Depth of the class is on the D-line

Posted Feb 28, 2016

Mayock: 'six to 10 is just as good as one to five'

Mike Mayock’s Top 5 position rankings have become a staple of NFL Network coverage at the NFL Scouting Combine, but this year the quality and depth of interior defensive lineman available far exceeds Mayock’s annual best-of-the-bunch characterization.

There’s a Top five again this year at the position: DeForest Buckner (Oregon), Robert Nkemdiche (Mississippi), Sheldon Rankins (Louisville), Darren Reed (Alabama) and A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama).

But that’s just where at begins along the interior of the defensive line.

“Trust me, six to 10 is just as good as one to five,” Mayock maintained. “Kenny Clark (UCLA), (Andrew) Billings (Baylor),  (Vernon) Butler (Louisiana Tech), (Jonathan) Bullard (Florida), Adolphus Washington (Ohio State), Austin Johnson (Penn State), Sheldon Day (Notre Dame), Jihad Ward (Illinois), Maliek Collins (Nebraska), (Javon) Hargrave (South Carolina State), Chris Jones (Mississippi State), D.J. Reader (Clemson), (Matt) Ioannidis (Temple), and (Willie) Henry (Michigan); I don’t know how many guys I just read off, they would all have first-three-rounds grades.

“It’s ridiculous the quality and depth of this class.”

What the NFL is after are players that are big enough to stuff the run and quick enough to get to the quarterback.

The Denver Broncos just got done establishing that an edge rush to be reckoned with can take a team all the way to the Super Bowl.

But push up the middle can also work for teams that endeavor to pressure the pocket but don’t have a Von Miller or a DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge.

Mayock raved on Sunday morning about the availability of interior defensive lineman capable of affecting the passing game, potentially, at the next level.

“I’ve never seen ore 300-pound guys look as quick and explosive out of the blocks in my life,” he gushed.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah assessed the interior defensive line as the deepest it’s been in “you’d be safe in saying a decade.”

Edge rushers remain at a premium.

And as Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano observed last week in Indianapolis, “Von Millers ain’t falling out of the sky.”

But it’s more the pressure than where it comes from.

“If you look at the teams that made the conference championships and then the final two, the pass rush stood out to me,” Pagano said. “You can never have enough pass rush. You can never have enough corners. But I think as far as getting after the quarterback both those teams (Carolina and Denver) were able to do it with four guys. Sometimes they brought five but you didn’t see it too often.

“But when you have the ability to put pressure on the quarterback and affect the quarterback with four guys and you can play coverage and do certain things, drop seven into coverage, obviously it’s very beneficial.”

Mayock spoke of Bullard as an undersized defensive tackle in a four-man front but also as a potential first-round pick because of his ability to affect the passing game.

“In today’s NFL world, the pass-first offense, anybody that can affect that, especially in sub-packages where you’re on the field 70 percent of the time, that’s why this guy has so much value,” Mayock said.

And there are many like Bullard among this year’s interior defensive linemen crop.

“There might not be six or seven defensive tackles that go in the first round,” Mayock said. “Maybe four or five of them go and then you get in the third or fourth round and there are still outstanding players available.

“That’s the way GMs are thinking right now.”