There was a very good article a couple of weeks ago over at Pro Football Focus on how not every defensive tackle is the same. It's a good read, and I encourage you to take a look. The names you'll see today are guys that I'm comfortable taking in the 4th round or earlier, and I'll break them into tiers. There will be names higher and lower than where you're used to seeing them. I certainly take into account scheme and what they're asked to do, but I also take into account "wins." It's worked for me the last couple years, and it's something that I've seen translate just looking back at previous players. I'll get into the names but here are some of the top performances from a "wins" standpoint that I watched this year. Based on three years of numbers anything over seven wins is a very impressive game.
So I keep track of wins to see who is really beating their man the most. Here are the top DL performances I've seen pic.twitter.com/eh8uumJDPT— KP (@KP_Show) March 28, 2016
To help save time, please reference the chart below that covers the defensive alignments.
*Disclaimer* I like Javon Hargrave a lot, but he's the one guy I haven't finalized.
Here we go.
Worth it at 3
I deserve this. You deserve this. We deserve this. I'm not going to pretend like Buckner doesn't have his faults, he certainly does. But for what San Diego has been lacking the past few years, defensive lineman chasing to make plays on the backside and pushing the pocket as a pass rusher, Buckner is perfect. He certainly offers much more than that as a player. There are many that doubt him as a pass rusher. Myself and Matt Waldman covered that topic below.
Buckner is the only interior defender that I believe is worth the 3rd overall pick.
Let's say someone offers the Chargers a package they can't refuse, and they land in the teens, then what? You don't want to force a pick on a position just because it's a position of need. Are there any players worth a mid 1st round pick? Probably not. This is where you would being to reach. But these are my "second tier" of defensive tackles in order.
Chris Jones, 3/4t, Mississippi State
This is "my guy." Talking about wins, he was the most consistent of everyone. I had a nice conversation with Charles McDonald on what type of player Jones is. For you guys thinking he'll be there in the 3rd, that's just not going to happen. I'm starting to think he might not make it to the 33rd pick. I had finalized my stance on him, so it wasn't in the "wins" number above but there are eight wins in this clip against Missouri alone.
He's one of my favorite players in the draft. He can win up and down the line of scrimmage and brings an element to the team that's just not there from the inside. I think he'll be a stud.
Jon Bullard, 3t, Florida
Went in-depth on Bullard about a month ago. Nothing new to say about him. I can see why his size would scare teams off, but he's just so damn strong and lives in the opposing teams backfield.
Robert Nkemdiche, 3t, Ole Miss
He's more than just an athlete. He also tends to do his own thing and that scares me quite a bit at the next level. Especially if he's asked to play the 4/5 technique in San Diego and hold up against double teams. He gets washed like no other against double teams.
2nd round talents you can find in the 3rd round
These are guys that could slip into the 3rd round even though they have no business being there.
Kenny Clark, 0/1t, UCLA
What he did against Arizona was ridiculous. 14 wins but seven against the run and seven against the pass. Because of what he's already shown as a pass rusher, and how he resets the line of scrimmage, he's the best nose tackle in the draft for me.
Watched UCLA DT Kenny Clark and I wouldn't say he's the weakest DT in the draft pic.twitter.com/GgkkzSO302— KP (@KP_Show) January 12, 2016
Vernon Butler, 4/5t, Louisiana Tech
Butler is 6'4 and 323 pounds, but you would never be able to tell by the way he moves. His versatility is about as good as it gets when comparing him to the other defensive tackles, too. He won everywhere. From 0-6 technique. His go-go gadget arms(35 1/2") allow him to get into offensive linemen and reset the line of scrimmage.
He deserves to go in the early 2nd round in a vacuum, so in this class there's no reason he should be sitting there at the top of the 3rd.
These are the players that most of the media have mocked as early round talents, some even top 10, and I just do not see it.
Sheldon Rankins, 3t, Louisville
This guy is being mocked in the top 10 universally and the guys that I trust the most love him. He didn't win enough for me. He played head up, so there were some 2-gapping responsibilities. He also got a chance to pin his ears back a good amount of times. It's not that I don't like him, I think he would be good value, in the 3rd round. I do not see a player that will live up to a top 15 pick. You're not versatile if you can't win from multiple spots even though you line up there.
(20 second timeout)
Hassan Ridgeway, 3/4t, Texas
Let's take a quick timeout to talk about a player who is actually flying under the radar that I like quite a bit. I have him as a 3rd rounder but I can easily see him out performing that status. At Texas he was asked to play the 4/5 technique and did a really nice job of playing his assignment. You can't move him in the run game. Then on passing downs when he got a chance to just play you can see the talent. He had the best game of any name you'll see on this list against Oklahoma State.
Hassan Ridgeway vs OK State was basically like a highlight tape. Showed versatility in his assignments. Wow moments pic.twitter.com/vT6XJbQw71— KP (@KP_Show) March 28, 2016
I couldn't fit all his wins into the clip, but he was everywhere. You don't often call a 303 pound man a "speed rusher" but that's what Ridgeway is. He is everything and more than the bigger names you'll see later on.
Back to your regularly scheduled programing
Jaran Reed, 0t, Alabama
Not really his fault and probably not fair to call him overrated. He is an ox against the run. Good luck moving this guy. His problem is on passing downs there just isn't any value to warrant anything earlier than a 3rd round pick so that's why he is here.
A'Shawn Robinson, 4/5t, Alabama
Well well well. I remember watching him live and thinking, "damn, how high is he going to go?" Then you watch him and you're waiting for him to flash. Believe it or not, you can 2-gap and still make plays. When asked to rush the passer there just wasn't anything there. Ridgeway has some juice. Robinson doesn't have that gear. He has the length and strength but I didn't see any "upside" when watching him. In the 4 games I watched he had 4,3,5,5 wins respectively. Chris Jones had 7,6,8,10. Robinson is not the guy the NFL or media is making him out to be.
Andrew Billings, 0/1t, Baylor
People loveeeeeeee this dude. Like top 15, top 25 love. Yesterday I saw a couple top 5 moments. Yeesh. He is a very good run defender. There is no doubting that. He also has solid initial quickness. The problem is when rushing the passer Billings is all upper body. There's no leg drive and he can't generate consistent movement throughout the game as a pass rusher. I understand that I'm probably going to get slaughtered for saying this but quite frankly Billings isn't good. I really do appreciate the effort he plays with. However, he can't sustain his burst has a tendency to stand up and the results are not pretty. Taking a guy who cannot rush the passer anywhere before pick 50 is asking for it. Taking a guy that is all upper body and can't rush the passer is setting your linebackers up for failure. No thanks.
Players you want to double down on
There are a few players in the draft that you should double down on if you're looking to select more than 1 defensive tackle. These are 2 I would take at the top of the 4th if available.
Willie Henry, 3-5t, Michigan
It matters what order you watch players in. The first game I watched Henry was against Michigan State and he had 8 wins, 2 stops, 2 sacks, and a tackle for loss. I had no idea who this kid was and I was very intrigued. The next game against Indiana he was fine. Then Ohio State came and he did absolutely nothing. Final game against Florida he turned it back on with 9 wins.
Henry can be a better speed rusher and his hand usage isn't great, but he has the length and strength to win. I like him for where I'm getting him at.
Maliek Collins, 3t, Nebraska
I wanted to like him more than I did but the 311 pounder is light in the pants. He plays with zero leverage and gets moved a little too much for me. If he had any sort of power or ability to jolt offensive lineman he would be very intriguing. He has the quickness to get upfield and good initial quickness but he does have a ways to go to be an every down player at the next level. He won with quick hands, but he doesn't have "heavy" hands, and that's where he gets in trouble. He's a sub package player that needs to be in a 1-gap scheme.
Giant question mark
Sheldon Day, 3t, Notre Dame
He should be so much better than he is. I went to go see him in person live and was incredibly disappointed last year. I'm leery of guys that don't make plays up and down the line of scrimmage. Day didn't. Strength at the point of attack, especially on double teams, is an issue. I saw 1 successful bullrush or power move from him in the games I viewed. At 6'1 293, the size is an issue because he plays like that. Day is what he is at this point for me.