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Meet the rookie: What defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson brings to Giants

Let’s find out how good Tomlinson really is

NCAA Football: Alabama at Louisiana State John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Much ink has been spilled and many keys struck in the aftermath of the 2017 NFL draft. With regards to the New York Giants, the discussion has been dominated by their first-round selection of Evan Engram and their third-round selection of quarterback Davis Webb.

Sandwiched between those two picks was second-round choice Dalvin Tomlinson, defensive tackle from Alabama. The Giants’ decision to take a defensive tackle in the second round of the draft shouldn’t surprise anyone — Jerry Reese makes a habit of selecting defensive tackles on the second day of the draft. Linval Joseph, Marvin Austin, and Johnathan Hankins were selected in the second round while Jay Alford and Jay Bromley were taken in the third round.

The selection of Tomlinson in particular shouldn’t surprise anyone, either. The path to the top of the NFC East runs through whichever team can win the line of scrimmage. And with the presence of the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line the Giants will want to re-create (as closely as possible) the combination of Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins, against whom the Cowobys’ line had two of their worst performances.

Tomlinson will come into the NFL with the reputation of a stout run defender, who can control blockers and make tackles. But there is much more to Dalvin Tomlinson, and it would be a disservice to the young man to dismiss him as just another addition to the Giants’ collection of nose tackles.

The Renaissance Man

For someone who has been branded as “just” a run stopping nose tackle by most of the draft media, Tomlinson brings a remarkably diverse skill-set to the football field. But that isn’t what earned him the nickname “Renaissance Man.” No, that was earned back in high school when he kept a near-4.0 GPA, ran track, was a three-time state wrestling champion, played soccer and football, played the saxophone and trumpet, and was (still is) a talented artist.

While he committed to Alabama to keep playing football, Tomlinson was accepted into Harvard and even offered an academic scholarship. He carried that through to Alabama, where he graduated in his red-shirt junior year with a degree in finance, and earned a second degree in financial planning this past year.

Dalvin Tomlinson is a truly impressive young man, and it’s little wonder why the Giants’ brass raved about his interview as one of the best in the last 10 years.

Run Stopper

Ultimately, what will define Tomlinson’s future with the Giants is his play on the field, and his first job is working with Harrison, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Olivier Vernon to stop the run.

That is something at which Tomlinson excelled as a part of the Alabama defensive line.

Opposing offenses didn’t usually run straight at Tomlinson, but when they did it didn’t often go well. Check out this stop of Wayne Gallman, now Tomlinson’s teammate with the Giants.

The fourth quarter of the National Championship Game, Clemson is knocking on the door of the end zone. Alabama lines up in a four-man front with Tomlinson playing the 3-technique, the position he will likely play the most for the Giants.

This close to the goal line, Clemson opts for a power run right behind right guard Tyrone Crowder. Doing so means running right at Tomlinson, but Crowder is a compact, powerful, steamroller of a guard. With the strength of the Alabama to the offensive left, and a great run blocking guard on the right, the numbers make sense.

At least in theory.

In this case, Tomlinson is able to drop anchor and use the balance and technique that he learned as a wrestler and stand strong in the face of the Clemson rush. Tomlinson is able to control Crowder and prevent the big guard from opening a running lane, letting the rest of the Alabama defense collapse in on the play. It’s difficult to see in the crush of bodies in the trenches, but Tomlinson is actually able to shed the block and make the tackle to minimize the gain.

It’s the kind of play the Giants are normally used to seeing from Damon Harrison.

That was from the last game of the season. Let’s go back to the first for another play.

Alabama has the USC offense pinned back on their goal and facing a long third down conversion. The defense is likely expecting a pass in this down and distance, playing a nickel package and putting just six players in the tackle box. Facing a favorable look, USC decides to go for a zone run. Tomlinson is playing the 1-technique off the center’s right shoulder. But rather than being matched up on the center, he faces a cut-block from the right guard.

Tomlinson gets a great jump on the snap, has his hands on the guard almost before he starts moving, and does a fantastic job of using those hands to defeat the block. With his hands on the guard’s shoulders, he helps him with the cut-block, forcing the guard down into the ground and himself (Tomlinson) over top and into the backfield.

Getting such quick penetration into the backfield absolutely blows up the play. He forces the running back to try and cut, right into the arms of Tomlinson and his fellow defenders.

Pass Rusher

Tomlinson isn’t just a Renaissance Man off the field, but also one on the field.

Despite being billed as a run-stuffing nose tackle, Tomlinson played all over the defensive line for Alabama. He played a true nose tackle, 1-technique and 5-technique (defensive end) in their 3-man front, as well as 1-technique and 3-technique in their four-man fronts.

Tomlinson contributed on pass rushing downs as well as running downs. Just as he put the skills as a wrestler that made him the undisputed champions of the ‘Bama defensive line’s informal wrestling matches — dominating first-round picks Jon Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, and Jarran Reed — to use stopping the run, Tomlinson put his skills as a soccer goalie to use batting down balls. In his two years as a regular contributor to the Alabama defense, he has had an impressive nine (9) passes defensed.

He also makes an impact rushing the passer, though his stats don’t show it.

It isn’t often that Tomlinson gets to face a 1-on-1 match-up, but he does here, and he takes advantage of it.

Tomlinson does a few things very quickly here, and it results in a great pressure that disrupts the pass, so let’s break it down.

Tomlinson is lined up as a 3-technique in what is essentially a 4-man front. He gets a great jump off the ball and is moving about as soon as the right guard, and takes an initial step as though he is going to rush through the right B-gap, between the guard and tackle. That’s just a fake, however, and gets the guard to widen the A-gap and start working toward the right. Tomlinson then shoots his hands into the guard’s chest, knocking him backward and breaking his balance. He follows that up with a quick rip and move back inside, essentially throwing the guard out of the way.

With the center working with the left guard to double team Jonathan Allen on the other side, there is no help for the guard and and Tomlinson has a free run at the quarterback. The quick pressure throws off the timing of the pass and the big DT bearing down on the quarterback forces him to throw the ball off-target.

Tomlinson ends the play with an exclamation point, laying a big hit on the QB.

That was the semi-final round of the College Football Playoffs. Let’s go ahead a bit to the championship for an example of Tomlinson using his power to affect the play.

Tomlinson is lined up as the 1-technique nose tackle on this play and has to deal with a double team from the right guard and center.

The defensive tackle starts out using those heavy hands to knock the guard back, then takes half-man leverage on him, working his inside shoulder. Tomlinson does a great job of keeping his pad level down and driving through his hips, generating tons of power. He is able to keep momentum and forces the center to turn away from the line of scrimmage and negate any help he could give the right guard.

The double-team effectively split, Tomlinson is able to get a run on DeShaun Watson. It’s a credit to Watson that he stands in the pocket with the big defensive tackle bearing down on him and gets the ball off.

Like the former soccer goalie that he is, Tomlinson gets his hands up, but it is difficult to tell how much he affected the pass. It falls incomplete, but the receiver was also well covered down the field. From Tomlinson’s perspective, he did everything right, and made a great play. Even at the NFL level, few quarterbacks would be step into their throw with that much pressure right in their face and throwing lane crowded.

The final thing we need to talk about is Tomlinson’s motor. It’s one thing to be big and powerful at the point of attack. What sets guys like Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Damon Harrison apart from the pack is their motor and hustle. They never give up on a play and will try to run it down anywhere on the field.

It’s a trait that Tomlinson shares.

Defending screen plays is tough for an aggressive defense. It requires discipline and awareness across the board, and over-aggressive, undisciplined play can get a defense gashed.

And while defenses love to see screens blown up from behind, you don’t often see them taken down by defensive tackles.

Tomlinson gets penetration on the play, but that’s to be expected when the offensive line isn’t really trying to block him. While most defenders will do is continue to hunt the quarterback and potentially run out of the play. And in fact most of Alabama’s linemen and linebackers do on this play.

But here Tomlinson shows off his awareness of the play by immediately breaking off his rush and getting in pursuit of the play. There is no wasted energy or movements as he turns to identify the ball carrier, and manages to run down the blazing fast John Ross as he weaves his way through the Alabama defense.

Final Thoughts

Dalvin Tomlinson is a very good defensive tackle with the potential to get even better as a professional. As a football player he eared the respect of his peers, who called him the “Alpha Male” of that incredibly talented Alabama defense. His blend of power, athleticism, motor, and attention to technique also earned the respect of his opponents.

“First off, that’s a strong man,” Former LSU center Ethan Pocic said at the Senior Bowl. “He plays with a great technique, so then he’s even stronger. He’s one of those guys that the more you go against him the better you get. He’s always doing his job, playing his gap and always doing a great job.”

On and off the field, Tomlinson is impressive. He has battled through adversity and personal tragedy — including the sudden loss of his mother, which he recently wrote about for the Players’ Tribune — and rather than being diminished by it, he was strengthened.

His work as a professional is only just beginning, but Tomlinson and the Giants both seem to have found perfect fits.