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2017 NFL Draft Preview: DL

(A series looking at some of the top players at various positions leading up to the NFL Draft, set for April 27-29)

The available defensive line crop available isn't without intriguing prospects or question marks.

Michigan State junior Malik McDowell is both.

McDowell has the necessary physical characteristics at 6-6 1/4 and 295 pounds.

"The size and athleticism to play inside or outside," NFL Network and analyst Mike Mayock assessed. "The base 4-3 teams think he can play defensive end. A lot of teams are looking at him inside as a tackle."

A lot of teams are also wondering exactly what it is they would be drafting.

"He's the most polarizing player in this position group and maybe in the entire draft," NFL network and analyst Daniel Jeremiah maintained. "You can watch him against Notre Dame, he looks like a Top-15 pick. I can find a bunch of other games where he looks completely uninterested and doesn't want to be on the field.

"I've been around defensive line coaches that say, 'Don't worry about the effort, that's my job to get that out of him.' And I've been around other defensive line coaches that say, 'If he doesn't do it at all right now, how am I going to get it out of him?'"

Added Mayock: "If you watch the tape in 2015 when they were a really good football team it was much more consistent. This year, not so much (seven tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and three games missed due to an ankle injury in 2016).

"Thirty-two teams are trying to figure out, who is Malik McDowell? He looks like an All-Pro one snap and just a guy the next snap."

Let the buyer beware.

The only question about Allen (6-2 5/8, 286) is whether he's a defensive tackle or a defensive end. "He could have been a first-round pick last year," Mayock said. "He had a couple shoulder procedures and he was worried about the medical knocking him down." Allen's signature play in his senior season at Alabama came against Texas A&M, when he beat a guard with a swim move and then defeated an attempted cut-block by a running back with a dive that landed on top of the quarterback for a spectacular sack. If you've seen that highlight you don't need to see much of anything else. "A Pro-Bowler soon," Mayock predicted.


He's been compared to Aaron Donald. Thomas (6-2 5/8, 273) earned such a lofty comparison playing defensive tackle and defensive end at Stanford (15 tackles for a loss, eight sacks in 2016). "He's a first-round pick all day long, the question is how high?" Mayock said. "Is he a Top-10 guy? He might be." Jeremiah reported at the Combine that Solomon said he wanted to be a 4-3 end on base downs and then a three-technique (lining up over a guard's outside shoulder) on pass-rushing downs. "That's exactly what every team in the league is talking about for him," Mayock said. "A base end on first down against the run, set a physical edge, then look for a quickness mismatch (on passing downs)." Solomon might be capable of even more than that based on how he performed during outside linebacker conversion drills at the Combine. "Some of these 3-4 teams are going to say, 'This guy can play outside linebacker,'" Jeremiah suggested.

An accomplished nose tackle in a 3-4 at Charlotte, Ogunjobi (6-2 5/8, 305) is also athletic enough that "you can put him in a gap and let him get upfield," Jeremiah said. Mayock agreed, citing Ogunjobi's "quickness and burst. He works really hard. I think he has a chance to be a really good player." analyst Lance Zierlein summed up Ogunjobi, who had 49 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks in four seasons at Charlotte, as follows: "Size and below-average length will work against him for some teams. But others who covet disruptive defensive tackles who can play in the backfield and generate some pressure will be studying him closely. Has starting NFL potential."

Mayock's NFL comparison for Charlton (6-5 5/8, 277) is Carlos Dunlap. "He can set a physical edge," Mayock said. "He's in the first-round conversation, 4-3 teams will really like him." Charlton led Michigan with 9.5 sacks, including 2.5 against Ohio State. "If he stays healthy he'll play a long time in the league," Mayock said. Charlton also did conversion drills at the Combine but Mayock sees him as a "hand-in-the-dirt guy" (a defensive end). One reason why: "Hands like feet," Mayock added.

Kpassagnon (6-6 3/4, 289) ran a 4.83 40-yard dash at the Combine. "That's a ridiculous time," said Mayock, who described Kpassagnon as "one of the more impressive physical specimens even 25-year veterans of the Combine have ever seen." Kpassagnon is a late-bloomer that's still blooming. "He was a lightly-recruited kid out of Wissahickon (Pa.) High School, didn't play much football," Mayock explained. "He really didn't know what he was doing on a football field as a freshman (at Villanova). He's a rising defensive end." Kpassagnon still isn't a finished product, but he has attention-getting potential at defensive end. "There are a lot of coaches around the league that would love to work with this piece of clay," Mayock said. "He's just going to get stronger and he's going to become a better football player. A lot of teams thought he was a fifth-round pick, a sixth-round pick early in the year. Now, I'm hearing second- and third-round grades on him." Kpassagnon also did conversion drills at the Combine.

The 2016 Draft, DL
Number drafted: 39
Picks by round: 7 in the first; 8 in the second; 8 in the third; 7 in the fourth; 4 in the fifth; 2 in the sixth; 3 in the seventh
Highest pick: Joey Bosa, Ohio State, Round 1, 3rd overall, San Diego Chargers
Impact pick: Bosa got a late start due to a protracted contract negotiation but finished with 10.5 sacks in 12 games and was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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