The defensive tackle crop is going to be a pretty strong one, and that isn’t even taking into account a number of juniors who have yet to let their draft intentions be known. Here are the players NFL scouts are most excited about. All are seniors except Johnathan Hankins, who has said he is going pro.
1. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, 6-3, 335. The underclassman is likely to be the first defensive tackle taken and a top 10 pick. He has the size and athleticism to rush the passer and stop the run. He can fit in any scheme and play nose or three technique. He is quick off the snap, powerful and explosive. One front office man said his playing style is similar to Vince Wilfork’s.
2. Kawann Short, Purdue, 6-3, 310. He has the ability to dominate both against the run and pass. He plays with good power and quickness. He is mostly dependent on strength as a pass rusher. There are some questions about his motor. One scout compares him to Jerel Worthy of the Packers.
3. Star Lotulelei, Utah, 6-3, 320. He is a gifted but inconsistent player, according to scouts. Lotulelei plays with exceptional power. Some question his instincts. He is a better run player than pass rusher, and might not fit every scheme. He will be best utilized as a nose tackle, but he might be able to develop as a pass rusher.
4. John Jenkins, Georgia, 6-3, 350. He could be the Dontari Poe of this year’s draft. Jenkins is huge, but doesn’t always play to his size. As one talent evaluator said, “The No. 1 thing he is is big.” As a player, Jenkins is inconsistent. He flashes ability. He is a pure bull rusher with a strong lower body. He can hold the point well. He has explosive hands and can shed blockers. He is expected to test and run well and boost his stock, making people forget his tape.
5. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina, 6-2, 315. Williams can be looked at as a nose tackle, three technique or five technique depending on the system. He is a well rounded player with production. He plays with good intensity. Williams gets off the ball quickly. He is solid at everything but special at nothing.
6. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri, 6-3, 290. He is a good mix of size and athleticism, and can hold the point and rush a little. He is most effective over the guard, probably as a three technique. He also could play end in a 3-4. He has what it takes to become an NFL starter.
7. Jesse Williams, Alabama, 6-3, 320. Three NFL front office men said the reality doesn’t meet the hype with Williams. One thought he was no more than a rotational player in the NFL. Williams is a grinder whose size will be valued by 3-4 teams. He is not much of a penetrator but can be difficult to move. He is a little stiff athletically.
8. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State, 6-3, 300. He is a tough defensive tackle with some athletic limitations. He shows strength versus the run and has some pass rush ability.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at Chicagotribune.com.