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Bait and Tackle

by DJ Boyer on May. 4, 2014

It’s so important to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, and getting it right up the gut where you are in the quarterback's face is even more effective. Having a stout run defense often times starts with a few defensive tackle anchors along the line or a nose tackle that can open lanes for the players around him and occupy as many blockers as possible.

 

The Top Prospects:

 

Aaron Donald has emerged as the top defensive tackle in this draft. Donald had a huge Senior Bowl and the momentum has slowly built, carrying him into the top 20 and likely the first tackle off the board. Donald was thought to be undersized and spent the beginning and middle stages of the year as a 3rd-4th round prospect. His lack of height, being under 6’1”, was seen as a bit of a deterrent, but teams seem to be OK with him playing around 290 pounds with the explosion he possesses off the ball. Donald could come off the board as early as #12 overall with the New York Giants or to teams like Dallas, Chicago and Pittsburgh if he gets by.

 

RaShede Hageman is one of the top prospects at the defensive tackle position despite not being used heavily at Minnesota. A steady five-technique tackle who is very long and lean with an excellent wingspan. Still a little green and was used in a rotation at Minnesota where he rarely saw action on the field for more than two consecutive plays. Hageman has a vast array of moves for penetration and can get to the quarterback at will when the game seems to be on the line. Hageman should be a 1st round pick and will go somewhere in the 20-40 range overall on draft day.

 

Timmy Jernigan is a classic tweener who can be used as a defensive end in 3-4 sets and even though he is seen as a bit undersized as a defensive tackle he excels in stuffing the run. Jernigan led the National Champions with 11 tackles for loss during their undefeated run with 63 total tackles and 4.5 sacks. The biggest knock on Jernigan might be experience as 2013 was the only year he was a starter at Florida State despite seeing considerable action during previous seasons. Jernigan can tire easily and be knocked around and off the ball later in games so his conditioning must improve at the next level to continue his elite production. He is a fringe 1st rounder and he could go as early as #14 overall, down to the middle stages of round 2.

 

Louis Nix had limited production this season after finally succumbing to a knee injury that he suffered earlier in the season which he tried to play through. Nix saw action in 8 games as a junior posting 27 tackles with a pair coming for loss and also registering a pair of passes defensed. Nix is very athletic for his size and at 330 pounds he can put pressure on the quarterback despite not registering a sack in his final season with the Irish. Nix had 2 sacks and 50 tackles as a sophomore and entered 2014 as the top prospect at his position, and still decided to go pro despite his subpar year due to injury. Nix has a clean bill of health and should be selected near the final stages of the 1st round where teams like Arizona, Green Bay, and San Diego seem to make the most sense as immediate roster fits.

 

 

Second Tier:

 

Dominique Easley is another in a long line of undersized Florida/Florida State disruptive defensive tackles that has freakish athletic prowess and the ability to hunt down opposing quarterbacks like a true end or even a linebacker. The knock on Easley is his health as 2013 was cut short due to an ACL tear in his right knee and Easley tore the left ACL in 2011. Now with both ACL’s having been restricted Easley will have to prove he has the same explosion off the snap. When healthy, Easley shows the ability to penetrate quite easily and could project better as a 3-4 end at the next level where his size is almost perfect. He is very good at getting into passing lanes and defending passes. Easley tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in December so there seems to have been ample recuperation time.

 

Ego Ferguson has only one year as a starter under his belt but it was a very productive season as he finished fifth on the team in tackles with 58. Ferguson showed flashes of dominance and displays tremendous upper and lower body strength as he excelled in short-yardage situations and run defense in general. Ferguson had some ankle problems this past season that he played through and it limited his effectiveness late in the year causing him to miss the Tigers' Bowl game. Workouts to this point have been solid yet unspectacular and he looks like a solid 3rd round selection, but he could slip into the second round if teams start going for defensive tackles a bit earlier than projected. The interesting thing here is he played alongside Anthony Johnson who should be drafted in the same area as Ferguson. Ferguson got more results on the field but Johnson shows more upside and athletic ability. Will be interesting to see how the two players affect each other’s draft stock.

 

Anthony Johnson was the top defensive tackle prospect in America when he announced he would be attending LSU. His play on the field has been very inconsistent but the flashes of brilliance are there and the quickness off the ball is without question. Johnson attracted a lot of attention and many feel he was double teamed more than Ego Ferguson, and this allowed Ferguson to post better numbers and show as the more steady force on the interior of the line. At the NFL level this may work in Johnson’s favor. Put Johnson alongside an established veteran that commands more attention and the athleticism of Johnson will shine through. LSU lineman have a track record for being steady and consistent at the NFL level but not spectacular. Johnson is not the defensive tackle that will do the dirty work but he commands attention and will make a few plays that just jump out at you on film. He should go in the 3rd or 4th round but his athletic prowess could push him into round 2 if someone wants him badly enough.

 

DaQuan Jones dropped 25 pounds between his junior and senior season and the results were remarkable. Jones finished as a Second Team All-Big Ten player with 56 tackles and a team leading 11.5 coming for loss. Jones wore down a little later in the season and some of the weight reportedly came back on but playing around 310 versus 335 made a world of difference for Jones off the snap. It’s hard to believe Jones finished the year with only 3 sacks because he seemed to be in the backfield on a consistent basis. He has shown the quickness and versatility to be an effective five-technique tackle if he keeps the weight off and has the proper conditioning at the next level. He is a very sure tackler with a larger than average wing span, and looks like a 2nd round pick for the draft.

 

Daniel McCullers will be looked at by the 2nd round of the draft due to his size alone. At 6’7” and playing between 355-360 pounds, McCullers is the most massive nose tackle you can get in the draft class. Production was spotty but McCullers is so massive and has a ton of upside. It looks like he literally swallows ball carriers when you watch him on film. He has tremendous strength but needs to improve his technique and getting lower to the ground to avoid losing leverage at the next level. Even with the flaws in his game, his strength can occupy blockers at the next level and allow gaps to open up for his teammates around him. Teams like Pittsburgh, New England, or Indianapolis would benefit from a player like McCullers in their system. Conditioning could always improve but he is in better shape than you would think for a prospect his size.

 

Stephon Tuitt led the Fighting Irish in sacks and tackles for loss with 7.5 and 9 in those respective categories. Tuitt has been limited in his workouts and at the combine with a foot injury that was found (Jones Fracture…fifth metatarsal on the foot). The injury will not be one that lingers and by the time the draft is here Tuitt should have healed fully. Tuitt is listed here as a defensive tackle but he would fit best as an end in a 3-4 scheme. He plays the run well, has amazing quickness off the ball, a good blend of run support, and great pass rushing ability. Tuitt will have a lot of attention and should be gone by the second round but with his limited workouts, teams will have to rely on tape solely. He could still creep into the later stages of round one where teams like New England or San Diego could be interested. Tuitt has some games where he is transparent, but as long as he works on being more consistent and keeping his lane assignments he will find work for a long, long time at the next level.

 

 

Lurking:

 

Ryan Carrethers is a very interesting player that looks like an absolute steal for the later rounds of the draft. Carrethers plays at close to 340 pounds and stands 6’1” and he is a load to move. Carrethers had an eye-popping 93 tackles at Arkansas State finishing second on the team in tackles and leading the squad with 4 sacks. Carrethers also shows a good push on special teams as he has blocked 4 kicks in the last two seasons. The only real knock on Carrethers is he seems very one-dimensional and not as athletic as some of the top prospects at the position. Numbers don’t lie, Carrethers is quite productive and any team grabbing him in the 5th round or beyond may have one of the draft's hidden gems.

 

Justin Ellis is a very nimble prospect for someone who played most of his senior season at over 350 pounds. Ellis is down around 335 and showed well at The Shrine Game and The Senior Bowl. Despite the hefty size, Ellis moved around the line often at Louisiana Tech and lined up routinely at defensive end at his respective All Star outings. Ellis does not use the brute strength of his stature aside from anchoring himself well and staying grounded to plug up the holes against the run. He shows a variety of pass rushing moves and will surprise offensive lineman with his agility. He only posted 5.5 tackles for loss as a senior but showed constant penetration and effectiveness. Ellis is moving up the draft boards and seems to have cemented himself as a solid 4th round prospect at this time.

 

Kelcy Quarles was First Team All-SEC with better numbers than his high profile teammate Jadeveon Clowney. Quarles posted a team high 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks and like Clowney is declaring for the draft as a junior. There are many who wonder if this has more to do with leaving when Clowney does so that the attention on the line and double teams do not shift from Clowney to Quarles after his departure. Also, how good are the numbers of Quarles or are they tainted due to the attention Clowney takes away from him and other teammates along the line. Quarles looks like a solid 3-4 round prospect who can play almost anywhere along the line. He will have to improve his footwork at the next level though. He is fast off the ball but will struggle when changing directions and needs to do a better job of gaining leverage on opposing lineman and getting under their pads.

 

Caraun Reid really impressed a number of teams during practice at the Senior Bowl and we couldn’t be happier. Reid has been projected as the #1 prospect outside of an FBS school for most of the year at draftsite.com ahead of other more notable names like Jimmy Garoppolo, Pierre Desir and Billy Turner. Reid has an impressive wingspan and a true NFL body. He was the focal point of the defense with every team Princeton faced and he still found a way to lead the team in sacks and finish 2nd in tackles for loss. Reid even was used as a “joker” or “elephant” defender at times and could drop into coverage or overload on specific sides of the line or gaps to create mismatches. Reid is seeing his stock soar after he showed he belonged while in Mobile and could now be a 3rd round prospect, although the 4th or 5th round seems more likely.

 

Will Sutton is one of the enigmas of this draft, not just at defensive tackle but in the class overall. Sutton has been named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for 2012 and 2013 although the overall results for both years varied significantly. Sutton had an amazing 23.5 tackles for loss in 2012 but he saw that number decline in 2013 and it wasn’t due to added attention alone. Sutton struggled with consistency and most importantly his weight. Sutton only stands a hair above 6’0” and maintaining a strong anchor along the line is very important with his stature. He has the ability to play end or tackle and can be used in a variety of systems but Sutton does not possess above average upper body strength and is moved off the ball quite easily. Sutton can be a force in the pass rush and has a vast array of moves but he wears down in games and can look rather average and beaten late in games. Sutton was once thought off as a 1st round selection but the 3rd round seems most likely at this point.