Browns, NFL Draft

WFNY’s 2017 NFL Draft Coverage: Joe Gilbert’s Top Five Interior Defensive Linemen

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After scouting through the top edge rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft, we finish off the front seven by examining the interior defensive line. The Browns have the centerpiece of the interior defensive line with Danny Shelton. But, the team lacks starting talent besides Shelton, meaning the Browns will likely look towards the draft to help find Shelton some help. The interior defensive line class has some intriguing talent with the ability to come in and be starters on the defensive line. So with that, let’s take a look at my top five interior defensive linemen in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Joe Gilbert’s 2017 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Safeties, Cornerbacks, Inside Linebackers, Edge Rushers

1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama

Stats: In 15 games last season, he posted 69 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks and two touchdowns.

Jonathan Allen is the most productive interior defensive lineman in the draft, but his talent is also at the top of the class. The former Alabama lineman’s best assets are his hands. He is extremely skilled using his hands to control offensive linemen. They are strong, carrying a heavy punch that can stun the blocker and move them at will. He has multiple techniques he can utilize to disengage from blocks and get free to chase the ball carrier in quick succession. He has great quickness for a man his size, with good feet allowing him to beat blocks with a quick move. His quickness translates to pretty good closing speed to the ball. His hips are very fluid, allowing him to change directions well and to show some solid bend on the edge. While he is engaged on blocks, he keeps his eyes in the backfield to be aware of where the direction of the play is going. Though he does not possess great power or strength, he is stout enough to hold his position at the point of attack. His awareness helps him be in the right position to make a play on the ball. In college, he moved all across the line, playing in different positions during his career. He has the ability to affect the run and pass. His athleticism will allow him to play in the interior of a line and on the edge.

Allen has some question marks. The biggest one is the health of his shoulders. He had multiple shoulder injuries in his college career, giving teams something they must investigate to figure out if it is a long-term problem. Besides his health question mark, he does not have prototypical size at 6-foot-3, 286 pounds, for a defensive lineman. He could struggle with the bigger, longer tackles in the NFL. He does not have great strength and power to bull rush defenders and take on double teams. He can also improve his snap anticipation because he was inconsistent on reacting to the snap. But in the end, his athleticism and hands will allow him to be a real playmaker on the defensive line.

2. Malik McDowell, Michigan State

Stats: In nine games last season, he notched 34 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and one and half sacks.

Malik McDowell has the length and athleticism that teams would love to have in a defensive lineman. At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds and 34 ¾-inch arms, he has great length that makes it incredibly hard for blockers to reach his body. He uses his long arms to get to the blocker first at the point of attack. He uses good hand usage to control blockers and disengage from the lineman when he needs to get to the ball. Along with his length, the former Spartan has unique athleticism for a defensive lineman. He has great explosion. He can get off the line with a quick burst. He then uses his quickness and good change of direction ability to slip past defenders and get to the backfield. His ability allows him to affect the pass and run game. In the pass game, he shows some bend on the edge to rush the passer. He has an array of pass rush moves he can display including a swim move and spin move. His athleticism allows him to play all across the line both inside and on the edge of the defensive line. He is also scheme versatile. He is probably the most athletically gifted interior defensive lineman in the class.

But, McDowell has some things that he must work on. Because of his length, he can have issues with leverage. He can get too high when going against a lineman, which allows the blocker to get underneath him and push him off his spot. Also, he has trouble with balance because of his feet. He can get tangled feet, which gets his whole body out of position. He needs to improve his base, so he can stay strong at the point of attack and not lose positioning. There are also concerns of effort level and consistency to play at his top level. In the end though, McDowell has great length and athleticism that gives him one of the highest potentials in the interior defensive line class.

3. Caleb Brantley, Florida

Stats: In 13 games last season, he had 31 tackles, nine and half tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two and half sacks.

Caleb Brantley is a defensive tackle with a good combination of quickness and bulk. When the ball is snapped, he displays a quick burst off the line, giving him an initial advantage against the blocker. He has quick and active hands that allow him to slap away attempts from offensive linemen to engage him. Along with his active hands, he uses his quickness and good lateral agility to evade the hands of blockers, and to remain free to pursue the ball carrier. At 307 pounds, he has good bulk throughout his body. The former Gator has good strength. He uses his strength to output a powerful punch to blockers, allowing him to throw linemen aside when he is engaged with them. He is a stout player at the point of attack and he is able to hold up against double teams, which allows others around him to be free. He will be able to affect both the pass and run game for a defense. Brantley is able to play any of the defensive tackle spots in 3-4 and 4-3 defenses, making him available for every NFL team.

But, Brantley has some shortcomings in his game. He does not have great length of height for a defensive tackle, coming in at just 6-foot-3 with 32-inch arms. One of the ways his length hurts him is his ability to tackle. He has quite a few occasions where he misses a tackle trying to reach for the ball carrier, but coming up short. His stiffer change of direction and slower long speed also leads to ball carriers escaping his grasps. As a pass rusher, he does not possess a refined pass rushing skill set, lacking a repertoire of moves. He can be stalemated when he is engaged in a pass rush attempt. Lastly, he can get out of position at times and lose awareness of where the play is at. But, Brantley is a defensive tackle with a unique combination of quickness and strength, along with active hands.

4. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte

Stats: In 12 games last season, he posted 65 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.

Larry Ogunjobi is a player with a unique combination of strength and athleticism. He is a defensive lineman with penetrating ability. The former Charlotte defender is quick off the ball, able to get the head start against the blocker. He produces a strong and powerful initial punch, which can stun the offensive lineman. He shoots out of the gates with good leverage to make a powerful punch on the offensive lineman. His hands are strong and active, allowing him to control blockers and disengage from the blocks. What is unique about the Charlotte star is his movement ability and athleticism. He has fluid movement skills with the ability to change directions well. He also has quickness to elude defenders at the line of scrimmage. Ogunjobi has the lateral quickness to slip blocks and then shoot up field. He has good long speed to track defenders down and close with solid closing speed. All of these skillsets make him hard for blockers to get engaged and keep engaged.

But, Ogunjobi has some question marks. He is not a long player, standing at 6-foot-3 with 32 5/8-inch arms. This lack of length hurts his ability to stay clean and to make tackles. He can let blockers into his body, which allows them to handle him much easier. He also can miss tackles when he is reaching for the ball carrier and is unable to reach him with his shorter arms. He is lack of length also hurts his ability to handle double teams. He does not have a refined pass rush skillset, lacking true moves. When he gets stalemated on a rush, he does not have counter moves to get free. Lastly, his level of opponents in college was not great, so when he makes the leap to the NFL, it could be a big adjustment. But in the end, he has some great potential because of his power and movements skills.

5. Montravius Adams, Auburn

Stats: In 13 games last season, he notched 44 tackles, eight and half tackles for a loss, one interception, one forced fumble and four and half sacks.

Montravius Adams is a defensive tackle with good explosion and athleticism. He has good snap anticipation, allowing him to get off the line before most of others on the line. He pairs that up with an explosive get-off that allows him to burst toward the backfield, gaining a step on the blockers. He is quick enough to fit through gaps and elude the blocker. He uses good lateral quickness to fight around blocks and continue up field. The former Tiger has the athleticism to chase down ball carriers and quickly close on the ball carrier. When engaged, he has good shedding ability, especially against the run. He can rip or swipe away from defenders to make a play on the ball. At the point of attack, he has good strength to be a stout defender. He can take on double teams with his strength. At 6-foot-4, 304 pounds, he has good size to play inside on both a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, with a strong and well-built upper and lower body to withstand the stress of the interior defensive line.

But, Adams has some weaknesses in his game. He does not use his arms and hands particularly well. He can allow blockers into his chest, which allows them to withstand his power and control him at the line of scrimmage. He can be turned out of position because blockers are into his body. He is not really refined at using his hands to keep himself away from getting engaged, which especially hurts his ability to rush the passer. He makes his job harder by having to shed blocks rather than fight them off before hand. He does not have a repertoire of pass rush moves, which leaves him with just his athleticism and strength. There are also concerns with his consistency and effort level at times. But, Adams’ size and athleticism are very attractive for teams looking for a defensive tackle.