You always want to save your best number for last. So with that in mind, We're finishing up our preview of the 2016 position groups with the strongest, deepest group in the NFL draft: the defensive line.
This year's defensive line class isn't just strong, but it is unusually strong, and unusually deep. The defensive tackle position, in particular, has players to fit every scheme, and every need.
Joey Bosa (Ohio State) - The consensus top defensive end in the draft, Bosa is a well rounded defensive end who can put pressure on the passer and play the run well. He is a good, but not great, athlete with solid short-area quickness, but lacking in explosion. He makes up for that with violent, active hands and the power to bully off-balance tackles.
Shaq Lawson (Clemson) - Sporting a compact, powerful frame, Clemson's Shaq Lawson is a contrast with former teammate Vic Beasley. Where Beasley was a devastating speed rusher who could fire off the ball and bend the edge, Lawson relies more on power, heavy hands, and a spin move to create pressure. His thick torso limits his flexibility, and unlike Beasley he was likely coached to react to the lineman in front of him rather than the snap of the ball. [Prospect Profile]
Emmanuel Ogbah (Oklahoma State) - Similar to Lawson, Ogbah is a thick "power first" player who relies on his strength to get offensive tackles off balance, then a late rip move to get past them. Also like Lawson, Ogbah is very limited in his ability to bend the edge and doesn't consistently use his physical tools to their fullest potential. [Prospect Profile]
Carl Nassib (Penn State) - Everyone expected Joey Bosa to dominate in 2015, but nobody expected Penn State's Carl Nassib to lead the country in sacks, playing just 10 games. Nassib has the size and length that NFL teams covet in pass rushers, with long arms, big hands, and good bend considering his 6-foot-7, 277-pound frame. He has a very good first step and was second in college football in quarterback pressures in less than 2.6 seconds (the average release time). Nassib still has to refine his technique, but has a ferocious work ethic and is very coachable. [Prospect Profile]
Kevin Dodd (Clemson) - Despite not performing as well in the measurable events as Shaq Lawson, Dodd is considered by some scouts to be the superior athlete. While Lawson runs faster and jumps higher, Dodd is more fluid and flexible. Despite his fluidity, his age and round-about route to the NFL are working against him. [Prospect Profile]
Bronson Kaufusi (BYU) - Heart, motor, and size. If an NFL team is looking for those qualities, Kaufusi should be high on their radar. The BYU product has prototypical for the defensive end position and a motor that runs white-hot. Like so many of the other defensive ends, Kaufusi relies on his length and power to win, and doesn't have the quickness or agility to be a true speed rusher. His size, at 6'6", 285 also gives him the schematic versatility to play 5-technique in a one gap 3-4 alignments. [Prospect Profile]
Charles Tapper (Oklahoma) - Tapper was mis-cast in Oklahoma's 3-4 defense, and instead has the size and athleticism more in line with a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. His stout frame is adequate at holding blocks for Eric Striker, but the Sooners' scheme failed to make use of Tapper's surprising athletic ability and he stunned with a 4.59sec 40 at the combine. He has the tools to be an effective left defensive end in a four man front, but he will have to be coached to play with better pad level and how to use his long arms.
DeForest Buckner (Oregon) - Buckner played defensive end for the Oregon Ducks, but his future is likely as a defensive tackle in the NFL. At 6-8, 290 pounds, the big and athletic Buckner is almost tailor-made to be a 5-technique in a 1-gap 3-4 defense (think JJ Watt). His massive frame gives him the power to bully offensive tackles and is well distributed enough to be able to move in space. He might be able to slide inside in a 4-man front, but his height works against him in the leverage battle against stouter guards.
Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) - Louisville did him a disservice by playing him all over their defensive line, but Rankins is a prototypical "3-Technique". His athleticism jumps off the field on tape, and his ability to pressure quarterbacks and disrupt plays from the defensive tackle position will be coveted in the NFL. Rankins is stout in the run game, but it will be his pass rush that gets him drafted highly. [Prospect Profile]
Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss) - Robert Nkemdiche has been renowned for his athletic ability since high school. Despite being 6-4, 294 pounds, he has a terrific first step, strength, and the movement skills of a linebacker 50 pounds lighter. He is so athletic and explosive that even when not directly making the play, Nkemdiche is impacting it. From an athletic and production stand-point, he compares to Sheldon Richardson, if not more athletic. The problem with Nkemdiche is that he he has a "strange" personality, and the concerns really seem to be if he can fit in an NFL locker room and be dedicated to his craft. [Prospect Profile]
Jarran Reed (Alabama) - Along with A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed helped to form the heart of a dominant Alabama defense. Reed is a big, strong, and disciplined run stuffing defensive tackle who also had plus leadership abilities. He doesn't offer much in the passing game beyond holding blocks and pushing the pocket, but Reed will be attractive to every 3-4 team, and any team looking to lock down on the running game. [Prospect Profile]
A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama) - Reed's partner in the middle of the Crimson Tide defense, Robinson's ceiling is probably a bit higher, and he has the athleticism to potentially provide some pass rush from the interior. Like Reed, Robinson is a leader, and was responsible for keeping the whole Alabama squad focused on their run to the title. [Prospect Profile]
Kenny Clark (UCLA) - Raw but athletic and powerful, Kenny Clark has intriguing upside. He is built like a pass rushing defensive tackle, but he has been taught to use his talents to hold blocks and stop the run. Clark should have upside as a pass rusher, but he will need to land in a position where the scheme and coaching staff will be able to unlock his potential. [Prospect Profile]
Andrew Billings (Baylor) - Speaking of power, perhaps no player in the draft is as powerful as Baylor's Andrew Billings. A former power lifter, Billings re-set several Texas records while in high school. Quick in a short area and with a high-revving motor, Billings should be able to develop as a pass rusher in the right situation as well. [Prospect Profile]
Victor Butler (Louisiana Tech) - Butler has the size to be a nose tackle at 6-4, 320 pounds. However, his long arms and impressive agility give him the ability to penetrate and disrupt behind the line of scrimmage. Butler had a tremendous amount of buzz around him at the Senior Bowl, but that has died down thanks to the sheer number of talented defensive tackles in this draft. [Prospect Profile]
Chris Jones (Mississippi State) - One of the more athletic defensive tackle prospects in the draft, Jones has the size, movement skills, and athleticism that NFL teams are looking for. Technically raw, Jones is inconsistent but his upside will get him drafted more highly than his tape. [Prospect Profile]
Austin Johnson (Penn State) - The Penn State defensive line was easily the strongest part of their team, with Anthony Zettle, Carl Nassib, and Austin Johnson all threatening opposing offenses. Austin Johnson is a well balanced defensive tackle who is both disruptive in the passing game and stout in the run game. While he might fade compared to some of the flashier tackles in this class, make no mistake that he is a good one in his own right. [Prospect Profile]
Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State) - Only adding to the impressive depth of this position group, Hargrave was a terror in the FCS division. He uses his natural leverage and stout build to stand blockers up at the point of attack, but has an uncanny ability to simply flow around blockers and into the backfield. He will likely go much higher than many who judge him based on his school are anticipating. [Prospect Profile]
Jihad Ward (Illinois) - An unknown throughout the season, Ward burst on to the draft scene with a highly impressive week at the Senior Bowl. Ward constantly called attention to himself with blocking bags slamming to the ground under his heavy blows. He is raw, but he has tremendous upside and reminds of former Denver Bronco -- and current Jacksonville Jaguar -- Malik Jackson. [Prospect Profile]
Sheldon Day (Notre Dame) - Undersized for a defensive tackle, Day uses an explosive first step and surprising athleticism to force blockers off their spots. He is in a similar mold to Aaron Donald -- though not on the same level as a player -- but an injury history will knock him down draft boards.
Jonathan Bullard (Florida) - Bullard played defensive end for the Florida Gators, but he would likely be well served by a move to defensive tackle, or perhaps a defensive end in a three-man front, in the NFL. Bullard is a powerful, high motor player, but he lacks the quickness to be a consistent threat off the edge in a four-man front. [Prospect Profile]