Now that we’ve talked about the top interior offensive linemen, it’s time to jump back to the defensive side of the ball and look at their direct opponents. This position group includes all players along the interior of the defensive line. So they can go from a true nose in a 3-4 to base defensive ends in a five-technique and any spots in-between, like shade nose players or penetrating three-techniques.
I think this unit has some immense talent, but most of the prospects aren’t nearly fully developed. Of my top ten (or rather eleven) guys, seven are underclassmen and one of the seniors comes from a Division II college.
1. Vita Vea, Washington
This is a huge man at 350 pounds with nimble movement for that size. Vea was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 despite only racking up 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks, because of how he controlled the interior of the Washington defensive line. He is an intriguing prospect, because a guy this big with that kind of athleticism is rare.
Vea uses a very passive three-point stance, but gets out of with much better burst than you’d anticipate and never gets pushed back. He also doesn’t give up leverage when getting off the ball, uses his hands well to stack or hold cut-blocks and possesses unbelievable lateral agility for his size. The former Huskie occupies blockers at the point of attack and allows his linebackers to run free. I’ve seen him use one of his arms to put other big men on their heels and stuff running-backs in the hole with the other one.
He just makes dudes look like little kids a lot of times. When he keeps his pad-level low and uses his hands properly, he whoops people out there, but occasionally you see him raise up and get a little sloppy. Vea constantly keeps vision on the backfield and if he gets his hands inside the frame of the offensive linemen, you will see him make a multitude of tackles to either side. The 6’4’’ defensive tackle is extremely slippery for a guy his size and constantly splits double-teams when rushing the passer. When he doesn’t get home and sees the quarterback scramble to the opposites side, you can watch him take an angle and chase that guy all the way to the sideline, often cutting him off even if he is a couple of steps behind, when changing directions.
The first-team All-Pac-12 member had a monster game versus UCLA last year, when he got a sack against two offensive linemen, retraced himself on a RB screen and knocked the ball down, tipped another pass at the line of scrimmage and in some spots was even triple-teamed.
Occasionally I’d like Vea to just put his head down versus double-teams instead of trying to look over the top and find the ball-carrier, but he is so mighty, that even after being drive backwards for five yards, he can throw those guys off and set the tackle. However, he rarely is the first guy off the snap and when a blocker gets a tight grip on him, he doesn’t play with the proper extension. If that happens on passing downs, he gets a little static and doesn’t make much on an impact.
I think the comparison to Haloti Ngata is pretty fitting, because both of them are big, super-athletic, extremely powerful D-tackles from the Pac-12. Vea lined up a lot in the three- or five-tech, but he will be a true nose in a 3-4 or a 1-tech on base downs at the next level. Anyhow, he’s not just a run-stuffer and you can work him in on sub-packages. He just needs to work on his pass rush arsenal, which is pretty much limited to power and quick club-and-rip moves.
2. Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Hurst wasn’t a starter for the Wolverines in 2016, but he played starter minutes and at that level too. Last season, he took his game to another level and was the most disruptive force along the D-line in the country in my opinion. In the process he was named a consensus All-American and put himself into consideration for being the top interior defensive linemen in this upcoming draft.
The 6’2’’ defensive lineman shoots gap constantly with great initial quickness and low pad-level. He plays with a tremendous motor and consistently flashes on tape, while not giving up any of that energy with increased playing time. Defensive end Rashan Gary got a lot of credit for the big plays he made, but Hurst did all the dirty work. I thought Hurst had an unbelievable senior campaign, in which he disrupted everything opposing offenses did.
He attacks the inside-shoulder of the backside guards when lined up in a three-technique on zone plays and stops any flow to that side. Hurst doesn’t just hand-fight with the guy across from him, but rather he steps into the gap immediately. He also does an outstanding job of keeping double-teams occupied, before slipping through them eventually. The Wolverine standout has a good understanding of the concept of attacking one shoulder of the blocker to put that guy at a disadvantage immediately. Hurst slanted and looped from his three-tech and crossed the faces of offensive linemen cleanly. He can just play upfield as well as stacking offensive linemen and driving them a couple of yards into the backfield.
Hurst uses double-hand upwards and downwards swipes to clear himself from the hands of the blocker, but his most successful move as a pass rusher is the rip, when he gets his inside arm under the shoulder of the guy across from him and keeps him from getting his hips around to recover. He also flashes a pretty good spin move to counter off that aggressive step-through into the gap. While his natural position is the three-technique, he lined up straight across from centers or as a shade nose quite a lot as well, especially on a couple of different blitz packages on passing downs. Hurst uses his hand extremely well on push-pull moves as well as getting them into the passing lanes.
At just over 280 pounds, Hurst doesn’t quite have same size of guys, who have made a living on the interior, although he uses being 6’2’’ as a natural leverage. Occasionally, he buries his helmet and drives his man back, but loses vision on the backfield and has the ball-carrier run right by him. Versus Ohio State, Hurst had a clear shot at quarterback J.T. Barrett, but didn’t break down and let the QB escape for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown. He wasn’t cleared to perform at the combine in Indy due to an irregular heart condition, but had a solid showing at his pro day and should be medically cleared going forward.
Like I said, to me Hurst was the single-most dominant force on the interior defensive line in 2017 and with the focus on creating disruption in a pass-happy league, Hurst is an outstanding prospect. As long as his medical report looks good, he is my number one three-technique available in this draft and easily a top-20 player.
3. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
In a row of star defensive linemen for Alabama, Payne fit right in from the start. With guys like A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen stealing headlines in previous years, it was Payne’s turn to take over on the interior of the Tide’s feared defense. Despite recording just one sack all season, he was a force inside and made headlines late into his junior campaign, when he came up with an interception, directly followed up by a receiving touchdown, versus Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and then enforced his will against Georgia in the National Championship game.
Payne dominates in the ground game, where he doesn’t allow blockers to get into his frame and has the agility to shed them to make the tackle. At 320 pounds, he shows great pursuit, as well as a combination of quick hands and feet to get around his man. He displays his power on several occasions, when he just drives his man into the lap of the quarterback or busts up run plays, when opposing offenses decide to leave their center on an island in the ground game. Payne frequently overpowered that guy and disrupted the play instantly.
The second-team All-SEC member consistently was the first guy off the ball along the Bama D-line. Payne can stack and shed as well as anybody in this draft class, not named Vita Vea. He played the nose role for most of his collegiate career, but went from being regarded as a pure wall in the middle of the Bama defense, to a potential first-round pick with the playmaking and disruptiveness from that spot, for the people who really watched his tape instead of just looking at his numbers.
The big question with Payne is – Why wasn’t he more consistently effective against the passing game? I thought the big guy was double-teamed a lot and freed up his teammates in the process. On their sub-packages, when he was lined up over the guards or on their outside shoulder, he looped around on a multitude of snaps to draw the attention away from the crashing end and grabbed some cloth to open up a lane for his buddies. Towards the end of the year, Payne started playing the gap much more aggressively and showed the ability to get around guards and centers. I think his best pass-rushing move is the arm-over swim, where he displays the hips to step around and redirect to take a direct path to the quarterback. With his immense power, he can also push the pocket on bull-rushes.
Payne’s biggest weakness is the fact that his rush kind of stalls if the blocker stays in front of him and the initial move doesn’t work, or he runs into another O-lineman. He has yet to develop an effective counter and some experienced offensive linemen will shut him down if he doesn’t work on that part of him game and improves his lateral agility to finish sacks.
Versus Georgia, Payne had four quarterback hits and three solo-tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage, in the first half alone, and got his hands on the QB on several more snaps after that. He is not the type of stud Jonathan Allen was a year ago, but he’s a rock against the run and a much better pass-rusher than he gets credit for. Payne plays hard all the time and his best days should be ahead of him.
4. Taven Bryan, Florida
This kid took over for Caleb Brantley last season, after that guy was drafted in the sixth round by the Browns. Unlike Brantley, who showed major flashes but inconsistent effort, you can’t blame Bryan for taking off any plays. In the midst of a disappointing 4-7 season with Florida, he was one of the few bright spots, busting his ass off routinely and not giving up, no matter the score or time left on the clock.
Bryan gets down into his four-point stance and jumps out of it with elite get-off at around 300 pounds, often times being in the gap before his guard even comes out of his stance. He has the strength of a bear and possesses extremely heavy hands. The former Gator forces holdings and splits double-teams constantly, plus he does a great job of tugging and pulling the jerseys of offensive linemen to put them on the ground.
He has some excellent bend and ability to flatten to the quarterback or running back, which honestly is reminiscent of J.J. Watt, in terms of swimming past the blocker, going back-door and chasing down the ball-carrier from behind. Bryan’s pursuit and effort to run guys down from behind is outstanding. He gets some O-linemen off balance and just tosses them to the turf late. He can slither through multiple protectors by turning his shoulders sideways and squeezing through the opening.
The 300-pounder really flashed versus Tennessee and in the fourth quarter versus Kentucky, which were the first two games I really took notice of his non-stop motor. Bryan is a one-year wonder with just 5.5 career sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. However, his statistics don’t nearly indicate the kind of impact he had on contests, as he was double-teamed constantly in a multitude of games, as well as running backs chipping on him, and he still made an impact.
Bryan is extremely aggressive at getting upfield, but lets some O-linemen use that to their advantage occasionally, as they take Bryan’s momentum and lack of balance to guide them deeper into the backfield and open up a big running lane underneath of him. That way he also leaves his ribs vulnerable for shots and gets caught pretty bad on cut blocks, due to how much he shifts his weight towards his upper body on his starts. I thought he got down into his stance a little late occasionally too.
While he was a disruptive force at 3-technique, I think Bryan would also fit a slanting 3-4 defense, as a base D-end. His burst early on and late on plays are what has me very intrigued. He displayed his explosiveness at the combine, jumping just under 10 feet in the broad and 35 inches in the vert. What I think he needs to do, is play the game more from his shoulders up, showing better awareness against different blocking schemes and developing a reliable counter move.
5. Harrison Phillips, Stanford
This big boy comes from a wrestling background and uses it to toss offensive linemen around the field. Phillips was a very productive two-year starter for the Cardinal and after being an honorable mention two years ago, he was a member of the All-Pac-12 team last season, as he led all interior defensive linemen and Stanford players, with more than 100 tackles and 17 of them going for a loss.
Phillips is big-bodied penetrator, who can split double-teams, as well as reach out wide to either side to slow down or trip up ball-carriers. He just fires off the ball, takes on the blocker and throws him when he’s ready to wrap up the running back. At 6’4’’, 310 pounds, Phillips basically eats people up. He can destroy counter-plays when he swims the initial blocker and gets a crack on the pulling guard in the back-field. He also rips under the shoulder of the offensive linemen on zone-plays, to establish his position.
The former Stanford D-lineman displays unbelievable pursuit for a guy his weight. He also has a little shake to him for a big guy and showed some upside as a pass-rusher. He flashes a quick arm-over swim, which he beat some guys clean off the snap with. In addition to that, he blocked a field-goal in the second quarter versus UCLA to keep it a one-score game. Not even Quenton Nelson and those Notre Dame guys could push Phillips around in the run game. The one game I did see him get moved off the line, came against San Diego State.
Phillips was taken off the field on some third downs, but he is great at pushing the pocket and still recorded 14.5 sacks over his last two seasons. However, he is kind of a one-trick pony as a pass rusher. He has a quick club-and-rip or -swim, but mostly he reverts back to his bull-rush. Phillips can get reached or shielded from the play and defers to pushing his way back, instead of moving his feet laterally, slapping away the blocker’s hands and allowing himself to stay in position to play either way.
I thought Phillips had a great overall week at Senior Bowl practice, really upping his value by proving himself as a two-way player, with the ability to control the point of attack in the run game as well as creating push up the middle in the passing game. He put some of those interior offensive linemen in Mobile on skates in the actual game and got a couple of hits on the QBs. While I don’t expect him to ever be a double-digit sack guy at the pro level, I think he has upside in terms of collapsing that pocket and allowing blitzers to run free. There’s definitely a role for him on third downs. The team that drafts him, just needs to find it.
6. Tim Settle, Virginia Tech
Despite being a sought-after recruit out of high school, Settle didn’t hesitate to redshirt his freshman year to drop weight and work on his conditioning, as his coaches recommended him to. After coming off the bench as a sophomore, he had a big year in his only season as a starter for the Hokies, earning second-team All-ACC honors with 12.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Settle is built like a fridge, but he has rare short-area-quickness and power at 335 pounds. When he stays low, he can’t be moved in the run game. Settle is a bowling ball in the middle, who shows a ton of effort and hustle. He seems to drive the guy in front of him two or three yards into the backfield on every single run play. Trying to reach or arm-block him is a very bad idea, because he’ll show up in the backfield. Settle has the ability to shut down one gap by bench-pressing the O-lineman and then jump towards the one on the opposite side of the blocker, when the ball-carrier comes through, and either hold him up or chase him down from behind. When he his mind set on just shooting straight upfield, I’m not sure if there’s anybody, who can really stop him from doing so.
This huge body can just walk some offensive lineman back into the lap of the quarterback. I’ve seen blockers turn 180 degrees with him, just to they can keep hands on him, while he’s getting around them. Settle’s balance for such a large man is off the charts. I’ve seen him get cut off the snap and he was on his way down, but then popped right back up, retraced himself and brought down the quarterback. Versus Miami he had one snap, where he slanted towards the inside of the offensive tackle, went around him with a swim and then slipped under the guard to get to the quarterback just a split second late. He’s just a very active rusher in general for someone, who needs a ton of stamina to sustain that kind of effort.
Unfortunately, Settle had an underwhelming combine performance. His instincts for where the ball is going and who has the ball on zone-reads is sub-par. Often times, he is more focused on making his blocker look back instead of bringing the ball-carrier to the ground. Settle falls for play-action and screen passes heavily. He also loses his footing and balance occasionally and doesn’t always put his hands where they are supposed to be. With just 23 total college games, he didn’t see a ton of action and is not that technically refined.
Settle even lined up at three-technique or across from the offensive tackle at 335 pounds. He doesn’t even know yet just how good he could be some day. I think he should still lose some excess weight and overall, I just want him to work on being more technically sound and play smarter. I was surprised, Settle left school after limited experience, because he would have benefited from another year of learning on the fly and improve his draft stock. If some team manages it to unleash his full potential, they could get a first-round talent on day two.
7. B.J. Hill, N.C. State
Hill primarily lined up at 1-tech for the Wolfpack, but played from the outside shoulder of the guard a large amount as well. He was a consistent four-year performer for the N.C. State defense and was an honorable mention for the All-ACC team in 2017, which had the super-talented Clemson D-tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence headlining the position.
At 6’4’’, 315 pounds, Hill is very compact and wide, with a ton of strength at the point of attack. He has 33-inch arms to keep blockers away from his body and is a rock against the run usually with heavy hands to shock interior offensive linemen. Hill has some great initial burst off the line and plays with a forward lean, that enables him to hold his ground at all times. He also shows excellent pursuit with the ball-carrier in range for a big guy. For a shade nose, he put up some good tackle production, with 183 total stops over his four years at N.C. State, including 57 last year.
Hill has an excellent arm-over swim move, which he takes usage of when O-linemen lean too much into him and he lets them whiff on the block. He puts his hands up late to take away throwing lanes and does a good job fighting himself free deep into plays with his arms. Hill gets his arm underneath of the shoulder of his blocker consistently to avoid hands inside his frame and ran a bunch of T-E-twists as the initial mover, which opened up his defensive end.
However, he gets his head snapped back occasionally as a pass rusher and his rush kind of stalls once he is caught in-between two offensive linemen. I think he attacks the blocker too straight up on several occasions and allows the opposition to mirror him from that point on. At the same time, he raises his pad-level on his own to get vision on the quarterback, instead of just attacking a gap and finding that guy once he’s past the blocker.
I thought Hill was the standout performer at Senior Bowl practices, where he was a problem in one-on-ones with that power and change-up once he got the blocker out of position. He won against some of the top interior offensive linemen in the country. When he stayed low, he couldn’t really be held back and he performed one of the sweetest spin moves I saw from anybody all week in one-on-ones (including running backs). Hill came in at 311 pounds at the combine and ran a hundredth of a second under five, in addition to having a nice field workout. I already liked his tape a lot, but similar to the Saints’ Sheldon Rankings, he showed me that he’s much more dynamic than I thought he was, during the pre-draft process. Hill likely won’t be a first-round pick, but there is no way he should go past day two of the draft.
8. R.J. McIntosh, Miami
I was a big fan of the Miami defensive front during the collegiate season already, but when I started watching tape on McIntosh specifically, I only realized how much he was whooping people. The second-team All-ACC performer recorded 22 TFLs over his last two seasons and disrupted a bunch of other plays in the backfield, where a teammate was credited on the stat sheet instead of the Miami D-tackle.
McIntosh gets off the line with a low pad level, attacks one shoulder of the blocker and puts pressure on him off the snap that way. He has an understanding for different blocking schemes and plays with excellent extension. Moreover, he beats blockers on an angle by swiping down their hands and flattens down the line once he sees the run go the outside or the opposite way. McIntosh squeezes the hole by pushing his blocker down the line and has a good feel for when he can spin back around and put hands on the ball-carrier. In addition to that, he has the closing burst to chase down runners to the sideline and arrives there with some thump. Versus North Carolina, McIntosh hustled 55 yards downfield to make the touchdown-saving tackle. That was a game he recorded 11 tackles from his DT spot.
The 290-pounder has some moves for a big guy and strings his hands together very well. He is kind of slippery on the inside and shows a pretty nice spin move. McIntosh can work the push-pull and when he rips under the shoulder of his blocker, he is basically past him and hunting the passer. Miami ran a bunch of defensive tackle twists with him and often some D-ends, who slid inside. If you want to know how athletic McIntosh is, watch him pick up a fumble popping straight off the ground, turn around and return it for 35 yards against Virginia Tech. He also knocked down seven passes in 2017.
Nevertheless, McIntosh loses balance occasionally and then can get pushed back if he doesn’t gather himself quickly enough. He might have been the only player I saw on tape, who threw down Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson on a couple of snaps, but he was also put on his back a few himself in that game. Overall he doesn’t quite have an NFL body yet and will need some work to stand his ground in the run game.
I couldn’t put McIntosh any higher, because I don’t think he’s ready to take on pro offensive linemen and he hasn’t quite filled out his frame at point. However, when I put him out there, I want him to attack upfield and penetrate plays. So being a 3-tech or playing some other shade spot in a 3-4 would suit him well. I loved his tape and I think he could be a special player in a couple of years. I just thought he needed another year in school to develop.
9. Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
This Canada native was recruited by one of the Fort Hays State coaches, who saw his highlight tape as a linebacker. Shepherd continued to grow as a player (and in mass) during his time at school and was named Defensive Player of the Year in the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Despite a lower level of competition in that Division II conference, Shepherd has scouts buzzing because of his measurements and some flashes in the pre-draft process.
At 6’5’’, 315 pounds, Shepherd gets up the field in a hurry and flattens his path immediately once the back bounces it to the outside. He displays all-out effort, while having some snaps, where he jacks back the guy across from him and just rides him four yards into the backfield, right into the running back. Shepherd catches a lot of rushers at their legs, by just reaching out when they are on their way by. He was double-teamed constantly at Fort Hays State. The D2 standout torques and twists O-linemen with his clubs and cloth tugs. He side-steps blockers while knocking their hands away on club-rip moves, while flashing a powerful slap of the opposing arms.
Shepherd’s snap timing isn’t where it needs to be yet, as he was the last guy off the line on several snaps. He doesn’t have enough knee-bend on spins and can easily be mirrored on them. When he doesn’t use extension and lets a big blocker get in his chest or a double-team working on him, he loses traction and gets driven back on some occasions. Shepherd doesn’t read what’s going on in the backfield properly at this point and still needs to develop a feel for blocking schemes. He also doesn’t recognize screen passes at all yet.
The Canadian riser picked up some steam during Senior Bowl week, by shining in one-on-ones and team drills, before injuring his hand. He also looked very explosive and quick at the combine. Shepherd is extremely raw at this point, but he could become a versatile contributor. He certainly needs some time to develop and might not really see the field for a year or two. However, with better technique and work on the whiteboard, I could see him as a D-tackle in a 4-3 or base end in a 3-4 in the future.
T.-10 Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama
Barely anybody knows this, but Hand was a top-ten overall recruit in 2014 and at some point was considered ahead of guys like Myles Garrett and Leonard Fournette. Clearly, he never made the same kind of impact like those two guys did. Hand was expected to be a breakout player for the Crimson Tide last season, but was kind of forgotten with so many great players around him. Yet, he presents a thick, muscular build and good size at 6’4’’ with 35-inch arms.
Hand possesses excellent burst and quickness in short areas and has some shock in his hands at the initial punch. He flashed the ability to catch tackles off guard with a quick jump inside the B-gap when lined up on the edge. The former member of the Tide stuns pullers coming around the edge and having a tight-end trying to kick him out on zone split runs is laughable. For the most part, Hand grabs some cloth and controls the blocker’s momentum. He also does a nice job bending his knees and extending his arms, when avoiding cut blocks.
The athletic defensive lineman excels grabbing the back of the shoulder-pad to get by his offensive lineman and showed he can be pretty slippery as a pass rusher. However, he didn’t get a lot of snaps in sub-packages for Alabama. Hand is kind of a tweener between a 3-4 and 4-3 DE. Versus Clemson, he lined up primarily in a two-point stance from that edge position and made quite a few big stops in that Sugar Bowl. Hand has a way of getting free when stunting inside and can work his way around the blocker, by dipping that shoulder and getting under him.
Hand was basically shut down in the National Championship game when matched up with Georgia’s left tackle Isaiah Wynn. He struggled in pass-rush drills early on at the Senior Bowl, but had some good reps in the later portions. Anyhow, he recorded just four sacks in his two seasons with playing time in double-digit games. In my opinion, he is a little late at shedding blocks in general. He was arrested for DUI last offseason and missed three games with an MCL injury in 2017.
Looking at him in pads, Hand looks like a pro player already, but despite the high accolades he received coming out of high school, Hand’s production never matched the talent. He never quite brought the intensity you’d like to see from a defensive linemen and NFL coaches will need to bring that out of him. You are drafting Hand based on his natural abilities and the fact you believe you can maximize those on the field.
T.-10 Rasheem Green, USC
This guy is a former five-star recruit, who started his last two seasons for the Trojans. In 2017, he was named a member of the All-Pac-12 team after recording 12.5 tackles for loss and ten sacks. Despite putting up excellent numbers for someone, who played defensive tackle, Green is still a piece of clay, who needs to be formed by coaches and taught how to play with the right technique.
Green offers a muscular physique with limbs as arms and is a very fluid mover. He continues to fight through blocks until the whistle blows. While he flashes some clean wins off the snap, like he did versus Ohio State’s center Billy Price in the Cotton Bowl, he needs to do it more consistently. When opposing teams run zone and the blocker needs to take care of him on an angle, Green can stack and shed offensive linemen. He chases guys downfield when the ball is thrown over his head or out to the flats. When Green puts his helmet inside the chest of an offensive linemen and takes them for a ride, they lose their balance. Moreover, he uses his long arms to grab pads and swim over blockers.
The 6’5’’ athlete typically is not the fastest guy off the line. He doesn’t really get rid of the hands of offensive linemen with his club and doesn’t always fully extend his arms, as well as failing to square up his pads. Therefore, he gives up a ton ground at the point of attack in the process and got destroyed by some double-teams. Green has to do a better job at stringing moves together when rushing the passer and develop some kind of counter if his initial move doesn’t work, instead of just trying to push the O-lineman from there on out.
At this point, I think Green needs to be out on the edge, because he gets moved by those big bodies inside. However, I think he eventually grow into the body of a 3-4 defensive end and have a bright future there, if he manages to become a tougher assignment in the run game. He showed some great explosiveness at the combine with a 9’10’’ broad jump and a 4.73 in the 40. I put Green in a tie with Hand, because I think he also is a projection at this moment and should have gone back to school for another year, but the talent is undeniable.
Just missed the cut:
Andrew Brown, Virginia
This is a former top-five recruit, coming out of high school, who never really lived up to the hype during his collegiate career. Brown sat on the bench his first two years at Virginia and finally got a starting gig in 2016. He recorded 23.5 tackles for loss since then, but it was until this offseason that he really started to ascend as a draft prospect, as he flashed in portions during Senior Bowl week and had a pretty good combine performance. Brown looks like Bradley Chubb body-wise in that number 9 jersey. He has a huge amount of natural power and plays with extension. He lined up a ton as a true 4-3 defensive end and even in a two-point stance, while being tagged to cover backs coming out occasionally. Brown possesses tremendous flexibility and an ability to redirect once he is past the line, plus his motor never stops running. He has this shake to him as a pass-rusher, that you don’t see from a lot of interior guys. When he jumps inside, he keeps the blocker from performing his power-step by attacking the inside shoulder and dipping through. Brown beats guards at crossing their faces on inside stunts and flashes a violent club-and-dip to get past offensive linemen. However, he hesitates off the line at times instead of just bursting upfield and gives the O-line some time to set up. When he does fire off the ball, his get-off is edge rusher-like. In the Military Bowl versus Navy, Brown had one snap, where he looked like he was shot out of a cannon and the quarterback couldn’t even take his first step, much less hand the ball off, before he was taken down. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always stack the blocker, but rather tries to get around him instead sometimes and opens up running lanes. Overall, he is not the guy to just hold his ground and even got driven back by some tight-ends. While some believe Brown would fit a 3-4 defense better as an end, I think he is truly a three-tech, who needs to win with his burst off the line and being disruptive. He would be pushed around quite a bit if you ask him to two-gap and the double-team hits him from the side. Brown needs to be in a system, where he can just get off the ball and chase guys down.
Deadrin Senat, South Florida
Senat is an extremely powerful, big body inside with a stout build at six feet flat and 320 pounds. He was named second-team All-AAC and the Bulls’ defensive MVP after recording 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks as a senior. The 675-pound squatter creates push up the middle and can pull blockers to either side when he extends and grabs. He also flashes a quick-swipe on some snaps, where he makes the offensive linemen completely whiff on the block. Senat gets his arm under the shoulder of the blockers on rip-moves and takes those guys with him into the backfield, while catching a lot of ball-carriers on their way by and wrestling them to the ground. He takes advantage of offensive linemen shifting their weight forward to hold him up and slips past them. As a junior, Senat didn’t have a plan0 whatsoever yet as a pass rusher and deferred mostly to just extending his arms and bouncing around, while looking at the quarterback. I thought he got much better in 2017 at using his hands to create separation and showed increased effort at hustling down ball-carriers. He finally started to realize, to put pressure on blockers, he needs to attack one shoulder of the blocker to make them move that way and from that point on, he can work. Senat also showed a pretty sweet spin move on some occasions. Yet, he has troubles creating separation on some downs due to a lack of length and gets washed down the line a bit. He doesn’t consistently stress offensive linemen off the snap with great initial penetration and shows questionable stamina, as he gets a little lazy with his rush when he’s tired. I think he is probably limited to a 1-tech in a 4-3 with limited upside as a pass-rusher. However, he absolutely dominated against Texas Tech in the Birmingham Bowl with three sacks, when he just overpowered the offensive line of the Red Raiders on several on occasions, Senat is a prospect on the upswing with major technical improvements coming into his final year at South Florida and that crazy bowl game performance. As I said, his natural fits are narrow, but I was encouraged by what I saw from him during his senior year.
Trenton Thompson, Georgia
Thompson was named the Maxwell National Player of the Year and All-American his senior year in high school, after posting a ridiculous 36 tackles for loss and 17 sacks. He comes off the ball low and plays with a wide base. The former Bulldog has sudden, active hands and makes a lot of blockers miss to go back-door. He brings a ton of power at initial contact, plus he understands when he can spin out of traffic and go after the ball-carrier. On zone plays, he attacks the inside shoulder of the next man, to allow his teammates to run free and stop the flow of the offense. Thompson displays outstanding pursuit and hustle for a guy his size. Anyhow, his snap anticipation and timing are very inconsistent, as he has some snaps, where he is way too slow off the snap and others where he has a step on everybody else on the Georgia D-line. In 2016 versus TCU, he swiped past his direct blocker, then stood up the pulling guard and forced the running back to basically run it like a dive, which was stopped for two yards. Thompson doesn’t read screens yet, but at least hustles his ass off and forces the QB to throw it in the dirt if the screen-man is covered. He can torque his body in different directions and shows the ability to counter an offensive lineman opening up his hips one way and then getting underneath of him on the other shoulder. He also takes advantage when those blockers lean too far into him, by swimming by them and Georgia ran a bunch of twists inside and with his ends. Thompson’s ability to change directions at about 300 pounds is outstanding, but he can get predictable with his spin move. The big guy held his ground versus McGlinchey and Nelson on the left side of the Notre Dame O-line and had a productive sophomore campaign with 9.5 TFLs and five sacks. Anyhow, he only played 35 percent of Georgia’s defensive snaps in 2017 due to being banged up for most of the year. His inability to stay healthy could define his pro career like it did in college to a large degree, but I like his tape and the stats don’t nearly do him justice.
Poona Ford, Texas
This young man is a bowling ball inside, who gets off the ball and upfield. Ford was voted first-team All-Big XII in 2017. He uses his natural leverage to own the point of attack and the three points of his hands and helmet to attack the chest of the offensive line and create extension. He can release when the ball-carrier is in range and when slanting to one side from his 0-technique and the center going the other way. Ford can retrace and run down ball-carriers on zone-plays, before the guard puts hands on him. At North of 300 pounds, he can turn his upper body in different directions and keep his balance. Ford rips under the blocker and runs through with him, but doesn’t really create vision on the backfield that way and if the run goes the opposite direction, Ford simply rides his guy straight back, which doesn’t influence the play. He can get a little predictable and lazy with his pass rush versus quick-pace offenses, not really making the O-line work to keep him in check. Ford lets his lack of height define his style of play at times, when the blocker shoots his hands inside his frame quickly. So if he can’t use that three-point technique, he struggles to create extension. In the Senior Bowl game, Ford destroyed a screen by knocking down the QB before the running-back could even get himself into position to receive the ball. I saw a bunch of snaps on tape, where he just instantly read screen and blew it up. Ford displays all-out effort when chasing after ball-carriers. Versus TCU, he was cut down at the snap and had a throwback screen tossed over his head. He got back up onto his feet and hustled the receiver down 20 yards downfield to save a touchdown. With his lack of length, I don’t see him being able to two-gap as a true nose and he will be limited to an upfield 1-technique in a 4-3 scheme. I love the motor and balance, but there’s very few nose-tackles who don’t surpass six feet.
The next guys up:
Derrick Nnadi (Florida State), Justin Jones (N.C. State), Kendrick Norton (Miami), Jordan Atkins (Georgia), Folorunso Fatukasi (UConn), Lowell Lotulelei (Utah)
Find more from Halil’s Real Footballtalk, including prospect rankings on all the other position groups, at https://halilsrealfootballtalk.com/