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2016 NFL Draft: Complete Defensive Line Rankings

There’s little argument against the D-line being the strongest and deepest group of this 2016 draft class that will inevitably see some bi

There’s little argument against the D-line being the strongest and deepest group of this 2016 draft class that will inevitably see some big bargains being had as talented players are pushed down a bit as a result.  Here we have 42 players with a draftable grade and a further 11 designated as priority free agents, out of 125 defensive line prospects scouted, graded and ranked. Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore.  An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college). 1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon, Sr – 1st Round. It was a slight surprise that Buckner returned for his senior season, as he both far outplayed his teammate Arik Armstead (who went 15th overall last time to the 49ers) and is the far superior prospect. It was clear when watching Oregon in 2015 with both of the big lineman in the same team that Buckner offered more.  It proved worthwhile in the end to wait though.  After a slow start to his final year, including a poor showing in week 2 versus Michigan State in a pivotal game, his play by the end of the season was frighteningly good, especially against California and Oregon State.  Buckner is only scratching the surface of what he can eventually be.  His role within the Oregon defensive scheme doesn’t put him in a position to make the flashy plays on film often, but he fully embraces the task given to him by his coaches to eat up blocks, close the pocket, limit the run game and open lanes and opportunities for his teammates to make plays. When he is let loose to rush the passer, his combination of length and power is tough to stop.  He’s more than a big body, with under-rated explosion off the snap.  He’s arguably put to best use continuing as a 3-4 DE, but could play the edge in a 4-3 scheme too, or even shift primarily inside in 4-3’s.  There’s plenty of fine-tuning required to his technique and his balance that can occasionally negate his other strengths, but Buckner flashes some excellent use of his hands and adds a nice swim move to his standard bull rush.  He will unquestionably enter the NFL as a much more effective pass rusher than he would have a year ago.  As well as continuing his outstanding tackling ability with 83 stops, his backfield stats greatly improved with 17 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 10.5 sacks, from his 13 TFLs and 4 sacks the previous season.  The potential upside with Buckner is huge, and brings the right character and work ethic to encourage that he’ll be able to reach his ceiling. 2. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville, Sr – 1st Round. Rankins has enjoyed quite a rise up draft boards already at this relatively early stage in the process, most significantly due to a dominating performance during Senior Bowl practices. There was nothing out of character there however, as he has been a real stand out for the past two years for the Cardinals as a force on the defensive line.  The Senior Bowl week was confirmation of the skill set that Rankins has displayed, with his exceptional reactions, speed off the snap and driving power proving impossible to stop during one on one drills against top O-linemen.  That translated to game situations as an effective interior rusher with 26.5 TFLs and 14 sacks over the past two seasons as both a tackle and 3-4 end.  Rankins isn’t the tallest at a shade under 6ft 2, and lacks ideal length, but the way he moves at his size is rare.  His speed isn’t limited to his reactions and feet; Rankins has fast hands that are also heavy and violent.  If his initial get-off doesn’t win, he follows up with his upper body technique to disengage and make the play.  He backs all this up with a high motor and boundless energy to his overall very physical style of play.  That effort shows up in his play versus the run as well, showing good awareness and timing to make plays on the ball carrier, as well as being effective in pursuit too.  There’s some games in which Rankins was kept troublingly quiet (such as the bowl game versus Texas A&M), but when he’s on form he is incredibly destructive.  His 2015 performance against Florida State was excellent.  He opened up eyes at the Senior Bowl but has backed that up over his Louisville career.  It would be a surprise now if he didn’t go in the top half of the first round. 3. Andrew Billings, Baylor, Jr – 1st Round. It was a little unexpected that Billings added his name into the 2016 draft class.  On top of the strength at his position this year, the Bears defensive star was keen to finish off his degree as a Senior.  Eventually, most likely due to a realisation of how high he could get selected, he made the tough choice to head to the pros now.  This is not hyperbole to declare Billings as possibly one of the strongest athletes to enter the NFL in some time.  On the field, Billings is near impossible to ignore being drawn to with his all-action, all-go play.  Rarely coming off the field, he must be a nightmare to have to deal with all game long without any let-up.  Requiring to be double-teamed constantly, Billings is still able to regularly beat that attention and cause disruption in the backfield.  There’s some real depth at defensive tackle in this 2016 class but in terms of playing as a true 3-4 nose tackle, Billings is the best and ideal fit in that particular role from this group.  Despite all the attention he draws, despite doing the dirty work and opening up opportunities for teammates rather than himself, he still piled up 14 TFLs this season.  That included being limited for part of the year by an ankle issue during a stretch in the middle of the season.  Despite how disruptive he can be, Billings can be fairly blinkered when charging, not always seeming to have the best awareness of what is happening around him as the play is developing.  There are a few too many missed opportunities where the play goes right by him with a chance to position himself to make the stop lost.  He really ought to finish more plays as well, often failing to do so when in position.  He is known mostly as a future run-stuffing nose tackle prospect, but his ability and potential to be an interior pass rusher is a little underestimated arguably.  Billings is very close to developing a truly dominant all-round game. 4. Jarran Reed, Alabama, Sr – 1st Round. Reed joined the Tide as a junior college transfer in 2014.  It was a rough start, as before even taking the field for his new school, he had a DUI that summer that could have put his future with the team in doubt.  In fairness he has not had any reported off field issues since then.  After a solid if unspectacular first season, Reed really steps up with a big senior season where he was the model of consistency, discipline and reliability for the eventual National Champions in 2015.  Reed’s game is pretty simple and transparent but oh so effective.  His stout presence at the point of attack sets the tone for the rest of the line to attack, as he eats up space and occupies double teams.  He might not be one to threaten in the backfield much; that isn’t his function, instead making himself an immovable force in the interior and versus the run.  What really stands out is his powerful hands which really pack a punch, followed by a strong anchor to deter any push from opposing linemen.  His technique and strength make him built for the pros, and the team that drafts him firstly knows exactly what they are going to get from him, and also know that he can step into a starting line-up immediately as a plug and play lineman from day one. 5. Austin Johnson, Penn State, rJr – 1st Round. I kept going back to the film over and over with Johnson, questioning whether it was the right call to place him above many names in this strong DL class.  Every time coming away with the same affirmative conclusion.  He really could be one of the most under-rated players and an absolute steal a little bit down the road.  The strength in depth not just in this group but in the 2016 draft as a whole means there’s a good chance Johnson is pushed down to a second round pick.  Outside of a bit of polish to some rough edges in his game, there’s almost nothing lacking about him either physically or in his skill set.  Johnson moves quickly for his big size to go with his length.  His wide frame combined with that quickness is exactly what NFL teams look for at the position.  Johnson excels in playing the run, totalling an exceptional 78 tackles on the year from his interior spot.  Yet despite that being his strength, he really stepped up as a rusher as well.  In 2014, you could see the flashes of potential in that role with his speed, powerful hands and relentless effort, but it only resulted in 6 TFLs and 1 sack as he struggled to finish.  It clicked this year though as his backfield production shot up to 15 TFLs and 6 sacks.  He still can look a little wild and uncoordinated that leads to some inconsistency and balance issues, but with a little refinement and developing more of a plan when rushing, and the results could be devastating. 6. Chris Jones, Mississippi State, Jr – 1st Round. While from a football perspective it would have been preferable to see Jones stay for his senior season in college and improve his overall game and consistency, he’s none-the-less a talented addition to the 2016 pool.  There’s no question that Jones comes with first round measurables in terms of size, length and power, and that he flashes first round ability as a disruptor with an explosive pass rush.  Right now though, the consistency isn’t quite there.  The motor can run a little hot and cold.  The great plays he makes get you excited but then leave you asking where is that powerful rush more often?  Jones saw plenty playing time in his freshman season but was part of a strong rotation of defensive tackles that the Bulldogs had at their disposal.  As a result, his snaps and number of starts were limited in his first two years before finally becoming a full time starter in 2015, and will enter the pros as still fairly inexperienced having started just 16 of his 39 games played.  His game is quite raw, and the fact that teams can’t be certain what they will be getting with him adds an element of risk to selecting him.  In terms of upside and potential, Jones has as much as all these top prospects.  His game looked much improved all round as he took on a more prominent role this past season, helped by the fact that he had cut down some of the weight on his long frame, leading to a step up in production with a still admittedly modest 44 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks.  During his time in college, his athleticism and speed for such a big guy was put to use at times as a 4-3 defensive end as well as playing inside.  It’s unlikely to see him used that way in the NFL but speaks again to his physical abilities (he also used to play some basketball before committing to football).  If he can put it all together, Jones has as much to offer as anyone in this class. 7. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech, Sr – 1st Round. After a couple years in a mostly backup role, Butler has been an impressive starter the past two seasons, albeit from the Conference USA.  He’s shown though in the post-season that he can play with the best however.  Butler is another who, like Rankins, significantly helped himself during senior bowl week, proving impossible to contain during practice drills.  He shares a lot of the traits with Austin Johnson mentioned previously, with the same movement ability at that size.  Butler shows his athleticism with some impressive leaping ability to bat down passes and effectiveness in pursuit to the sidelines to make plays despite his big body.  Butler doesn’t shut down after his initial push on the pocket, always playing to the whistle and hustling to make additional tackles.  His primary job though of stuffing the run and eating up space in the middle leads to his good tackle stats with 50 this season and 10 TFLs (13 in 2014).  Less impressive among his stats however is just 5 career sacks over his four seasons, with three of those coming this year.  He really needs to work on his pad level and leverage, consistently playing far too high out of his stance.  His natural power and size has compensated at the college level, but needs to improve to continue to be effective in the pros.  He has all the foundations and traits desired though, and in addition can fit into any defensive front and scheme. 8. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, Jr – 1st Round. Robinson has spent the past two seasons starting for the Crimson Tide as part of a truly dominant front seven.  That group in 2015 in particularly were arguably as good as any in a while as a sum of all their parts.  Two things stand out primarily that Robinson brings as a prospect – good core strength, and his very appealing versatility that saw him play almost every technique across the defensive line, from the nose out to end.  That NFL-ready strength and diversity should help him develop a role early in his career.  Outside of that though, Robinson hasn’t quite broken out and shown a great deal.  The strength is great, but there’s no real disruptive explosion or speed about his game.  His pass rushing ability is fairly non-existent, with his very basic push getting him in position to make a play in the backfield on the occasions he gets his hand placement correct, which isn’t often as he fails to get good leverage and lacks much punch in his hands.  For too much of his 2015 season Robinson was too passive, quiet and ineffective.  Expectations for Robinson should be kept fairly limited for someone who is unlikely going to be among the top players at his position during his career.  He is very dependable versus the run though and can excel in that area for a long time over the next decade or so.  His performance versus LSU and Leonard Fournette this year is compelling evidence for that.  The Alabama junior had the best game of his career in playing a big part in holding the star running back to just 31 yards that day. 9. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, Jr – 1st-2nd Round. Every year there are polarising prospects; Nkemdiche is 2016’s version.  Let’s tackle the many concerns and negatives first off.  They are legitimate, and I’d be very worried about taking him.  Even before the highest profile incident (the synthetic marijuana and falling out a window situation), there were already major concerns about his character and personality with much reported “baggage”, bad attitude and ego, very poor effort to work at his game, and ambitions away from football.  His media interview at the combine was a car-crash.  His post-pro day interview in which he described himself as a hard working high effort player showed an almost delusional lack of self-awareness or at least denial.  One thing won’t hurt a prospects stock much, but multiple and varied concerns that suggest a pattern absolutely do.  On the field isn’t necessarily a great deal better.  Nkemdiche is about as gifted as anyone in this class.  In terms of natural ability, he’d challenge for the best player in 2016.  The problem is how rare that ability actually showed up on the field.  When he wanted to be, Nkemdiche was unstoppable.  His week 3 dominating performance against Alabama was a huge part in that key win.  Trouble is, that was one of the few occasions he could seemingly be bothered to try that hard throughout an entire game.  The effort on some snaps, and how quickly he’ll give up on a play gets downright infuriating.  Someone will be unable to resist the potential though, and it’s hard to blame them if they think they can motivate him.  The speed with which he can fly at nearly 300 lbs is just ridiculous, so much so that he made some incredible plays on offense this season as a running back and tight end early in the year, out-sprinting players two-thirds his size.  The initial get-off from the snap followed by a powerful punch immediately puts his opposing lineman on the back foot.  Some of the plays he makes against double and even triple teams that he faced are the kind that only a few have the ability to pull off.  Just a shame it’s seen so infrequently.  The 19 TFLs and 7 sacks are his 3-year career total.  Good luck to whoever makes the gamble; it would be great if it does pay off and he fulfills his potential. 10. Jonathan Bullard, Florida, Sr – 1st-2nd Round. When Bullard’s card is turned in to the podium, it’ll certainly be done so with confidence; there won’t be any second guessing putting his name down.  Taking on a very versatile role for the Gators that saw him line up all across the defensive line both inside and out, Bullard’s work ethic, toughness, and NFL body will fit right in on any roster.  He can continue to be a versatile piece in multiple fronts at the next level too, at his best he was devastatingly effective shooting the gap from the 3-technique inside.  Bullard is an absolutely outstanding run defender, who anchors and disengages with technique and timing to go with his physical imposing style.  While their offense sputtered, the Florida defence was one of the most difficult in the country to move the ball against, and that started up front on the D-line led by Bullard.  While extremely physical and a beast versus the run, his rush attempts can be fairly basic, without much in the way of moves outside of his bull rush.  His lack of ideal length will be looked at as a negative as well by some.  He might end up getting his “tweener” size between end and tackle thrown at him in a negative manner by some also, but his versatility and effectiveness at multiple positions should be considered a positive that outweighs that instead.  Bullard considered entering the 2015 draft, when he might have been a day two pick, but his decision to stay and to put in his best season yet as a senior which included 66 tackles and 17.5 TFLs will give him a chance to be a late first round pick. 11. Kenny Clark, UCLA, Jr – 2nd Round. It was a tough year for the Bruins’ defence, losing key stars on every level to injury early on in the season.  That left Clark with a lot on his shoulders to step up, which wasn’t easy with his own partner at DT lost for the year.  Despite that meaning more attention on him, Clark did indeed step up and was effective amidst all the focus on him.  Clark is fairly average in terms of size, athleticism and versatility which keeps him from being given a first round grade.  While very impressive technically against the run, he has some limitations as an inside pass rusher.  That said, he did a better job than some gave him credit for, with a handful of nice multi-TFL performances, including three sacks against Washington State.  That isn’t easy to do with the Cougars being notorious for their ability to get the ball away quickly in their pass heavy scheme.  In addition, he had a couple pass breakups in that game as well, showing his smart play to get his hands up, knowing that his chances of getting to the QB were going to be limited for the most part.  His football IQ extends to his overall field and situation awareness that is the foundation of what makes him such a strong run defender.  He times his disengagements off of blocks to perfection so often in order to make plays on the ball carrier.  His 75 tackles this season speak to that ability.  There may be a fairly limited ceiling with Clark, but he is strong, technically sound, smart and dependable, all of which will make him a solid day two pick, and if someone likes him enough could perhaps even see him sneak in to the bottom of round one. 12. Hassan Ridgeway, Texas, rJr – 2nd Round. It was a relatively unexpected decision for Hassan to declare for the draft, and throw his name into such a strong group at his position.  On top of that, it was a bit of a down year for the Longhorns’ lineman in 2015 compared to his sophomore season.  Back in 2014 he had 46 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and 6 sacks, which dropped to 36 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks this time around.  Despite all that, Ridgeway is a superb talent with NFL size and power, really built for the pros.  The 6ft 3, 303 lb tackle moves well for a big man, but first and foremost knows how to use his size and physicality to his advantage.  He was a bit raw back in 2014, playing a bit high out of his stance and inconsistent at holding his ground, but clearly flashed, often looking the better player than his partner on the interior Malcolm Brown who last year was a first round pick of the Patriots.  Ridgeway has just as much potential as Brown if he can clean up some technique and improve his consistency.  The biggest negative right now is his conditioning.  Ridgeway isn’t going to flourish if kept in a game every series and can tire towards the end of games.  He needs to work on his stamina in order to have a bigger impact on games for more snaps. 13. Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State, Sr – 2nd Round. Hargrave first caught my eye in his junior season in 2014 playing against Clemson early in the year.  His initial burst off the snap instantly stood out and caused a lot of trouble for the Tigers’ offensive line early on in that contest.  His impact quickly deteriorated though, as he both tired and lost some of the desire to hustle, especially once the first rush attempt didn’t find early success, shutting down a bit.  His game really looked better this year though, and now looks like an outstanding NFL prospect.  Some of Hargrave’s game film this senior season against outmatched competition is ridiculously devastating.  The opposition are no match for him and during some games Hargraves appeared to be in the backfield more plays than not.  His violent rush style, released from a compact build with a powerful lower body to drive with is so effective.  Unsurprisingly he put up big numbers as a result with 59 tackles, 22 TFLs and 13.5 sacks, along with a further 11 quarterback hurries and a pair of forced fumbles.  He now has 46 TFLs and 29.5 sacks over the past two seasons.  Though playing at a lower level, Hargrave stood out at the East-West Shrine event as a class above the majority of the FBS talent in attendance, so much so that he received a late call up to the Senior Bowl, where he again looked the part among the strong group taking part there in Mobile.  His numbers at the combine continued to prove he belonged.  There’s unquestionably an early pick in Hargrave’s future; players with his ability to collapse the pocket and get after the QB from the interior do not last long on draft day. 14. Willie Henry, Michigan, rJr – 3rd Round. If you watch Michigan’s game against Northwestern mid-season, you’d declare Henry a potential first round pick on that performance.  That game showcased everything that is great about his skill set and potential.  He was constantly in the backfield, walking back offensive lineman with ease, showing excellent awareness, intelligence and timing to disengage and take down the ball carrier and QB.  The big issue is that those performances are just too rare.  Henry is significantly let down by his inconsistency, and didn’t play that way week-to-week.  It was therefore disappointing to see Henry declare for the draft.  The potential to play better more regularly, and grow in his second season under the revamped Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh was exciting and could have seen him earn a higher grade as a senior.  Given his under-achiever stamp that he’s earned with his play on the field, his decision to leave early rather than work to improve first will surely be met with questions as to the reasons why.  There’s no doubt he should do more.  Henry legitimately has an elite level combination of size, power, strength and athleticism.  He is known for his freakish performances in the weight room.  He doesn’t make the most of it though, with a lot of slow reactions off the snap, some poor leverage, and generally just a lot of wasted energy in his movements that negates some of his best traits frustratingly.  There’s a lot of upside, but there’s questions too, some of which might come down to effort and work ethic.  Still, despite being part of a strong rotation, Henry finished with a sold 34 tackles, 10 TFLs and 6 sacks in his final season in Ann Arbor. 15. Maliek Collins, Nebraska, Jr – 3rd Round. Yet another junior to declare early for the draft despite a down year, Collins none-the-less has a lot to offer.  It’s important to re-watch some of the fantastic 2014 film before finalising a grade on the talented interior pass rusher, as that is where he truly excelled and demonstrated his pro game qualities.  Collins is fairly small and compact for the middle of the D-line but at 6ft 2, 311 lbs is by no means someone to label as undersized, despite not ideal length.  He wins with his explosion off the snap and his ability to very quickly find his way into the backfield and right on top of the quarterback.  He’s proven he can do just that from both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts deployed by the Cornhuskers, showing a little scheme versatility.  His style usually involves a high motor, with a good array of pass rush moves and use of his hands.  His stamina is superb, rarely coming off the field and yet not slowing down in the 4th quarter.  He does have to do a better job in continuing to be effective when faced with double teams, something that has often nullified him.  His play against the run is also a bit of a question, often allowing ball carriers to coast by him without much of a challenge.  The Nebraska defense as a whole has had its struggles stopping the run over the past couple years.  His regression on the stat sheet as opposed to showing progress is a little disappointing too, finishing 2015 with 29 tackles, 6 TFLs and 2.5 sacks. 16. Adolphus Washington, Ohio State, Sr – 3rd Round. Washington was a former 5-star recruit, and his reputation is further helped by being a regular part of a fantastic Ohio State defense over the past couple years.  Those facts seem to have given a boost to his draft stock more so than it perhaps deserves.  His play his actually a little underwhelming and his traits project pretty averagely to the next level where it’s difficult to be convinced that he will be a stand out at the next level to justify some of the very early grades some have given him.  Washington has good length, and initially played on the edge of the line prior to his junior season, before converting to the inside for the past couple years.  His bulk on his frame still leaves him a little slighter-looking than preferred for the middle, and he is often comfortably controlled.  The motor can run a little hot and cold too, some plays looking explosive, other times looking tame in his effort and disinterested.  He does flash at times though, enough to warrant a late day two selection, though there’s a chance some teams consider him earlier than that.  He wasn’t helped by his citation for solicitation that led to his suspension for the season-ending bowl game, that will have led to questions on his character and decision-making during interviews with teams. 17. Sheldon Day, Notre Dame, Sr – 4th Round. He may not fit the prototype look for a defensive lineman at 6ft 1 & 293 lbs, neither quite looking like a tackle, end or linebacker, but there’s no denying the level of disruption that Day can bring with his excellent athletic abilities and non-stop motor that revs full speed every snap.  He shown that regularly over the last few seasons for the Irish, not just going forward and into the backfield, but also even when dropping back and pursuing to the sidelines that has had some speculate that he could take on a very versatile role within the defense he joins.  However, to go with the tricky position fit, and despite how energetic and disruptive he can look, his numbers haven’t always reflected that, indeed having just 1.5 sacks combined over his 2013 and 2014 seasons.  He upped the stats this time around though.  The 4 sacks still aren’t eye-popping, but the 15.5 TFLs looks much better, coming close to matching his combined career total from the three previous years in that category.  Injuries and durability are a little bit of a concern as well with ankle and knee issues over the years.  That history, along with his size, fit and production could limit his stock to some degree, but could be a superb mid-round addition to any roster. 18. Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech, Sr – 4th Round. Medical checks will be critical in determining where and when the Australian ends up going in the draft, after unfortunately suffering an ACL knee injury late in the season after nine games that could cost him much of his rookie season in the NFL, if not all of it.  That doesn’t help his stock given that he’s already a little older than most prospects, as he’ll be 24 years old during his first pro season.  There’s no doubting the talent on the field though, so if all checks out he’ll still be worth taking in the middle rounds.  Gotsis is long, athletic, strong and effective, with an excellent all-round game versus both the run and pass.  He’s got a knack of blocking kicks on special teams as well, doing so 3 times. 19. Jihad Ward, Illinois, Sr – 4th Round. The former junior college transfer flashed a lot of potential during his first season at the top level of college football in 2014, but didn’t really build on that as a senior which included just 3.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks.  He’s not a perfect fit at either defensive tackle, or on the edge where he lacks speed and explosion.  Despite a down year playing for the Illini, he was one of the real stand outs during the Senior Bowl, looking much more dynamic and effective during practice drills that saw him impress over some bigger names in what was the strongest position groups in attendance.   It’s just not reflected in his film, so how soon he is picked will be as much based on upside than anything else.  He certainly has next-level size and length, and having played inside and outside, from both the left and right sides, there’s versatility across the line on offer as well. 20. Aziz Shittu, Stanford, rSr – 4th Round. The Stanford stand out tried to get another year of eligibility to play again for the Cardinal in 2016, but after confirmation was received late on that that wouldn’t happen, his name was quickly added to the draft pool for this year’s edition.  He shouldn’t be over-looked by any means either.  Despite a relatively smaller frame at 6ft 2, 288 lbs, Shittu is fantastically powerful and disruptive, as well as bringing all the effort, work ethic, and smart play that has become standard in recent defensive front seven prospects from the school during the David Shaw era, with the Colts’ Henry Anderson the latest example and Shittu the next in line.  He immediately stands out on film in practically every Stanford game this year that saw him named as all-PAC-12 this year.  Lining up at nose tackle, DT and DE, his technique is excellent to go with the natural quickness and strength.  His skills are best applied to run defence more so than as a pass rusher, but has his moments in the backfield too.  Shittu is the type who may not quite look the part, but you can feel confident that he’ll be an over-achiever in the NFL. 21. Ronald Blair, Appalachian State, rSr – 4th Round. Blair also is a difficult fit at the next level, lacking length and athleticism, including really disappointing at the combine that might have hurt his stock a bit.  He’s played very well over the past couple years though, with his calling card being his highly aggressive, almost angry style of play and very high motor.  Helping his case was a very impressive performance against Clemson early on in the 2015 season, where he was a constant nuisance.  His lack of measurables both in size and athleticism are limiting, but there’s no arguing with 71 tackles, 19 TFLs and 7.5 sacks this year, that have earned him a fairly high pick. 22. David Onyemata, Manitoba (CAN), rSr – 4th Round. Love this kid’s film!  It’s tough to know how it will translate to a much higher level from where he played in Canada, along with his inexperience as he is still learning, but gotta love the upside.  The 23-year-old had never played football prior to moving from Nigeria to Canada four years ago, but has grown into the sport very well to this point, and this year was named first team all-Canadian and awarded as the best down lineman in the country.  His performances saw him earn an invite to the East-West Shrine event where he looked the part.  There’s no questioning the physical traits, with outstanding movement and quickness within his 6ft 3, 300 lb frame.  He continued to stand out with the measurables at his pro day, with numbers that included a 5.06 dash time, 33” vertical and churning out 33 reps on the bench.  His play on the field looks much less raw than his experience should suggest and he could be a bargain in a couple years. 23. Joel Heath, Michigan State, rSr – 4th-5th Round. The Spartans’ defense has been outstanding under Mark Dantonio that has seen a bunch of talented players head to the NFL over the years.  For some reason this year some of the latest crop haven’t received a great deal of attention (see corner Arjen Colquhoun as a clear example).  Heath is another who offers a lot, starting with his excellent length and movement combination.  The 6ft 5, 293 lb lineman previously looked a little unsure on how best to play in 2014, without much of a plan when rushing, but looked a bit more polished this year.  There’s a way to go yet, and he needs to add an additional level of aggression to his play to make the most out of his size, but there’s plenty potential to untap as he develops. 24. Destiny Vaeao, Washington State, Sr – 5th Round. The former defensive end has added weight and seen more time inside, offering good length at 6ft 4 and now close to 300 lbs.  Part of his threat is his versatility to line up both inside and out, to eat up double teams inside, but then burst in the backfield from outside at end.  He has added strength to his game at his increased bulk, but maintained the quickness and disruptive capabilities from his days on the edge.  Vaeao doesn’t put up big stats, but his presence is felt more than what shows up on the stat sheet, as a high motor disruptor who causes hassle on practically every snap for opposing linemen.  He was recruited late out of high school by Alabama, but chose to stick with his commitment to Washington State.  It’s easy to see why Saban wanted to bring him to Tuscaloosa though, as he fits that tough, physical style that is the staple of the Tide’s front seven players. 25. Matt Ioannidis, Temple, Sr – 5th Round. He’s not the most powerful, but the technique combined with effort make up for it.  Though he doesn’t truly stand out as either a run defender or interior pass rusher, he does both very solidly and reliably that has seen him play a very big role in one of the more under-rated defenses nationally over the past two years that finally got the attention they deserved this year. 26. Quinton Jefferson, Maryland, rJr – 5th Round. After suffering a season ending knee injury just three games into the 2014 season, Jefferson has returned to form superbly this year, contributing 12.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble along with 39 tackles to finish his college career.  His game is more about power, but his athleticism at 290 lbs should not be under-estimated by any means.  Jefferson has played all across the defensive line to great effect, including lining up over the nose on obvious passing downs, and should continue to offer that versatility at the next level too. 27. Anthony Zettel, Penn State, rSr – 5th Round. The best part of Zettel’s game is that initial burst off the snap that regularly sees him as the first to react off the snap and can result in gaining an early advantage to make his way into the backfield.  Conversely, his balance is just awful, constantly tumbling to the ground, losing momentum and careering off balance that frustrates so much.  His effectiveness went down this year too.  After 17 TFLs and 8 sacks in 2014, those numbers dropped to 11 and 4 this time around.  His tweener size at 6ft 4, 277 lbs might not fit every scheme, but he has potential to make an impact at multiple spots but should be at his best inside in a 4-3 or perhaps as a 3-4 end. 28. Darius Latham, Indiana, Jr – 5th-6th Round. There’s lots of upside for Latham with is NFL level size, but his game is a bit raw and inconsistent currently that has seen him kept quiet a little too often over his two seasons as a starter before he declared early for the draft.  He plays a bit too high, and allows offensive lineman to control him by letting them get their hands into his body and move him around as they wish.  There’s a lack of situational awareness and vision.  His character comes into question too, having been hit with multiple suspensions during his time with the Hoosiers.   Late grades:

  1. Vincent Valentine, Nebraska, rJr – 6th Round.
  2. D.J. Reader, Clemson, Sr – 6th Round.
  3. Trevon Coley, Florida Atlantic, Sr – 6th Round.
  4. Orion Jones, Toledo, Sr – 7th Round.
  5. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Florida State, rSr – 7th Round.
  6. Antwaun Woods, Southern California, rSr – 7th Round.
  7. Justin Zimmer, Ferris State, Sr – 7th Round.
  8. Delvon Simmons, Southern California, rSr – 7th Round.
  9. Connor Wujciak, Boston College, rSr – 7th-PFA.
  10. Michael Pierce, Samford, Sr – 7th-PFA.
  11. Alex Balducci, Oregon, Sr – 7th-PFA.
  12. Sterling Bailey, Georgia, rSr – 7th-PFA.
  13. David Dean, Virginia, rSr – 7th-PFA.
  14. Dean Lowry, Northwestern, Sr – 7th-PFA.

Priority free agent:

  1. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech, Sr
  2. Kyle Peko, Oregon State, Sr
  3. Chris Mayes, Georgia, rSr
  4. Lawrence Thomas, Michigan State, rSr
  5. A.J. Zuttah, Dartmouth, Sr
  6. DeMarcus Hodge, Arkansas, Sr
  7. Derrick Mitchell Jr., Florida State, rSr
  8. Hershey Walton, Temple, rSr
  9. Justin Thomason, North Carolina, Sr
  10. Taniela Tupou, Washington, Sr
  11. DaVonte Lambert, Auburn, Sr

Potential to make a roster or practice squad:

  1. Ufomba Kamalu, Miami (Fla.), rSr
  2. Mehdi Abdesmad, Boston College, rSr
  3. Claudell Louis, Fresno State, rSr
  4. Melvin Lewis, Kentucky, Sr
  5. Giorgio Newberry, Florida State, Sr
  6. Cory Johnson, Kentucky, rSr
  7. Devaunte Sigler, Jacksonville State, rSr
  8. Rodney Coe, Akron, rSr
  9. Claude Pelon, Southern California, rSr
  10. Davion Pierson, TCU, rSr
  11. Greg Milhouse Jr., Campbell, Sr
  12. Tarow Barney, Penn State, Sr
  13. Gerald Dixon Jr., South Carolina, rSr
  14. Tylor Harris, Wake Forest, Sr
  15. Desmond Jackson, Texas, Sr

Outside shot at making a team:

  1. Phillip Dukes, South Carolina, rSr
  2. Beau Blackshear, Baylor, rSr
  3. Tommy Schutt, Ohio State, Sr
  4. Rykeem Yates, Nevada, rSr
  5. Jake Ceresna, Cortland State, Sr
  6. Dino Fanti, Eastern Illinois, Sr
  7. O.J. Mau, Gardner-Webb, Sr
  8. Iosia Iosia, West Texas A&M, Sr
  9. Mustafa Jalil, California, rSr
  10. Kyle Rose, West Virginia, rSr
  11. Helva Matungulu, Western Carolina, rSr
  12. Demetrius Cherry, Arizona State, rSr
  13. Woodrow Hamilton, Ole Miss, rSr
  14. Joel Hale, Ohio State, Sr

Something to like about their game, but longshot to make a team:

  1. Elijah Daniel, Murray State, Jr
  2. Owen Williams, Tennessee, Sr
  3. Zach Colvin, Bowling Green, Sr
  4. Alonzo Williams, Texas A&M, Sr
  5. Gerrand Johnson, Louisiana-Monroe, rSr
  6. Calvin Heurtelou, Miami (Fla.), Sr
  7. John Raymon, Syracuse, Sr
  8. Justin Solis, Colorado, Sr
  9. Travis Britz, Kansas State, Sr
  10. Ryan Watson, Purdue, Sr
  11. Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech, rSr
  12. Tom Lally, Mount Union, Sr
  13. Martavius Foster, Colorado State, rSr
  14. Quentin Thomas, LSU, rSr
  15. James DeLoach, Georgia, Sr
  16. Julian Campenni, Connecticut, Sr
  17. Michael Rouse III, Purdue, Sr
  18. Darren Lake, Alabama, Sr
  19. Tyler Claytor, William & Mary, Sr
  20. Kwontie Moore, Virginia, Sr
  21. Darryl Render, Pittsburgh, Sr
  22. Tanner Agen, Michigan Tech, Sr
  23. Nate Terhune, Kent State, rSr
  24. Mo Latu, Arizona State, rSr
  25. Tyler Kuder, Idaho State, rSr
  26. Viliseni Fauonuku, Utah, rSr
  27. Kenton Adeyemi, Connecticut, Sr
  28. Mitchell Jeter, Citadel, Sr

The rest:

  1. Jontavious Morris, Western Kentucky, Sr
  2. Bernard Sarra, Navy, rSr
  3. Allan Carson, Jacksonville State, Sr
  4. Derrick Luetjen, Tulsa, rSr
  5. Pio Vatuvei, Louisville, Sr
  6. GeMonee Brown, Western Kentucky, Sr
  7. Justin Taimatuia, Boise State, Sr
  8. Taylor Royster , Bowling Green, rSr
  9. Derrick Alexander, Tulsa, rSr
  10. Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Pittsburgh, Sr
  11. Kevin McReynolds, Nevada, rSr
  12. Tutulupeatau Mataele, Boise State, rSr
  13. Bryan Shorter, Western Kentucky, rSr
  14. Alex Mosley, James Madison, Sr
  15. 125. Jalen Grimble, Oregon State, rSr

Rebecca Rennie

RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  A fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

2016 NFL Draft: Complete Defensive Line Rankings

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