With the uncertain future of impending free agent Bennie Logan, Eagles fans will be intrigued by a number of defensive tackles in the 2017 NFL Draft. It's not as deep a group as last year, but there is a wide variety of body types that can step in and make an impact. Let's take a look at the top players who could be defensive tackles in a 4-3 scheme or defensive linemen in a 3-4.
For a primer on what each category below means, check out the running back preview which offered a full explanation. The Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.
Top Pick: Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
Jonathan Allen is a very good athlete who can win off the ball with quickness and burst, but he's also a very skilled pass rusher. It's no surprise that he's been considered for a long time a top-five prospect in this class. Allen's favorite pass rush move, much like Fletcher Cox, is the "hand swipe" technique where he wipes the blocker's hands away and blows by him on his way to the quarterback. He can also win with a variety of other techniques and by lining up at multiple positions further raising his value. Allen is a stout run defender who was incredibly productive on the best defense in the country for the past three seasons. Allen is a great story, a good athlete, and is a lock to be one of the first defenders off the board in April.
Workout Warrior: Malik McDowell (Michigan State)
Going into the season, many analysts viewed McDowell in a similar light to Allen, except with perhaps more upside. At 6-6, 275 pounds, McDowell lined up at nose tackle in defensive coordinator Harlon Bennett's 4-3 scheme. This is not likely the role he'll play in the NFL, but he lined up all over the formation in subpackages. I expect McDowell to impress people with his numbers in the athletic portion of the Combine, but he will have to prove to teams that he's trustworthy after reports of waning effort and work ethic in the down year for the Spartans. McDowell is a great athlete with an eye-opening first step, impressive closing speed in pursuit, and all of the quickness, agility, and change of direction a lineman needs to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Keep a close eye on Illinois 3-technique Jarrod "Chunky" Clements as well during athletic testing.
Stopwatch Shocker: Elijah Qualls (Washington)
Qualls has a 6-1, 321-pound frame and a square build that may remind some of former Husky Danny Shelton, but when you watch the tape you see that he is a bit more athletic than the former first-round pick. He is, however, considered a bit of a boom-or-bust-type prospect. Qualls was a running back in high school who ran for over 700 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. At Washington, he lined up as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, but at times rushed out of a two-point stance as a joker or up the middle as an A-gap blitzer.
Qualls shows flashes of athleticism that make you say "wow," like on a play where he tracked Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey down on a screen pass for a modest 6-yard gain. For those expecting a plodding 320-pound nose guard, Qualls will surprise with his athletic scores. I think he projects best to a one-gap scheme as a 1-technique nose tackle or, potentially, as a 3-technique if he can continue to lose weight. I would throw Ole Miss nose tackle D.J. Jones, who transferred from East Mississippi Community College of Last Chance U fame, into this group as well as a stout nose tackle with light feet.
Trust The Tape: Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA)
At 6-3, 320 pounds, Vanderdoes projects very well to a 3-4 scheme much like the one he played in with the Bruins, but I think he has the versatility to play in a scheme like Jim Schwartz's here in Philadelphia as well. He may not be the most explosive athlete in this group, but Vanderdoes is a skilled pass rusher who knows how to use his hands, set up rush moves, and counter once he's initially blocked. He displayed those skills on tape for the last three years as well as in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, where he was one of the few defenders to get the best of talented guard Forrest Lamp. He won't light up the test scores, but Vanderdoes is a player who doesn't rely on his athletic prowess to win his one-on-one battles. Michigan's Ryan Glasgow and Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson, two other prospects who stood out in the Senior Bowl, would fall under this category as well.
Will Kill The Drills: Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
Many people have Thomas listed with the edge rushers in this draft class. I could certainly see him as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but I think he also projects well as a one-gap 3-technique as well because of his burst and hand use. If he were to go to a 4-3 team that projected him to defensive tackle, he'll have to put on some weight to his 275-pound frame. Thomas is technically sound for the position and was incredibly disruptive up front for the Cardinal. The gap between he and Allen is extremely close, and I wouldn't fault anyone for thinking he could be the best interior disruptor of any player in this class five years down the line. I expect the Texas native to look impressive in all of the positional work because of his light feet, heavy hands, and overall attention to detail.
Most To Prove: Davon Godchaux (LSU)
One of the more divisive defenders amongst draft analysts, some see Godchaux as a potential second- or third-round choice while others see more of a late-round prospect due to his up-and-down play in 2016. At 6-4, 299 pounds, he lined up as a defensive end in LSU's 3-4 scheme. What stood out to me was his athleticism, ability to hold up against the run, and high motor. I saw him track down Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts on the perimeter to force fourth down in their game against the Tide.
I think he'll fare well in athletic testing, but Godchaux will have to have answers for an incident this fall that resulted in being temporarily suspended from the team. The charges of domestic battery and child endangerment were dropped a mere 48 hours after the announcement came out, but the junior will have to prove to teams that he can be trustworthy moving forward. Colorado nose tackle Josh Tupou will have to explain to teams why he was removed from the Buffaloes' roster in 2015, while Oklahoma standout Charles Walker will have to prove to teams that he's recovered from a history of concussion issues in college and explain why he left school to prepare for the Combine way back in early October.
Most Productive College Player: Larry Ogunjobi (Charlotte)
It's expected that a player who started 46 games during his college career would post big numbers over such a long period of time, but Ogunjobi was a force for the upstart Charlotte squad from day one with the 49ers. The senior from Greensboro, North Carolina posted 217 tackles and 49 tackles for loss in his career as a nose tackle in their 3-4 scheme. He has enough athleticism that he could absolutely translate as a penetrating 3-technique or nose guard in a 4-3 system like the one here in Philadelphia. Ogunjobi has an extremely high motor, and the self-made player will appeal to line coaches throughout the process.
Best Story: Nazair Jones (UNC)
Jones has a very interesting story to tell. As a highly recruited high school junior, Jones contracted a rare disease that caused him to lose over 50 pounds in a short amount of time. After nearly giving up the game for good, Jones returned to the gridiron as a senior. He earned a spot with North Carolina in its 2013 recruiting class, and arrived in Chapel Hill as a 250-pound defensive end. Jones spent a redshirt season adding 40 pounds of muscle, and after a productive career as a two-year starter he's ready to prove himself in the NFL. Last summer, Jones started his own foundation that focuses on pairing college student athletes in the state of North Carolina with high school kids from underprivileged areas to show them the right way to go about things on their way to college and the rest of their lives. Jones is truly an inspirational story, and one of the players who fans can certainly "root for" throughout the process, wherever he ends up.
Philly Connection: Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova)
One of the darlings from this year's Senior Bowl, Kpassagnon proved to be a true physical marvel at the weigh-ins, and his athleticism is impressive for a 6-7, 280-pound man. While teams try to find out what position he best fits in the NFL, I expect the Ambler, Pennsylvania native to look good in most athletic drills (particularly the 10-yard split and the jumps). After a very productive career with the Wildcats and a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, a solid performance in Indianapolis could vault Kpassagnon into the second day of the draft. His story will be a fun one to watch.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.