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Defensive Tackle Prospects

There are more than a dozen defensive tackles worth taking before the fourth round of the draft, but only three are worth a first-round pick. Before we get started, I’m going to explain why Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III is not worth a first-round pick. It all boils down to his lack of consistency. He is slow and plays sloppy. So, that’s why I’m disagreeing with most other analysts when it comes to Nix.

The best defensive tackle in the draft has to be Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald. He amazed everyone at the combine when he, a 285 lbs. lineman, ran a 4.68 second 40-yard dash. He also managed 35 reps on the bench, which was the second best for defensive tackles. His vertical of 32 inches was the third best. His 66 tackles for a loss, 29.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles attest to his ability to wrap up targets or lay them out with hard hits. He works blockers with his hands and extends his arms well, while at the same time using his hips and feet to perform spin moves. This is why he is good at shooting gaps and will be a superb pass rusher in the NFL. His vertical and arm span is also useful for batting down passes; he racked up 11 pass deflections in college. He does need a little more mass, as he can’t overpower strong blockers or get past double teams. He is a great athlete, though, and his potential is enormous even if his frame isn’t.  

The second best defensive tackle is Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. His 5.06 second 40 time and 27 reps are respectable, but watching his tape really underscores how athletic he is. He is a very powerful tackler, especially if he has time to pick up steam. Seriously, I feel bad for any running backs coming his way. He demonstrates good use of hands and hips to get past blockers, exploding off the line with swim moves. He is fast and gets at the quarterback, disrupting play after play. His stats, which reflect only 8.5 sacks in college, are not a true testament to his potential. One issue is his size, as he can be taken out of the game if a large blocker is assigned to him. He is also not the best in pursuit on run plays. MCL and meniscus tears have led to durability concerns among some scouts, but I think using a first round pick on Jernigan is a gamble worth taking.

Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman is the only other defensive tackle that should go by the end of the first round. Hageman’s 35.5 inch vertical was the best of any defensive tackle at the NFL combine and he usually has his hands up on pass plays, allowing him to disrupt passes and pick the ball, as evidenced by his 10 passes defended and one interception in college. He is also fast, with a 5.05 40 time and strong with 32 reps on the bench, which were the third most of any defensive tackle. He uses his speed and strength to charge into blockers, pushing them all the back into the quarterback. He causes quite a few holding penalties just by using his 6’6’’ 310 lbs. body. He is, however, bad at reading blocking schemes and looks like a bull trying to get at a matador on some plays. He is not the most agile player and will need to work on using his hands and hips more effectively. He is also not very good at disengaging and going up against skilled offensive linemen. Anyone who watches his sacks and forced fumbles will realize how vicious of a tackler he is, and in my opinion that makes up for some of his shortcomings in my opinion.

The Giants should take Donald with the 12th overall pick, since he is a natural leader with good character and could be moved to defensive end, thus replacing veteran Justin Tuck, who just signed with the Oakland Raiders. The Pittsburgh Steelers may take him if the Giants pass. The Dallas Cowboys are projected to claim Jernigan, which makes sense seeing as they let veteran pass rusher DeMarcus Ware sign with the Denver Broncos last week. I think either New England or Denver will take Hageman, because both of those teams prefer using picks on players who are talented, even if they don’t necessarily fill a position of need.

Ondo is a member of the class of 2014.

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