Following up on my rankings of the top ten interior offensive linemen, we now move back to the defensive side. IDL includes everything from a true zero-technique nose-tackle all the way out to a five-tech defensive end in a 3-4 front.
The days of those big defensive tackles, who are just immovable objects in the middle are over. That was indicated by what we saw from them at the combine, as we had three of the top four times for 300+ pounds D-linemen in the 40 getting set this year.
This group includes several upfield 3-techniques you can find in a 4-3 front, but also have kind of become the new standard of what NFL scouts are looking for, since defenses are rarely in base sets anymore and you are just looking for guys, who can create problems for the opposition by disrupting the play.
Here is the list:
1. Derrick Brown, Auburn
This young man was a top-ten national recruit after being named the Georgia Sports Writers Association Player of the Year as a high school senior with a ridiculous 42 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. Coming off the bench as a true freshman, Brown had two strong seasons after that – over 100 tackles combine, 19.5 of them for loss and eight sacks – and was considered a likely first-round pick in 2019, but he decided return for his senior season and was one of the most dominant players in the country. Brown was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year and unanimous All-American selection with four sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, four passes knocked down and two fumbles forced and recovered each.
At 6’5”, 325 pounds, Brown is a monster in the middle with more nimble parts to his game than his size might suggest. He usually comes off the ball with some burst and good pad-level. Plenty of times he seems to make offensive linemen take a step or two backwards in the run game or he just puts them on their butt. He has the pure strength to bench-press some guards and throw them out of the way as the running back comes towards him, being asked to two-gap every once in a while. Against double-teams he has the mass and power to hold his ground as well. Brown displays tremendous effort to not give up as he takes shots from the side and you see him chase guys down behind, as they run towards the sideline. A tackle for loss on the 4.3 Marquise “Hollywood” Brown from Oklahoma back in 2017 comes to mind here. When he gets his hands on the player with the ball, that guy usually goes down, illustrated by zero missed tackles on 42 attempts last season.
In the pass game, Brown shows some shock in his hands and he can destroy the integrity of the pocket with his bull rush. Overall he brings a lot of flexibility in his body for a big man, being able to run at angles and corner around blockers. He is great at hitting a rip move and then taking the blocker with him on his way to the quarterback and you see him yank blockers to the side by their pads if he feels his opponent lunging. Brown also flashed a pretty good spin move a couple of times last season and was actually utilized as a secondary looper at times on some T-T twists for the Tigers. He recorded 30 extra pressures to go along with his four sacks, including double-digit hits on the QB.
Brown was pretty clearly the most dominant interior D-lineman in the country last season, but even before that his talent it was clear he would once be a great player. He was a big reason the Tigers held Georgia to a grand total of 46 yards on the ground in their huge win against the then-number one ranked Bulldogs back in 2017, despite featuring one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks. Last season he had a big game against Texas A&M in 2019, when he was a frequent visitor in the backfield and almost picked off a screen pass to the running back. And against LSU he took a very powerful guard in Damien Lewis off his feet early on in that game and just wrecked maybe the best interior in the country throughout the day, forcing them to double- and even triple-teaming him on basically ever single snap. He received a lot of attention from opposing offense in all of the Tigers’ big games last season.
Unfortunately, Brown had kind of an underwhelming combine performance with the fourth-slowest 40 among all defensive linemen (5.16), the worst number in the three-cone drill (8.22) and below-average leaping numbers. This has brought up some questions about his athleticism. I would like to see the Auburn DT play with more extension in the run game and he needs to do a better job of fighting against reach-blocks, where he seems content with just running into a blocker and being big and in the way. Brown also needs to add a change-up to his power when getting after the passer. While he has been an effective pocket-pusher, I want to see him finish himself more often. Overall he still allows blockers to get into his chest on way too many occasions as a pass-rusher and stimy him in the process.
With that being said, Brown is a very complete all-around prospect for the interior D-line. He fits pretty much any front, being able to two-gap or be an upfield penetrator. He is a tank in the run game, who still has plenty of room to improve as a pass-rusher. Brown will be valued differently be some teams since he didn’t test very well and you might see more upside on passing downs with other guys, but I think he is a top-five overall prospect and could be a steal if he actually ends up slipping into the teens.
2. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
The stories of Kinlaw as a teenager are incredible, as he basically joined junior college because he needed a place where he could eat and sleep. He stood out and quickly received recognition, earning a full scholarship from the Gamecocks. After shedding 40 pounds upon his Division 1 debut, Kinlaw became a dominant player in the SEC. Over his last two years as a full-time starter he put a combined 15 tackles for loss, ten sacks, a couple of fumbles forced as well as recovered and seven passes broken up at the line. This ultimately earned him first-team All-American honors in 2019.
At 6’5”, 325 pounds, Kinlaw almost has the exact same measurements as Derrick Brown, but owns an incredibly rocked up body. 400 of his 625 snaps last season he lined up as a three-tech, where he would be best suited as a pro as well. Kinlaw routinely was the first one off the ball for South Carolina and created disruption by getting a couple of yards into the backfield, even if he is caught on the wrong side of blocks. You see him drive blockers backwards at initial contact and then pull down the ball-carrier trying to go up underneath that action. There was a play in the Georgia game last season, where he actually took the center five yards into the backfield, right into the running back, who had to change directions and was taken down for a TFL by another defender. The former Gamecock usually plays with good extension and against zone run plays, you see him work across the face of blockers and arrive at the ball, as the plays gets strung towards the sideline. In addition to that, with his long reach he gets his hands on some guys most D-linemen wouldn’t.
This kid puts some guys straight on their butt as a bull-rusher and he has a nice push-pull move to complement that. Kinlaw heavily pushed up the interior of the pocket and at least made the quarterback move or didn’t allow him to step into the throw. He flashes some quick rip and swim moves to defeat blockers and he makes them lose their balance on several occasions. When Kinlaw stunts into a different gap and the responsible blockers need to adjust to him, they are rarely quick or strong enough to put their body in front of the South Carolina standout, who mostly runs through their grasp. He also has very mobile hips, as he is coming off some type of twists and gets into the right lane. KInlaw’s six sacks and 40 total pressures in 2019 are highly considering protections were heavily slid towards him, where you often saw him just whoop the first man with an arm-over swim move before the secondary man was there waiting for him. While that limited some of his production, he still got to the passer through plenty of double-teams.
Kinlaw shows outstanding hustle to go with the obvious physical talents. He was absolutely unblockable versus Appalachian State last season. While this doesn’t really have anything to do with his actual play, there was a moment in the Georgia game, where a ball got loose and whistled dead immediately, which led to him picking it up and running around, just not looking like a defensive linemen, similar to the way I felt about Aaron Donald when he ran with the ball once a couple of years ago. Kinlaw was also a big reason that the Gamecocks could pull off the upset against the then-number one ranked Bulldogs in 2019. After the season ended, he continued to wreck the Senior Bowl and was clearly the top player in Mobile through the first two days, before having to sit out with a small injury.
With that being said, Kinlaw absolutely has to do a better job of anchoring down against double-teams and finding ways to succeed with weight transition and positioning his lower body correctly, as he allows that guy on an angle to turn his hips and take him out of his gap. Overall his pad-level needs to lower a little bit in the run game. He drops his head too much at times when engaged with a blocker and allows the ball-carrier to run right past him, plus his ability to diagnose blocking scheme is still developing. In the pass game, he needs to rush with a little more of a plan and add more moves to his pass-rush arsenal, as his power game was good enough to win in college.
Kinlaw is just a freak. While there are some technical nuances he has to learn as a run defender, he has all the power and explosiveness to create havoc in the backfield. And if he starts to link his feet and hands together as well as offering a little more variety, he could be a dominant pass-rusher at the next level. If put in the right situation – a B-gap penetrator – I wouldn’t be surprised if he is he ends up as the top interior D-linemen from this class. He gives me some Chris Jones vibes.
3. Ross Blacklock, TCU
Coming from a baseball background with his grandfather in the Hall of Fame for the University of Texas, Blacklock decided on showing his talents on the football field. The former four-star recruit joined the Horned Frogs and quickly made an impact, being named a Freshman All-American selection Co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. While he missed all of 2018 with a torn Achilles, Blacklock came back 25 pounds lighter last season and was one of the best players in the conference, earning first-team all-conference honors with 40 tackles, nine TFLs and 3.5 sacks
This 6’4”, 305-pound standout split time between 1- and 3-tech with TCU and lined up in a four-point stance a whole lot. Blacklock displays excellent upfield burst from the interior to disrupt plays. He has the core strength to anchor against big guards and hold his ground even if he caught in a bad position. You see blockers have a good angle on him and catch him from the side, but somehow the big guy leans into the opponent and barely gives up ground that way. You can also see some flash plays, where he kills an angle block and gets a chip on another puller to completely throw things off. At the same time, Blacklock can also swim past guys down to make them fall on their face and redirect towards the ball-carrier. He displays outstanding lateral quickness for a guy his size to work his way around blocks and not stay locked up. Blacklock frequently faced double-teams, which he attacked with low pad-level and tried to split the blockers, rarely allowing one of them to get off him and climb up to a linebacker. He also did a lot of stunting and twisting for TCU, even on base downs and had to adjust to the blocking scheme on the fly.
When he is soloed up, Blacklock can take offensive linemen for a ride with his bull-rush and long-arm. With his get-off he quickly gains an advantage on blockers. He was asked to cross multiple gaps and open up space on the interior for some of his teammates, where he showed excellent burst and wouldn’t give up on his own rush either. When he was the guy to be schemed free, you saw highly impressive speed to not even allow the O-line to pick him up. Blacklock was lined up on the tackle’s outside shoulder a few times last season and he showed good flexibility to corner towards the quarterback. The TCU D-tackle is more slippery in this area than you would think body-type wise and he has a very sudden dip of the shoulder to get underneath blockers. Wile he only recorded 3.5 sacks in 2019, he had an 27 additional pressures. That is despite faced a lot of double-teams and slide protections towards him in this area as well, with TCU rarely having more than three defenders on the line in close games, and he still usually at least found a way to create push. Blacklock also does a nice job deciphering screen passes, where he chased after the recipient, and was even dropped out a few times in the Horned Frogs’ scheme.
However, Blacklock is a little late getting into his stance at times and can’t impact plays the same way he might have been capable of. He doesn’t always stay true to his gap responsibility and overflows with the play. Blacklock has put together very little production in the pass game, as he allows blockers to get hands into his frame in protection too much and he needs to do a better job of attacking one half of the man, as well as rushing with more of a plan. His frame looks pretty much maxed out and will have to adjust a little from TCU’s slant-heavy scheme in the widen open Big 12.
When you draft this young man, you get a highly flexible three-tech, who can hold his ground in the ground, but also has the agility to flow with plays. Blacklock’s best days as a pass-rusher are still ahead of him, without a refined set of moves at this point. He brings a lot of versatility and upside to the table, which makes him a very intriguing option for me at the end of the first round.
4. Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
The top overall prospect out of Canada, Gallimore redshirted his first year in Norman, but in his first actual season he already showed a lot of promise, starting six of the final eight games and recording 40 tackles, with four of them for loss. While his sophomore season was marked by injury, he came back in 2018 as an honorable mention All-Big 12 with 50 tackles, five TFLs, three sacks and two forced fumbles. Last year he improved to second-team all-conference and third-team All-American with 7.5 TFLs, four sacks and another couple of fumbles forced.
At 6’2”, just over 300 pounds, Gallimore was asked to play way more nose and shade nose than he seems to be made for because Oklahoma simply didn’t have anybody else, who could fill that role. His get-off for a 300+ pound man is outstanding, showing excellent mobility and explosiveness for his size. Gallimore shifted between gaps shortly before the snap for the Sooners and slanted across gaps at a heavy rate, where he did a nice job throwing a shoulder at the blocker. He has his moments of yanking blockers to the side or back-dooring them and initiates the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Gallimore displays good short-area burst to take away angles towards the sideline as he flattens that way and he gets involved in a lot of tackles outside his area thanks to that excellent pursuit.
You see him really move in the pass game. Gallimore has some great moments with the arm-over, getting his hand on the back of the man to clear him. He can create some push and packs a tremendous spin move as a pass-rusher. He has the quickness to be a nightmare for centers and the opposing teams had guards helping out against him on a bunch of snaps. Gallimore shows great closing burst to get a hit on the QB. He has experience with several T-E and T-T twists, including as a delayed looper. Gallimore does not stop working to get to the quarterback despite having to be on the field for a large of amount of snaps as part of a bad Oklahoma defense, plus when he his rush does stall, he is looking to get his hands in the passing lane.
Overall he has recorded 49 additional pressures to with two seven sacks over the last two years. Only spent 21 snaps he spent outside the A- or B-gap last season, with the number between those two pretty much split in half. Gallimore has highly fluid hips and is explosive at re-accelerating as he changes directions in connection with a scrambling quarterback or a running back reversing field, which showed at the combine when he moved very well laterally and had excellent footwork through the bags. He also ran sub-4.8 in the 40 with a ten-yard split of 1.79 and displayed tremendous throughout the workout. About a month earlier during Senior Bowl week, Gallimore showed impressive explosive off the snap and flashed on several reps in the one-on-ones sessions with the O-line.
On the flipside, Gallimore is not an overly disciplined run-defender, spinning of blocks and losing track of the runner. He allows angular blocks to take him off balance or tries to work around them and open up an even bigger hole. He will need to work on de-constructing blocks and reading different run schemes. Moreover, Gallimore needs to be more efficient with his clubs and swipes, landing at the target spots at a higher rate and actually stepping around instead of just moving laterally in front of the blocker. He takes too many choppy steps when he isn’t sure where to go. The highly coveted recruit never quite put it all together for OU and every team will have their different explanation as to why that is.
If you had asked me a year ago about Gallimore, I would have told you he is a very athletic player, who might never live up to his potential. As a senior he showed much more urgency and effort, plus he had an outstanding pre-draft process, which made him shoot up my draft board. I think he is a 3-technique in a 4-3 front only pretty much and has plenty of work to do when it comes to defending the point of attacking and defeating the hands of blockers in the pass game, but NFL coaching and a more suitable role should help him get there.
5. Marlon Davidson, Auburn
This Alabama native was a USA Today All-American his senior year of high school before receiving SEC All-Freshman honors thanks to 38 tackles, six of them for loss, 2.5 sacks and four passes broken up. He was already an excellent player in years two and three for the Tigers and could have easily left after the 2018 season, but stayed true to his promise he made his late mother to earn a degree. That decision also paid off for his NFL future, being named first-team All-SEC selection with a team-leading 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and a fumble forced and recovered each.
Davidson actually lined up on the tackle’s outside more than two thirds of the defensive snaps and primarily used a two-point stance as a hybrid outside linebacker at 6’3”, 280 pounds (at least according to the school’s roster), but to he projects best as a three-tech at the next level and has already bulked up to 303 pounds. He was the first guy off the ball for Auburn the majority of the time and showed heavy hands in the run game. Davidson is patient with backside contain discipline when the offense runs zone away from him and he doesn’t allow much movement at all at the point of attack. When tight-ends are tagged with Davison and the play is going that way, those guys usually get man-handled and there is no lack of hustle by the Auburn star when the ball goes outside of his area.
I would call Davidson a power-rusher primarily with some edge qualities. He can point his hips to flatten the angle to the quarterback much better than most guys around 300 pounds, displaying good ankle flexibility and lean. He does a nice job swiping away the hands of tackles with a chop down and then kind of pinning the outside arm of the blocker if necessary. At the same time, he can consistently shorten the corner by using power to go with it. I have also seen him use some hesitation followed up by the bull-rush or a jump back to the outside. While Davidson did spend the majority of the time on the edge, he did slide inside on third downs quite a bit and was a looped across multiple gaps on some games up front. At the Senior Bowl Davidson absolutely bullied pretty much all of the tackles with his long-arm and quick swipes, putting several flat on their butt. Even though he unfortuntaley missed the last day of practice and the actual game, he did enough for me to bump him up my rankings.
With that being said, Davidson doesn’t have particularly great short-area agility to two-gap or beat blockers on slants from a head-up alignment all the time, plus he also struggles a bit to break down in space. The former Auburn edge rusher tends to drop his head working against a blocker and loses vision of the ball-carrier at times. He won’t show the burst to run guys down from behind at a very high rate with all that speed at the next level. As a pass-rusher he needs to be more ready to hit a secondary move, if he doesn’t get anywhere initially, rarely even having a plan ready.
While he played that kind of 3-4 outside linebacker spot for Auburn, Davidson clearly was put out of position. Even though he could probably survive as a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 front, he is best suited to slide inside and get up the B-gap to create problems. He is a man in the run game and puts on the heat as a pass-rusher, even if he isn’t the most dynamic player out there. There might be players with more upside, but to me you just know what you get when you select Davidson.
6. Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
This former five-star recruit played in every game as a backup his freshman season before earning the team’s Most Improved Player on defense in year two, leading the Aggies with 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, to go along with 40 tackles and 10.5 of them for loss. However, he might have been even better last season, when he put up almost identical TFL and sack numbers, but also intercepted a pass, broke up another two and blocked a kick.
This kid has a very unique body at 6’3”, just over 300 pounds with long limbs and a broad chest. Madubuike usually comes off the ball with some explosion and excellent leverage. He has a strong base and good balance to sustain shots from the side and not get taken advantage of when caught on one leg. That also comes in handy against double-teams, where he bends his knees and ankles to stand his ground. Madubuike has some jolt in his hands to rock offensive linemen backwards in the run game and you see him toss those guys to the side to swallow up running backs at times. He missed just one tackle in 2018 and rarely get guys get out of his grasp in general. The A&M standout had an impressive combine. He ran a 4.83 in the 40 and put up 31 reps on the bench-press at the combine, but most impressively he moved around very smoothly, running the hoop and reacting to change-of-direction stuff.
Madubuike gets around guards in the pass game with good swipes and long strides, clearing the blocker in just a couple of steps on some plays. He also has some snaps where he drives guys into the quarterback’s lap when he is singled up. There was even a play where he took LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry for a ride, who has one of the strongest anchors I have ever seen. You see Madubuike yank guys out of the way once they lean too much into him and he is a specialist at getting blockers off balance and then following through with a rip or such as. For an interior lineman, he is excellent at setting up stunts with a couple of steps upfield and then a sudden cut underneath. Madubuike drew a lot of attention on the interior by opponents. In addition to that, when he puts his arms in the air, it’s likely throwing through the woods for quarterbacks and he even made an athletic pick versus Arkansas last season.
However, the talented D-tackle needs to play with more extension in the run game and be more consistent with his aiming points altogether. Madubuike doesn’t offer much once his initial rush stalls, often times just settling for a pretty ineffective spin or trying to run around traffic. I have seen him disappear in some games – in a matchup versus Mississippi State center Darryl Williams for example – and he is not ready to take over contests at this point. Madubuike does not really chase after the ball with great effort, as his motor can kind of run hot and cold at times and he can get a little sloppy with his technique in the process.
This kid offers a tremendous combination of length, athleticism, balance and power, but he is certainly is not technically sound at this point and has to start playing under better control. I think Madubuike can fit pretty much any scheme, because he has the explosiveness to shoot up gaps, but even more so has all the tools to control the point of contact as a base defensive end in a 3-4 front. If he plays hard all the time and is willing to be coaches, he could be a great player in the pros.
7. Davon Hamilton, Ohio State
A former all-state selection in Ohio, Hamilton joined the Buckeyes as a three-star recruit back in 2015. After redshirting his first year on campus, he was a quality rotational piece the next two seasons. Once again he only started three contests in 2018 before finally cracking the first time last season. With 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks Hamilton earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in a conference filled with talented on the D-line.
Nicknamed “The Hulk” by his teammates, Hamilton is a quick mover for a 320-pound man. He stands his ground versus down-blocks and gets past the man with a rip if that guy leans too much into Hamilton. He does a good job fighting across the face of blockers in the zone run game and does not allow single blockers to scoop him on the backside. Hamilton has some snaps where he knives through a gap and creates chaos in the backfield. He was asked to deal with combo-blocks quite a bit for the Buckeyes and held his ground by uncoiling those hips and keeping the pads low. I also think his recognition of blocking schemes and process information is pretty darn good considering he only played 837 collegiate snaps. Hamilton can make up space parallel to the line very well for a big guy and displays excellent pursuit.
Hamilton packs a ton of power in his bull-rush and allows edge rusher to turn tight corners since the doesn’t give quarterbacks much room to step up into. He does a great job getting underneath the arm of blockers with his rip and and clears their hip with it. Hamilton also has some quickness to him in the pass game and you see him get around guys with a little stutter and swipe. In addition to that, he shows good secondary efforts as a pass-rusher and won’t quit if caught in a bad position. Hamilton also had a pretty strong Senior Bowl week, where his power was on full displays when he put some guys on skates in one-on-ones with the O-line.
While he did record six sacks last season, Hamilton only put up 20 total pressures. He has played just over 350 snaps in each of the last two seasons and in 2019 all but about a hundred of those he was lined up in the B-gap, which he doesn’t quite have enough athleticism to stay at full-time. Hamilton has basically no experience two-gapping while true nosetackle is the fit a lot of people see for him. Moreover, he displays some stiffness throughout his body and with his large surface area, it gives blockers a lot of space to grab. At this point he only has two pass-rush moves – the club-rip and the bull rush.
There is always room on a roster for defensive linemen with a huge frame, a lot of power and good mobility. Hamilton is an outstanding overall run-defender, who has some lessons to learn rushing the passer. With just one season as a starter – and even limited snaps in that one – he has plenty of room to grow, but may never be a third-down fixture. Hamilton looked most comfortable as a shade nose/1-tech in a 4-3 front and this is where he would be best suited to play at the next level as well.
8. McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
This former Gatorade Arkansas Player of the Year and high school All-American, Agim had his choice of several big programs, but he decided to stay home. After enrolling a year early, he played in every game for the Razorbacks his freshman season and started the last five, landing him a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman team. Over these last three years he has started all but one game and led his team in tackles for loss every season. Through his career, Agim recorded 31 TFLs and 14.5 sacks with six forced fumbles, even if he never quite lived up to the top-20 hype.
This young man has a very unique build at 6’3”, close to 310 pounds with a thick lower body and a wingspan North of 80 inches. Agim lined up in the B-gap on 330 of 532 snaps last season. However, he played 0-, 1- and 3-tech in Arkansas’ 4-3 front that used more three down-linemen sets on passing downs. The first thing that stands out when you watch Agim play is his tremendous jump off the snap. You see him just shoot the gap before the blocker is ready or take him for a ride when his leg is in the air, as that guy tries to take the first step. However, Agim also uses a high swim on plenty of first down snaps as well and makes blockers miss to create chaos in the backfield as well. He rarely allows centers to down-block on him with the guard pulling and gets back onto the running back. You won’t see blockers succeed at crossing Agim’s face in the outside zone attack regularly because of his quickness to work ahead of them.
Agim quickly gets to one shoulder of the blockers as a pass-rusher and offers a wide arsenal of moves to get past them, which mostly starts with a strong club to throw O-linemen a little off balance. His experience on the edge shows up with some of the techniques he now uses on the interior. He wins instantly on some club-rip, swim and cross-chop moves, where he can swerve his hips around blockers and create an angle towards the quarterback. Agim likes to cross the guard’s face and then changes things with a couple of hesitation steps and before continuing to work outside. However, when he did jump inside, opposing teams usually had their center helping out on him, if that guy wasn’t covered up. As mentioned before, Agim lined up at some zero technique in some passing situations and pushed centers back into the quarterback’s lap. In 2019 he recorded 21 combined hits and hurries in addition to those five sacks on just 267 pass-rushing snaps. During one-on-ones at East-West Shrine practices Agim was pretty much unblockable. He constantly had a step on blockers and those guys tried to somehow catch back up or hold onto him. That also earned him a late Senior Bowl invite, where he continued to win most of his battles.
However, Agim needs to play with more extension at the point of attack and not get as wide with his hands. He doesn’t drop his hips particularly well to anchor down and needs to play with better vision through blocker in general. Agim allows angular blockers to get underneath his pads and create way too much movement on double-teams. On several occasions he reverts to unnecessary spin moves in the middle of traffic and loses vision of the ball. Agim needs to be more urgent with his counters if the initial move doesn’t get the job done and show better control rushing the passer in general. I thought he also missed a few snaps every other possession in all the games I watched, creating some questions about his stamina.
Agim offers a rare blend of explosiveness, fluidity and versatility in his moves for an interior lineman. While his inability to stand his ground against blockers with an angle advantage is a problem, he is best served as a true penetrating 3-technique in a 4-3 anyway. He was by far the best player on that Razorback defense and received plenty of attention from opposing offenses, but still flashed on several occasions.
9. Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina
A former four-star recruit out of Florida, Strowbrigde flashed in his first two years with the Tarheels, but it wasn’t until his junior campaign that he really broke out, when he recorded 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, earning honorable mention All-ACC accolades. He put up similar numbers last season, but didn’t receive a lot of national attention until a standout performance during Senior Bowl week. Altogether he put up 22 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks in 42 career games for the Tarheels.
At 6’5”, 285 pounds, Stowbridge spent 80 percent of the snaps just inside or head-up on the offensive tackle. He is strong at the point of attack and usually plays with good extension, plus he can grab cloth and yank guy to the side when the ball-carrier is in range. Strowbridge can dip his shoulder and get underneath guys trying to down-block him and make an impact in the backfield, plus he can also wreak havoc by just flashing color in the backfield if guards are left on an island with him. When the former Tarheel is lined up outside the tackle and he ends up as the unblocked defender on the backside of zone plays, he stays tight to the tackle’s hip and displays discipline. He simply does not stay blocked versus the run, displaying tremendous pursuit and even running down some receivers from behind, as they try to make people miss after the catch.
Strowbridge shows some good twitch as a pass rusher and does a nice job getting offensive linemen off balance. He has a dynamic rip in his reportoire to side-step blockers with and he does a nice job overall at stringing his hands and feet together to defeat blocks. Strowbridge was moved around on third downs to get into different spots and still had offensive lines paying extra attention to him. He even stood up and walked across the center’s face on some occasions. In 2019 he recorded 28 total pressures despite being asked to slant across the tackle’s face and open up space for the D-end outside of him to loop over the top quite a bit. At the Senior Bowl his get-off and quickness off the ball really stood out, putting guys on their ass with power or winning instantly with arm-over maneuvers. Strowbridge is looking to get his hands up in the passing lanes of opposing quarterbacks if he sees no clear path towards him and he was even dropped out into the hook zones a few times a game.
On a negative note, Strowbridge is a little late off the ball for the most part on base downs. He allows blockers to scoop him up in the outside zone game when he doesn’t get that jump off the snap and even more concerning is the fact that as an edge player out of his high school, his added weight has not given him enough to slow down double-teams, as he loses traction and plenty of space. In the pass game, Strowbridge allows offensive linemen to land an initial stab and slow down his rush immensely, as well as enabling them to square him up. He needs to be more ready for a secondary move and not raise his pads if he gets caught off balance as much. I thought he never quite looked as strong as pass rusher for North Carolina as he did at the Senior Bowl.
Strowbridge has 5-technique measurements, but his game is more built around being a one-gap penetrator. At 285 pounds he might be a little undersized considering his height to play inside, which will be the biggest challenge for him if he sticks in the B-gap and faces some double-teams. However if he is single-blocked, he is much more than an adequate run defender and showed bright upside as a pass rusher down in Mobile. Some teams may also look at him as an edge rusher, if he sheds 10-15 pounds.
10. Larrell Murchison, N.C. State
A top-50 juco recruit back in 2017 out of North Carolina, Murchison redshirted his first year on campus but then immediately made an impact with the Wolfpack. As a full-time starter he won the team’s Defensive Lineman of the Year award thanks to 34 tackles, eight of them for loss, four sacks, an interception and two passes broken up. Last season he took his game a level higher, earning second-team All-ACC honors with 48 tackles, 12 for loss, seven sacks and another two PBUs.
At 6’2”, close to 300 pounds, Murchison bounces off blocks and runs guys down along the line. He yanks blockers to the side at the point of attack to set the tackle. He does a great job fighting through the reach and crashing across the face of blockers on the back-side of zone run plays. Murchison rarely allows blockers to control his frame, as he continues to fight with his hands and eventually disengage from blockers to make an impact. He shows great pursuit and gets involved late on a bunch tackles, plus he has some serious wheels for a 300-pounder once he gets into a full sprint. His athleticism was further illustarted by averaging almost eight yards per carry as a high school running back to go along with his play on defense.
Murchison shows some impressive burst off the ball – especially when coming off the edge. He offers plenty of power at initial contact as pass rusher and a strong push-pull move as a follow-up. He can really take advantage of bad lunging habits by offensive linemen and pull himself by them. I also like when he just shoots through one shoulder of the blocker with a rip and doesn’t allow that guy to square him up again on quite a few snaps every game. Murchison shows some violenece on his first club and snap to bring his hips around, when he is working one-on-one with guards or centers. Adding to that is the fact he uses some hesitation steps to set up moves and he flashes a pretty good spin move, when that is his plan off the snap.
On the flipside, he shows little recognition whatsoever for blocking schemes and gets caught swerving around with his head at times. Murchison has to rush with a little more of a plan and have a counter in store instead of reverting to a rather ineffective spin when he doesn’t have any momentum left. Last season he recorded just six pressures over the Wolfpack’s final eight games. In addition to that, he is weirdly uncomfortable tackler in space and lacks some flexibility in the lower body, which is visible when he can’t quite bring his hips around and re-set his anchor in the run game. Some NFL teams may look at him as a rotational gap penetrator only.
Murchison is a penetrating force on the inside, who plays with tremendous effort and active hands. He may have some limitations with the stiffness he displays at times, but I can look past that, projecting him as a 3-tech at the next level. I think there is room to improve as a pass rusher by adding some counter maneuvers and being more pro-active with his initial approach and when you need him to just be disruptive as a gap-shooter in the run game, he can certainly do that.
Just missed the cut:
Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Once a top-100 national recruit, Davis still appeared in seven games for the Tide as a freshman, but really broke out in year two, when he recorded 69 tackles, 10 of them for loss and a team-high 8.5 sacks, earning himself first-team All-SEC notice and putting his name on the radar of scouts with a dominant playoff run. His production went down quite a bit his junior, but it plummeted even more this past season, when he put up career-lows in TFLs (three) and sacks (0.5), somehow still receiving second-team all-conference recognition.
This guy is 6’7”, 312 pounds with well-above average athleticism for an interior defensive lineman of his dimensions. Davis is always in the advantage with his length and uses is pretty well to keep extension in the run-game, while standing his ground with a strong base. He was asked to heavily two-gap versus guards and tackles in the run game, where he made several tackles around line of scrimmage when the ball-carrier tried to go through either gap next to him thanks to his 85-inch wing span. When he was allowed to get upfield as a sophomore, you saw him create disruption in the opposing backfield. Davis flashes a quick arm-over to backdoor blockers in the zone game and won’t get taken advantage on against double-teams regularly.
Davis can kind of slip blockers as a pass-rusher and keep his balance despite having his body torqued different ways. His best move may be the club-rip, but with his long arms, he can also grab at the back of an O-lineman’s shoulder-pad and arm-over him. Davis has some reps, where he can turn the hips of a blocker by pushing them in the chest. Earlier in his career he used a few late spins to get away from guys, who had him squared up pretty well. Davis’ production in the pass game was somewhat limited by rarely being allowed to line in a gap and just rush one-on-one, as he was asked to set up games up front or work against a second blocker. He might have not even recorded a full sack last season, but also 25 additional pressures.
While I expected Davis as a first-round pick after that dominant 2017 playoff run, he has regressed in some areas ever since then. He doesn’t show much of a plan as a pass rusher and allows blockers to get into his chest routinely, stymying his rush, Davis seemed to have added some excess weight in 2019 and had a very sloppy way of moving. He didn’t play with a very hot motor either and was slow to disengage, also losing track of the ball at times. That combined with not particularly great play-recognition leads to not making much impact outside his area.
Davis has prototype five-tech measurements, but he doesn’t bring a ton of upside as a pass rusher on sub-packages. He certainly offers some scheme diversity with over 50 snaps in the A-, B- and C-gap last season, having experience as an upfield penetrator as well as a two-gapping base D-end. Davis has shown tremendous upside earlier in his career and if he can return to that form, while becoming a more aware player, he could bring excellent R.O.I.
Jordan Elliott, Missouri
A former top-100 overall recruit from Texas, Elliott started out as a Longhorn, where he played as a reserve in six games as a reserve and missed the other half of his freshman season with an MCL injury. After that he decided to follow his former D-line coach to Missouri and after having to redshirt the 2017 season, during which he was named the Defensive Scout Player of the Year, he immediately took over as a starter. Over these last two seasons he has recorded 16.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and four passes knocked down.
Elliott is 6’4”, 315 pounds with excellent thickness throughout his frame. He spent 85 percent of the defensive snaps between the three- and five-technique in 2019. He back-doors some blockers on zone run plays and creates problems by slanting across the face or centers and guards. At the same time he also offers a sturdy base against solo-blocks at the point of attack and can disengage to make the tackle. There are plenty of snaps where Elliott was asked to two-gap and he showed to ability to play through the blocker when doing so.
The swim move is Elliott’s go-to as a pass rusher. He has the grip strength to pull 330-pounders to the side and open up a path towards the QB, while also being able to counter with a spin if he feels his blocker leaning too much one way. While he just had 2.5 sacks last year, Elliott also recorded 30 extra pressures and led all interior D-linemen with a pass-rush win rate of 18.7 percent according to Pro Football Focus. He was also their second-highest graded defensive player in the draft behind only Chase Young.
However, often times Elliott was last one off the snap for the Mizzou D-line and stood up way too quickly, trying to peak into the backfield. He gets buried underneath some double-teams at times, when he doesn’t see the angle block coming. Overall he just is pretty slow to process the blocking and is late with finding solutions for how to defeat them. Elliott also isn’t overly creative as a pass-rusher and allows blockers to square him up on way too many occasions. To me he is just getting a little overhyped in this pre-draft process by PFF and others.
Elliott certainly can bring some juice to his defense, but he is far from a finished product with poor play-recognition and an unrefined set of pass rush moves, but he has the natural abilities to be coached up and work out in multiple schemes. He has some really bad tendencies and I’m not sure how quickly or if he can erase them at all, so to me he is a target on early day three. He might be best suited to play 5-tech head up on offensive tackles in a 3-4 front, where he can slide inside when the outside backer comes down.
Leki Fotu, Utah
Growing up, Fotu was a rugby star and even played for the U.S. national team. He only played one season of high school football, but immediately became first-team All-Utah selection and was brought in by his home-state Utes as a three-star recruit. Fotu barely saw the field as a freshman and only started two games in his second season as well. Everything started to click in year in 2018, when he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection with 33 tackles, 5.5 for loss, and three sacks. He repeated those honors as a senior with 29 tackles, nine for loss, 1.5 sacks and two passes broken up.
At 6’5”, 330+ pounds with the strength of a bull, Fotu split plays between 1- and 3-tech for the Utes 4-3 front. He has some shock in his hands and over 34-inch arms to keep opponents away from his frame. Fotu rarely allows blockers to exploit their advantage of the angle they have on him in the run game. He back-doors some interior blockers on play-side of zone run plays and runs through the near-shoulder of guys trying to scoop him on the backside. Fotu has the raw power to run through the reach of blockers and create havoc in the backfield, plus he has a large tackling radius and good grip against ball-carriers as they try to get by him. He also dealt with quite a few double-teams and kept his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage for the most part.
When Fotu catches linemen a little off balance, he can take them for a ride with the bull rush. In situations where he is left one-on-one consistently, he works into the depth of the pocket and doesn’t allow quarterbacks to step up into that area. He can also hit a tight, rapid swim-move to get past plenty of guards and close in on the passer, with his size barreling down on those guys and forcing some bad throws.
Unfortunately, Fotu is not very explosive out of his stance and raises his pads too early, which can be a problem against down-blocks even with his tremendous strength at times. He was never really asked to two-gap even if 3-4 teams covet him as a true nose-tackle and shows some tightness in his hips when it comes to cutting off the ball-carrier’s lane or reacting to QBs moving off the spot. He basically has two moves as a pass-rusher – the bull rush and club-swim – and no real counters off it. His pressure numbers dropping from 35 as a junior to 19 last year is also a little concerning.
Fotu is a prototype 1-technique in a 4-3 front with the power and length to make an impact, but also has some stiffness and bad pad-level to limit that. He offers some value as a pocket-pusher, but he will have to broaden the spectrum of his rush moves to stay on the field on third downs. He has only played football for five years and started two seasons at Utah, so there is plenty of room to grow.
Right behind them:
Bravvion Roy & James Lynch (Baylor), Rashard Lawrence (LSU), Khalil Davis (Nebraska), Raequan Williams (Michigan State), Malcolm Roach (Texas), Tyler Clark (Georgia)