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2021 NFL Draft Rankings – Defensive Tackles

The 2020 Draft saw a sharp decrease in the number of defensive linemen taken in the first and second rounds of the draft. There was 10 defensive lineman taken with the first 64 picks a year ago. 2019 saw 11 in the first round alone. Look for 2021 to be closer to last year's total.

With the challenges that COVID brought to this football season, it hit the defensive line prospects hard. A number of players near the top of the preseason board elected to sit out due to COVID or came back midway through the season after conferences became willing to play full schedules.

There is tremendous talent available but many of the top prospects are young and not as proven as many of the prospects we have seen in years prior. Teams will be hesitant and cautious when looking at this area on the football field. There is no clear-cut top prospect as it looks like a battle between Christian Barmore and Daviyon Nixon.

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2021 NFL Draft Rankings – Defensive Tackles

1. Christian Barmore - Alabama (6-5, 310)
2. Daviyon Nixon - Iowa (6-4, 305)
3. Jay Tufele - USC (6-2, 310)
4. Tyler Shelvin - LSU (6-2, 345)
5. Marvin Wilson - Florida State (6-3, 320)
6. Alim McNeil - NC State (6-2, 320)
7. Levi Onwuzurike - Washington (6-2, 290)
8. Marlon Tuipulotu - USC (6-1, 310)
9. Jaylen Twyman - Pitt (6-2, 290)
10. Xavier Kelly - Arkansas (6-4, 305)
11. Tommy Togiai - Ohio State (6-2, 300)
13. Darius Stills - West Virginia (6-2, 285)
13. Mustafa Johnson - Colorado (6-1, 295)
14. Johnathan Marshall - Arkansas (6-3, 315)
15. Khyiris Tonga - BYU (6-3, 320)
16. Marquiss Spencer - Mississippi State (6-2, 300)
17. Naquan Jones - Michigan State (6-3, 330)
18. Bobby Brown III - Texas A&M (6-3, 325)
19. LaBryan Ray - Alabama (6-5, 295)
20. Jordon Scott - Oregon (6-1, 315)
21. Lorenzo Neal - Purdue (6-2, 330)
22. Kenny Randall - Charleston (6-3, 300)
23. Tedarrell Slaton - Florida (6-4, 345)
24. Forrest Merrill - Arkansas State (6-1, 340)
25. Michael Dwumfour - Rutgers (6-1, 295)

 

The Top-10 Defensive Tackles

Let's take a look at a few of the top-10 defensive tackles:

Daviyon Nixon wound up being selected as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. After 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and adding a 71-yard interception returned for a touchdown, it's easy to see that the production is there. Nixon accumulated these impressive stats over the course of only eight games. He is a one-year wonder so will his play translate to life in the NFL?

All signs point to Nixon being productive as he is seen as a mid-first-round - early second-round prospect. The key for Nixon to be successful will be how he gets off the ball. Nixon is explosive and the first step and hand placement will make or break his play in the NFL. Nixon is smooth with his movement both up and the field and laterally. He swim-moves and gets under a guard's pads better than most defensive linemen.

Nixon does not have the size or bulk seen from the traditional defensive tackle. The question remains whether he will be a three-down lineman or a specialist who can get after the quarterback in the middle of the field. Nixon will need to show he is capable against the run, a trait that should come. Nixon will likely be limited in his action early as he adds bulk and adjusts to the speed of the game over the course of his rookie season.

Marvin Wilson looks like the prototypical defensive tackle star. Wilson has the size and strength to effectively handle double teams at the NFL level. Wilson shows the speed of the snap and the ability to change directions quickly like a linebacker rather than a lumbering lineman.

Wilson needs to improve his leg strength and he is coming off a leg injury that sidelined him for the final half of the shortened 2020 season. A hand injury cost Wilson significant time during 2019 so his health is an immediate concern.

Wilson has shown enough speed to drop into short coverage and chase down ball carriers from behind. To become tougher against the run, Wilson will need to show he can keep his elite speed and presence off the snap while not becoming a liability in the run game.

 

The Rest of the Defensive Tackles

A couple of defensive tackles I have outside the top-10 that should make a mark in the right situation:

Mustafa Johnson is a player that burst onto the scene immediately as a sophomore in 2018. With 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, Johnson had the look of a can't miss prospect. A few injuries caused a bit of a downward trend as a junior and Johnson decided against going pro. Johnson played well this past season but it wasn't enough to send his stock back to where it has once been.

A strong case can be made for Johnson not having the help around him and attracting more double teams and causing a dip in his productivity. Johnson is listed as a defensive tackle but with his quickness, he may be best suited to go to a team in a 3-4 alignment where he can come off the edge. Johnson will need to be just a bit more decisive at the next level to excel but he could truly be one of the dark horses at the position.

LaBryan Ray is the ultimate example of a player who never lived up to the hype at Alabama. Ray was a five-star recruit when coming to Alabama, a team that regularly lands four and five-star talent. As a sophomore, it looked like everything was coming to fruition as Ray was part of the defensive tackle rotation and responded with 39 tackles, with six coming for loss as a reserve. 2019 was supposed to be his year to shine and 2020 if needed (providing he didn't turn pro after a productive 2019 campaign). Ray only played in eight games over the last two seasons as injuries and poor conditioning kept him off the football field.

Ray showed flashes where he could be the total package and can line up as an end in a 3-4 alignment, something he did regularly at Alabama. Ray will need to shake the injury bug and show his elbow (latest injury) will not keep him from contributing right away. Ray looks like a candidate to go to a team and play sparingly and perhaps even stay on the practice squad for a season while he hones his skills and gets back into shape. Ray is an immense talent that could pay off big if a team is willing to be patient and let his natural talent emerge.



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