The Top 5 Defensive Linemen in the 2015 NFL Draft

Going into this year’s draft, I feel the strongest positions in no particular order are wide receivers, “edge” players, and defensive linemen. Don’t be shocked to see around half of the first round be players from these positions. What’s also nice about some of the players in this group is that many are scheme versatile, meaning they can easily play in a 4-3 or a 3-4 scheme. The players that have that versatility will have more value come draft day. My experience in the NFL has taught me that no two draft boards are alike. When I was putting this list together, I had eight players that I could have used for the five spots. Depending on what scheme a club plays, they will rate some of these players higher than I have them here. 1) Leonard Williams - USC Williams is the consensus number one defensive linemen in this draft. He is also the first player that has the versatility to play in any scheme. At 6050 – 302 with strength, speed and agility, he is capable of playing either defensive tackle position in a 4-3 or either defensive end position in a 3-4. Looking at early season tape, I thought that Williams was not playing with consistency. While you could easily see the talent, he wasn't making all the plays he should have been making. As a third year junior, he is still young (21) and will grow both mentally and physically. Right now, he shows he can be a dominant run stopper. He is a good, but not great, pass rusher, but he easily has the talent to become a top pass rusher. He has the size, length, speed and power. He just needs to develop better technique. In fairness, USC opponents schemed to stop him. Because of the inconsistency in his play, he has some downside, but his unlimited ceiling is worth a club taking the chance. 2) Arik Armstead – Oregon Armstead is another young player who still hasn’t reached his full potential. He has rare size and length to go along with very good overall athleticism. At Indy he stood 6’7 – 292 and his measurable numbers were equal to that of a linebacker. While he ran 5.0, he also has a 7.57 3-cone and a 4.53 20-yard shuttle. His jumps of 34” and 9’9” were very impressive. Arik is also scheme versatile in that he can be a left end or a defensive tackle in a 4-3 or a 5-technique in a 3-man front. He is light on his feet with very good change of direction. He plays now on natural talent and really has no idea how good he can become. The sky is the limit. As good as he is now, his best football is clearly in front of him. He will get drafted highly more on what he can be than what he is now. 3) Danny Shelton – Washington There is no question that Danny Shelton is the best nose tackle in this draft. While the two players rated ahead of Shelton are scheme versatile, Shelton isn’t. The 3-4 teams are the ones that are going to have the most interest. At 6’2 – 339, he has ideal nose tackle size. He is very strong and powerful and shows he can easily control blockers and shed quickly. He is quick to find the ball and makes a high number of plays. In college, he showed very good interior pass rush skills. As good as he is, I doubt that skill carries over to the NFL. Shelton's athleticism hurts him. He ran 5.65 at the Combine, and in the Combine era, no defensive linemen that slow has gotten drafted in the top 15. I see him going in the second half of the first round, and he will come in and start right away. While I see him being able to give some pass rush, once he gets to the NFL, he will be mainly a run-down player. 4) Eddie Goldman – Florida St. Goldman is another player who has scheme versatility. He can play either defensive tackle position in a 4-3 and can play anywhere along the front in a 3-4 scheme. He is another young player who has only been in college three years. At Florida State he was a two year starter and highly productive. Goldman did not workout at Indy, so it will be interesting to see how he tests out at the Florida State pro day. At 6’4 – 336 he has great size to go along with excellent strength, power and balance. He is very instinctive, has excellent hand use, and knows how to play with leverage. As big as he is, he is an every down player and will come in and start right away. 5) Jordan Phillips – Oklahoma This was the tough player to choose as I could have very easily gone with one of three other players. I chose Phillips because if his size, athleticism and scheme versatility. At Indy, Phillips came in at 6’5 – 329 and showed explosiveness during drills. He is very long (34 3/8” arms), strong, and powerful. He can play either defensive tackle position in a 4-3, and any position along the line in a 3-4. Phillips has shown dominate run stuffing ability while at Oklahoma. He has the traits to become a very good inside pass rusher but he needs to develop his technique. In my opinion, he has a higher ceiling than the other players. Just missed the cut The other three players that I could have very easily put in the fifth spot in no particular order are Malcolm Brown from Texas, Michael Bennett from Ohio State and Carl Davis from Iowa. All three should become very good NFL defensive linemen and play early. While both Brown and Davis have some scheme versatility, I feel that Bennett is best as a 3-technique in a 1-gap 4-3. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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