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2018 NFL Draft: Harrison Phillips will be best of interior defenders

NFL Draft Report breaks down the first-round prospects

Stanford v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

This is The NFL Draft Report’s look into the current crop of interior line defenders eligible for the draft. The National Football League invited 23 of these athletes to the Scouting Combine, but just three of them were classic nose guard types.

It appears that 20 of those performers left Indianapolis designated as likely draft prospects, with at least four projected as first day talents. The second day of the draft could see at least seven more join the NFL, with seven more expected to be taken in the fourth-to-fifth rounds, followed by the rest of the pack.

Below, The NFL Draft Report takes a look at the five interior defenders vying for 2018 Draft Day One status. Our staff evaluates based on the player’s projected success and when an athlete is regarded as versatile enough to be considered a prospect at multiple positions, he is rated according to his ability at that spot.

Harrison Phillips — Stanford

Others will be drafted ahead of him, but Phillips is our staff favorite.

Overview...Ask any football fan and they are quick to tell you that their favorite interior defenders are “grunts,” especially those that occupy the role of nose guard/tackle. For teams that utilize this position, often that player aligns across the line of scrimmage from the offense’s center before the play begins in the “zero-technique” position. In this position, frequently taking on the center and at least one if not both of the guards, the nose tackle is considered to be the most physically demanding position in football – a perfect place for the 2013 Junior National heavyweight champion and the state of Nebraska’s heavyweight champion to ply his wares.

When Stanford switches to a stacked five-linemen situation, such as a goal-line formation, Phillips is always is the innermost lineman, flanked on either side by a defensive tackle or defensive end. He is used in that role despite that position generally requiring a more traditional defense demand - a massive man who can clog up the middle. Much like the RamsAaron Donald, Phillips compensates for not growing into a 360-pound behemoth like Baltimore’s Brandon Williams with outstanding raw power and impressive quickness to penetrate and move along the front.

Yes, typical National Football League nose tackles are “big wide bodies who can hold the point of attack and force double teams by the guard and center,” but it is easy to see on Cardinal game films, that Phillips is the linchpin to the team’s success vs. the run, as he tirelessly combats double and triple-team coverage in the trenches.

NFL nose tackles are usually the heaviest players on the roster, with weights ranging from 325 to 375 pounds, but has that country-strong lower base that makes it tough for bigger blockers to root him out. Sure, he might get knocked to the ground by multiple blockers, but until that whistle sounds, you will see him literally crawl along the turf, reach out and still make the crucial tackle in a crowd.

Most NFL talent evaluators will tell you that height is critical, as the nose tackle/guard is supposed to get “under” the offensive line, which means ideal 3–4 performers at this position are usually no taller than six-feet, three-inches. Phillips checks in at a shade above that requirement, but years of being on the wrestling mat has seen him develop that Aaron Donald/Curly Culp/John Randle-like low center of gravity. Much like Randle, Phillips has performed at a tremendous rate when asked to attack the quarterback and disrupt the backfield activity.

During his two seasons in the starting lineup, Phillips has been directly [involved in] 135 running plays, as he posted 33 tackles inside the red zone, including ten on goal-line snaps. Blessed with above average speed, his concepts for taking angles and being relentless in pursuit has seen him register twenty touchdown saving tackles vs. the ground game, making a total of thirty-eight stops-for-loss (solos and assists) while taking down twelve ball carriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Phillips 2017 Season Statistical Breakdown vs. the Running GameThe nose tackle was directly involved in 91 running plays, as he recorded 52 lone tackles on carries that netted 28 yards and assisted on 39 other carries for 69 yards, yielding a rushing average of just a miniscule 1.07 yards per attempt…Yielded on just three first downs and allowed just one runner a chance to score on him, as Phillips recorded twelve third-down stops vs. the ground game…Registered twenty stops (solos and assists) for losses and took down ten other runners at the line of scrimmage for no gain…The nose tackle delivered eleven touchdown-saving tackles, coming out of his area to make the play when other Cardinal defenders missed their coverage assignments.

Phillips 2017 Season Statistical Breakdown vs. the Passing GamePhillips was directly involved in 23 pass plays, allowing just one catch (pass completion percentage of .0455) for a 14-yard first down…Also assisted in taking a receiver down on a third-down catch for 12 yards…Made 10 third-down stops, as he produced eight quarterback pressures, including one that caused an interception, in addition to jamming running backs coming out on pass plays that could not be completed…Stopped one receiver for a loss and took down another at the line of scrimmage for no gain…Came out of his area to make two touchdown-saving tackles vs. the aerial game.

Phillips Scouting Report

Body Structure...Phillips has a compact frame with solid muscle tone, thick chest, broad shoulders, thick thighs and calves and a good bubble. He has low body fat and could use more bulk on his frame, especially if he is to remain on the defensive line, but you don’t want him to overdo it, as his quickness is one of his better assets. He has a nice wing-span in proportion for his size (not verified, but one reports lists it at 77 5/8-inches), evident by the way he extends his arms to stave off blockers attempting to get into his chest. He also possesses big hands (9 ¾-inches) to latch on to a ball carriers jersey and drag the runner down.

Athletic Ability...Phillips is a solidly built defender with excellent explosion and quickness to get to the football. He is the type of player who shows outstanding field awareness, evident by his consistency in coming up with big plays in tight areas (see 2017 USC and San Diego State; 2016 Oregon and North Carolina games). He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force that needs to be accounted for on every play.

He has sharp change of direction skills and a very quick first step. His flexibility and balance allow him to flow with the play while working down the line. He also displays fluid knee bend, hip flip and balance to stay up on his feet. You can see on film that he is a quick-twitch player with natural movement ability, especially when he maintains balance jumping over trash to make the play.

Phillips is a quick and explosive run container who plays with non-stop effort. He is a short stepper who does a very good job of using his upper body strength and lower frame power to collapse the offensive line and occupy multiple blockers. He gets into the blockers with good urgency and shows very good hip flexibility and lower body quickness to make plays moving down the line (see 2017 Oregon State, Washington State and Notre Dame games).

He plays stout at the point of attack and uses his hands well to keep blockers away from his chest. When he stays low in his pads, he gains leverage and shows strength and explosion coming off the snap. His agility is evident by the way he remains low in his pads while generating ease of movement when changing direction to close on the ball. He flashes good power and upper body explosion to consistently walk the blocker back into the quarterback or clog the rush lanes by neutralizing the lead blocker when working in-line.

His sudden moves and strong hand placement are ideal for playing the edge in a 3-4 alignment, but his power base and anchor make him a nice fit as an under/nose tackle in a traditional 4-3 front wall. He plays with good urgency and has the long reach and hand placement to easily sidestep low blocks. He has the leaping ability and reach to deflect passes at the line of scrimmage and when he keeps his pads down, he can generate a very quick push off the snap to penetrate and shoot the gaps.

Football Sense... There may not be a better guy to coach. Phillips does all that is asked and is not a showboat – he just comes to play. He is a respected leader, despite just one season of starting experience and always plays at a high tempo. He is an outstanding worker on the field who has a true passion for the game. He is the type of player that brings out the best in his teammates, either by setting an example or pushing his mates to play better.

Phillips plays with valid football instincts and is a smart player who will have no problem taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He is able to pick up blocking schemes quickly. He is not the type that will bite on play action and misdirection. He knows how to take proper angles when chasing down ball carriers in the backfield and is the type that will not have problems digesting a complicated playbook. He anticipates the plays well and does a good job flowing to the ball along the line.

Explosion/Pursuit...Phillips shows good initial quickness, as he has the leg drive to explode off the ball and the hand punch to consistently rock the offensive linemen back on their heels. He has the suddenness to easily gain advantage out of the “blocks” and flashes that strong hand movement to shock and jolt the lead blockers. He has become very consistent with his hand usage and staying low in his pads. There are times where he seems to relish taking on double teams more than playing in one-on-one battles, a testament to his “Viking-like” attack approach.

He is a good quick-twitch player who can gain immediate penetration when he maintains that low pad level and keeps his hands active within his frame. You can see on film his quickness getting into gaps to disrupt the running play (see 2017 Oregon State, Washington State, Washington, California and Notre Dame contests). He can surprise a lethargic blocker and slip past double teams with his burst, showing the strength needed to get a good push off his man.

He excels at neutralizing multiple blockers and has that hip shake you want when trying to execute counter moves. He is so quick to get an edge on the blocker that his opponent will generally get put to the ground or be left grasping at air. When he gains advantage, he will generally keep it. He is very light on his feet, doing a nice job of working down the line when playing in the short area.

Strength at the Point of Attack...Phillips is a naturally strong athlete who has the added benefit of knowing how to use that power and base to lean on and slip off blocks. He is quick to use his hands in attempts to shock, throw and jerk the offensive lineman and even vs. double teams, he won’t stay blocked for long. He has the good balance and anchor to stay on his feet and uses his arm length well to defeat low blocks at his legs.

His hand punch is highlighted by the way he forcefully disengages from blocks and as he continues to improve his leverage working in-line, he can be quite effective staying on the tail of a ball carrier to chase down running plays in the backfield (see 2017 USC regular season game, San Diego State, Arizona State, Oregon State, Notre Dame and USC/Pac-12 title games). I am very impressed with his outstanding upper body strength – well beyond what his body frame indicates he should have - as it allows him to consistently use his hands to gain separation or when trying to stuff and shed.

He also shows the nimble feet to adjust to movement when working down the line. He is quick to fill the rush lanes and shows good creativity and spin moves shooting the gaps. He is very combative with his hands and has the strength to shock and control and opponent when he locks on. He has developed into the type of player that demands constant double team activity from his opponent, as he is very hard to move off the line. When he plants his feet and settles in for a battle, he uses his low center of gravity to gain leverage and he keeps his feet free, demonstrating very effective two-gap potential.

Use of Hands...This is where Phillips has shown marked improvement, as he has become confident in his hand punch to shock and jolt. He no longer gets his hands outside his frame, keeping them tight to prevent blockers from getting into his chest, locking on and riding him wide from the play (had those issues earlier in his career). He flashes that explosive punch needed to quickly gain separation and uses them with authority to control the action at the point of attack. When he keeps those hands active, he has good success when trying to stack and extend. He also shows good timing to get his hands up to create vision issues for quarterbacks trying to throw the underneath balls. Phillips’s quick arm-over action and upper body strength lets him consistently beat his blocker off the snap. Even when he short-arms at times, he stays after the blocker, using his body lean to get a push.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort...Phillips plays until the whistle, staying in control while getting over and around most trash. With his low center of gravity, his opponents have had a hard time executing scoop and fold blocks vs. him, as he showed the quickness to loop behind the offensive linemen to drive the lead blocker back through the gaps. He is more mobile working down the line than the generally slow-prodding interior defensive linemen. He has the valid foot speed to give chase and pursue in the backfield, staying low in his pads while keeping his hands active to avoid low blocks. He also demonstrates good hustle agility from the back-side, along with the burst needed to close on the quarterback (see 2017 San Diego State, UCLA, Oregon, Washington State and Notre Dame contests). With his playing speed, he has had good success clearing trash that guards and centers try to create when double-teaming him. There are times where he will get a bit high in his stance (mostly on long pursuits), and when this happens, he tends to narrow his base and fail to keep his feet free.

Tackling Ability...Phillips has more than enough functional strength to clog the inside rush lanes and shows good explosion and striking power, along with the wrap-up technique to be productive at the NFL level. He needs to continue to play at his 2017 level, where he showed great strength in locking up blockers, along with the power to take away the outside leg of the running back to prevent the ball carriers forward progress (allowed just three ball carriers to record first down carries vs. him in 2017). He has very good strength behind his hits and is an efficient wrap-up tackler with the long arms to engulf the perimeter runners. He has the lateral agility to push the outside running game back inside and the field vision to quickly locate the cutback lanes.

Because of his wide frame and brute strength, when he makes a collision tackle, he instantly stops the ball carrier’s momentum. There is no leakage when working inside, but when he does get a little out of control (not often), he will miss tackles when operating in space. Phillips spends most of his time occupying multiple blockers to free up a teammate to make the play, but has enough power to get the ball carrier down on initial contact. He can deliver an explosive punch in closed quarters and there is no leakage working inside. He might get a little out of control and miss in space, at times, but he is a very effective tackler when stationed inside the box. Consistently fitting and finishing at the point of attack, he has above average strength to lock up and enough quickness to combine with his power to make explosive tackles. When he attacks a ball carrier, he punishes them.

Run Defense...Phillips has allowed only three first downs on 89 running plays directed at him in 2017, preventing those runners from gaining positive yardage on 31 of those carries (21 tackles-for-loss, ten stops at the line of scrimmage for no gains this year). He has very good balance to stay on his feet working through trash and uses his natural strength well to plug the inside gaps. His arm strength and hand punch lets him get the separation needed to get back on the play in a hurry. He also uses his reach effectively to stack and his wide anchor to hold ground at the point of attack. With his quickness shooting the gaps and solid base, he’s tough to move out, even when matching up vs. double teams. He is tough to defend in the short area when moving down the line and is very conscious of low blocks and how to avoid them.

With more bulk, he should have no problem at the NFL level in becoming an immovable object at the point of attack, as he is quick to hunker down and fill the rush lanes. Phillips is a very stout vs. the inside run, doing a fine job of clogging the rush lanes and using the lead blocker to generate gap containment. He relishes his role in holding up, clogging and disrupting the action in the backfield. He stacks well at the point of attack and uses that excellent low center of gravity to leverage. He might be shorter and lighter than most nose guards at the NFL level, but I don’t see him having problems playing the two-gap (ideally, he’s a three-tech player) and he does a nice job of keeping his feet free on the move. He plays with leverage thanks to his strength to hold ground firmly and he plays with good effort when giving chase.

Pass Rush... Phillips shows good desire in attempts to collapse the pocket (see 2017 San Diego State, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame contests) and gives solid second effort vs. double teams when trying to disengage. He shows good agility squeezing the pocket and what is impressive from viewing 2017 film is that it was rare to see him get narrow in his base coming off the edge, as blockers had little or no success forcing him out of the pocket. This season, he has become a very instinctive pass rusher who is very active with his hands to keep blockers off of him. He utilizes his wide array of moves (rip, club, swim, arm-over, under-arm) to split double teams. Once he gets a bead on the quarterback, the passer is usually a “sitting duck.” His initial push rocks blockers back on their heels and he is quick to push the pocket. He changes direction on movement and has a very effective spin move that he utilizes a lot when the blocker tries to lean into him to gain body position.

He generates great power in his initial surge and while he is more effective on the bull rush, he has the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield when trying to flush out the quarterback (see 2017 San Diego State, Oregon and North Carolina games). He can turn the corner and shows good counter moves to come underneath and make the play. His lower body strength lets him push the pocket and he displays very good urgency to get to the quarter-back. When he extends his arms and uses good forward body lean, he has had very good success pressing the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle, as he shows flexibility and leverage to go with an explosive burst to close on the pocket. He also has the loose hips you want in an under tackle and he has enough quickness to utilize him edge rusher for a few snaps, as he can consistently turn the corner.

Phillips has very good initial speed for a defensive tackle when trying to collapse the pocket. He has functional speed to come off the edge, but had much better success disrupting the backfield when shooting the gaps. He flashes the pressure production that will allow an edge rusher to be isolated in his pursuit to the quarterback, as Phillips had very good success splitting double teams in 2017. You can see on film that extra acceleration and surge when attacking the passer, along with the desire to make things happen once he penetrates the line of scrimmage (had just three missed tackles on 89 first level plays).

With his balance and agility, he has no problems with twists and games. He shows great confidence when playing over the center’s head, as he is able to give a good arm-over action to gain advantage over the outside shoulder of the guards in attempts to apply pressure. While he can win with quickness, he is a highly effective hand fighter that can shed blockers. He has the lateral mobility to develop effective double moves and has become a great bull rusher. He shows great knee bend and looks explosive when he rushes off the edge, but he also flashes above average speed to power and can put bigger offensive tackles on roller skates when he shoots the gaps to close on the quarterback.

Instincts/Recognition... Phillips has a good feel to read and locate the ball. He is best when he reacts quickly, as sometimes he looks a little mechanical when he plans his moves. He will not be fooled by fakes and play action. His flow to the ball comes with no hesitation. And he has a nice feel for blocks and where they are coming from (rare to see him surprised or caught out of position). With his quickness and a lack of bulk, he could move to under-tackle at the next level, but with his low center of gravity and power, I would not hesitate to line him up at the nose guard slot.

The thing I like is his ability to quickly recognize blocking schemes. Few down linemen in this draft show his discipline, desire and field smarts. He doesn’t back down when teams commit two blockers and he is always willing to mix it up with much heavier offensive linemen. He gives the same effort rushing the passer as he does when chasing the run, thanks to his good overall motor and he flashes elite effort on certain snaps.

Compares To...John Randle-ex-Minnesota…Like Randle, Phillips is bigger, faster and stronger than he was earlier in his collegiate career. For all of the athleticism displayed by the Cardinal, he offers a team an Aaron Donald type that can be moved around the first level, as he is an ideal under-tackle who can line up wide as a strong-side end in a 3-4 defensive alignment, but teams that utilize the under-tackle position in their 4-3 scheme will see that Phillips is also the perfect solution to solve any issues that they might have at that position. Simply put, this is a player destined to walk the podium to be greeted by the commissioner in 2018.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington
Vita Vea
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington
Vita Vea
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Vita Vea - Washington

He might be first, he’s certainly not the worst, so why does my staff feel Vea is over-rated?

Overview...Vea’s tape can frustrating because he flashes star potential one series and then looks average the next. With that said, he’s still very raw and should be judged by his ability rather than just his results as he should unlock his potential with more coaching. He has the size and power to play nose in an odd or even front and he could be targeted by 3-4 teams looking for dominant run defender on the end. He should work into a defensive line rotation immediately and has the ability to become a good NFL starter for years.

Given his relative lack of experience, it should come as little surprise that Vea remains very rough around the edges. He was blessed with an eye-popping combination of size, power and agility, however, that could convince a team to roll the dice with an early pick should he elect to leave early for the NFL.

Vea 2017 Season Statistical Breakdown vs. the Running GameThe nose tackle was directly involved in 40 running plays, as he recorded 28 solo tackles on carries that netted 530 yards (1.79 ypc), but allowed three touchdowns. He assisted on 12 other carries for 13 yards (1.08 ypc) for a total of 63 yards on 40 attempts for an average of 1.58 per attempt. He allowed nine first downs and posted seven third-down stops, along with delivering two touchdown-saving tackles. Vea registered six stops for losses and took down two other ball carriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Vea 2017 Season Statistical Breakdown vs. the Passing GameThe Husky was directly involved in just five pass plays, as he was often removed from the game during these situations. He allowed one catch for 22 yards and a first down while breaking up the other four tosses, two coming on third-down snaps.

Body Structure... Vea is a wide-body type with outstanding shoulder and chest width. He has big hips, wide bubble, thick thighs, huge calves and tree-like legs. He lacks good arm length (76 1/4-inch wing span) and needs to control his weight (as high as 360), as he does have stamina issues when he plays with added bulk. His frame is fleshy in the mid section and he has natural strength, rather than a well-built weight room physique.

Athletic Ability...Vea has a thick frame with decent initial burst for a player his size. He is agile moving down the line and light on his feet, but lacks the suddenness to explode through the gaps. He demonstrates good knee bend, showing the agility, balance and short area acceleration to get into the backfield. He has the body control and change of direction agility to make plays down the line. He also has good strength, but needs to be more physical in his play. He did play with a high motor in 2017, something he did not do in the past.

Football Sense...Vea shows good field smarts and he has the ability to quickly learn and retain plays. He understands assignments and is quick to pick up schemes. His feel for the ball is above average and he makes an effort on every play to get to the ball. He is rarely caught out of position due to a mental error, but does have stamina issues late in the game.

Explosion/Pursuit...Vea has good timed speed and excellent country-strong power, but he will have stamina issues late in games. He demonstrates a good burst off the snap shooting the gaps and the low center of gravity, along with incredibly thick legs to maintain his ground at the point of attack. He attacks the gaps with good urgency and flashes the ability to gain advantage on an offensive line man. His burst off the line allows him to penetrate the gaps almost immediately.

Strength at the Point of Attack...Vea is sometimes too slow to shed, but is nearly impossible to move out at the point of attack, thanks to his wide base, very strong anchor and noticeably improved leverage (that was a problem in the past). He has the power to split and disengage, but will revert to trying to out-finesse the blocker late in games (stamina issues), especially in one-on-one situations. His weight room figures do not always translate to the football field, but he is very effective at using his hands to stab and separate though. He will get washed out when he gets too high in his pads and needs to play at a lower pad level to be effective when trying to shed and stack.

Use of Hands...In the past, Vea’s lack of hand placement would see him struggle to disengage. He now shoots his hands more often, keeping them inside the frame to shock and jolt with much better authority than he showed his first three seasons. He now displays the proper positioning to use his hands in attempts to jolt at the line of scrimmage. When he locks on to a blocker, he has the functional strength to control. Still, he lacks the length to have consistent success defeating reach blocks.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort...For a player of his size and fleshy midsection, Vea shows the quickness and hip snap to reach the edge to make tackles on the corner. He moves effortlessly down the line and when he gets free, is quick to zero in on the quarterback. He locates the ball quickly working through trash and has no problems generating the pursuit needed to make plays on runs between the tackles.

Tackling Ability...Vea might not have a good amount of tackles, but once he collides with a ball carrier, the runner is quickly on the ground. He is not really a good wrap-up tackler (short arms), but uses his body well to generate a strong impact behind his hits. When he stays low in his pads, he generates the power to hit and take down with authority. He shows good hand usage to wrap and the hip roll to jolt on contact

Run Defense...Even though he does not always utilize his strength, Vea gets good position and body lean to stack and control when he stays at a good pad level. When he gets too high, he struggles with the blocker, especially vs. one lined up over his head. With his frame, he does a nice job of clogging the rush lanes and is too much of a force for lead blockers to move him out. He has the ability to lock on and either drive the blocker back or simply stand the opponent up. He has the ability to make tackles on the move, but is best when staying at the line or charging into the backfield rather than give long chase.

Pass Rush...Until 2017, Vea showed limited ability as a pass rusher. He is still a work in progress, but is a physical bull rusher who can get to the quarterback in the short area.

Instincts/Recognition...Vea has the ability to read and react and is quick to pick up blocking schemes. He has a good feel to flow to the ball and his agility down the line lets him string plays wide. He has the field vision and awareness to react quickly to blocking schemes.

Compares To...B.J. Raji-ex Green Bay Packers.

Da’Ron Payne - Alabama

Overview...If a team is patient and lets Payne slowly ease into action, they could reap huge benefits by the 2019 campaign. Not as strong as former teammate A’Shawn Robinson, Payne was still regarded as one of the top defensive line prospects in the nation. A bruising run-stopper along the Tide front, he left the college game with a few national titles under his belt, as the rest of the Tide defense fed off his consistent ability to shed blocks. Scouts feel that he is an excellent two-gap performer with excellent hand technique, even though he has yet to demonstrate adequate pass rushing ability.

Body Structure...Payne has a wide frame, with solid muscle tone in his lower body, a good bubble and wide hips. He has broad shoulders, long arms, large hands and demonstrates above average weight room strength. While he might be asked to add additional bulk, he has the long arms and big hands needed to easily defeat reach blocks and keep blockers off his feet.

Athletic Ability...Payne plays above his athletic ability, more like an “old school” type of player who gets maximum performance out of what he has. He shows good feet, quick change of direction agility and good body control in space. He plays with a high motor and is quite quick shooting his hands. He possesses great playing strength and good explosiveness. He also shows above average balance on the move. In the short area, he has the burst to close, but with his timed speed he can also play out on the edge, as he is perfectly capable of giving chase in long pursuit. His change of direction and flexibility are better when he stays low in his pads, as he can better gain leverage.

Football Sense...Payne is a smart player who understands football, recognizes blocking schemes and has no problems retaining plays. He picks things up quickly in practice and has good field instincts. He anticipates the plays well and does a good job flowing to the ball along the line. He is not the type who will not be fooled much by play action and fakes. He is also quite alert to double-teams and uses his hands effectively to destroy the power scoop.

Explosion/Pursuit... For a player with his thick frame, you would expect Payne to lumber off the snap, but that is not the case, as he can simply explode off the line of scrimmage. He has the burst through the hole to neutralize the inside ground game, but there are times when he loses leverage when he plays too high in his stance. He has good pursuit quickness and lateral agility to make plays on the move, though. He shows proper body control and positioning to collapse the pocket, something he did quite effectively in 2017. He can gain advantage getting to the gaps and is quick with his feet to get a good push into the blocker, especially when taking on the center and shaded guard when they try to chop block him, as he uses his hands like weapons when protecting his legs. When working down the line, he shows above average movement skills.

Strength at the Point of Attack...Payne shows good hand usage vs. tight ends and lead blockers. With his weight room strength and hand punch, he has become a highly proficient “stuff-&-separate” type vs. the multiple blockers he constantly faces. What he does best is adjust to movement and react well with counter moves. The thing you notice on film is that when he stays down in his pads, he can use his weight room strength better to gain leverage. He has excellent brute strength needed to neutralize (does this better than most “one-tech” types in one-on-one situations and is very combative vs. double teams). He can generate a strong anchor to maintain position at the point of attack when he does not bounce up in his stance. He is hard to block coming off the ball and even if the blocker gets into his body, Payne is not the type the offensive guards can hold for long. He knows how to get underneath to get a piece of the blocker’s pads and is effective stacking and controlling in one-on-one situations.

Use of Hands...Payne has very quick hands and the functional strength to deliver a punishing jolt. He could be even better if he can sink his pads and get leverage (has had ankle issues that causes him to get a bit too rigid in his stance, which can be seen with inconsistency keeping his inside foot staggered stance with a foot-to-crotch alignment). He shows good production getting into the blocker’s body, using his hands like weapons to defeat the low blocks (works hard to prevent from getting knocked down vs. the chop block). He shows quick hand technique and an effective arm cross over move in pass rush attempts. He also generates good punch to control and disengage.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort...Payne has the lateral quickness and sustained speed to slip through the pile and apply pressure. He has good change of direction agility and can get in gear when working in space. He is best working along the line of scrimmage, where he can make plays in short pursuit. With his high motor, he shows good intent to flow to the ball.

Tackling Ability...Payne is a hard drag-down tackler, but when he takes a side, the bigger ball carriers in the NFL could have success bouncing off his hits. He gets into this rhythm where he feels he needs to take on multiple blockers and allow teammates to make the play, which is typical for “one-tech” types, but if he is to play the one- or three-tech slots, he will have to be conscious of not getting too tall in his stance, as this makes him a candidate to be wiped out by low cut blockers. He has more than enough strength to lock up and make the wrap-up tackles. When he attacks a ball carrier, he makes a conscious effort to take out the opponent’s outside leg. When he stays low in his pads, he extends his arms and is very effective to wrap up. He also shows urgency getting to the ball in the short area.

Run Defense...Payne shows good hand usage to shed blocks in one-on-one battles. When he sinks his pads, he does well holding at the point of attack, but would be much better if he did not get so high and expose his chest. He is a strong inside run defender who can make plays up and down the line of scrimmage, and for a “big man,” he has the long speed to chase in space. He is often matched vs. double teams and when this happens, he gets very combative and it is rare to see him struggle to hold ground at the point of attack. When he does stay down low enough or use his hands to protect his legs, he demonstrates excellent hand-shed ability. When he gets tall in his stance, he will get locked up and stall out. When working one-on-one, he will flash the ability to stack.

Pass Rush...Payne is more of a bull rusher than one that can take the edge and give long chase. He is effective when trying to press through a combo pass block, but has to be alert to low shots at his legs. He does a nice job of getting his hands up in attempts to deflect low throws and can simply destroy fullbacks that are the last line of pocket protection. He has a quick initial step to get advantage and shows effective swim-&-rip ability. He might become more of a move-oriented type at the next level, depending on which position he will settle into, but at Alabama, he was utilized more as a defender who would park at the line to wait for action to come to him. It is his strength and urgency in his play that allows him to gain penetration, but he is never going to develop into an interior pass rusher in the Aaron Donald mold.

Instincts/Recognition...Payne has good react-&-react skills. He plays with good instincts, awareness and recognition. He has a good feel for blocks and reacts well to blocking pressure. The thing I like on film is his ability to locate the ball quickly. He feels the play develop and will fight until the whistle.

Compares To...Cory Liuget-Los Angeles Chargers.

Maurice Hurst - Michigan

Hurst breathed a sigh of relief recently, after team doctors determined there was no need for him to revisit Indianapolis for a second medical checkup. During his first trip to Indianapolis, the medical staff at the NFL Scouting Combine excused him from the agility tests. Considered a first-round pick and potential riser entering the Combine, he was sent home after he was red-flagged due to a serious heart condition.

According to one source, the diagnosis wasn’t simply a precaution, it was a “very” serious issue that was potentially life-threatening.

The 2017 Season...Hurst was a consensus All-American (first team, The NFL Draft Report, Associated Press and Sporting News; second team, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp and Football Writers Association of America.

Body Structure...Hurst has good size for defensive tackle and the quickness to play defensive end. He will need to add more bulk if lined up at the nose guard position in the NFL, but has room to carry at least another 15 pounds without it impacting his above average foot speed. He has a solid upper body frame with good hip width, big bubble and ideal arm length.

Athletic Ability...Hurst has very good initial quickness and timed speed for a player his size, exploding out of his stance in an instant to attack blockers at the Xs. He shows good balance to make plays on the edge, demonstrating the flexibility and burst to accelerate to the ball on outside running plays. He has fluid lateral agility and change of direction skills. He does show good feet and body control, but is best when he is kept operating in the box, as he is quite productive, even when challenged by double team blocking.

He flashes good power and upper body explosion to consistently walk the blocker back into the quarterback or clog the rush lanes by neutralizing the lead blocker when working in-line. For a player his size, his sudden moves and strong hand placement are ideal for shooting the inside gaps in a 3-4 alignment, but his power base and anchor make him a nice fit as an under- tackle in a traditional 4-3 front wall. He plays with good urgency and has the long reach and hand placement to easily sidestep low blocks.

Football Sense...For a player with his timed speed, you would expect him to be a quick-twitch type. He is explosive getting off the snap, displaying excellent recognition skills. He does a good job with only normal reps needed to retain, and is quick to adjust on the field to action on his sides. He has a good feel for leveraging, as he plays at a consistently low pad level.

Hurst made tremendous strides in his performance after shifting to a more natural defensive tackle position as a junior. He shows the natural instincts to quickly locate the ball and close on the play with urgency. He is a “football smart” athlete who should have no problem taking plays from the chalkboard to the playing field. He has the ability to retain plays with minimal reps and performs with good awareness, keeping his hands inside his frame while quickly recognizing blocking schemes. He is quick to find the football in pursuit and is not the type that will bite on play action or misdirection.

Explosion/Pursuit... Hurst plays with a high motor, along with tough aggression. He is relentless in pursuit and even when blockers lock on him, he will give second/third effort in attempts to escape and close on the ball. He has become a productive and dominant playmaker vs. the ground game.

Hurst shows good initial quickness, as he has the leg drive to explode off the ball and the hand punch to consistently rock the offensive linemen back on their heels. He has the suddenness to easily gain advantage out of the “blocks” and flashes that strong hand movement to shock and jolt the lead blockers.

He was much more consistent with his hand usage and staying low in his pads as a senior than in his first three seasons (seemed to relish taking on double teams more than playing in one-on-one battles). He is a good quick-twitch player who can gain immediate penetration when he maintains that low pad level and keeps his hands active within his frame. You can see on film his quickness getting into gaps to disrupt the running play.

He can surprise a lethargic blocker and slip past double teams with his burst, showing the strength needed to get a good push off his man. He excels at neutralizing multiple blockers and has that hip shake you want when trying to execute counter moves. He is so quick to get an edge on the blocker that his opponent will generally get put to the ground or be left grasping at air. When he gains advantage, he will generally keep it. He is very light on his feet, doing a nice job of working down the line when playing in the short area.

Strength at the Point of Attack.. Hurst is a naturally strong athlete, but with the additional bulk on his frame in the last year (went from 283 as a junior to 304 as a senior), he has the added benefit of knowing how to use that bulk to lean on and slip off blocks. He is quick to use his hands in attempts to shock, throw and jerk the offensive lineman and even vs. double teams, he won’t stay blocked for long. He has the good balance and anchor to stay on his feet and uses his arm length well to defeat low blocks at his legs.

His hand punch is highlighted by the way he forcefully disengages from blocks and as he continues to improve his leverage working in-line, he can be quite effective staying on the tail of a ball carrier to chase down running plays in the backfield. I am very impressed with his developing upper body strength, as it allows him to consistently use his hands to gain separation or when trying to stuff and shed. He also shows the nimble feet to adjust to movement when working down the line.

Hurst is quick to fill the rush lanes and shows good creativity and spin moves shooting the gaps. He is very combative with his hands and has the strength to shock and control and opponent when he locks on. Last year, he developed into the type of player that demands constant double team activity from his opponent, as he is very hard to move off the line. When he plants his feet and settles in for a battle, he uses his low center of gravity to gain leverage and he keeps his feet free, demonstrating very effective two-gap potential.

Use of Hands...This is where Hurst has shown marked improvement, as he has become confident in his hand punch to shock and jolt. He no longer gets his hands outside his frame, keeping them tight to prevent blockers from getting into his chest, locking on and riding him wide from the play (had those issues as a sophomore). He flashes that explosive punch needed to quickly gain separation and uses them with authority to control the action at the point of attack. When he keeps those hands active, he has good success when trying to stack and extend. He also shows good timing to get his hands up to create vision issues for quarterbacks trying to throw the underneath balls. Hurst’s quick arm-over action and upper body strength lets him consistently beat his blocker off the snap. Even when he short-arms at times, he stays after the blocker, using his body lean to get a push.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort...Thanks to his experience at weak-side tackle during his first two college seasons, Hurst is more mobile working down the line than the generally slow-prodding interior defensive linemen. He has the valid foot speed to give chase and pursue in the backfield, staying low in his pads while keeping his hands active to avoid low blocks. He also demonstrates good hustle agility from the back-side, along with the burst needed to close on the quarterback.

With his playing speed, he has had good success clearing trash that guards and centers try to create when double-teaming him. There are times where he will get a bit high in his stance (mostly on long pursuits), and when this happens, he tends to narrow his base and fail to keep his feet free, but that was more of an issue as a freshman and sophomore than the last two years.

Tackling Ability... It was “night and day” watching Hurst tackle in 2017 compared to previous seasons. The added bulk and more confidence in his hand strength allowed him to tie up multiple blockers and still make the big plays (had 13 third-down stops, 13 stops-for-loss and took down nine other runners for no gain in 2017). He has the functional strength to clog the inside rush lanes and shows good explosion and striking power, along with the wrap-up technique to be productive at the NFL level. He needs to continue to play at his 2017 level, where he showed great strength in locking up blockers, along with the power to take away the outside leg of the running back to prevent the ball carriers forward progress.

Run Defense...Hurst has allowed only five first downs on 52 running plays directed at him in 2017, preventing those runners from gaining positive yardage on 22 of those carries (42.31%). He has very good balance to stay on his feet working through trash and uses his natural strength well to plug the inside gaps. His arm strength and hand punch lets him get the separation needed to get back on the play in a hurry. He also uses his reach effectively to stack and his wide anchor to hold ground at the point of attack. With his quickness shooting the gaps and solid base, he’s tough to move out, even when matching up vs. double teams. He is tough to defend in the short area when moving down the line and is very conscious of low blocks and how to avoid them. With more bulk, he should have no problem at the NFL level in becoming an immovable object at the point of attack, as he is quick to hunker down and fill the rush lanes.

Pass Rush...Hurst has excelled much better on the bull rush than pass rush, making ten of his 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage from that formation last season. Even when he faced constant double teams, he showed even better snap reaction (only one false start as a senior) and could be a “hidden gem” for an NFL coach that might want to use him on stunts and twists, thanks to his ability to explode off the snap and use his hands well to leverage. He shows good desire in attempts to collapse the pocket and gives solid second effort vs. double teams when trying to disengage. He shows good agility squeezing the pocket and what is impressive from viewing 2017 film is that it was rare to see him get narrow in his base coming off the edge, as blockers had little or no success forcing him out of the pocket.

Instincts/Recognition...Hurst shows good reactionary skills to contain the outside run and is alert to play action and misdirection. He shows good urgency in attempts to locate the ball and an excellent feel for blocks, easily reacting to blocking pressure to locate the ball when working through trash. He knows how to time his leaps to get his fair share of pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. He is very alert for angle blocks and traps, using his hands effectively to counter. When he recognizes the scheme and sees the play develop, he is quick to react.

Compares To...Cortez Kennedy-ex Seattle Seahawks.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida
Taven Bryan
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida
Taven Bryan
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Taven Bryan - Florida

Is Taven Bryan the next breakout dominator?

Body Structure...Bryan has a solid structure with excellent bulk, muscle tone, long arms and quick feet. Some teams might consider his frame to be more suited for an interior line position, but he has that quick burst off the snap and very strong hands needed to pull and jerk down offensive linemen working from the edge. He has a V-shaped frame with good bubble, tight waist and hips and thick thighs and calves, but with his good arm length and reach, along with his tight abdomen, “old time” evaluators liken him to former Chicago standout, Dan Hampton. Even at 291 pounds, he has the frame that can carry at least another ten pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness.

Athletic Ability...Bryan is a physical specimen who combines the frame of a defensive tackle with the quickness and agility of a quality edge rusher. You can see on film that he has the balance, speed and agility to stunt across the line. For a player his size, he impresses evaluators with his ease of movement when changing direction, along with the ability to stay low in his pads and come off the blocks with explosion and urgency. One of his better attributes is his speed to chase from the backside. He plays with a solid base and demonstrates above average body control, knowing how to “get skinny” when taking an inside gap.

With his agility, the Gators had very good success jumping him around the line (plays more like former Jets under-tackle Dennis Byrd in that factor). Bryan has the speed that lets him consistently explode past a lethargic offensive tackle. He can be sudden in his initial movement and has the lateral range to give a good chase in long pursuit. He shows good knee bend and loose hips to redirect.

He is very efficient at using his arms in defeating reach blocks, but must develop more consistency with his hand thrust to jolt offensive linemen coming out of their stance. His lateral agility allows him to play faster than his timed speed and when he keeps his pads down, his low center of gravity prevents blockers from locking on and dragging him to the ground.

Football Sense...Bryan has that natural feel for the flow of the play, along with good awareness and instincts to recognize blocking schemes. He might still chase a few play fakes every once in awhile, but you can see with each passing game that the experience picked up makes him feel more comfortable in recognizing and reacting to the action in front of him. He shows a very good nose for the ball and has a good understanding of pass rush technique. Once he becomes more comfortable in being more active with his hands, blockers will have a hard time containing him in one-on-one match-ups.

Explosion/Pursuit...Bryan has that “special” burst off the snap that lets him consistently put the offensive tackle back on his heels. He is sudden at the X’s and shows the natural strength to get off blocks when the opponent tries to latch on. He has more quickness than one would expect from a player with his size, sort of like former Chargers, Luis Castillo, and former Falcon, Patrick Kerney. When he uses his hands to get off blocks, he is explosive moving up field to pressure and collapse the pocket. In 2017, you can see that he has learned the proper technique of opening his hips and dipping his shoulders to get a strong push in his initial thrust. He has the sudden initial step off the ball to beat the offensive tackle off the edge, but will sometimes take a wide angle around the corner, leaving him susceptible to screen and draw plays to his side. When he keeps his pads down, he gets good leverage and that allows him to get penetration. Once he becomes comfortable shooting his hands more, he will be very effective at beating double teams. Still, he excels at timing his jumps and anticipating the flow of the ball.

Strength at the Point of Attack...Bryan is a load to handle in isolated situations. He is very tough on offensive tackles and tight ends when they try to combo block him and he has shown in 2017 that he knows how to use his quick initial strength, upper body power and size to handle most blockers that try to impede his charge into the backfield. For a player of his height, you would expect him to lose leverage, but he has shown marked improvement in splitting and stacking vs. double teams as a junior. He has become very stout at the point of attack, doing a nice job of locking out and finding the ball. He has developed a decent array of rush moves (better rip, swim and club moves). He also possesses the change of direction flexibility to drop his weight and redirect when the gaps are plugged. When he keeps his hands active, his long arm reach allows him to defeat the combo block and reroute in back side pursuit, but he needs to use those hands with more consistency.

Use of Hands... Bryan was a “work in progress” in trying to keep blockers off his jersey until 2017. As a junior, he has become more confident in using his natural strength to generate the hand usage needed to jerk and pull down blockers. In his last four games, he was much more combative with his hands (see 2017 South Carolina, UAB, Florida State games). He also excelled at being a disruptive force vs. the short passing games. Bryan must remain consistent in attempts to use his hands to protect, disengage, shed, lock out and two gap at the next level. He has the ability to dip his shoulder to reach, grab and jerk the blocker off his stance. He has also become better at using his hands to guard his legs vs. the chop block (opponents only had one knockdown in his last six games vs. him). He does a solid job with his body lean and ability to slip off the offensive tackle’s inside shoulder. You can see on his improvement of using his hands to gain inside position.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort...Bryan’s quickness could be better served if a team uses on stunts often, as he has the ability to keep his pad level low and show ease of movement when going laterally down the line. He has very good diagnostic skills and along with his high motor and excellent range. It is like having a 291-pound linebacker give chase on long pursuits. He consistently makes plays away from the ball and flashes an explosive burst to close. You can see on film that he knows how to take on blocks and play laterally down the line. He can keep outside containment and force running plays back inside and is an all-out total effort guy who simply wants to make the play. He has the nimble feet and lateral range to flow to the ball with ease and can close in the short area with good explosion. He is usually relentless in pursuit and does a good job of opening his hips (see 2017 Michigan, Kentucky, Texas A&M games). He also has the quickness and balance to move through traffic and make plays laterally. His in-line quickness allows him to close almost immediately in the short area.

Tackling Ability...Bryan is still learning how to be more consistent as a wrap-up tackler, as he relies more on his strength and size to collision with ball carriers. He chases hard and hits with force, but when he gets his hands outside his frame, some bigger backs will slip off his tackles. Bryan is a good collision tackler, but will sometimes revert to grabbing and making arm tackles. He is just starting to develop a better concept of gaining position, staying low in his pads and maintaining leverage in order to make the wrap-up tackle. He will sometimes take too wide of a loop, causing him to over-pursue the play, but he has the vision to sift through traffic and quickly see the play develop. He is flexible when attempting to make body adjustments to slip through trash and has the valid foot speed to bounce to the outside in order to string out and make plays along the sidelines.

Run Defense...Bryan relies on both quickness and brute strength to penetrate inside. He plays with good leverage and strength, but they will be negated when he fails to use his arms to combat blocks. He is very determined coming off the snap and with his recently improved hand technique (see 2017 Michigan, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Florida State games), he can generate the explosiveness needed coming off the snap to get good penetration and disrupt the play. When he drops his weight and plays with leverage, he can prevent the blockers from washing him out when working in-line. His low center of gravity lets him get into the rush lane and push back the lead blocker to clog the holes. You can see on film that he has a good feel for blocking schemes.

Pass Rush...Bryan is still developing his edge rush technique, getting most of his penetration on stunts and taking inside gaps rather than looping around from the outside. He has shown the ability to get up field and press the corners, but it is his size and outstanding strength that allows him to push the linemen back into the pocket (won’t ever be confused for a finesse-type of pass rusher). He has the quickness to bend and push with leverage, along with vastly improved “up-&-under” and spin moves. He is generally a load in pursuit, especially when shooting the gaps. He might take wide angles at times, but he has the flexibility and balance to come back down under. He sees the field well and is quick to spot even the slightest of creases in order to shoot the gaps. He is effective with his counter moves working to the inside. His spin moves and quickness lets him easily defeat the slower offensive tackles when working off the edge.

Instincts/Recognition...You can sense that with patient coaching, Bryan can develop a natural feel for finding the ball, especially when on the move. Along with the size and good vision to locate the small backs hiding behind big blockers, he has developed a good feel for blocking schemes. He is quick to find the ball in a crowd and is alert to offensive adjustments at the pre-snap. He can still be fooled a bit by play action or misdirection, but he generally has a natural feel for the flow of the ball. He is much more effective shooting the gaps in passing situations, especially when given a clear lane, and he has the leverage and body control to consistently make plays vs. the run.

Compares To...Dan Hampton-ex Chicago Bears...Look at the frame and you can see the connection. Examine his burst off the snap and you can see the Hampton trademark. Understand, this is a kid with just under two years of defensive line experience. In a 3-4 alignment, he would be a perfect fit for the five-tech spot, as he can be a terror on stunts.