We continue our NFL Combine prospect preview series today with defensive tackle: a group headlined by a number of first-round talents and a lot of quality depth behind them. If you missed the previous entries in the series, you can find them here: OL, RB & FB, WR, TE.
This is arguably the most important position group for the Falcons heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, as Atlanta is likely to be in the market for an early round starter and a late round depth addition. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most intriguing options at DT that will be in attendance at the 2018 NFL Combine.
TAVEN BRYAN, Florida
One of Eric Robinson’s favorite prospects—check out his full scouting report on Bryan here—the 6’4, 291 Taven Bryan is an explosive and strong playmaker from the interior of the defensive line. Bryan was simply asked to shoot gaps every single play while at Florida, and he excelled at it. That style of play has led to some questions about his discipline and ability to play the run, but I’m not terribly concerned about that. Bryan’s athletic testing will likely determine how early in Round 1 he goes.
DA’SHAWN HAND, Alabama
An underachiever at Alabama with fantastic athletic traits, Hand quickly found himself playing second fiddle to a lot of extremely talented players. At 6’4, 289, Hand has the ability to play either on the edge or on the interior and looks the part of an NFL starter. His lack of production despite his elite traits raises question marks about his attitude, but a quality coaching staff could turn him into a solid-to-good starter.
FOLORUNSO FATUKASI, Connecticut
As a DT that the Falcons could target in the late Day 2, early Day 3 range, Folorunso Fatukasi is an intriguing option. At 6’4, 315 he’s got the frame of a three-down player at the NFL level. Fatukasi is raw in his technique and needs to play with better power, but he’s a versatile and talented athlete that could grow into a capable NFL starter with a year or two of seasoning.
B.J. HILL, N.C. State
A player that has already gotten some buzz from Falcons fans, B.J. Hill is an athletic DT prospect with a good frame (6’4, 315) and solid instincts for the position. His primary issue is his lack of strength, which will need to be further developed if Hill wants to do more than contribute on passing downs. After a year or so in an NFL conditioning program, Hill could be a valued member of an NFL rotation with starter potential. His draft stock is currently in the early Day 3 range.
MAURICE HURST, Michigan
A player I’ve already scouted for The Falcoholic, Hurst offers an interesting mix of athleticism and strength at the point of attack. He’s a bit small for DT at only 6’2, 282, but he rarely gets pushed back—even when doubled. Hurst is an impressive athlete with a non-stop motor, however, and is a very disruptive presence in the passing game. There are some issues he needs to correct, like learning to his use hands effectively, but Hurst is one of the most dynamic interior rushers in the 2018 NFL Draft.
DERRICK NNADI, FSU
Nnadi makes an appearance in almost every fan mock draft I’ve seen, and it’s easy to see why. His current value sees him available in the late Day 2-early Day 3 range, making him a logical candidate if the Falcons elect to go in another direction early in the draft or want to double up at DT. At 6’1, 299, Nnadi is on the smaller side for an NFL DT—but he makes up for it with a well-rounded skillset and good technique that allows him to win against superior athletes. He strikes me as a “poor man’s Grady Jarrett”, an undersized 1T or 3T that wins with leverage, strength, and technique.
DA’RON PAYNE, Alabama
Another player that I’ve already done a full evaluation on, Da’Ron Payne is my current favorite for the Falcons at 26. Payne has the look of a prototypical NFL DT, with phenomenal natural strength and explosive burst off the line of scrimmage. He’s a great run defender and an improving pass rusher that can play at 1T or 3T and contribute right away. Payne’s biggest weakness was his difficulty in taking on double-teams, but on a stacked DL with Jarrett, McKinley, and Beasley he’d have plenty of opportunities to dominate 1-on-1.
HARRISON PHILLIPS, Stanford
Yes, another prospect that I’ve scouted for The Falcoholic, Harrison Phillips has been generating a lot of buzz as of late. Phillips is a hard worker and a very good player in the run game, but he’s a poor athlete and offers limited pass rush upside. His advanced technique gives him the potential to come in and start right away, but his ceiling is likely as a solid NFL starter. He’s projected to go in the early Day 2 range, but I think that’s too high for him. In my opinion, Phillips doesn’t fit the profile of players Dan Quinn drafts high.
DEADRIN SENAT, USF
A player that the Falcons could target later in the draft (early Day 3 range) to bolster their DT rotation, Deadrin Senat is another player that reminds me a bit of Grady Jarrett. He’s undersized (6’0, 301) but very strong and uses that leverage to his advantage. Senat is a great hand fighter that is difficult to move off the line, and he’s got a ferocious motor. He’s not likely to ever be a great pass rusher—but as a rotational, high-effort player he has a lot of potential.
TIM SETTLE, Virginia Tech
A player that is likely to have his stock increase after his athletic testing, Tim Settle is one of two high-level NTs in the 2018 draft class. At 6’3, 335, he’s certainly big enough to take on double teams, but his tape shows a very impressive athlete for a player his size. Settle is that rare NT that can actually play multiple positions along the DL and help out as a pass rusher. As an early Day 2 player, Settle could be a priority for Atlanta should they go elsewhere with their first round pick.
NATHAN SHEPHERD, Fort Hays State
Someone who was practically invisible before the Senior Bowl, Shepherd dominated his competition in Mobile and turned a lot of heads in doing so. Coming from Division II means a lengthy developmental process and adjustment period, but Shepherd has the look of a high-level athlete at DT that can win with his hands too. He’s clearly a 1-2 year project, but Shepherd could end up as one of the best DTs in this class over time. I’m intrigued by him and would consider pulling the trigger on Day 2.
TRENTON THOMPSON, Georgia
An early-Day 3 prospect that could help bolster the Falcons’ depth along the interior defensive line, Trenton Thompson is a well-rounded 3T that can help out in both run defense and as a pass rusher. He’s not elite at any one thing, but he’s got solid size at 6’4, 295 and the strength to back it up. Thompson is also a decent athlete, but he dealt with several injuries throughout his career that limited his production. I like Thompson as a high-level rotational player with the potential for more, and his value is good in the late 4th round.
VITA VEA, Washington
Perhaps the most “hyped” defensive tackle in this year’s draft class, Vita Vea is that rare NT that can do it all. I already did a full write-up on Vea, and it’s easy to see why teams are so high on him. He’s a dominant force at the point of attack and can take on double or even triple-teams with relative ease. His athleticism is also very impressive for a player his size—he moves fluidly and can actually run pretty well. Vea is raw as a pass rusher, but his potential is enormous. The only drawback is that he’s unlikely to be available for the Falcons at 26.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons adding a DT or two in the 2018 NFL Draft? Who are your favorite prospects at this point? Do you think the team still takes a DT high even if they bring back Dontari Poe?