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NFL Combine Prospect Preview: Defensive Tackle

The Falcons have a star in Grady Jarrett, but not much else at the defensive tackle position. We take a closer look at some of the most interesting DTs participating in the 2020 NFL Combine.

NFL: MAR 04 Scouting Combine Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Combine officially kicks off on February 24, and all eyes will be on Indianapolis to see which draft prospects are able help or hurt their stock with their performance. We’ve already covered the wide receivers and tight ends. Now we move on to the defensive side of the ball, which starts with the defensive linemen and linebackers. These groups will officially participate in on-field workouts starting on Saturday, February 29.

To prepare everyone for the flurry of activity that is the NFL Combine, I am back to once again provide you with my Combine Prospect Previews—brief summaries of some of my favorite prospects in each position group. These are players who I believe the Falcons will be most interested in come draft day. Hopefully, these names will give you a little bit of guidance about who to watch when the players hit the field.

If you missed any of the other prospect previews, you can find them below:

WR | TE | RB | C/G | EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

For added context, I’ll be incorporating player rankings from The Draft Network. This way you can have a general idea of where a current consensus of scouts ranks a particular player. Today’s report focuses on the defensive tackle group, where the Falcons have a star in Grady Jarrett but could potentially be losing the rest of the starters in free agency.

Ross Blacklock, TCU

6’4, 305 | 40 total tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks

TDN Prospect Rank: 34 (2nd Round)

The Falcons will undoubtedly be addressing the defensive line early in the 2020 NFL Draft, but the current favorite for their first-round pick has to be EDGE. Luckily, there are several quality DT prospects who be available in the second round. One of those is TCU’s Ross Blacklock, who’s flown a little bit under-the-radar but put together a very strong junior season. I had the Falcons selecting Blacklock in the second round of my Senior Bowl mock draft, and this is how I described his game:

At 6’4, 305, Blacklock has bonafide NFL size and surprisingly good athleticism to go along with it. His strength and burst off the line of scrimmage also stand out immediately when popping on his tape. Despite being asked to two-gap and take on double teams at TCU, Blacklock posted some impressive production in 2019: 40 tackles, 9.0 TFL, and 3.5 sacks. His advanced hand usage and flexibility on the interior could make him at fit at both 1T and 3T at the NFL level. Blacklock did miss the entire 2018 season with an Achilles injury, but that clearly didn’t slow him down this season. Blacklock could be a significant upgrade over Tyeler Davison at NT and also offers a lot more as a pass rusher next to Grady Jarrett.

Derrick Brown, Auburn

6’5, 318 | 54 total tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 3 (1st Round)

The consensus top DT prospect in the 2020 class, Auburn’s Derrick Brown is the total package for an interior defender. He’s got great size at 6’5, 318, explosive burst off the line of scrimmage, impressive strength and power at the point of attack, incredible quickness, a non-stop fact, it’s probably easier to list the traits Brown doesn’t have. Athletes like Derrick Brown simply don’t come around very often, which is why he’ll almost certainly find himself picked in the top-10. Physically, there’s very little to knock. He’s got great length and powerful hands to keep himself clean and deconstruct blocks.

Brown’s bull rush is his most potent pass rushing move, and it’s downright dominant. He can be a little too reliant on it at times—which makes sense when it’s simply too much for opponents to handle—but he’ll need to continue to develop counters if he wants to become a truly dominant NFL pass rusher. I’d feel confident slotting Brown in just about anywhere on the defensive line, and he’s got plenty of experience lining up all over the formation. Unfortunately, the Falcons have almost certainly played themselves out of position to draft Brown without some sort of significant trade-up. I’d be truly awesome to see Brown next to Grady Jarrett for the foreseeable future, though.

Marlon Davidson, Auburn

6’3, 297 | 48 total tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 1 PD, 1 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 78 (3rd Round)

Another standout on a dominant Auburn defensive line, Marlon Davidson is a bit of a unique prospect due to his size and usage. At 6’3, 297, Davidson seems tailor-made for a 3T role, but he was actually used almost primarily as a 3-4 OLB throughout his college career. Davidson has rare athletic ability for his size, with explosive burst and enough lateral mobility to actually be productive on the edge. He’s strong and powerful, and uses his hands exceptionally well for a college defensive lineman.

Despite his success on the outside, Davidson lacks the bend to beat NFL OTs consistently. Given his skillset and athletic profile, he projects much more favorably to a role as a penetrating 3T on the inside. His versatility and size mean he could potentially spend some time as a base end in short-yardage scenarios, which could add to his value. As Davidson spent almost his entire college career at EDGE, it’ll take some time to develop him at DT. Long-term, I think he’s got intriguing potential as a disruptor who can also take reps at EDGE in base packages. For the Falcons, he could potentially be available late on Day 2.

Raekwon Davis, Alabama

6’7, 312 | 47 total tackles, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks

TDN Prospect Rank: 58 (2nd Round)

Falcons fans probably remember Raekwon Davis from last year’s draft. He was initially mocked to the team several times early in the offseason, before he announced that he’d be returning to Alabama in 2019. Davis has tremendous size for the position with unbelievable length at 6’7, 312. He burst onto the scene in 2017 with 10 TFL and 8.5 sacks, but since then has been surprisingly unproductive. Davis has been an effective run defender as his 47 tackles can attest, but he hasn’t been able to translate his physical gifts into TFL or sack numbers.

At this point, you’re drafting Davis with the hope that you can further develop his game. The traits are certainly all there. He’s incredibly strong and wins with ease at the point of attack. Despite his height, he doesn’t have the issues with leverage and balance that you’d expect. Davis has some explosiveness and surprisingly strong movement skills, and he’s got some downright dominant reps on tape. But technically, he’s failed to grow over the past two seasons. Davis has very little plan as a pass rusher and he’s slow to diagnose plays. The physical profile is enticing, but I’m not sure I’d take the risk on Davis as early as the second round. In the third round, however, I think the risk is more balanced versus the reward.

Leki Fotu, Utah

6’5, 337 | 25 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks

TDN Prospect Rank: 98 (4th Round)

The latest in the line of athletic, penetrating nose tackles, Utah’s Leki Fotu certainly looks the part at 6’5 337. He’s a massive space-eater in the middle of the defensive line who pairs his size with surprising explosiveness off the snap. Fotu is strong at the point of attack, regularly handling double-teams and defending the run effectively. He’s better at causing disruption as a pass rusher than you’d think due to his burst off the ball, and he’s been productive in the backfield with 6.5 TFL in 2019.

As you might expect for a 6’5 interior defender, Fotu has some issues with leverage and balance. He tends to play far too upright, which limits his upside as both as pass rusher and run defender. Fotu is also very raw as a pass rusher and could use his hands a lot more effectively. I love his attitude and motor—he goes non-stop and finishes strong, even when the play goes away from him. If the Falcons are looking for a bigger body at DT who can also potentially provide some penetration ability and pass rushing with further development, Leki Fotu could be an intriguing addition on Day 3.

Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

6’2, 304 | 29 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 26 (1st Round)

A favorite of Falcons fans in the second round, Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore could be the perfect long-term complementary piece to Grady Jarrett. At 6’2, 304, Gallimore has solid size and pairs it with impressive athletic traits. He played a penetrating 1T role at Oklahoma—similar to what Grady Jarrett did at Clemson and in his early years in Atlanta—and that might be his best fit in the NFL, too. He’s not a true two-gapping NT, but he’s got plenty of strength and savvy to play the role in a scheme like Atlanta’s.

Gallimore’s motor always runs hot and he’s got impressive strength, too. He’s one of the best DTs I’ve watched in recent years in pursuit—he’s totally willing and able to chase down ballcarriers from behind and across the formation. I love his quickness and change-of-direction skills, and Gallimore has demonstrated his effectiveness at executing stunts and twists. His hand usage as both as pass rusher and run defender is very advanced, and Gallimore brings a well-developed arsenal of pass rush moves to the NFL. Unfortunately, Gallimore’s draft stock seems to put him out of reach for the Falcons: he’s too low to be seriously considered at 16, but too high to last until Atlanta’s second round pick. If he falls, however, he’d be a steal on Day 2.

DaVon Hamilton, Ohio State

6’4, 327 | 28 total tackles, 9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks

TDN Prospect Rank: 140 (5th Round)

My favorite Day 3 sleeper at DT, Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton checks all the boxes of a player who could far outperform his draft stock. Hamilton has been a rock on the Buckeyes’ defensive line for two years, but had a breakout season in terms of production in 2019: 9.5 TFL and 6.0 sacks. That’s pretty incredible when you consider his size (6’4, 327) and the fact that Ohio State played him at NT—where he was routinely taking on and beating double teams.

Hamilton isn’t the flashiest athlete—he’s got a solid first step, adequate quickness, and average lateral mobility—but he’s more than good enough. Most of all, though, Hamilton is technically advanced. He’s adept at reading and deconstructing blocks, and knows how to use his hands effectively. There’s enough strength at the point-of-attack to hold up to double teams, and he can be pretty effective with his standard bull rush. I don’t expect Hamilton to develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber NFL player, but I think he can absolutely play his way into a starting role at the 1T. For his current mid-Day 3 price tag, that’s a steal in my opinion.

Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

6’5, 315 | 35 total tackles, 6.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks, 2 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 13 (1st Round)

One of the most electric athletes in the 2020 draft class and the most dominant player at the Senior Bowl, South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw is an extremely intriguing DT prospect. He’s got sky-high potential as an interior pass rusher to go along with excellent size and strength against the run. I had the Falcons selecting Kinlaw in the first round of my most recent mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:

Kinlaw is among the most explosive DTs I’ve scouted in recent years and pairs that with excellent overall strength. He’s more agile than you’d think for a player of his size, too, which makes him capable of playing all three downs in the NFL. Physically, he’s got the traits of an elite, Pro Bowl-caliber starter. Technique-wise, however, Kinlaw still has a lot of room to develop. Leverage is a particularly big issue—which isn’t surprising when you’re 6’6—and his arsenal of pass rush moves is pretty limited at this point. Despite those shortcomings, Kinlaw’s traits and athletic ability give him the opportunity to be an instant impact starter. If he can put in the work and continue to develop his technique and football IQ, he could become truly dominant in the NFL. Pairing that with Grady Jarrett could give the Falcons one of the most terrifying interior DLs in the league for years to come.

Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M

6’3, 304 | 45 total tackles, 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 PD, 1 FF

TDN Prospect Rank: 36 (2nd Round)

Another player who is often mocked to the Falcons in the second round, Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike makes a lot of sense in Atlanta’s defense. He’s got good size at 6’3, 304, and the versatility and experience to line up all across the formation. Most of all, Madubuike is explosive off the line and is adept at creating penetration and disrupting the backfield. In the Falcons 1-gap, penetration-focused scheme, he’d be a logical fit alongside Grady Jarrett as both a pass rusher and run defender.

Madubuike has an exciting athletic profile, and I expect him to be one of the more impressive testers at the Combine. He’s a smooth mover and has an advanced understanding of leverage, which he uses to bolster his skills as a penetrator. Madubuike lacks ideal length, however, and this can get him into trouble against bigger opponents. He’s also not the most consistent player in terms of motor—which could be a red flag for Dan Quinn. If the Falcons are looking to add a high-upside DT in the second round, they’ll have a hard time finding a better one than Madubuike.

Larrell Murchison, NC State

6’2, 294 | 48 total tackles, 12.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 2 PD

TDN Prospect Rank: 93 (3rd Round)

Another example of a player who played an interesting role at the college level and is going to be asked to transition in the NFL, NC State’s Larrell Murchison was undeniably productive. In 2019, he put up all 7.0 sacks in the first half of the year—before the entire team went into the toilet. At 6’2, 294, Murchison is a little on the small side for DT, but was routinely asked to take on double-teams and two-gap while at NC State. At the NFL level, Murchison needs to bulk up a bit and improve his football IQ and mental processing, but he’s very intriguing as a 3T in a penetration-focused scheme like Atlanta.

Murchison has a strong first step and impressive lateral mobility skills for a player of his size. He’s got strong hands and generally uses them well. Overall power and ability to hold up at the point-of-attack, particularly against NFL size, is a concern. However, Murchison’s motor and attitude as a player give me confidence in his ability to add weight and improve his technique. There’s a lot of development that needs to happen before Murchison can carve out a starting role, but he’s also got a fair amount of upside for an early-Day 3 DT candidate.

What are your thoughts on the group of defensive tackles who are participating in the 2020 NFL Combine? Do you view DT as a bigger or smaller need than EDGE for the Falcons this season? Which DT prospect would you like to see the Falcons add in the upcoming draft?