Interior pressure is becoming more and more important in today’s NFL, and teams are always in search of their own Aaron Donald. The 2019 Draft presents the deepest defensive tackle class in a very, very long time, and the first round will be filled with big men. Here are the five best in an absolutely loaded class.
5. Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
Tillery is getting far too little hype during this pre-Draft process. Even as the fifth-best DT in the class, he is still a top-15 player. In 392 pass-rushing snaps in 2018, he logged 48 pressures, 33 hurries, and had 32 snaps where he beat his blocker but did not record a pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
At 6’6″ 295lbs, he resembles Kansas City Chiefs star Chris Jones, but is much more athletic. Tillery does need to become a more consistent player, but his flashes are elite, and he has major pass rush potential.
4. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Throughout the process, Lawrence has been in the shadow of his teammate, Christian Wilkins, who is viewed by many as the better NFL Draft prospect. Wilkins is very good, but Lawrence was a much more productive player in college, is much bigger, stronger, and is more athletic. Wilkins finished with more sacks, tackles for loss, pressure, hurries, and QB hits than Lawrence, but he also played nearly twice the amount of pass-rush snaps as Lawrence did.
A more in-depth look at this phenomenon can be found here. Lawrence can play nose tackle in a 3-4 or 1-tech in a 4-3, and he will flourish in either situation. He will likely be picked in the mid-to-late 20’s, and whichever team is fortunate to select him will get a major steal with the potential to be a truly dominant player.
3. Jeffrey Simmons, Mississippi State
An excellent all-around DT, Simmons is seen by many as a top-10 talent on the field, arguably top-five. However, he may not even be drafted in the first round, for two reasons. The first is a video of him repeatedly pummeling a woman on the ground who was apparently involved in a verbal altercation with his family. This incident happened while he was still in high school, and although by all accounts he has been a model citizen since, the mere existence of the tape will remove him from some teams’ draft boards.
Simmons’ incident is more akin to Kareem Hunts’ kick than Tyreek Hill’s domestic violence, and while it is totally unacceptable, teams should not dismiss drafting him because of it. Simmons also tore his ACL while training after the 2018 season ended, so there is a very real possibility that he misses his entire rookie year. Whichever team that drafts him must be comfortable with his past and accepting of the fact that they will probably need to redshirt him, leaving them without the impact of their first-round pick for 2019.
2. Ed Oliver, Houston
A physical freak in every sense of the word, Oliver is undersized at 6’1″ 287lbs (and likely plays at an even lighter weight), but he more than makes up for what he lacks in size with elite athleticism. At the NFL Draft Scouting Combine, he put up 36 reps in the bench press, jumped 120″ in the broad, and 36″ in the vertical. At Houston’s Pro Day, his 40-yard dash was timed in the mid-4.7s, his 20-yard shuttle at 4.13s, and his three-cone at 7.15s.
He managed only 14 sacks during his three years in college, but Houston’s scheme had Oliver playing nose tackle, a role he is not physically built for. In the NFL, he will play 3-tech, and should immediately make a massive impact rushing the passer. He is the closest thing the NFL has seen to Donald since 2014, and would likely have been the first defensive player chosen last year.
1. Quinnen Williams, Alabama
If not for Williams, Oliver would be the clear second-best player in the class behind Ohio State DE Nick Bosa. The 6’3″ 303-pounder was nothing short of dominant in 2018, finishing with 10 sacks, 16 QB hits, and 33 hurries in just 330 pass-rush snaps. PFF Ranked him first in both pass-rush productivity and run stop percentage.
Williams is an absolute force against both the run and the pass, and it really isn’t possible to argue he isn’t at worst the second-best player this year. If the Arizona Cardinals take Bosa first overall, the San Francisco 49ers would be hard-pressed to pass on Williams, even though they already have a terrible logjam at DT. He is just that good.