1) Jonathan Allen – Alabama – (6’3” / 294)
A first-team Parade All-American and five-star recruit out of Stone Bridge High School (VA), Allen turned down offers from multiple top college football programs to play for Alabama. He quickly became part of the defensive line rotation as a freshman, collecting 15 tackles (3.0 for loss) and forcing one fumble in 12 games, before landing a starting role on the Crimson Tide defense in his second season. His 32 total stops (11.0 for loss), 5.0 sacks, one pass breakup, and one blocked kick in 2014 were enough to earn him first-team AP All-SEC honors as a sophomore. Allen was even more dominant in 2015, finishing with 36 total tackles, leading the team with 14.5 stops for lost yardage and 12.0 sacks, adding four pass breakups, and forcing two fumbles. He was named first-team All-SEC for the second straight season, but a second-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee and a chance at another national title led him to come back to Tuscaloosa for his senior year.
Allen’s ability to win with his hands has helped him excel against both the run and the pass as a college defensive linemen. He consistently makes first contact as a run defender, establishing leverage at the point of attack, holding his ground while he locates the football, and using violent hands to disengage and wrestle down the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, he compensates for marginal lower body explosiveness with a variety of pass rush moves, designed to either knock his blocker backward or laterally to where he has just half a man to beat. He closes quickly on ball carriers and quarterbacks alike once he defeats his blocker at the point of attack, and is a sound wrap-up tackler. Allen may not test particularly well, and his athletic limitations will likely limit him to playing on the interior defensive line at the next level, but his well developed technique and violent play style should make him both an early pick and a productive NFL player.
2) Carlos Watkins – Clemson – (6’3” / 300)
A four-star recruit from Chase High School in Forest City, North Carolina, Watkins came to Clemson as one of the top-rated defensive line prospects in the country. He appeared in nine games as a freshman, making 13 total stops (1.0 for loss) in just 113 snaps. He played in three games (five tackles, 1.5 TFL) in 2013 before he was forced to take a medical redshirt to recover from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. He played in eleven games as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, finishing the season with eight tackles (2.0 for loss). Watkins was a key part of a dominant Tigers defensive front in 2015, helping lead the Tigers all the way to the National Championship Game against Alabama. He had a breakout year, posting career highs with 34 total tackles (7.5 for loss), 3.5 sacks, and three pass breakups. He also intercepted a pass, which he returned 15 yards for a touchdown against Appalachian State.
Watkins is a disruptive force who carries his 300-pound frame very well, displaying solid athleticism for a defensive tackle. When he keeps his pad level down and extends his long arms into contact, he has the power in his lower half to push the pocket or drive blockers backward to disrupt running plays. He also does a solid job of holding his ground while following the run down the line of scrimmage. He needs to do a better job anticipating the snap, maintaining good pad level, and initiating contact, as he currently gets his best penetration by crossing the opposing guard’s face from the 3-technique position. Watkins is one of the more physically talented defenders in this class, but NFL teams will want to see more production from him in his final season, something that may prove difficult as the only returning starter on the Clemson defensive line. Improving his overall technique will go a long way toward helping Watkins get the most out of his size, power, and athletic talent.
3) Chris Wormley – Michigan – (6’5” / 303)
A four-star defensive line prospect from Whitmer High School in Toledo, Ohio, Wormley redshirted his first season with the Wolverines. He appeared in 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, totaling 19 stops (4.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, and one pass breakup in a reserve role. He started six of the 12 games in which he played in 2014, ending the year with 21 tackles (5.0 for loss) and 3.0 sacks. A full-time starter as a redshirt junior, Wormley posted career highs with 43 tackles, 14.5 stops for lost yardage, and 6.5 sacks, adding a pass breakup and a forced fumble. He finished the 2015 season strong with 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in his final five contests. In addition to his on-field accomplishments, Wormley’s effort in the classroom earned him Academic All-Big Ten honors for each of the last two years.
Wormley lined up all over the defensive line for the Wolverines in 2015, and has the type of versatility that teams who employ multi-front schemes value in the NFL. He uses his length well, leaning in with his long arms extended to prevent blockers from latching on, while anchoring with his thick, powerful lower half. He flashes the ability to disengage with heavy hands, and has the speed to close on the ball carrier in a hurry. Primarily a power rusher at this point, Wormley is still raw in terms of his overall pass rush technique, and lacks the ideal off-the-ball explosiveness to capitalize on his speed and athleticism on the edge. He is definitely best suited to play on the interior, either as a defensive end in an odd front or as a defensive tackle in an even front. Wormley is an intriguing athlete with great size, but he will need to smooth out some of the rough edges in his game if he is to see his dynamic qualities translate to the next level.
4) Montravius Adams – Auburn – (6’4” / 309)
A five-star defensive tackle from Dooly County High School in Vienna, Georgia, Adams waited until National Signing Day to announce his decision to play at Auburn. While his stat line (20 tackles and 1.0 sack) did not stand out, Adams was a disruptive force on the interior defensive line, consistently providing pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He followed with a strong sophomore season, finishing with 43 total stops (8.0 for loss) and 3.0 sacks, and intercepting a pass. With Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright off to the NFL, Adams entered his junior season as the Tigers’ most experienced interior defender. Opposing offenses focused more attention on him, particularly while Carl Lawson was out with a hip injury, and Adams struggled to build upon his success from the previous year. He still made 44 total tackles (3.0 for loss), including 2.5 sacks, and forced two fumbles.
Adams has an NFL body at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds, and possesses excellent athleticism for a player his size. He is truly special in terms of his ability to time the snap and penetrate gaps in the line with elite lower body explosiveness, qualities that are largely responsible for the frequency with which he pressures opposing quarterbacks. Despite numerous flashes, Adams has been very inconsistent throughout his college career, and has yet to realize his full potential as an interior menace. He relies almost exclusively upon his quickness off the ball, with his technical accompaniment leaving much to be desired. While his sheer explosiveness enables him to significantly impact the passing game, Adams’ poor technique and inability to stay on his feet make him a liability against the run. He is regularly out-leveraged and overpowered at the point of attack. Even so, if he can get back to the form he showed his sophomore year, a season in which he had 35 total quarterback pressures, Adams will have teams drooling over his natural talent once more.
5) Tanzel Smart – Tulane – (6’1” / 305)
An unheralded local recruit from Scotlandville High School in Baton Rouge, Smart found his way onto the field early on for the Green Wave, joining the defensive line rotation for one of college football’s top defenses (ranked 17th against the run, 18th in points allowed, and 22nd overall defensively). He recorded 14 tackles (0.5 for loss) and broke up a pass, appearing in 12 of the team’s 13 games. He started every game as a sophomore in 2014, tallying 47 total tackles (6.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks, breaking up a pass, and forcing a fumble. Smart was named first-team All-AAC following a monster junior year in 2015. He wreaked havoc on opposing backfields all season, collecting 62 tackles, finishing tops among AAC defensive linemen with 15.0 tackles for loss, notching 2.0 sacks, and forcing a fumble.
Smart exhibits the kind of lateral quickness and get-off to put blockers at an immediate disadvantage. He follows his explosive first step with a variety of (rip, swim, counter club, and spin) moves, each designed to create space laterally to where he only has half a man to beat in order to gain penetration. His ability to beat blockers off the snap has made Smart one of the more consistently disruptive interior defenders in the country. His game is largely dependent upon his ability to beat blockers off the snap, however, as he lacks the power in his lower half to drive blockers backward, and struggles to disengage with his hands. His lack of length at 6-foot-1 limits his tackle radius, and is partly to blame for his limitations rushing the passer. Developing his ability to transfer speed to power will be crucial for him to make an every-down impact at the next level, but Smart has the type of non-stop motor and disruptive capability to warrant consideration in the middle rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft.
6) Jarron Jones – Notre Dame – (6’6” / 315)
Jones came to Notre Dame, a four-star defensive tackle prospect from Aquinas Institute in Rochester, New York. He did not see the field at all during his first year in South Bend. He appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013, recording 20 total stops (1.0 for loss), 1.0 sack, a forced fumble, and two blocked kicks. He had his 2014 season cut short by a Lisfranc injury, which forced him to miss the regular season finale against rival Southern Cal, as well as the team’s bowl game matchup against LSU. Jones finished his sophomore season with 40 tackles (7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup, a forced fumble, and two blocked kicks. He tore his MCL in August of 2015 and had to sit out the entire regular season his junior year. He did get on the field for 13 snaps in the Fiesta Bowl, but wound up suffering a stress fracture in his foot in Notre Dame’s loss to Ohio State, his third significant injury in less than two years.
Jones plays with exceptional power at 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds. He uses his length to keep blockers out of his frame, enabling him to control the line of scrimmage while he locates the football. He is adept at manipulating blockers to close off running lanes, and demonstrates the ability to disengage and make tackles well outside his massive frame. While he lacks the quickness to beat his man off the ball, he makes an impact on passing downs by pushing the pocket, overwhelming blockers with his combination of length and power. At his best, Jones is a game changer on the defensive line. His inability to stay healthy and questions surrounding his motivation, however, are important factors teams will have to weigh heavily against his undeniable physical talent. A healthy, productive senior season would go a long way toward boosting his stock, but teams will need to see a hungrier, more motivated Jones as well before they consider investing a high pick on the talented underachiever.
Other Senior Interior D-Linemen To Watch:
Harold Brantley – Missouri – (6’3” / 280)
Jarrod “Chunky” Clements – Illinois – (6’3” / 290)
Ryan Glasgow – Michigan – (6’4” / 300)
Maurice Hurst – Michigan – (6’2” / 282)
Jaleel Johnson – Iowa – (6’4” / 310)
D.J. Jones – Ole Miss – (6’0” / 321)
Christian LaCouture – LSU – (6’5” / 307)
Jake Replogle – Purdue – (6’5” / 289)
Isaac Rochell – Notre Dame – (6’4” / 290)
Dalvin Tomlinson – Alabama – (6’3” / 307)