The big man up the middle. The heart of the defense. The guys that crush the pocket from the inside up. It's time to look at the defensive tackle prospects for 2014.
And as always players are listed in the order they are due to the way the list I'm working from is ordered.
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
A classic "3 technique" defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. For the benefit of those who don't know what I mean by that, it means he is best placed to line up on the outside shoulder of one of the offensive guards (normally the guard to the strong or tight end side) and then rush in the gap between the guard and the tackle.
In this role he performs exceptionally well. He's incredibly difficult to block one on one and routinely finds himself in the oppositions backfield. As a result of his performances he started to attract a lot of double teams as time went by. And when I say a lot of double teams, I really do mean a lot of double teams. Yet somehow he still found ways to make plays.
In the NFL that's a very attractive prospect, to have an interior rusher who needs to be routinely doubled up to stop him ruining your day. The problem it presents for people when he plays in that 3 technique position is that the only way to really get a good double block would be to use the offensive tackle to help out, and put the tight end on the defensive end. And that's not really an option when the defensive end on the outside is an NFL caliber player.
Before I gush too much about him, the weakness of Donald is that on running plays he does have difficulty holding his point on the line. Often guards will get under him, which is quite the feat considering Donald is reasonably short at just 6ft tall. When he lines up on the inside of a guard and gets doubled by a center/guard combo on inside runs he often gets driven right back out of the hole, despite digging in with his feet.
From a coaches perspective then it's a question of how much do they value his pass rushing skills. He does stuff some runs, and when blocked one on one he does use his speed on occasion to get into the backfield and make the tackle on the running back for a loss.
Given his exceptional skills as a pass rushing 3 technique I personally would be happy to overlook the problems with the run game and take him with a first round pick. I think he's worth the value. Not sure whether a team that runs more of a 3-4 defense would see the same value, as they'd probably want a more capable run stuffer.
Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Erm, so other than his "projectable frame" that everyone seems to be raving about, there isn't really a lot to Hageman's game. Honestly, there were better defensive tackle prospects at the bottom end of my defensive ends list. You'd have to be mad to use a first round pick on Hageman.
Perhaps from the sixth round down you might look at him as someone who could clog the inside and because he was a convert from tight end you might argue that he still has some coaching left in him. Maybe. Not exactly a priority to find out though.
Louis Nix, Notre Dame
Big, big dude is Louis Nix. Or at least heavy, at any rate. Err. Kind of running out of things to say about him that are positives.
I just don't get Nix. He weighs over 330 pounds but you'd never guess that the way he often gets blocked out of plays. Head to head he can get his hands on an offensive lineman and drive them back a bit, but he just never really seems to have that great of an impact on the game. It always seems to be passing him by.
As to where he ends up, well conceivably he could play either as a 1 technique in a 4-3 defense or a nose tackle in a 3-4, but wherever he ends up I suspect he'll be more of a block eater, the guy that takes pressure off of other people, as opposed to being the game changing player in his own right.
For that reason I wouldn't want to use a first round pick on him. I'm not even sure I would want to use a second. I just cant see him being worth that kind of value when there are other players left on the board.
Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
This is a rough year for picking up defensive tackles by the looks of it. Jernigan is not worth picking in my opinion. I watched him against a couple of pretty decent teams (including the BCS Championship game against Auburn) and he did literally nothing. He was bullied easily and didn't even contribute by generating pressure or moving the pocket. He was the grey man, disappearing into the shadows. I don't understand the hype at all.
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Kill me now.
Huge player. 6'7", 352 pounds. Shame he's not especially athletic or that skilled with his hands which means he contributes - by and large - nothing. He occupies space. There are lots of people who can do that. Again, I look back at that list of defensive ends and towards the bottom I find players who did better working inside on a temporary basis.
Anthony Johnson, LSU
Occasionally managed to get a bit of leverage on his man. Shame he didn't do anything with it really. Against good opposition he didn't really contribute. You could use him as a rotation man at the 1 technique or nose position if you're desperate. He'll perhaps make one or two plays a season. For me I just can't help thinking that there will always be more impactful players available to draft and if you need help that desperately at tackle then you might as well pick up one of the free agents.
Ego Ferguson, LSU
Smothered and didn't contribute. He was a body that at least required blocking, which is literally the best thing I can say about him.
So the story so far; if you want to draft a defensive tackle then either draft Aaron Donald or go to the defensive ends list and draft one of those guys near the bottom.
Deandre Coleman, California
Please be good, please be good, please be good.... result. Sort of.
Coleman has a future as a three technique tackle I think. Against the run he tends to get pushed around, but he did show the ability on occasion to split double teams and make plays. His greatest benefit on the field though is his pass rushing.
One on one, taking the shoulder of a guard and looking to beat him into the backfield, Coleman is quite a disruptive force. He's not as quick as Donald or as strong, but he still makes plays even on a rubbish defense. Maybe a borderline second round pick, he's at least worth a third rounder in my book.
DaQuan Jones, Penn State
Had some good games and some average games. Unfortunately the average games almost always came against teams that are more representative of NFL talent (including players who will be drafted this year).
He had his moments though. Against average blockers he can beat a man one on one and he sometimes split double teams. He has a variety of pass rush moves and was on occasion able to use these effectively even against the better blockers.
I think his performance against the weaker teams has probably inflated his draft stock a little, but he still has raw talent. From the fourth round onwards I think he has value. It could potentially just have been a blip that he was contained against people like Ohio State and that he really is worth a second or third as many people think, but dismissing clearly visible evidence is not usually a good recipe in the long term. Has the potential to play as a 1 technique in a 4-3.
Dominique Easley, Florida
If nothing else then at the very least Easley is fun to watch.
There is something else though, because Easley is actually a good player. He suffered a knee injury from which he's still rehabbing and that will hurt his draft stock as nobody has any way of knowing what he'll come out like on the other side.
Now for a guy that's only 6'2" and 288 pounds Easley is pretty damn strong. He uses his hands well and gets under offensive linemen, driving them up from underneath and using his strength to walk them back into the quarterback. He's not quite big enough to play as a nose tackle in a 3-4, but he could play pretty much any other interior line position, whether it be a defensive end in a 3-4, or a 1 or 3 technique in a 4-3.
Admittedly his speed is a little lacking and he is quite reliant on his power as he doesn't have that varied set of pass rush techniques like some others, but his disruptive capabilities are undeniable. Probably would have been a second round pick for me without the injury, but with that damaged knee and the fact that he has previously had surgery on his other knee as well I think you have to apply a risk premium and move him to the third round.
Jay Bromley, Syracuse
Not bad, not great.
Could probably play as a 3-4 end or a 1 technique in a 4-3, but not sure he has the speed and pass rushing technique to be a 3 technique. If that makes sense.
He wasn't bad, but he didn't really blow you away either. A little underwhelming. Made the odd play against some average opposition, but not enough to justify going higher than probably the fifth round for me. He has a chance to make some money as a rotational player somewhere, but that's probably the cap on his long term future.
Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
You can't miss Ellis. At just 6'1" but 334 pounds he stands out like a sore thumb on the defensive line, partly because of his size, and partly because he's the one that constantly gets stood up by the offense.
The problem is that as soon as the ball is snapped he immediately stands right up of his own accord. He then tries to run forward at the line and of course they immediately get right under his pads and he stops going forward at that point.
Pick wasted if you take Ellis, in my opinion at least.
Will Sutton, Arizona State
Spent most of the time on the ground. For a guy as big as him you'd expect more. Comparing 2012 to 2013, it appears on the surface like he might have lost weight and gotten a bit quicker. But that didn't seem to make much of a difference to his play. Me personally, I'd pass on Sutton.
Brent Urban, Virginia
Contributed very little. Just didn't have the speed, the strength or the technique to get around people. I'd pass.
Bruce Gaston, Purdue
Ok. Just ok.
Played more as a 3-4 end than as a defensive tackle. Had an ok burst off the snap, nothing special. Did use his arms well though a couple of times and showed some half decent swim moves.
Not sure what you'd really do with Gaston. He could probably play as a 3-4 end in the NFL, might even have a shot as a 3 technique in a 4-3, but I think in both cases he'd do so on a rotational basis as opposed to being a starter. He's not bad, but nor does he really jump out and excel.
Perhaps a fifth round pick or below for me, bring him in and see how he pans at. How your board pans out would do a lot to dictate where Gaston would end up.
Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
Quarles has been criticised by many saying that his production in 2013 was caused by playing next to Jadeveon Clowney and that he benefited from Clowney getting double teamed.
Actually watching the games, which appears to be a novelty in the scouting community these days, would clearly demonstrate that Quarles spent most of 2013 taking double teams away from Clowney. Indeed Quarles appears to be the predominant reason why Clowney wasn't double teamed on every play.
Quarles mainly played as a 1 technique in South Carolina's 4-3 scheme but he could equally play as a 3 technique, or as an end in a 3-4 scheme. One on one he proved incredibly difficult to block on a reliable basis and often found himself in the opposition's backfield. And despite all the attention he drew he still managed to come up with 9.5 sacks, most of them against good quality SEC competition.
For that reason I'm tempted to rate Quarles as a second rounder. I think perhaps there's a borderline between that and the third round, based on the fact that he is a little slow and sometimes when a play has passed him by he'll turn and walk, but he is a good tackle who could be drafted by any defense and would be reasonably flexible in terms of position.
Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State
Didn't seem to contribute much. Was quite easily blocked and failed to really make any valuable impact on the game. I'd pass.
Chris Whaley, Texas
Not bad. Not great. I seem to say that a lot unfortunately.
Whaley occasionally got some decent moves on one to one, but struggled when double teamed. He doesn't really the have the strength to hold the point of attack so his main benefit would be as a 3 technique in a 4-3. Even there his pass rushing skills are ok, but nothing really special. He's a later round target for me, the kind of player who might have a shot at becoming a rotational tackle.
Beau Allen, Wisconsin
Played as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. And got routinely manhandled one on one against the better offensive linemen. I'd pass.
Robert Thomas, Arkansas
For a guy that weighs 327 pounds he sure did get pushed around pretty easily. Thomas has had a few moments though, showed a nice swim move on occasion. I think if you were looking at players post draft then you might give Thomas a closer look and see if you can't do something with him. He'd be a cheap option and disposable if you have no use for him.
Demonte McAllister, Florida State
And finally, Demonte McAllister. Who's actually pretty good.
McAllister is projected as a seventh round/undrafted guy by most because he was only a backup for Florida State. I'm not sure what's more interesting though; why he's rated so lowly or why Florida St. only used him as a rotational player?
Because he is pretty good. He could probably play either of the interior tackle positions in a 4-3, or as a defensive end in a 3-4. I think his best fit is probably as a 3 technique because his speed and hand use are more suited to pass rushing in a one gap scheme where he'll face mostly one on ones.
And frankly I think from the third round downwards he has good value. He's not going to be a sack leading tackle, but I think he has the talent to start on an NFL line and I think he could have a pretty productive career. I'd be willing to give him a shot.
And that is your 2014 defensive tackles. Only 21 covered, there's more on the list I'm working from but unless someone is going to post me some DVDs of the likes of Temple and Ashland then forget it. I think that should be enough anyway.
Right, next up is outside linebackers I think. Some good players on that list and some controversy as well. All good fun.
And once again (must stop starting sentences with 'and') if you enjoyed this post and the other work I've done then by all means share it to your friends on Facebook or Twitter, I'd be very grateful for the help.