Here are the rankings for the defensive linemen in this year’s NFL Draft. From the 0 to the 5-technique, here are the rankings for the players that fit and could play those spots. Again, this is based on the players that I have broken down, so if a player is not included, that is the reason.
1. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame - Injuries really hurt Nix this year, but in the games he played, the effort did not waver and he would still flash the ability to make plays. Nix brings a consistent effort, shows remarkable lateral range and while he is not a great pass rusher, he can help get after the quarterback when he is in the lineup. He is also scheme diverse.
2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State – Jernigan has the most talent of the group, but he is inconsistent as well. Tipping his pitches and making it easier on the opponent to stop him, Jernigan does show the ability to take over games in stretches even playing the nose. There is still more room for growth and potential as he goes to the next level, but he needs to improve technically as well. Jernigan is suited to play in an even front.
3. Daquan Jones, Penn State - Jones has an interesting combination of speed, strength and power. The issue that gets Jones in trouble is his leverage. The times he is able to play with proper leverage and stay low, he can be difficult to stop. When his pad level drift upward, he makes it easier for opponents to get into his body and stop his momentum. Jones’ best fit is in a 4-3.
4. Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State - Carrethers has a big body that would fit really well in the middle of a 3-4. He is still working on improving in terms of his technique, but his motor is outstanding. Carrethers plays an incredible amount of snaps in each game with a high level of effort and energy. Not only does that really help a rotation but it allows him to wear down opponents.
5. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee – McCullers is a mammoth defensive tackle. He has an incredible amount of strength and when he is fresh, he shows an intriguing amount of athleticism and can collapse plays. McCullers has to keep his weight under control and improve his stamina, so he can simply play more snaps. The other issue is McCullers has trouble playing with leverage, though his remarkable power tends to make up for it. McCullers has an incredible amount of upside if he can improve or eliminate these issues.
6. DeAndre Coleman, Cal - Going into his senior year, Coleman had big expectations that were never realized but it was not all his fault. He is a player that is willing to do the dirty work, force double teams and play against the run. Coleman does a good job of accepting his role and creating plays for teammates. He may be initially suited to play depth, but he is the type of player not to bet against.
7. Wade Keliikipi, Oregon - Keliikipi played in the middle of Oregon’s 3-4 defense but is probably a better fit in the 4-3. He just looks to attack an opponent off of the snap and push them into the backfield before the double team can get a good angle on him, enabling him to collapse the pocket. Keliikipi needs to disrupt more when he gets in one on one situations, forcing the opponent to double him.
1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh - Donald did everything to prove he was big enough to play in the NFL, dominating in the regular season as well as the Reese’s Senior Bowl. He has a great combination of quickness, functional strength and tremendous technique that has allowed him to be an absolute playmaker against both the pass and the run. If there is one issue with Donald, it is the question as to whether or not he is maxed out physically. Nevertheless, he is a plug and play tackle that could be great for a long time in the NFL.
2. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota - Hageman is such an enigma, because at times, he is an absolute force and others, he disappears. Despite being about 6’6″, Hageman is able to bend and play with leverage, which is why he is ranked this high. His physical talent is incredible and he just needs to continue developing. What frustrates evaluators is when Hageman will evacuate his gap, trying to make a play and giving up a huge run. He needs to buy in to a defensive scheme, but the upside is impressive.
3. Dominique Easley, Florida - Easley might be fighting for the #1 spot if not for a knee injury. Healthy, the light went on for him in their bowl game against Louisville last year. From that point on, Easley played with great pad level and combined with his explosion, he became the dominant player he was envisioned to be when he got to Florida. Given that he has had ACL injuries in both knees, the medical is everything with Easley and it is up in the air if he can contribute this year.
4. Will Sutton, Arizona State - After one of the most dominant years in recent college football history, Sutton got bad advice about what the NFL wanted him to be, gained 35lbs and was not as effective as a senior. Now, in the best shape of his life at 295lbs, Sutton has the size that he lacked as a junior but the quickness that made him special, so he could be a big time player right out of the gate.
5. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame - Tuitt has a remarkable amount of physical ability and he came in with a great deal of expectations this year. His speed and quickness for someone at 300lbs is impressive, but he plays the position like a finesse player. Tuitt does not play with good leverage and it makes him uninterested in fighting through blockers, so he tries to go around them and use his speed. If he can play lower and consistently, he could be a better player in the NFL than he ever was in college.
6. Taylor Hart, Oregon - Hart is just like Tuitt in terms of his issues with leverage. He is really athletic as well with similar size and strength. Hart ranks behind Tuitt because he showed fewer flashes of what he could be during his time at Oregon. There is a lot of upside there, but he could be waiting a while on draft day to have his name called.
7. George Uko, USC - Uko is built like a defensive end, but he is really effective as a rusher inside. He struggles to anchor and hold up against the run inside, which is an issue that he will have to improve. Uko may have to start out his career as a defensive end or 5-technique that kicks inside to rush the passer.
8. Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss - Thornton is a toolsy defensive tackle, but at the moment, the tools he has do not really add up to a position in the NFL. He demonstrates great quickness with the ability to shoot gaps as well as jolt opponents with his punch. At the same time, he has issues with his pad level, getting driven off the ball, and getting stuck on blocks too long. There is potential there, but a lot of work to do as well.
9. Brent Urban, Virginia - Urban is not really suited to play a defensive tackle. If a team insists on taking him to play inside, he is suited to be a tackle on running downs. He does a great job of anchoring, getting great bend and using his arms to keep the opponent out of his body. To this point, Urban has showed next to nothing in terms of rushing the passer and will need to spend a significant amount of time and energy adding that to his game.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina - Playing in a 2-gap scheme is a waste of his talents, but he could be a dynamic threat as a 1-tech end, which is what makes the possibility of him going to the Houston Texans so intriguing. They could easily have he and J.J. Watt play across from each other and wreak havoc.
2. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota - Hageman, for of his rawness and need for further development, is the prototype for a defensive end in the 3-4. He has the length, the strength to hold up and collapse the pocket and then the speed and quickness to rush the passer from the edge. Hageman is no lock to succeed, but he has the talent to be freakishly good in that capacity.
3. Dominique Easley, Florida - Easley is perfectly cast to play the 3-tech inside, but he does have experience from his time at Florida playing outside. He would need to be in a 1-gap scheme. His speed and quickness could be a nightmare for opponents out there, but ultimately, with what he does, teams will want him as close to the quarterback as possible.
4. Kony Ealy, Missouri - He is really only suited to play in a 1-gap scheme where he would be playing the 5-tech, his combination of athleticism and length would be terrific there. Ealy has great burst, good strength and his motor never stops running. Combining that with his overall range, he can get after the quarterback from out there or chase down plays from across the field.
5. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame - This is the best fit for Tuitt. While he still needs to do better with playing with lower pad level and being more willing to buy into his strength, his want to attack outside is viable from this spot and he can rush the passer.
6. Taylor Hart, Oregon - It is pretty crazy how many players are in that 6’4″-6’6″ range and about 300lbs. Like with the other two, this seems to be the best fit for what Hart does well. He can use his speed and quickness to rush outside, but he has to play with better leverage and show more power.
7. Brent Urban, Virginia - This is what Urban is really designed to do. He has great length and does a great job of using his arms to keep opponents out of his body. At this point, he is really only a run defender and needs to develop as a pass rusher, but he should be able to contribute almost immediately as a 3-4 end.
8. Ben Gardner, Stanford – This is the role that Gardner played at Stanford. He knows how to play the position and what it demands, really showing the ability to play it effectively. An injury ended his season early, unfortunately, but he was an effective player and dearly missed.
9. Will Clarke, West Virginia - Clarke is another good fit in a 1-gap scheme, but could be bulked up into a 2-gap end. He has the length those teams love and is able to fire off of the ball, attack up field and bend around to attack the quarterback. Clarke played a slanted 5-tech at West Virginia and was able to attack from a wide stance.
10. George Uko, USC - Uko would need to play in a 1-gap system, but his speed and quickness could be effective in this capacity. He would be able to dictate the action more and avoid having to try to hold up against the run.
11. DeAndre Coleman, Cal - Coleman may be best suited to play inside, but he did play the 5-tech for Cal. He has the ability to collapse the pocket and decent length to do it. It might be a stretch for him to do this job, but it cannot be ruled out.