Continuing with our series in previewing some of the prospects for the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. This week we take a glimpse at the top-five defensive tackles who look to be available come the Spring of 2017. While at first glance this does not appear to be an overall deep group of defensive tackles, there are some intriguing prospects who offer size, strength, and scheme versatility that is sure to get the attention of NFL scouts.
1. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
Having projected Alabama’s Jonathan Allen as a defensive end the Spartans McDowell takes the top spot as the best interior defensive lineman. While McDowell’s stats were a bit down this season (in terms of tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks) partially due to the fact he missed the final three games of the season because of an ankle injury, McDowell still was a presence on the field when was healthy.
McDowell presents a big athletic body with length and power upfront. He is a solid run defender able to stack and shed blockers at the line of scrimmage utilizing his reach along with his strong hands.
Displays good instincts as he can quickly locate the football, and can quickly identify and react to what the offense is attempting to run. McDowell also plays with good balance, rarely is on the ground, and possesses good lateral quickness to work through the trash down the line for such a big man.
As a pass rusher McDowell can collapse the pocket by knocking back the offensive lineman and power rush him into the backfield. He possesses good quickness off the snap along with quick hands that allow him to disengage the blocker and penetrate the backfield with sound technique. On passing downs, the Spartans coaches would kick him outside to end and allow him to rush the passer from the edge as he has good change of direction ability and hip flexibility.
McDowell plays the game hard, as he is always hustling to the ball, and violent as he has no problems playing through the whistle.
At 6’6” McDowell has position and scheme versatility as he can line up either inside as a tackle in a four-man front, or as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
2. Chris Wormley, Michigan
Wormley is another athletic, tall, versatile defensive lineman who demonstrates good strength at the point-of-contact with an ability to penetrate the backfield and cause disruption.
Wormley has a thick base and uses it to gain leverage at the line of scrimmage over smaller interior lineman. While he lacks the quick first step and overall foot speed he makes up for it with his power along with instincts and balance. He possesses good agility and bend as he gets low in his stance and at the snap springs into the offensive lineman’s chest with a forward lean. He displays good instincts and powerful hands, able to jolt blockers backwards when he extends his arms and plants his hands in the middle of their chest.
He can stack and shed at the point-of-contact and be a stout run defender. He is also capable of setting up a hard edge, as a defensive end, and funnel the action back towards the middle of the defensive line.
As a pass rusher Wormley can bull rush lineman back into the backfield and collapse the pocket. He also has shown the ability to “Get Skinny” and slip through the gaps between blockers to pressure the quarterback. However, he does not possess a refined pass rush repertoire and is pretty much limited to power rushing offensive lineman.
Wormley’s lack of quickness and limited pass rush ability are the only real knocks against him. Otherwise his combination of size, strength, and effort coupled with being well-coached should allow him to be an instant contributor along a team’s defensive line as a rookie.
3. Davon Godchaux, LSU
Godchaux is one of the more underrated defensive tackles in this class. Playing on a unit that potentially appears to be loaded with NFL caliber athletes you can see how a player like Godchaux may go unnoticed.
A three-year starter along the Tigers defensive line Godchaux possesses a good combination of quickness, and power. He is strong and can hold his ground at the point-of-contact yet is still able to use his quick first step, and explode to the ball at the snap to provide an interior pass rush.
Godchaux also is quick to locate and decipher what the offense is attempting to run displaying terrific instincts. He plays with balance as he can bounce off blockers to work down the line and pursue the action from the backside. He has a flexible active body and can uncoil his hips and power through would be blockers. He can stand-up lineman at the point-of-contact then rip/pull them to the ground and proceed to make the tackle.
As an interior pass rusher Godchaux displays a wide array of pass rusher technique and uses his active hands to rip and swipe opposing lineman off him. He is good at not allowing the lineman to get into his frame, displaying an effective stutter step that allows him to freeze the lineman, use his quickness to cross his face, and beat him to his inside shoulder.
Godchaux does have some off-the -field issues. Earlier this season he was arrested and suspended from the team due to a domestic violence incident. Godchaux was later reinstated back onto the team when no charges were filed against him.
Godchaux is tailor made to play the three-technique position along a four-man front, particularly in an attacking scheme that will allow him to utilize his quickness and strength to attack a gap, and penetrate up field.
4. Carlos Watkins, Clemson
Watkins made a name for himself as a junior last season, his first as a starter, along Clemson’s defensive front. While freshman teammate Dexter Lawrence has seized some of the spotlight this season, Watkins still had a very good senior campaign as his sack totals of 8.5 is tops on the Tigers defensive unit.
Watkins has good size and length for a defensive tackle. He can hold his ground and take on double-teams displaying good power, and will flash the ability to stack and shed blockers up front. He can however get too tall out of his stance which causes him to lose leverage and get easily moved out of the way or pinned inside.
As a pass rusher Watkins shows inconsistency when it comes to hand fighting and being able to disengage and free himself from offensive lineman. Although he can utilize his power to effectively bull rush a guard into the QB’s lap helping collapse the interior of the pocket. He does however have issues when needing to quickly redirect, displaying some lower body stiffness.
Watkins is also inconsistent when it comes to effort as his motor tends to run a bit hot and cold. There were too many examples where Watkins is just standing around watching the play if his initial rush had been thwarted. These types of examples can question a player’s passion for the game as well as overall endurance and whether he is in the best shape possible.
Overall, Watkins is a tough run stopper with the potential to develop into a good pass rusher. He best projects as a five-technique or nose tackle in an odd man front.
5. Montravius Adams, Auburn
Adams is another big-bodied defensive tackle who can occupy blockers and create penetration up the middle. Adams size and length jump out at you when you watch him play. He flashes the ability to dominate when he wants to. He can be physical up front, and surprisingly displays good quickness off the snap when asked to penetrate and attack a gap. He utilizes a quick swim move to slip by lineman, and get himself in position to make a play in the backfield.
The problem with Adams however is that he is a lumbering athlete who is not fluid or quick with his movements. He is limited as a pass rusher displaying limited lateral agility as well as change of direction skills. He displays below-average balance and tends to get tall out of his stance which causes him to lose battles upfront versus double-teams.
Montravius Adams is an intriguing prospect who when he flashes his ability will undoubtedly have NFL coaches and scouts excited about his potential. His combination of size and initial off the ball, gap penetrating, quickness allows him to be a dominate force for a defense. He can line up to play anywhere along a “30” front, and could be equally terrorizing in the middle of a “40” front.
However, getting him to put forth that type of effort on a consistent basis will be the main question surrounding Adams when it comes time to select him. Having his production and effort match his tape will be the primary goal for his teams coaching staff.