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Top defensive tackle prospects heading into the NFL Combine

We’re continuing our look at positions of need for the Niners heading into the Combine by taking a glance at which defensive tackles made an impact in 2018.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We are back with more positional rankings as we get closer and closer to the 2019 NFL Combine. The 2019 defensive tackle class is deep, with two likely hearing their name called within the top ten selections. The San Francisco 49ers currently own the second overall pick. As far as the defensive line is concerned DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas are locks. Joining them are Earl Mitchell, Sheldon Day, Dekoda Watson, Ronald Blair, and Jullian Taylor. Arik Armstead’s fifth year option was picked up, but it remains to be seen what his future is with the team. The same could be said about Cassius Marsh. Let’s jump into the rankings. What are YOUR thoughts on this defensive tackle class? Do one or more of them have a future in red and gold? Who else are you excited to see perform at the NFL Combine? Please share in the comments below!

Please Note: While Rashan Gary is a versatile player along the defensive line, he is not listed in the defensive tackle rankings, but will be listed in EDGE rankings.

1. Quinnen Williams, DT, No. 92 – Alabama
Height: 6’3” - Weight: 289 - 40 Time: 4.87
2018 Stats: 71 Tackles, 19.5 Tackles for a loss, 8 Sacks, 1 Pass Deflected.

Quinnen Williams was a relentless force along the defensive line for the Alabama Crimson Tide this season. Has an outstanding first step and initial burst off the snap. Has a high motor and uses his hands to generate power and push blockers into a backwards pedal along the line of scrimmage. Williams has a variety of rush moves and techniques that he utilizes effectively throughout the duration of a game. This can cause blockers to get off balance. Williams often requires double team attention (which doesn’t often stop him), which allows his fellow defensive lineman to find holes and gaps to create disruption and breakup plays, particularly on passing downs. Williams plays with a physical, bull-rush mentality. His speed and athleticism are off the charts. Explodes out of his stance and makes initial contact immediately. Will often win the one to one matchup, and uses his physical strength to his advantage.

Williams has a natural blend of power and flexibility. Gifted with strong football instincts and anticipation. There is a little concern about his length, particularly his arms. However, his handwork technique has been clean and superb throughout the course of the season. Forget that he is a redshirt sophomore…Williams was asked to switch to nose tackle, and so, has been performing at this elite level out of his natural position. Overall, Williams has incredible body control, devasting speed, and overwhelming strength who is a threat on every down he plays. Williams is a Top 5 lock in 2019 NFL Draft.

Draft Projection: Top 5 Overall Selection

2. Ed Oliver, DT, No. 10 – Houston
Height: 6’3”- Weight: 275 - Projected 40 Time: 4.72
2018 Stats: 54 Tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 passes deflected

Oliver was an absolute force on the Cougars defensive line in 2018. No other lineman dealt with more double team and even triple team coverages than Oliver. Oliver does an incredible job winning the first contact. Will fight and play through gaps at an elite level. Oliver has a high motor and is explosive off the ball. Has exceptional flexibility and is constantly creating disruption and chaos in the opponent’s backfield. Is able to follow through tight angles, while twisting his body and adjust his frame when rushing the passer. Many times, Oliver was fighting through initial contact with ease against blockers along the line of scrimmage. Breaks up plays well with his hands, throwing up his arms in passing lanes. Oliver has a natural blend of speed and power up the middle. Because of all the attention he requires, Oliver creates positive opportunities for his teammates along the line. I expect this will continue for Oliver when he settles at the pro level. Oliver has a bright future in the NFL and I’ll be shocked if he slips outside the top fifteen.

Draft Projection: Top 15 Overall Selection.

3. Jeffery Simmons, DT, No. 94 - Mississippi State
Height: 6’3” - Weight: 301 - 40 Time: 4.93
2018 Stats: 63 Tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 2 Sacks, 4 Passes Deflected

The former five-star recruit made his presence known for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Simmons is a ruthless and violent tackler, who plays a physical brand of football. Will wrap his opponent quickly down to the ground. Plays well through his gap. This is particularly true when Simmons is rushing the quarterback. Has explosive capabilities out of his stance and his first step off the snap are sudden and carries momentum when pushing back against blockers. Simmons’ effort is relentless, and will run down ball carriers and receivers in short yardage situations. Will not let up on a play that is extending beyond the pocket. Simmons is a natural, three down defender with impressive versatility. Simmons is an intelligent pass rusher who offers great interior push. Simmons’ stock has been climbing all season long, and the five star recruit is all be assured to hear his name called on day one of the NFL Draft.

Draft Projection: 1st Round

4. Christian Wilkins, DT, No. 42 – Clemson
Height: 6’3” - Weight: 312 - Projected 40 Time: 4.89
4.882018 Stats: 50 Tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 5.5 Sacks, 1 forced fumble.

The senior out of Clemson hmade a big impact both on and off the field. Wilkins has good burst and speed off the snap and makes an impact and presence in the opposition’s backfield. Wilkins has a natural blend of upper and lower body strength. He is often double teamed along the line of scrimmage and makes an impact that helps his fellow defensive lineman make plays.Wilkins has demonstrated an ability to stop the run and the pass. Wilkins can be looked at as a three down defensive lineman. On tape, more often than not, Wilkins causes disruption at the point of attack. He has demonstrated his ability to rush the passer from the inside, which looks to be his natural position as he transitions to the next level. Wilkins has demonstrated continuous growth each season at Clemson. His character and leadership traits, along with his skill set make Wilkins a first-round lock in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Draft Projection: 1st Round Selection

5.Dre’Mont Jones, DT, No. 86 – Ohio State
Height: 6’2” - Weight: 295 - Projected 40 Time: 4.89
2018 Stats: 40 Tackles, 13 Tackles for a loss, 8.5 Sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 passed deflected.

The junior had a stat filled, productive season for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Watching his tape, I really like Jones’ burst and initial first step off the snap. Demonstrates great quickness and effective speed to beat blockers along the line of scrimmage. Jones has strong and reliable hands when rushing the passer. Has the ability to break through initial contact at the line when rushing the quarterback. However, he needs better hand technique as a run defender, an area he will need to polish up at the next level. His range and ability to create pressure, even when the play extends beyond the pocket is a sight to see. On multiple occasions this season, Jones did not let up, chasing the passer well outside the pocket. When rushing the passer, Jones was inconsistent dropping his pads. I do like his flexibility, and has demonstrated the ability to bend and find tricky angles when penetrating on the initial rush. Jones has great football instincts and awareness on the field. His combine and pro day may be the difference between a first and second round selection.

Draft Projection: 1st-2nd Round Selection

Notable Players to Watch

Dexter Lawrence, DT, No. 90 - Clemson
Height: 6’4”- Weight: 351 - Projected 40 Time: 4.98
2018 Stats: 36 Tackles, 7 Tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 Passes deflected, 1 fumble recovery.

Jerry Tillery, DT, No. 99 - Notre Dame
Height: 6’6” - Weight: 304 - Projected 40 Time: 4.80
2018 Stats: 28 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles for a loss, 7 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles.