Terrifying tanks thundering through torpid twerps, thus torching trembling twits.
Also known as defensive tackles, destroying plays before they even start. The new millennium has witnessed the ascension of defensive tackles into bona fide stars. Warren Sapp excited us with his on-field excellence and his fun-loving spirit. Vince Wilfork showed us that one man can anchor a defense and earn individual acclaim on the ever-assimilating Borg that is the New England Patriots. Ndamukong Suh tows the line between ferocity and savagery. And in the process, he became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Aaron Donald has become an elite defensive player in just his second season in the league.
Now before the denizens of the internet take up their pitchforks and torches, I am aware that there is a plethora of great defensive tackles throughout NFL history, including John Randle, Cortez Kennedy, William Perry, etc. This is not a history lesson. Rather, it is a review of the top defensive tackle prospects. The 2016 NFL Draft is chock full of them, and all of them dream of becoming elite. How about we skedaddle on down and give them a once over.
2016 NFL Draft Defensive Tackle Prospects
Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Seeing as this article began by mentioning greatness, it makes sense to start with my top prospect in the entire draft, regardless of position. He combines absurd athleticism with great strength. He also keeps his pad level low which allows him to keep good leverage, even against double teams. He did fall out of his hotel room window high on marijuana, or drunk, depending on various reports, which has naturally raised a red flag with teams across the NFL. WARNING: POTENTIALLY HERETICAL STATEMENT AHEAD! Robert Nkemdiche reminds me of Julius Peppers. Nkemdiche moves like a linebacker while weighing over 290 pounds. If I have the first pick in the draft I’m taking the player that I believe is mostly likely to become one of the all-time greats at his position, and for me that player is Robert Nkemdiche.
(Throw in the KeiVarae Russell segment with the above Robert Nkemdiche segment and in two articles I’ve made two statements that some might describe as insane. Off to a great start there, Andrew)
Andrew Billings, Baylor
Billings might be the best nose tackle in the draft. Some pundits might use his stature against him, but he takes advantage of being only 6’1” by getting proper leverage against his opponents to re-establish the line of scrimmage in the back field. He uses strong arms and active feet to gain penetration. Teammate Shawn Oakman returned to Baylor for his senior season in 2015 and his draft stock plummeted well out of the first round. Oakman’s fate was, in all likelihood, a contributing factor in Billings’ decision to forgo his senior season and enter the 2016 Draft. Billings is a perfect fit with the Houston Texans at the 22nd pick. He could apprentice under Vince Wilfork for a season or two, even slipping outside to defensive end in their 3-4, before taking over the nose tackle position and teaming with J.J. Watt to strike fear throughout the NFL.
Jarran Reed, Alabama
He brings solid technique and power to the position, anchoring the point of attack and maintaining good gap discipline to obstruct running lanes. Jarran Reed does offer versatility by being able to line up at defensive end or nose tackle in a 3-4, or at defensive tackle in a 4-3. Reed has slow feet and this keeps him from being an elite pass rusher. All in all, Reed is most likely a late first to early second round pick, fitting nicely in Denver at pick 31, or in Cleveland if they could get him at pick 33.
Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
Rankins has one of the most explosive first steps of any defensive lineman in the 2016 Draft (possibly sharing the distinction with Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah). Using long arms, fast feet and good leverage, he is one of the most pro-ready pass rushers this defensive tackle class has to offer. He does need to work on his strength as he is often driven off the ball while defending the run. Ideally he’d pair with a stout run stuffer, such as Marcell Dareus, at defensive tackle in a 4-3. Mr. Rankins does possess the quickness and agility to slide out to defensive end in a three man or four man front. He would be quite effective lined up outside in a jumbo defensive front. His upside as a pass rusher with a variety of moves will make him quite popular come draft day. Rankins is the mint chocolate chip of the defensive tackle ice creams: a team looking for pass rusher is going to love it, and a team looking for a stout run defender is going to hate it. He has first round talent and could be picked anywhere from 9th to 29th.
Kenny Clark, UCLA
He may have the best lower body strength of all the defensive players in the draft. His bull rush is unparalleled when he maintains good leverage and low pad level, but he often gets caught playing too upright and losing that leverage. Besides the bull rush his only other pass rush move is a rip move; he needs more weapons in his pass rush repertoire. His wrestling background can be easily incorporated into his on field acumen (former Patriots’ offensive guard Stephen Neal was a former collegiate wrestler who transitioned into a successful NFL career). Clark was often asked to rush while standing up at UCLA, which quite frankly is not wise when he already struggles with high pad level. Kenny Clark’s upside and athleticism make him a mid-to-late first round pick. At pick 26 he’d be perfectly replace Brandon Mebane for the Seattle Seahawks.
A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Slips through the opposition like butter (as a big fella myself I hate to keep associating these guys with food). Slippery is an odd description for a 312 pound man, yet it is apt when referring to Mr. Robinson. He uses his quickness to penetrate the backfield, occasionally rushing from the end position in a 3-4. Quick feet, active hands and good pad level all help him be a dominant three down player. He turns 21 on March 21st, and just imagine him adding some old man strength to his game: he’ll be unstoppable. Robinson is one of the top dozen players in the 2016 NFL Draft. If he somehow lasts to pick 15, the Los Angeles Rams will be absolutely peachy.
That’s my top tier of defensive tackle prospects for the 2016 Draft. I believe Oregon’s DeForest Buckner and Florida’s Jonathan Bullard are both best suited as defensive ends in the NFL, and consequently were not included in this edition of The Young Whipper-Snapper Review. Hopefully our time here has sufficiently buttered your football biscuits. Until next time, let’s still be good to each other.