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2018 Pre-NFL Combine Overview/Mock Draft: Defensive Tackles (FINAL)

Air Date:
February 20, 2018

Ground Rules on this NFL Combine preview scouting:

 -- Looking at the initial performance data from their college years in our system.

 -- Watching 10-15+ minutes of tape

 -- Giving an initial knee-jerk reaction to what I am seeing/feeling.

 -- Will rank them as if I am drafting them for the dynasty rookie draft, and I will also break them into tiers

 -- We don’t have the full host of measurables, so my reactions could change when I see the physical times and attributes. Sometimes your scouting eyes deceive you on how fast a player is moving, etc. We will be doing all the full-fledged scouting of these players after the Combine data is in.

 -- This ‘draft’ and analysis will drop in a player at a time at various times throughout the day. Check the clock on the title to see when the latest post was made.

 -- Height/weight is latest estimates we have from their listed info or all-star games, etc. Not official.

 -- Going prospect by prospect in alphabetical order.



The NFL Combine Defensive Tackles…


Current consensus top 5 DT prospects in the mainstream…

1) DaRon Payne, Alabama

2) Vita Vea, Washington

3) Maurice Hurst, Michigan

4) Harrison Phillips, Stanford

5) Taven Bryan, Florida



*Five Tiers: A, B, C, D, F…like school grades. Players listed in ‘my favorite’ order.



**Tier A**

Trenton Thompson, Georgia (6’4”/295)

A physical specimen. The best DT prospect I’ve seen today, and I’ve watched tape on 23 of them to this point (with 2 to go). Some of the best movement on a 295-pound man I’ve seen in all my time watching tape. Rarely/never takes plays off. Always working. Watching him against Alabama in the Championship game, he was double-teamed often and when he wasn’t he was getting past guys…he’s a handful to contain but when he does get sealed off, he keeps looking for opportunity and following the play. He may have led the league in crushing ballcarriers from behind because he kept chasing them down when most DTs would be standing and watching. That’s a ‘plus’ for effort but it also speaks to how well he can move – he has athleticism and stamina. I was blown away watching the tape…and then blown away seeing he registered no sacks in 2017. Odd, but not damning. I need to watch more to see if it is Thompson or double-teams causing his lower stat totals. But what I saw on tape…just…’wow’. A--


**Tier B**

Justin Jones, NC State (6’2”/312)

Justin Jones is a starting 4-3 DT right out of the box for the NFL. He may be a shock top 10-15 pick before all is said and done. He is so fast, fluid at 310+ pounds. A smart, instinctual player – can rush the backfield but will also hold up and sniff out the run as well. He is 100% effort…rarely gives up on plays/is always chasing. Was borderline great at the Senior Bowl week and in the game…and what I see on tape. At first, I thought his just ‘good’ numbers were an issue but he is a disruptor even if he doesn’t register a ton of sacks/TFLs. I’m putting him as a “B’ now, but he is very much a candidate to be an ‘A’ once the Combine numbers come in. B++

Taven Bryan, Florida (6’5”/290)

Interesting. Strange. I saw Bryan referred to as ‘J.J. Watt’ and I thought that was pretty intriguing for a DT prospect. I started a tape, and the first thing the game analyst said was “They call him J.J. Watt around here.” Wow, he must be good. Then, I paused the tape and looked at his college numbers…30 games and 1 PD and 5.5 sacks, and I’m thinking, “How is this ‘J.J. Watt’?” I watched the tape and he’s not making any plays/tackles/TFLs (had zero solo tackles for this game). I was sarcastically laughing at this nonsense as the tape rolled…but I did see a big dude who could really fire off the line with unusual spring in his step for a 290+ 4-3 DT. The more I watched, the more I started to see…about every other play Bryan is pushing the blockers back, he’s in the backfield, or he’s getting double teams or chipped. The more I watched, the more I thought that his college output doesn’t define him. He’s quietly, potentially, great. A possible 3-4 DE or a very quick, tall 4-3 DT. I started out appalled and ended up in like/love. I don’t go ‘A’ yet because his lack of output is odd and I need to see more tape to make a leap to ’A’, but ‘A’ is very much on the table. B++

Tim Settle, Va Tech (6’2”/333)


330+ pounds that can move like a 300-pounder. Active, slippery (at 330+ pounds), powerful. Hits like a Mack truck because he is one. The best NFL prospect of this group, arguably, because he’s possibly the best 3-4 NT ‘hands down’ and works a 4-3 DT pretty well too. I have him as a ‘B’ for dynasty-fantasy/IDP because his game is not likely to be a huge stat accumulator – just a great anchor for a 3-4 defense. He’s a first-round NFL Draft prospect for a 3-4 defense in need of a killer NT. B++

Kahlil McKenzie, Tennessee (6’3”/325)

Former five-star recruit, son of Raiders’ GM Reggie McKenzie…and he wasn’t a standout performer in his college career (hurt, played half a season 2016 and was solid-ish in 2017). A bit of a disappointment and a surprise declaration for the NFL Draft. However, McKenzie really can move as a 325-pound 4-3 DT…I see why he was a five-star guy. Guys this big shouldn’t move that fast. He brings a lot of pressure up the middle – strong and quick. Tape is way better than the output numbers. A nice 4-3 DT prospect but may end up the best 3-4 NT prospect in the draft. B-

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (6’2”/305)

Flashes of brilliance but then I look at his output and don’t see a whole lot of statistical activity. On tape, he pops as a 4-3 DT. Excellent get off the line. Pushes into the backfield often. Doesn’t always get to the prize but gets into the prize vault often. Really liked his tape but am really confused why he had 1.0 TFLs and 1.0 sack in 14 games in 2017. You’d think there’d be a little bit more action than that. He is a legit NFL prospect, and future starter…and I’m usually ‘guard raised’ on Alabama prospects. I thought he’d be a sleeper…and then I look and see he’s the #1 DT rated in the class – he’s not that good, but he’s good. B-

Deadrin Senat (sen-not), South Florida (6’1’/305)

Incredibly strong, powerful player…looks ‘country strong’. Pushes interior lineman around with easy in one-on-one. He’s a guy that needed double-teaming. Flashes of a very good, next-level player at times. He’s more good-than-great at this stage for me. A better-than-expected Combine could change that for me. B-

Kendrick Norton, Miami, Fla (6’3”/311)

Monster of a DT…looks bigger than his listed size, but not sloppy like a DT…more sleek (for a DT). Gets a good surge off the snap and is very strong, one of the strongest DTs on a bull rush among the DTs here. His Combine numbers will push him to either ‘B’ or ‘C’ grade status. B--

**Tier C**

R.J. McIntosh, Miami, Fla (6’4”/293)

Pretty athletic 4-3 DT prospect. Makes a nice surge off the snap on pass rushes but also plays the run well. He looks like NFL-starter material. He’s on the cusp of a B/C grade, but his production in college was nothing special…so, I’ll lean ‘C’ with a bump to ‘B’ if he has a nice Combine. C++

Derrick Nnadi, Florida State (6’1”/312)

Big, strong space eater up the middle. Not nimble, but a very strong bull rusher and run stopper. A very sound 4-3 DT prospect for the NFL. C++

Zaycoven Henderson, Texas A&M (6’2”/305)

This guy can really move for 300+ pounds. The problem I see is that he just tries to fire off the line as a 4-3 DT and has no idea where the play is going. He races/surges ahead with his head down and misses a ton of plays (thus his weak college numbers). He’s a guy you’d like to train/coach because of his physical gifts…but arrested in December 2017 for drugs, pointing a gun at someone. He’s not so good you burn a high pick on him to develop, but he’s good enough that some NFL team will give him a chance. His talent is more a ‘B’ with possible D-F character issues. We’ll call him a ‘C’ for now.

Joshua Frazier, Alabama (6’3”/315)

NFL size. Pretty fluid moving around for a 310+ pounder. The thing is…how do you only have 8 solo tackles in 11 games in a season (2017)…and no sacks? How can you be taken seriously for the NFL? I see a big body to plug up the middle. Better athletically then most ‘space eater’ guys -- but I don’t see any signs of a great player, but does have tools to work with. C

Eddy Wilson, Purdue (6’4”/295)

A really nice run-stopping 4-3 DT. He can move around the field with the best movement DTs in this draft. He looks like he has work to do on his upper body. He could add 5+ pounds of upper body muscle and really be something. Right now, he’s a solid 4-3 DT who holds up at the line well and sheds a block to lasso runners trying to go by. He could be more of a pass rush force with more work on his body. C

Bilal Nichols, Delaware (6’3”/301)

Hard to get your arms around this prospect in a short look. Playing against FCS blockers is a tough comp. Handled himself well at the East-West and Senior Bowl games. Moves well for his size. Good effort. Nice player. Might be better than this grade. I need to see more and see his speed-agility numbers to get a better picture. C

Vita Vea, Washington (6’5”/340)

You can have Vita Vea because ‘he’s SOOO big’, and I’ll take the smaller (330+ pounds) Virginia Tech DT Tim Settle. The difference in talent and athleticism between Settle and Vea is massive, inarguable. Draft analysts should be ashamed to have Vea as the top DT prospect in this draft…it’s embarrassing. Obviously, they never watched Settle…or any of the other top DTs. Vea is all ‘size’ but no real skills besides ‘tough to move backwards’. Vea tires easily after his initial surge. His initial surge is glacier-like in speed half/most of the time. He doesn’t run around like a fluid athlete, he waddles/flaps his arms. Embarrassing. I get that he’s a solid NFL prospect for a 3-4 defense looking for a NT…but come on, people Tim Settle is where it is at. C-


**Tier D**

B.J. Hill, NC State (6’3”/315)

Not very fast or athletic, but an NFL size and he hustles/gives good effort. He can be useful in the NFL but not a ton of upside at first glance. D+

Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays St. (6’4”/300)

Hard to say how good he is because he either dominated MIAA blockers (2017 MIAA Defensive Player of the Year) or was double/tripled teamed and halted. Showed nice spring in his step. Played angry a bunch…and sometimes lazy. Best DT in the MIAA might mean solid starter in the SEC or Big Ten. Size is not amazing. Stats weren’t radical. Need to do more work if he rings the register at the NFL Combine. D+

Maurice Hurst, Michigan (6’2”/280)

I didn’t see any spark here at all. Not sure how he was an All-American in 2017…a good college player but not dominant. Bad body for the NFL – looks like a sloppy, unathletic 300+ pound DT body but is only 280-pounds. Too small for NFL DT play without high end speed and power, and I didn’t see much speed or power. Good for college, but a bad fit for the NFL from what I saw. D

Foley Fatukasi, U Conn (6’3”/315)

Has NFL size but moves like a tugboat DT. Takes up space but is not creating havoc at the line of scrimmage. Can be a warm body to plug up the middle but not much else. D

Harrison Phillips, Stanford (6’4”/295)

As I started this preview, I saw that Phillips was a highly-rated prospect already and then I looked at his numbers…and they are stout -- 17.0 TFLs and 7.5 sacks with 98 total tackles in 2017. That’s massive from a 4-3 DT/3-4 NT. Like superstar numbers. After I watched one game of tape, I thought he was the worst ‘serious’ DT prospect I watched all day to this point. I watched him against Notre Dame in 2017, and the game log says 3.0 TFLs/2.0 sacks. I must have rec’d a different tape…I can’t recall a sack he had. What I saw against Notre Dame was not an NFL DT. Too slow for 4-3 DT, and nowhere near big enough for a 3-4 NT. I’m going put him in ‘D’ block because his numbers were too good for an ‘F’…but the numbers may be a fraud (61 assisted tackles from a DT is possible stat juicing by the athletic department). D

Taylor Stallworth, South Carolina (6’2”/305)

Decent size. Decent speed, nice closing speed but wasn’t making a lot happen on the tape I saw…which goes along with his no full sacks in 36 college games at USC. I don’t see much here for the NFL. Maybe a convert to O-Line? D--


**Tier F**

Lowell Lotulelei, Utah (6’2”/320)

NFL-slow. Has the old-school sloppy DT body. There are so many sleek, athletic 310+ pound guys in this draft, I wouldn’t waste time on an unathletic 320-pound, uninspiring prospect. F+

Breeland Speaks, Ole Miss (6’3”/285)

Played a 4-3 DE on the tape I watched in 2017 (and took a few snaps at linebacker). Looks more like a 3-4 DE than a 4-3 DT prospect for the NFL…I don’t see DT at all. I don’t see a great NFL prospect in general. Possibly grinds his way onto a roster and sticks around as a utility piece but no star power. F


John Atkins, Georgia (6’3”/305)

I was watching a ‘highlight’ compilation of his on YouTube, and I literally did a spit take. Probably the worst highlight reel I’ve ever seen. Atkins did nothing in four years at Georgia – no sacks, and 3.5 TFLs in 36 career games. They had to make up something positive to show. There was one ‘highlight’ where a teammate was about to sack the QB on a designed screen pass. The QB had to get rid of the ball because they play wasn’t going to develop, so he threw the ball at bodies near the developing screen and the pass randomly hit Atkins in the hip and went incomplete – that’s on his highlight reel. He’s too slow for the NFL. He’ll never make it. I don’t know why he got invited to the Combine. F



About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is an NFL Draft analyst for College Football Metrics, and a football projections analyst and writer for Fantasy Football Metrics. 

Learn more about RC and the College Football Metrics system >>