2017 NFL Draft: Defensive Line Tiers

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28: Jonathan Allen #93, Tim Williams #56 and Rashaan Evans #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide react after a defensive stop against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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This series will go position by position to look at the tiers of where NFL draft prospects stack up to each other. Rankings are great for discussion, but so many factors such as coaching, scheme fit, and usage will affect who will actually have more NFL success. Every player in each tier could easily be the top player in the tier based on these factors. Any prospect not discussed unfortunately did not have enough adequate tape to have a full evaluation. For this edition, we will look at defensive lineman.

2017 NFL Draft: Defensive Line Tiers

Tier One

1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama

Allen is a physical force who will bring versatility and violence to any opponent. Allen played a lot of his season on the edge, but profiles well as an interior defensive lineman. He would most likely be best utilized as a three-technique, but the experience and versatility up and down the line are just another feather to add to his cap. Allen plays with vicious hands and strength to fight lineman away from him and has great pursuit to the ball. Overall he has one of the higher floors in the draft.

2. Malik McDowell, Michigan State

McDowell has one of the lower floors in the draft. However, at his peak, he could be a more impactful defender than Allen. He is a physical freak with a great frame and premier athletic ability for his size. McDowell can also play up and down the line and has played anywhere from nose tackle to the edge. While he is well refined on the field, he has some baggage off of it. He has openly admitted that he has freelanced plays away from the coaches game plan and he tends to rely on his athletic traits more than technique.

Tier Two

3. Chris Wormley, Michigan

The best trait that Wormley brings is versatility. He can set the edge against the run and can slide to the inside and use strength and burst to get after the quarterback and push the pocket. He is a strong athlete who moves well and can help in both facets of the game, which should be able to get him on the field early and often. His ceiling is not sky high, but his precise movement and versatility give him a very high floor.

4. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa

Johnson is a technician who uses great smarts and precision to beat defenders on the inside. He has great arm extension to bench press lineman away from him and plays with vicious hands to beat lineman away from him. He plays with a high motor and can push the pocket and get after the quarterback. Johnson is not a strong athlete and can really only play a one or three-technique. However, his technique gives him a great floor and will get him on the field to at the very least defend the run with power.

5. Caleb Brantley, Florida

Brantley is a stout and strong run defender who can hold up against double teams and stuff the run in the middle of the field. He also comes with a good burst and first step that can beat interior lineman and find him in the backfield causing havoc in a hurry. He likely will only fit as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 front and does not have lateral agility to make impacts towards the edges but he is a pocket pusher who can help against the run and the pass.

6. Demarcus Walker, Florida State

Walker has the size of an interior tackle, but plays with the speed and burst to play out on the edge. His versatility is a major plus. However, some question whether he is a tweener rather than a versatile threat. He does not have the speed or bend to consistently win on the edge, nor does he have a quick step to push the pocket on the inside. However, as a three-technique who can win with leverage and use versatility to take snaps up and down the line there is some upside to be excited about.

Tier Three

7. Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama

Tomlinson is a classic run stuffing nose tackle. He plants his feet and is a space clogger on the inside. While he is a solid athlete, his balance and footwork are what set him apart from your typical nose who struggles to put up sack numbers. He has multiple injury questions and lacks versatility, but on early downs, there is a role for Tomlinson.

8. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte

Ogunjobi is somewhat new to football, picking up the sport in his junior year of high school. He is still very raw and has not faced premier competition. However, he is a great athlete who can explode, move laterally and help against the run and the pass. His upside is extremely high and with some proper technique could be a steal when selected.

9. Montravius Adams, Auburn

Adams pops out on tape. Standing at 6’4” and 304 pounds he is impossible to miss. For his frame, he has great burst and speed and can move laterally to help on stretch plays and roll outs. At times he can play upright and lose leverage, but he makes up for that deficiency with speed. If he can show more bend and an ability to win with leverage he can wear a lot of hats in the NFL.

Tier Four

10. Carlos Watkins, Clemson

Watkins plays with a great burst and ability to push into the backfield in a hurry. He plays with great strength in his upper body, but his lower body strength causes him to lose leverage. If he does not beat his defender off of the ball, he may get sealed off and struggle to break away from blockers.

11. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

Vanderdoes has a really high ceiling. He was a star recruit and was a physical force early into his college career. However, he tore his ACL in 2015 and a year later he did not have the same burst off of the ball. If he can get back to his healthy state he can play a variety of techniques and can win with strength and athleticism. However, it is a real question whether he can get back to that level.

12. D.J. Jones, Ole Miss

Jones is short and stocky and likely will only be able to play in the NFL as a nose tackle. However, he is better as a space clogger and does not do well getting upfield. Add in that he has short arms making it tough to extend away from blocks and his upside is rather limited to an early down force in the middle.

Tier Five

13. Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State

Taylor has a great physical profile. However, he does not provide great balance or agility to find his way into the backfield. Some of his best highlights were on special teams showing off his great frame, but when he is not winning with size and strength, he is not winning.

14. Isaac Rochell, Notre Dame

Rochell is a nose tackle playing in the body of a three or five technique. He may be limited to a 3-4 defensive end role which limits his upside. While sack production may not be expected, he can hold up blockers, and may be able to get on the field in defending the run.

15. Charles Walker, Oklahoma

Walker gets off of the ball quick. He plays with good strength to hold up against the run and could likely play the one or the three technique. However, he is likely just a rotational lineman. Adding in that he has multiple concussions and left the team midway through last season to prepare for the draft and there are questions about what can be had from him.

Tier Six

16. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame

There were instances when Jones looked like one of the best defensive linemen in the country. However, his motor ran from hot to extremely cold, and while he has the look of a world beater, he does have any real speed or functional strength. He is a project at this point.

17. Ryan Glasgow, Michigan

Glasgow has a high motor and is a tone setter on the defensive line. However, he may not be strong enough to play in the one-technique where he is best suited and may be limited to a three-technique and an early down run stopper at best.

18. Tanzel Smart, Tulane

Smart has the size to play the nose. He also has quick feet and is fluid moving around. However, the question is whether he has the strength to hold up in the middle because he may not be quick enough to play any other spot beside a one-technique and did not face great talent on the inside much.

19. Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, USC

Tu’ikolovatu is a load of a person and a player who can stand in the middle and clog running lanes. However, he is the oldest player in the draft and does not provide anything in terms of a pass rush.

Tier Seven

20. Elijah Qualls, Washington

Qualls showed versatility playing all over the Washington defensive line. However, he is a stiff, slow mover and should be stuck in the nose. Without much experience, or success in that spot he is a project player.

21. Davon Godchaux, LSU

Godchaux has good technique, can play in diverse alignments and fit into any scheme. But he does not possess much functional strength and will need some help in that area to see the field in the NFL.

22. Nazair Jones, North Carolina

Jones has high upside with great height, weight, and arm length to meet NFL standards. That said, he is really raw in his play recognition and lateral movements.

23. Glen Antoine, Idaho

Antoine is a pure nose tackle who plays with great strength and leverage. Nevertheless, he is not a mover and will find himself playing strictly as someone who will look to clog running lanes on early downs.

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