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Defensive Tackle Early/Pre-Season Rankings for the 2021 NFL Draft

Welcome to part 6 of my summer scouting series. This post will preview the DT class. If you missed my previous posts in this series, click here!

These aren't really pre-season rankings anymore since the season has started, but with the Big10 and Pac12 coming back I wanted to finish the position previews. All positions should be done by the time the Big10 starts back up (10/24/2020). Follow me on twitter to keep up with the blog!

To preview the 2021 class, I watched 10 eligible draft prospects and rank them based on their talent, athleticism, production, and potential. My DT grading categories include pass rushing, hands, leverage, run stop, strength, athleticism, and flexibility.

The pass rushing potential is what I like best about this DT class. Prospects like Christian Barmore and Jay Tufele look like they are just scratching the surface of their abilities. There are also large run stuffers who show flashes of pass rush like Tyler Shelvin and Jordan Davis. My worry is more about the depth of the class and not the top prospects. I only decided to watch 10 prospects, but I wanted to give some honorable mentions. Some defensive tackles to watch out for include:

Brandon Pili (USC)

Carlo Kemp (Michigan)

Corey Durden (FSU)

Dante Stills (West Virginia)

Darius Stills (West Virginia)

Khyiris Tonga (BYU)

Joseph Dorceus (Memphis)

Naquan Jones (Michigan State)

Nyles Pinckney (Clemson)

Phidarian Mathis (Alabama)

Tedarrell Slaton (Florida)

Bobby Brown (Texas A&M)

Tommy Togiai (OSU)

Quinton Bohanna (Kentucky)

Ifeanyi Maijeh (Temple)

Mustafa Johnson (Colorado)

Now for my rankings!

At #1 we have Christian Barmore - Alabama (6'5, 310)

Barmore is a max effort rusher with great strength and hand usage. He’s really explosive and quick when shooting gaps, and once he’s in the gap he can finish the penetration with his power and hands. He displayed a nice arsenal of moves, especially his arm over and swipe and rip move. He’s very disruptive on the interior and will just bounce off linemen as he rushes the QB. He’s got impressive hand fighting and is able to disengage blocks with ease. He even showed flashes of domination as a run stopper and does well to stack and shed blocks. We now just need to see him do this on a consistent basis, as he was used rotationally last season. He should now be a starter as the 3T/4T on the Alabama defensive line and we can see more of him. My main weakness with Barmore is his aggression and eagerness. Once he beats a lineman and has a path to the QB, he will at times overcommit and overshoot his angle, allowing the QB to simply sidestep or scramble up into the pocket and away from him. His aggressive playstyle also leaves him vulnerable to screen plays, and he will often play with a high pad level. Both of these aren’t huge issues though and I expect him to make a jump this season and challenge Marvin Wilson for the top spot in the class. In this clip, Barmore is lined up over the center. He's quick and strong off the line, and he does a great job of swiping down the lineman's hands.

#2 - Marvin Wilson - Florida State (6'4, 311)

Wilson already looks to be an elite run defender. His ability to anchor on the interior and fight through blocks is the best of the class. He has great eyes and awareness, and has no problems tracking the ball carrier through traffic. His ability to stack and shed linemen is impressive and he can disengage from blocks at will. He shows a lot of potential as a pass rusher, and what I like best are his active hands and his ability to convert speed to power. He makes it difficult for linemen to lock him up, and he shows nice creativity and instinctiveness as a pass rusher. He’s long and very strong, and he shows good versatility along the defensive line. There are times where he doesn’t always have a plan when rushing the passer, and he’ll occasionally raise his pad level, but overall he is a strong interior defender who can immediately impact the run and passing game. In the play below, Wilson is lined up as a 3T with Mekhi Becton to his right. He proceeds to punch Becton in his chest and pull him to the ground. He then goes and runs over the running back on his way to the QB. An insane display of strength and leverage from Wilson.

#3 - Jay Tufele - USC (6'2, 310)

Tufele offers a lot of potential as a pass rusher. He’s got fantastic hand usage, flashing violent and strong hands to combat linemen and he’s constantly swiping their hands down. He displays a nice arsenal of pass rushing moves and does well to incorporate shoulder and hand swipes to disengage from blocks. He’s a fluid athlete possessing agility, quickness, and flexibility to maneuver around linemen. His run defense needs some work, especially his awareness. He gets tricked often on misdirections and option plays. He also doesn’t have great lower body strength and he seems a bit top-heavy. This makes him susceptible to losing his balance and he gets really bothered by lateral pressure. However, with his athleticism and pass rushing skills he should be a top 50 prospect. Here Tufele is lined up as the 3T on the right side of the line. He's explosive and powerful off the line and he makes a great swim move as he almost gets the sack.

#4 - Jaylen Twyman - Pitt (6'2, 290)

Twyman is already a strong run defender and flashes great technique when rushing the passer. On run plays he’s able to withstand multiple linemen trying to move him with his low pad level and natural leverage. He does well to stack and shed as runners approach his gaps, and he does well to track the ball carrier on outside runs. He’s got a nice variety of pass rush moves that include swim, push and pull, rip, two-handed swipe, and bull rush. He’s quick and agile and gets into areas of opportunity with his athleticism, then finishes it off with his technique. His pass rush ability still needs to develop, mainly with his hand usage. He’ll allow linemen to maintain good position on him and I would like to see him use his hands more to disengage from blocks. He flashes great potential and now I’m just looking for him to take that next step and consistently get into the backfield. On this run play you can see Twyman two-gap and control the guard as he's able to close the gap AJ Dillon wants to hit.

#5 - Levi Onwuzurike - Washington (6'2, 293)

Onwuzurike was a tough evaluation primarily because of the position he plays. He’s 6’2 and 293 pounds with very long arms, but he plays a lot as a 0 or 1 tech. He shows versatility, playing snaps at the 3 and 5 tech positions but his evaluation at these positions is mostly projection. He’s surprisingly effective playing NT. His length is a real problem for interior lineman and he uses this length and his strength to penetrate the LOS. He’s able to convert speed to power and is disruptive on the interior. I was a big fan of his bull rush and push and pull move. I was also impressed by his ability to two gap on run plays, and stack and shed interior lineman to get to the ball carrier. He’s got a great motor and never stops trying to get to the QB or ball carrier. He mostly needs improvement with his hand usage and leverage. He’s got active hands but doesn’t show much hand fighting. He also plays with a high pad level and this allows stronger guards to get him off balance and get their hands on his chest. Onwuzurike has the potential to become a versatile defensive lineman who can contribute as a pass rusher and run stopper. One of the things I love about Onwuzurike is his ability to get skinny and fit himself into gaps. On this play here you can see him squeeze himself into the A gap and force the QB outside the pocket.

#6 - Tyler Shelvin - LSU (6'2, 346)

Shelvin is a boulder on the interior, taking up space and bullying linemen with his strength. He can immediately bolster a team’s run defense. His natural leverage and low pad level allows him to anchor on the interior and take on double teams, and he shows the ability to two gap as a 0T. He does well to stack and shed linemen, and he makes it very tough for opposing teams to create space for the ball carrier. For his size, he displays good explosiveness and quickness and he can get up to decent speed while in pursuit of the ball carrier. He is somewhat limited as a pass rusher, and this is really the only weakness I had for Shelvin. He does well to push the pocket back and can generate great power from his lower half, but that is about it. He flashed strong hand swipes but I would like to see him incorporate some other moves as part of his arsenal. I don’t think he will contribute much early as a pass rusher, but he has the explosiveness and strength to become something more than just a 2-down run stuffer. The play below highlights the incredible anchor Shelvin possesses. He withstands the double team and gets super low, allowing himself to stand his ground and make the run stop.

#7 - Alim McNeill - NC State (6'2, 315)

McNeill is at his best when shooting gaps, taking advantage of his explosiveness and strength. He displays great strength and power to force his way into gaps and once he gets an angle on the lineman he shows the athleticism and hands to separate toward the QB. As a run defender he’s able to get immediate push into the backfield and he’s really good against linemen crashing down on him. He’s able to keep his chest clean so he can freely disengage when needed and his ability to stack and shed was impressive as well. When pass rushing head on he struggles to push linemen back into the pocket and he needs to continue improving his technique and incorporate more pass rush moves. There are also times when he is able to get penetration, but he’s easily juked by the runner or QB. He plays mainly 0/1T and I would like to see him get more time as a 3T, but he shows enough skills as a pass rusher to be a day 2 prospect. On this play McNeill is lined up over the center. He runs with good speed and strength and is able to get the sack. I also like how he contorted his body to make it harder for the lineman to get good hand placement on him.

#8 - Jordan Davis - Georgia (6'5, 330)

Playing the nose tackle position for Georgia, Davis brings a strong presence against the run. He’s a large gap filler with great strength and lower body drive. He does really well to anchor himself on the interior and disengage blocks to get to the ball carrier. He’s got good balance to combat lateral hits from linemen. He doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. He’s late to get off the line and isn’t quick or explosive enough to pressure the QB. Aside from a bull rush he lacks moves to defeat blocks. He’s just not a disruptive force on passing downs. He’ll flash quality athleticism and pass rush potential, but he’s mostly a large body to have against the run. He’s a solid two down run stuffer but he needs to develop more of a pass rush to increase his draft stock. I chose this play of Davis because it shows his flashes of explosiveness and movement skills, but I just need to see more of this from him. He is the 3T on the right of the line.

#9 - LaBryan Ray - Alabama (6'4, 292)

Ray had his 2019 season cut short due to a foot injury, and only played in three games. He primarily played the 3T and 5T positions. He’s a presence in the run game, showing good ability to stack and shed defenders. He plays with leverage and he’s able to disengage when the ball carrier moves towards him. He can play the strong side DE and seal the edges. He’s got great gap discipline and displays good football IQ. He needs to improve his pass rush, as he just isn’t very quick or explosive. He really only bull rushes linemen, and he’s able to drive them back with his length, leverage, and strength. I would like to see him incorporate a wider variety of pass rush moves and improve his hand usage. He seemed to pass rush better as a 3T but was a better run defender as a 5T. There were flashes of him swiping hands and push-pulling guards, but I just need to see more of it. He was often last off the line and needs to improve his get off speed. He needs to develop more as a pass rusher to improve his stock, but the potential is there with how strong and smart he plays. Here Ray is lined up as the 5T on the right of the line. He does well to read the play and stay disciplined, and he uses his strength to fight off the pulling guard and help make the run stop.

#10 - Lorenzo Neal - Purdue (6'2, 315)

Neal is really explosive off the line and is able to generate pressure right off the snap. He displays upper body flexibility to shoulder dip by linemen and fit himself into smaller gaps. He uses a long arm and push and pull to beat linemen and flashes hand swipes to free himself from blocks. I really like his pass rush potential on the interior, but his lack of quickness and speed really hinder his ability to finish the penetration he generates with his explosiveness. He always seems just a step slow when filling running lanes and pressuring the QB. Aside from his burst and first step, he lacks a plan to get to the QB and he allows himself to get locked up too often. He needs to add more hand usage and improve his leverage to develop his pass rush further. He’s an inconsistent run blocker and allows himself to get turned outside, and he’s prone to losing his balance when hit from the side. As the 0/1T he needs to develop a stronger anchor to hold up on the interior. He missed the 2019 season after he tore his ACL at the end of the 2018 season, but with the Big10 coming back we should be able to see him healthy again. He showed he has the ability to be a decent pass rusher as a NT and it will be interesting to see how teams value him. Here Neal shows fantastic strength as he swats away two linemen and stops the running QB on the interior.

Early Accolades

Best Pass Rusher - Christian Barmore

Best Run Stuffer - Tyler Shelvin

Best Athleticism - Christian Barmore

Most Potential - Marvin Wilson

Most Complete - Marvin Wilson

Underrated - Alim McNeill

If you made it to the end, thanks for reading!

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Display Image Credits

Christian Barmore: John David Mercer / USA Today

Marvin Wilson: David Rosenblum / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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