2016 Draft – Position Group – Defensive Tackle / Nose Tackle
In the last 6 NFL Drafts there have been an average of 18.8 Defensive Tackles / Nose Tackles taken, with a low of 15 in 2013 and a high of 20 (which happened in 4 of the last 6 drafts). This draft is ready to blow those numbers away. I am seeing as many as 25 Defensive Tackles and Nose Tackles taken. Those 25 players taken will include 5 or more in the 1st Round, which would be the most since 2001.
Tackles on this side of the ball ideally are capable of making plays consistently in both the run and the pass game, but depending on scheme and ability there are still specialists.
You have your big, wide bodied Nose Tackles who can play over the center in a 3-4 or plug the middle in a 4-3. This year we have players like A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), Jarran Reed (Alabama), Andrew Billings (Baylor), Kenny Clark (UCLA), and DJ Reader (Clemson).
You also have your 3-Technique pass rushing interior linemen, who play the run but really make their money pushing up the field and chasing the Quarterback. This year that group would include Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss), Sheldon Day (Notre Dame), and Willie Henry (Michigan).
Those two lists are really the tip of the iceburg of NFL ready interior line talent. Players like Vernon Butler (Louisiana Tech), Chris Jones (Mississippi State), and Austin Johnson (Penn State) would be locks for the 1st Round and possibly high up in the 1st Round most years, but several of them will go in the 2nd or 3rd. There are also a lot of small school players like Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State), Matt Ioannidis (Temple), Greg Milhouse Jr (Campbell), and AJ Zuttah (Dartmouth) who will likely have their names called at some point and can make some noise. There is so much depth in this class on the interior of the line that even mid-round picks will be making noise.
1. Sheldon Rankins – Louisville – 6’1 299Lbs
Rankins lined up everywhere along the line for Louisville, and in doing so showed he could take on blockers from all angles one by one or two at a time and still make plays. He has quick and active feet, able to blow past crossover blocks and chase down ball carriers from behind. His football IQ is great, knowing where the ball is at all times and playing through the blocker to shed them at the right time and make the tackle. He put on a clinic at the Senior Bowl, dominating in drills and standing out on the field as well. He showed at the combine that despite a lot of bulk on a somewhat undersized frame for an interior lineman, he has the quicks and explosiveness to make a lot of plays on the line.
He has heavy hands and flashes the ability to use them well, but that is a part of his game he needs to keep working on. It is possible he will have trouble with stronger NFL Guards, but at some point you are just looking for holes in his game. He is a bit limited in that he mostly is set to play in a 4-3 scheme, but that still leaves about half the teams in the NFL looking at him. The difficulty in predicting where he will land is that there are 3-5 Tackles that are all capable of going any time from Pick 11 to the beginning of Round 2, depending on how each team views them. I would say his earliest landing spot would be the Bears at Pick 11, and the furthest he would fall would be to the Seahawks at Pick 26.
2. A’Shawn Robinson – Alabama – 6’4 307Lbs
Robinson played in every spot on the line for Alabama, but his future in the NFL is as an interior lineman. He has great length and athleticism on the inside, with enough strength and power to play Nose Tackle in a 3-4. He plays smart, using his length to stuff cut blocks and picking good angles to maximize his quickness in pursuit of a ball carrier. He has heavy hands when delivering blows to blockers, and once he gets a hold of a player nobody is going to break his tackle. If a team is looking for a player who can plug the holes in a leaky run defense, Robinson is probably the best player on the board.
That being said he is not without issues. Outside of run stopping, a lot of Robinson is projection. He still hasn’t been able to really put things together as a pass rusher, without great balance or a lot of moves that will allow him to get past blockers and turn the corner to the Quarterback. At times he can be a little late out of his stance, and comes out too tall which loses him leverage. The fact is that he already has a plus skill as a run blocker, so even if he doesn’t improve his pass rushing a great deal it would be difficult for him to end up a bust. He would be a strong pick for a team like the Saints at 12th, Lions at 16th, Bills at 19th, and will be off the board at the latest with the Green Bay Packers at 27th.
3. Jarran Reed – Alabama – 6’3 307Lbs
Reed is often placed behind his teammate Robinson on the Draft prospect list, but were I drafting for a team I would value Reed more. Like Robinson, Reed plays at a very high level against the run. He naturally stays low, and packs a lot of strength and power. He is a smart player, reading the back and sensing the flow of players around him as he flows through blockers on his way to putting hard hits on ball carriers. And when he does get his hands on the ball carrier? He recorded no missed or broken tackles his Senior year. He also flashes enough quickness to threaten a Quarterback, especially with his ability to get his hands inside of Offensive Linemen.
Much like Robinson, the big questions for Reed come in the passing game. The answers have a bit more teeth though. Yes, Reed has not produced much in the way of QB pressure, but he did show a lot of ability in the one on one drills and in the game action at the Senior Bowl. He also has shown good hand work in general, but it needs improvement to play in the passing game. He is best suited for a 4-3 Defense, and stepping in he can help with the run right away while improving against the pass. He would be a great fit for the Bears at 11th, the Redskins at 21st, Seahawks at 26th, or Cardinals at 29th.
3 MORE TO WATCH
1. Andrew Billings – Baylor – 6’1 311Lbs
Billings is a massive load of bulk in the middle of the line, capable of playing Nose Tackle in a 3-4 or on the inside of a 4-3. He has an impressive blend of size and quickness, with a great motor that has him active throughout every play. He has a ton of power, and having converted from Offensive Line to Defensive Line while at Baylor, he is still growing and getting better quickly. He is still new to the position, so he has a number of issues with technique for both his hands and his feet. He will need coaching and support, but there is a lot to work with. I believe he will go in the 1st Round to a team like Washington or Green Bay.
2. Robert Nkemdiche – Ole Miss – 6’3 294Lbs
Nkemdiche is a Top 10 Draft pick in talent, but questions about character are going to push him to the bottom half of the 1st Round or possibly into Round 2. He has a powerful build, with both great length and great quickness. He could step in as a 3-4 Defensive End or into either Defensive Tackle spot in a 4-3. He also has multiple arrests and a lot of questions about how much he really applied himself. In Combine interviews he managed to both throw his teammates under the bus over his legal troubles, and admit that he took plays off and didn’t play to his ability unless it was a team he felt like playing against. With all his talent, someone will take a chance. For his sake, I hope it is a team with a strong veteran foundation that can help him focus and play his best. He seems like a great kid, and having his story turn out a success story would be wonderful. The Bills at 19th, Redskins at 21st, Steelers at 25th, Seahawks at 26th, or Broncos at 31st.
3. Javon Hargrave – South Carolina State – 6’1 309Lbs
With so very many players from big schools who are going to be taken early in the draft, 6 spots just isn’t enough to cover everyone. However, I feel like I have to at least profile one player who represents the hoard of talented and interesting small school DT prospects, and Hargrave is one you may not have heard about yet. He has a thick, compact frame with a good motor and a lot of power. For his size he can move very well, though he does have a bad habit of stopping his feet which can really stall his second effort. He still doesn’t have a great feel for the position and will need to be coached up in technique and reads, but he has the physical tools to make an impact. He will likely be picked somewhere in the 3rd or 4th Round, which is very impressive since this draft is so loaded with big school talent.