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2017 NFL Draft position rankings: Top 5 defensive tackles before the NFL Combine

Today, we take a look at some of the top defensive tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft, heading into the 2017 NFL Combine.

Today we are going to take a look at some of the top defensive tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft. The San Francisco 49ers have invested a lot of high draft capital on their defensive line. Will they continue this trend with new GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan?

The 49ers have already made one major move at the position, signing DT Earl Mitchell to a four-year, $16 million dollar deal. $5.5 million will be paid in the first season. The 49ers outbid the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks to make this deal happen.

Before we get into our top 5 draft prospects, let’s take a look at some of the notable free agents at the position.

Vince Wilfork, 35, Houston Texas
Domata Peko, 32, Cincinnati Bengals
Paul Soliai, 33, Carolina Panthers
Tyson Alualu, 29, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jonathan Babineaux, 35, Atlanta Falcons
Nick Fairley, 29, New Orleans Saints
Dontari Poe, 26, Kansas City Chiefs
Frostee Rucker, 33, Arizona Cardinals
Alan Branch, 32, New England Patriots
Sean Lissemore, 29, Los Angeles Chargers
Sylvester Williams, 28, Denver Broncos
Karl Klug, 28, Tennessee Titans
Stefan Charles, 28, Detroit Lions
Corbin Bryant, 29, Buffalo Bills
Tyrunn Walker, 26, Detroit Lions

Let’s now take a look at my top 5 defensive tackle prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft. I have also included a list of prospects on the outside looking in.

Thinking of someone who’s not mentioned? Please share in the comments below!

Jonathan Allen, DT - Alabama: 6’3”, 294 lbs. 40 Time: 4.76

2016 Stats: 62 Tackles, 15 for a loss, 9.5 sacks, 2 batted passes, 1 interception (76 yard Pick-6)

One of this year’s can’t miss blue-chip prospects. To me, Jonathan Allen should have been a Heisman finalist as I felt he was the most dominant and consistent defensive player in the country…Yes, even more so than Myles Garrett. Allen plays a relentless and ruthless style of football along the line scrimmage. In a 4-3 format, Allen can play on the outside or along the inside. Some of the best hands I have seen from a defensive lineman in quite a long time. Allen uses his hands to beat blockers, which also helps him push forward with ease, generating pressure on the offensive line. His quick step and burst off the line almost immediately put pressure on blockers, often requiring the opposition to double team Allen.

He creates quarterback pressure on multiple occasions, game in and game out. Stays low, below the pad level, and runs through his hips to generate his high motor and create pressure in the opponents backfield. Instincts against the run are off the charts, and at many points this season, Allen was able to disrupt and breakup runs before the runner was able to cross the line of scrimmage. His speed for a defensive tackle is one of the fastest I have ever evaluated, and his ability to cut off the runner from east-to-west along the edge only adds to his blue chip value.

I am intrigued to see Allen’s 40 time at the combine. His height is a bit of a concern, and because of that there could be a bit of a rough transition matching up against NFL level offensive lineman and blockers. I also question whether he will be able to play both outside and inside at the next level. Height aside, there is way too much to like about one of the best overall prospects in the draft. At this point the only thing standing between Allen and a Top 3 selection is team’s buying high at QB. Allen is a blue chip prospect who’s valued as a top 3 selection.

Draft Projection: 1st Round (Top 3 Pick)

Caleb Brantley, DT - Florida: 6’2”, 314 lbs. 40 Time: 4.98

2016 Stats: 31 Tackles, 9.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble

The defensive tackle out of Florida has one of the quickest jumps off the line. His motor and burst help him generate pressure in the opposing backfield, and often creates pressure on the QB, and disrupting plays on the ground. He uses his hands to work off of blockers, and watching his film, Brantley handled double teams really well. Tends to push blockers backwards and force himself into the pocket. Positions himself well in blitz packages, and uses his instincts to follow the football. Has a great physical frame for the position.

While Brantley has good straight line speed, it is his movement horizontally that leaves a little to be desired. Watching his film, there were multiple missed opportunities to finish sacks and tackles due to over-anticipating the play or not being able to extend himself to finish the play. Needs to polish his technique as a pass rusher. There is plenty of potential though with this borderline day one prospect. Assuming he has a great combine and pro day, he could sneak into the end of the first round. I am going to be a little bold here and project that for now.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

Malik McDowell, DT - Michigan State: 6’6”, 280 lbs. 40 Time: 5.35

2016 Stats: 34 Tackles, 7 for a loss, 1.5 sacks

Don’t let the low sack numbers make you nervous. McDowell was one of the most consistent and disruptive pass rushers in the country this season. Just watch his tape. Made his presence in the opposing backfield and the pocket known. Uses his reliable hands and long arms to push back and break through against blockers along the offensive line. Has both straight line and east-to-west speed to contain passers, especially duel-threats. Has the ability to play at almost any spot along the defensive line. Uses his lower body to propel himself forward to generate pressure.

As he transitions to the next level McDowell is going to have to clean up his feet. Many times he is off balance which puts him out of position. His inconsistent footwork lead to blockers sending him to the ground quickly which takes him out of the play. Tends to play above the pad level at times, which gives him trouble to break through and get around opposing blockers. Sometimes relies too much on his physical traits and athleticism. While he may have gotten away with that at the collegiate level, he will find it far more difficult in the NFL. However, because of his upside and his ability to constantly create pressure in the backfield and on the passer, he’s currently valued as an early day 2 selection.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round

Chris Wormley, DT - Michigan: 6’5, 297 lbs. 40 Time: 5.15

2016 Stats: 40 Tackles, 9 for a loss, 6 sacks

Stays low, below the pad level, with excellent balance. Wormley utilizes his lower half to generate power and push forward towards blockers. His motor and jump off the line generate pressure on blockers, and thanks to his arm extensions and strong hands, Wormley can beat and elude blockers on a consistent basis. Many times on film Wormley can be seen twisting and turning, utilizing a blend of different looks and techniques to push himself towards the opposition’s backfield and create pressure on the QB. Never quits on the play, and will run down the passer or running back and try to complete the tackle or sack. Has a great frame with lean muscle that supports him, and gives him the opportunity to be a three down lineman. Has shown tremendous leadership skills during his time at Michigan, along with strong character and coachable traits.

While he can generate pressure he simply doesn’t have the same explosion as a Jonathan Allen or Caleb Brantley. Thanks to his balance though, his first step can improve over time. While he has strong hands, he can still improve his hand technique as he at times struggles to get by blockers at a quick rate. Wormley’s strong character and high upside currently values him as an early day 2 selection.

Draft Projection: 2nd Round

Jaleel Johnson, DT - Iowa: 6’2”, 309 lbs. 40 Time: 5.10

2016 Stats: 55 Tackles, 10 for a loss, 7.5 sacks

Another highly valued prospect who seems to have gone under the radar. Johnson had four productive years for the Hawkeyes of Iowa. A high motor and a quick first step off the snap helped him generate pressure in the opposition’s backfield. Johnson was a two year starter after redshirting his freshman season and playing in a backup role his sophomore season. Uses a blend of techniques to elude blockers. His quickness and burst give him the opportunity to change direction on the fly, and follow the ball and the play as a whole.

Plays with relentless effort on a consistent basis, and strong durability throughout the course of the game. Plays with the same energy in the second half as he does in the first. A major contribution to his quickness is how fluid he plays through his hips. A concern I see on film is that Johnson plays to upright at times. Plays above the pad level which works against him rushing the passer. Will need to continue to work on his footwork and his balance. The effort and productivity is there though, and the arrow is only pointing up for Johnson. For now, he seems to have great value as a late day 2, third round selection.

Draft Projection: 3rd Round

Outside Looking In

Montravius Adams, DT - Auburn: 6’3”, 308 lbs. 40 Time: 5.00

2016 Stats: 39 Tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 Interception, 2 passes batted
Draft Projection: 3rd Round

Carlos Watkins, DT - Clemson: 6’4”, 312 lbs. 40 Time: 5.15

2016 Stats: 50 Tackles, 13.5 for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 4 passes broken up
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round

Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame: 6’5”, 315 lbs. 40 Time: 5.34

2016 Stats: 45 Tackles, 11 for a loss, 2 sacks, 3 passes batted, 1 forced fumble
Draft Projection: 4th Round

Charles Walker, DT - Oklahoma: 6’2”, 299 lbs. 40 Time: 5.14

*2016 Stats: 7 Tackles, 2 for a loss, 4 passes broken up (Concussion: Early Draft Preparations)
Draft Projection: 4th Round

Davon Godchaux, DT - LSU: 6’4”, 293 lbs. 40 Time: 5.45

2016 Stats: 62 Tackles, 8.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery.
Draft Projection: 4th Round