Fran Duffy's Combine Preview: Defensive Tackle

After analyzing the edge rushers and the talent at that position, here's a look at the interior defensive linemen and what makes this such a special group. There are certainly blue-chip talents at the top, but there’s also a ton of depth, with close to double-digit players with real starting potential in the NFL. This position is one of the strengths of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Top Pick

This is the player who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event.

Quinnen Williams, Alabama

Bursting onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore this fall, Williams is just a one-year starter but his best football may be ahead of him. Now, I can already hear some of you ask the question, “Really, another Alabama defensive lineman?” What’s interesting about Williams is that he’s not your typical big ugly from the Tide in that his game is predicated more on flying upfield and wreaking havoc as opposed to taking on blocks and allowing others to get the numbers. Williams was one of the best disruptors in college football this season. He can impact the run and the pass game, and wins with quickness off the snap. I’d like to see him get a bit stronger against the run, but the ceiling with Williams is sky-high.

Workout Warrior

This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.

Ed Oliver, Houston

Billed by many as the potential No. 1 pick in the draft at this time a year ago, Oliver has seen a little bit of shine come off his star. But don’t get it twisted, this kid can play. Like Williams, Oliver is also a phenomenal disruptor on the interior, winning with great technique and snap anticipation to go along with ELITE athleticism for an interior defensive lineman. Last summer, when this video came out, I was amazed by Oliver's sheer movement skills, and that shows up on film as well. Now, everyone wants to know what he will weigh in at next week? And what did he play at with the Cougars? Both are valid questions, but in terms of just raw numbers, Oliver will drop jaws with his test scores in Indianapolis. In fact, this group, in general, should rock the house. Obviously, Oliver and Williams will steal the headlines, but others who I expect to really impress athletically are Christian Wilkins, Dre’Mont Jones, Gerald Willis, John Cominsky, and Renell Wren.

Trust The Tape

This is the player who I don’t expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don’t drop him down the board with a subpar workout!

Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

Lawrence has been billed as a first-round pick since the end of his freshman year with the Tigers. He’s a ridiculously strong and powerful defensive lineman, standing at 6-4 and nearly 350 pounds. Lawrence is a mountain on the inside. However, he’s not going to set the stopwatch on fire with his times. We shouldn’t expect him to because that’s not what his game is about. Lawrence uses his sheer mass and ability to overwhelm blockers at the point of attack to win, and that is what he will hang his hat on in the NFL as well.

Stopwatch Shocker

This is the player who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe they will perform based off of current projections.

Christian Wilkins, Clemson

I haven’t been bashful about my love for Christian Wilkins. He’s been incredibly consistent and productive as a three-year starter for the Tigers, starting 45 games at two different positions. He’s got an awesome motor, is a leader, a model citizen, and does everything he’s been asked to do during his time on campus. But I think people forget something. Christian Wilkins is a great athlete. You don’t make Bruce Feldman’s vaunted Freak List two times in two years if you’re not. Some may expect Wilkins to test like a freak ... but with so much attention being paid toward Williams, Oliver, and others in this class, Wilkins is flying a bit under the radar. We’ll see if that changes in Indianapolis.

As far as a player who I think will test much better than I would say the majority of people believe he will, I’ll throw in Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, a violent run defender with high upside as a pass rusher who began to realize his potential with a seven-sack senior season. Keep an eye out on Penn State’s Kevin Givens as well, as the Nittany Lions have tested better than expected across the board in recent years at this event.

Will Kill The Drills

This is the player who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.

Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State

Jones is another player who I expect to test ridiculously well from this defensive line class. At 6-3, 295 pounds, he reminds me of a former first-round pick in Sheldon Richardson because of his frame and movement skills. I’ve been watching the Cleveland native since his freshman year, and he’s always wowed me with his motor as well, making plays from sideline to sideline both against the run and the pass. He’s going to look great running through these bags on the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium. Jones was also coached hard by Larry Johnson, one of the best defensive line coaches in the country. All of these drills he’ll be asked to do? He’s seen them before, and he’ll be ready for them. I expect people to remember the kind of prospect Jones is next week.

Most To Prove

This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it’s during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.

Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State

Up until a few days ago, Simmons was not scheduled to be at the Combine due to an off-the-field issue he had before his days in college. However, the league reportedly told teams this past weekend that he, and others, would be allowed to go to Indianapolis for medical checks and, as others have reported, interviews with teams. This will be crucial for Simmons, who recently tore his ACL during pre-draft workouts. How does the injury look? Teams will get concrete answers there. What is Simmons like away from the field? If he’s able to talk with some teams during his stay, then he can help to restore his image there as well. Predicted by some as a Top 20 pick before the injury, Simmons’ stock is currently in flux with the unknowns surrounding the injury.

Most Productive College Player

This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or throughout his entire career.

Daniel Wise, Kansas

In this great defensive line class, could you guess which defensive tackle enters the Combine with the most career sacks? It’s not the projected first-rounders Quinnen Williams or Ed Oliver or Christian Wilkins or Dre’Mont Jones. It’s not the dominant four-year small-school stars like John Cominsky or Khalen Saunders. It’s Daniel Wise from Kansas, one of my personal favorite players in this draft. A high-motor defensive tackle who comes from a football family, Wise has lined up at multiple positions along that front over the last couple of years. He is athletic, good with his hands, and has a play personality that is impossible not to love. His production speaks for itself. In 41 starts, Wise racked up 152 tackles, 43 tackles for loss, and 17 sacks. Only 13 defensive tackles drafted in the last decade had more tackles for loss, by my count.

Best Pro Comparison

Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here’s a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.

Renell Wren, Arizona State

Player comparisons can be very challenging, often because it’s not a process where everything matches up equally with two players throughout different years. Sometimes, however, ones just hit you like a bolt of lightning, and after studying Renell Wren early in the fall, his comparison hit me quickly. Wren boasts an outstanding first step, has ideal size and length, and won quickly off the ball, disrupting the action in a hurry. From a negative standpoint, his motor ran a bit hot and cold, his pad level suffered at times, and overall I wanted to see him do a better job in the run game.

When I went back and looked at my report on former Kansas City Chiefs first-round pick Chris Jones, there were some word-for-word similarities. They have very similar size, they both had that first step with really impressive athleticism, but their motors were a bit up and down and production was a big question mark – Wren had just one sack last year while Jones had just two in his final year at Mississippi State. Jones ripped up the Combine and earned his way into the top 32 picks and is now a Pro Bowl talent for the Chiefs. Will Wren do the same?

Best Story

Let’s face it, all of these players have great stories to tell, but which guy has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in their career? Here’s the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.

Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois

Media Day at the Senior Bowl can be a bit crazy, but it’s also pretty fun as well, as the entire roster for both teams spends about a couple of hours with the media in a flurry of interviews. As you’re going through the event, you see friends in the media and ask, quickly, "Who did you talk to? Who has impressed you so far?" This year, to a man, the answer almost always was, "you have to talk to Khalen Saunders." A bright personality with an infectious smile and the loquaciousness of a talk show host, Saunders went to Mobile and missed the birth of his daughter to prove his wares to NFL teams. By all accounts, Saunders had an impressive week in Mobile, and the senior from the small school will look to do the same again in Indianapolis, where he’s sure to be a media darling at the podium once again.

Small-School Standout

This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a very bright future in the NFL.

John Cominsky, Charleston

Saunders certainly fits into this category as well, but it’s not often that Division-II linemen with extremely high upside come into a draft flying under the radar, but Cominsky is doing just that. A former high school quarterback who arrived on campus at small-school Charleston in West Virginia as an option quarterback weighing in below 220 pounds. Now, he’s a 6-5, 286-pound chiseled mountain man with a square jaw who wowed people in attendance at the weigh-ins at the Senior Bowl. Production is a question for Cominsky as he totaled just three sacks a year ago, albeit as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, but the upside is very high for the senior, who I expect to light up test scores.

Philly Connection

This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on in Indianapolis.

Zach Allen, Boston College

There are a handful of players in this defensive line class who have played or will play a majority of their snaps on the edge at defensive end but may see their most impactful snaps in the NFL come inside as a defensive tackle, similar to the role Michael Bennett played for the Eagles this past season. Allen is one of those guys. The Connecticut native is a smart, stout lineman with the versatility to wear many hats up front. I like him a lot against the run and he’s been extremely productive in the ACC. He's right in the Daniel Wise territory of production with 199 tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, and 16.5 sacks for his career. What’s his connection to Philly? Well ... he played for the Eagles at Boston College. I know, this is a reach, but I’m working with what I’ve got here.

Mr. Average

We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks ... but wouldn’t it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" 40-yard dash time for any given position? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here’s what the average player drafted has looked like over the last decade (by my records).

Interior Defensive Linemen
Height 6-3 1/8"
Weight 303 pounds
Hand Size 10 inches
Arm Length 33 1/4 inches
Wingspan 79 3/4 inches
Unofficial 40 Time 5.00 seconds
Official 40 Time 5.06 seconds
10-Yard Split 1.73 seconds
3-Cone Drill 7.57 seconds
Short Shuttle 4.62 seconds
Broad Jump 107 inches
Vertical Jump 30 inches

Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. 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.

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