The interior defensive line is the unquestioned strength of the 2019 draft class. It is so good that three of the top five talents in this class are likely defensive tackles, and there is fantastic depth as well. If we look back at New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman’s draft record, interior defensive linemen figure quite heavily. He has used six picks in the first three rounds on defensive linemen in his six drafts, and has only failed to draft a DL highly in just one draft.
And considering how tightly Gettleman sticks to his draft board, it makes sense to keep a close eye on the interior defensive line class this year.
Note: I have changed how I classify prospects for this year. I separate front seven players into “iDL,” “EDGE,” and “Off-ball Linebackers.” Interior defensive linemen are players who will almost always have a hand in the dirt. EDGE players are pass rushers off the edge and can play from a two or three-point stance.
Honestly, this defensive line class is so stacked that limiting myself to six ranked players and five “honorable mentions” was tough. I could probably have gone further with both, but these ranking could change wildly in a week’s time anyway.
Best of the best
- Quinnen Williams (Alabama) - Williams was a virtual unknown back in August. But after an absolutely dominant season that showed off power, athleticism, and technique in every game he rocketed to the top of the list. Williams was a game wrecker for the Alabama defense, practically living in opponents’ backfields. Teams will be interested to see how he ultimately tests, but for now he will be in the top three on pretty much any big board.
- Ed Oliver (Houston) - Oliver might be the most athletic defensive tackle to enter the NFL in recent memory. His college coach didn’t always put that unreal athleticism to the best use, frequently having him play nose tackle, but it frequently didn’t matter. Despite being undersized (rumored to weigh somewhere between 270 and 290 pounds), Oliver has plenty of explosive power to go with movement skills which are the envy of some safeties. He has the potential to be dominant if he polishes up his hand technique and is put in better positions by his NFL defensive coordinator.
- Christian Wilkins (Clemson) - Wilkins is a more “classic” defensive tackle than the players above him, and in many draft classes he would be at the top of the depth chart. There aren’t really any weaknesses in Wilkins’ game either. He is athletic enough to be a dangerous interior rusher, has a non-stop motor, good agility, power, and leverage. Wilkins is versatile enough to play defensive end on occasion and could probably play both 5-technique and 3-technique depending on the situation. He is also very well regarded within Clemson’s facilities as a hard worker and leader in the locker room.
- Zach Allen (Boston College) - Allen isn’t the flashiest player on this list, but he is a consistent player on Boston College’s defense. He isn’t an elite athlete yet his power, technique, motor, and football IQ have yielded a player who can create havoc in opposing backfields. He should have a strong future as a defensive end who slides inside on passing downs. He might not always get the sack, but he’s the kind of player who’s presence disrupts offenses and helps his teammates get home.
- Jerry Tillery (Notre Dame) - Tillery is flying under the radar right now, and was something of a disappointment before having a breakout 2018 season. He has a prototypical build for an interior defensive lineman with good length and thickness and a strong upside as an interior rusher. He also flashes the ability to control blockers and close running lanes, which adds to his potential value. If Tillery can build on his breakout season and take advantage of the draft process, some team could get a great value.
- Dexter Lawrence (Clemson) - Lawrence is a great athlete for a massive (6-foot-4, 350-pound) nose tackle. However he never developed into much of a threat in the pass rush, and while every defense needs a good nose tackle, that just doesn’t carry the same value if he can’t threaten quarterbacks.
Jeffery Simmons (Mississippi State) - From a pure talent perspective, Simmons would probably rank third on this list. He is an enormously talented defensive tackle who is able to wreck running and passing plays alike. However, he also has a bad off-field red flag in his past, and while he has (by all accounts) been a model citizen since coming to Mississippi State, teams will do their due diligence. His interviews over the course of the draft process will be crucial to his draft stock and if he aces those, look for him to be drafted early.
Rashan Gary (Michigan) - Gary has a reputation as an athletic freak of a defensive lineman. And he flashes a good first step on tape. However, I want to see how he moves in the short shuttle, 3-cone drill, and field drills before I slot him in my rankings. He could figure in fairly highly if he shows the ability to bend around the edge.
Charles Omenihu (Texas) - Like Gary I want to get a look at Omenihu at the combine before I slot him in the rankings. His size likely limits him to being a defensive linemen (so not an EDGE by my reckoning) but I want to see how fluidly he moves in drills before making up my mind. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl and looks promising on tape, but this is a
Jaylon Ferguson (Louisiana Tech) - Like the other defensive ends on this list, I want to get a look at Ferguson’s flexibility in a controlled environment. His production is impressive and his strength is unquestionable. However, he will need more than heavy hands and a high-revving motor to duplicate his college production in the NFL. And like Simmons, he too will have to answer questions about an off-field incident.
Isaiah Buggs (Alabama) - When Buggs is on he is one of the better defenders in this class. He shows plenty of athleticism attacking into the backfield and should be a disruptive defensive tackle. The problem is that he isn’t always on. The NFL will want to see if that is an issue with his conditioning or some other problem. Performing well after a draining week of interviews and medical tests will help answer concerns about his conditioning, and those interviews will help teams get a look at the player himself.