2019 NFL Draft: An early introduction to nine of the potential top defensive linemen
Let's peek ahead at the possible headliners in the 2019 draft class of defensive linemen
The marquee position group moves from quarterback in 2018 to the defensive line in next year's NFL Draft, as Nick Bosa, Ed Oliver, Rashan Gary, and Dexter Lawrence headline the best class of defensive tackles and edge-rushers in quite some time.
But it's not solely about those super-hyped recruits who've lived up to the billing thus far in their collegiate careers.
Here's an early introduction to the potential top defensive line prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
Experience: Has appeared in 27 games in his first two seasons for the Buckeyes. Tallied seven tackles for loss and five sacks as a freshman and 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 2017. He also forced one fumble and defended two passes during his sophomore season.
Strengths: Requisite size and impressive length. Suddenness and fluidity in hips immediately stand out. Inside counter looks effortless and effective. Doesn't get complacent during his rush. Constantly uses his hands to keep offensive linemen off him and maintains his speed while doing so. Strength (mainly for bull rushes) is good, not great. Can flatten well at times and showed flashes of outstanding speed-to-power rushes. Utilizes a swift swim move. Overall, martial-artist like hand work, plus change-of-direction ability. Refined edge-rusher during 2017 season as 19/20 year old.
Weaknesses: His bend to the quarterback leaves a bit to be desired. Could stand to get a little stronger up top.
Early comparison: Joey Bosa
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Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Experience: In 24 games over two years for the Cougars, Oliver has amassed a whopping 38.5 tackles for loss to go along with 10.5 sacks and 138 tackles.
Strengths: Possesses the athleticism and speed of an off-ball linebacker but is 6-3 and 280-ish pounds. Incredible suddeness off the snap and into the backfield. Twitchiness is elite. Routinely wins at the point of attack with that rare burst. Good, not overwhelming power and decently active hands. Scrapes down the line with immense effort and effectiveness. Uses a super-quick spin to get backside on stretch runs or cutbacks to his side.
Weaknesses: At this point, he's better getting into the pads of an offensive linemen then springing off him to make an impact play against the run than he is deploying an intricate pass-rushing move to get to the quarterback. Sometimes, his lack of weight leads to him not playing with tons of power.
Early comparison: Aaron Donald
Rashan Gary, DE/DT, Michigan
Experience: Has been on the field for 25 games so far in two seasons at Michigan. Recorded a half sack and five tackles for loss in rotational role as a freshman. As he moved into a more featured role in 2017, his numbers jumped to 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Also, his tackle total increased from 23 to 58.
Strengths: Thick, powerful build. More defensive end-defensive tackle hybrid than defensive end-outside linebacker. Relatively strong, decently active hands. Often used on inside stunts, in which he showcased impressive burst and tremendous closing speed. Plus twitchiness for his size. Can unload a jolting pop on offensive linemen but isn't overly powerful at this point. Mostly consistent block-shedding. Flashed a nice swim move and good straight arm. Clearly a rare talent in need of a bit more refinement with his pass-rushing moves and could stand to get stronger. Turned 20 in December of 2017.
Weaknesses: Overall strength needs to improve. Bull rush isn't as strong as you'd expect give his size and movement ability. Can play high when rushing on the edge and isn't super bendy to the quarterback.
Early comparison: Tyrone Crawford
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
Experience: Accumulated 95 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks in his first two seasons at Clemson in 25 games.
Strengths: Already has the body of a mammoth nose tackle at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. Frame can generate major power. Doesn't blatantly lose many one-on-one battles and is rarely moved off the ball by double teams. Can shed blocks on the inside against the run. Is like a freight train on his way to the quarterback and will knock helping blockers out of the way. Moves considerably better than vast majority of college defensive linemen his size. Occasionally wins through a gap with quickness. Enormous nose tackle with awesome movement skills and good power.
Weaknesses: Somewhat of a clunky mover and though he makes concerted effort to keep blockers off him, his hands move slowly. Not a penetrator and doesn't possess the ability to sustain his speed to be a serious pass-rushing threat right now. Occasionally came off the field in pass-rushing situations.
Early comparison: Dontari Poe
Dre'Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
Experience: In two seasons and 23 games for the Buckeyes, Jones has 71 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and one sack.
Strengths: Awesome burst off the snap and twitchiness to sneak through a gap if need be. Long arms he uses rapidly as a pass-rusher. Defensive tackle in a defensive end body which helps him against slower interior blockers. Statistics don't tell the entire story of how disruptive he's been at Ohio State, particularly last season. Pass-rush specialist.
Weaknesses: Height and clear lack of strength lead to him getting washed out against the run too often. Wide array of initial pass-rushing moves but needs to learn a counter or two. Doubles often put him on skates.
Early comparison: Dominique Easley
Jerry Tillery, DL, Notre Dame
Experience: In 17 games in his first two years on the field for the Fighting Irish, he amassed 49 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss with no sacks. Last season, He made 56 tackles, had nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and forced one fumble in 13 games.
Strengths: Tall and long for the defensive tackle spot. Still growing into his frame. Could ultimately be a 6-5, 310-pounder. Light feet and smooth hips. Active hands while scraping down the line of scrimmage. Despite his height, he plays with good leverage. Refined stack-and-shed run-stopper. Type of defensive tackle you want to use on twists because of his athleticism. Plus physical talent with ascending power and awareness.
Weaknesses: Must add weight and strength to hold up on the inside. Has the body of a heavier defensive end right now. Could lean on his athleticism more to win with speed through a gap en route to the quarterback.
Early comparison: Malik Jackson
Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Clemson
Experience: In 28 games over two seasons for the Tigers, Ferrell has registered 30.5 tackles for loss with 15.5 sacks. In 2017, he had 18.0 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and 66 tackles.
Strengths: Super-long defensive end with springy athleticism and the ability to bend the edge. Uses his hands well against the run and as a pass-rusher. When he disengages from blocks, he has plus speed to close on the football and finish. Has the length and awareness to get strip sacks when he's somewhat far away from the quarterback. Has enough fluidity to drop into zone coverage. Fires his hands inside on offensive linemen.
Weaknesses: At times can get caught up grappling instead of continuing to move his feet to move closer to the quarterback. Has to add strength and improve speed-to-power on pure outside rushes to deal with NFL offensive tackles who can match his length and pop at the point of attack.
Early comparison: Robert Quinn
Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama
Experience: Barely played as a freshman. In 2017, he stepped into full-time role and thrived with 69 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks.
Strengths: Imposing specimen with above-average height, weight, strength, and length and has room to grow into his frame. Already chiseled in his upper body. Can get upfield in a hurry (relative to how large of a human he is) and flashed a quick, powerful club move. Works well as a two-gapper against the run. Has outstanding closing speed for an inside defensive lineman.
Weaknesses: Height can hurt him at times, as it's hard for him to win the leverage battle. At times as a pass-rusher he stays glued to blocks, which typically happens when he doesn't use his length at the outset of the play. Needs to develop counter moves.
Early comparison: Calais Campbell
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Experience: Long-time performer on an assortment of talented Clemson defensive lines. Has already played in 40 games for the Tigers. Has 141 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks in three seasons.
Strengths: Squatty, wide frame with good, and at times, impressive power. For his size, he shows flashes of impactful quickness. Tireless worker on the interior with two-gapping experience. In 2016, in more of an attacking role, his athleticism was more on display, and he fill up the stat sheet, especially with tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: Not as much of a rock against double teams as you'd expect given his size and moments of plus power when getting upfield. Doesn't provide much pass-rush due to average burst and unpolished hand work through the line.
Early comparison: Johnathan Hankins
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