in this class. On the right team, in the right scheme, Malik McDowell could blossom into a superstar.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]“The Pleasant Surprise of the 2017 NFL Draft: Chris Wormley”

Sometimes during the college football season, as you watch these players live from game to game, certain players can be overlooked and underappreciated. One of the big examples for me this season is Michigan’s Chris Wormley. I watched most of Michigan’s games live in 2016 and noticed Wormley’s contributions, but for whatever reason, maybe the fact that Jabrill Peppers and Taco Charlton were the more known stars and garnered more attention, I didn’t key on Wormley and see how outstanding he really is. Truth be told, it wasn’t until after the Senior Bowl when I finally studied Wormley in isolation that I noticed his quality and how valuable of a role he will fill at the next level.

Chris Wormley, in many ways, is who people thought Jonathan Allen would be from a physical and athletic standpoint. He’s the type of player who has the build and play strength to win on the interior as a 3 technique with his leverage and athleticism. He can use those same tools to win two spaces over at 5 technique well. Jason Pierre-Paul, Henry Anderson, and Chris Jones all show up on Wormley’s Mockdraftble graph, which paints a picture of the kind of player that Wormley can ultimately become. For teams needing that type of hole filled on their roster, anywhere from 25-40 is a prime spot to grab the former Wolverine.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]“Jonathan Allen, Evaluation versus Valuation, and Recalibrating Expectations”

There’s no player I want to like more in this class than Jonathan Allen. I watched every snap of his career at Alabama. I watched him develop from a rotational player to the best defensive player in all of college football. He entered Alabama around 260 pounds and left playing anywhere from 280-290, changing his physique, growing his game, and buying into Nick Saban’s “process.” I put on the tape and I see Allen collapsing pockets playing on the interior, damming up the line of scrimmage against run plays, and even winning on the edge when he slid out to defensive end. He is the quintessential football player and I want him on my team, but I have had to recalibrate my expectations and adjust my valuation of him based on the new information given during the draft process.

Jon Allen measured in at the NFL Combine at 6’3’’, 286 pounds with 33 5’8’’ inch arms. For reference, that frame projects as an undersized defensive tackle if you’re scouting him as an interior player. On the edge, he would be a strong side player in a base 4-3 scheme – which is far from stellar or ideal, as it puts him in a bit of a tweener situation. He tested like he measured, too. A 5.00 forty, only 30’’ vertical, plus a 7.49 three cone. He tested like a solid defensive tackle but not one of the quality to warrant the top 5-10 status that he’s been given. On top of that, it was reported that he was flagged for onset arthritis in his left shoulder, a condition that even if manageable might limit him game to game and surely over the course of his career.

So where do you draft one of the best prospects on tape who measured and tested “just okay” and is built like something between a defensive tackle and end? For me I can’t be positive taking him until the late 1st or early 2nd round. I believe he’s going to have a high floor, but over the course of his career I see him more as a “solid starter” and ultimate “glue guy” for a team more than I see a perennial Pro Bowler. My evaluation of Jonathan Allen is that he’s as quality of a “football player” as a team could ask for. My valuation of him is top 35 more than top 10. And of all the players I’ve graded in this class, I hope I’m the most wrong about him.

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