The "Triple Take" team, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta, provides updates on their breakdown of the top defensive linemen prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
Matt's Second Take on the DL position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech (6-4, 278 lbs.) - This one is just too obvious. At 6' 3" and 284 pounds, Williams did miraculous things at Louisiana Tech's Pro Day. How about these numbers at his weight: Williams ran a 4.62 in the forty. He jumped 38.5" in the vertical and 10' 1" in the broad. Williams has short arms and might not have an obvious position fit along the defensive line, but these insane movement numbers do flash on tape. Maybe the best way to use Williams at the next level is as a power base end in a four-man front and then bumping inside on passing downs. Maybe he could be used like Michael Bennett was in Seattle during that great defense's heyday. Heck, Williams might even be able to help on special teams by running down on kickoffs.
Who's emerged and why?
Jonathan Marshall, Arkansas (6-3, 317 lbs.) - Marshall has a strong basketball background, which in itself is impressive for someone that weighed in at 310 pounds at Arkansas' Pro Day at 6' 3". He is only a one-year starter in college and was usually asked to handle the nose tackle duties for the Razorbacks, which really doesn't suit Marshall's outstanding athleticism. Marshall did 36 reps on the bench while running a 4.75/40 with very impressive broad and vertical jump numbers. Marshall is considered a leader and very hard worker, so who is to say how he further develops his immense physical traits after a year or two of seasoning?
Other Notes: This remains a position that is lacking in top end talent as well as a lot of depth. It's just a down year for defensive tackle types. Of course, every team will have different thoughts and grades on this group and some diamonds in the rough will emerge without question. There may be very few interior defensive linemen drafted on the first two days of the draft compared to other years. Or…will teams reach and overdraft these guys because of position scarcity?
Matt's First Take on the DL position ...
#5 - Tyler Shelvin, LSU (6-3, 346 lbs.) - This is just a gigantic human being. Shelvin opted out in 2020, so it will be instrumental to see what kind of shape he is in right now before the draft process. Shelvin is an old-school throwback power player in the middle of a defense that allows all around him more freedom to work. Shelvin does the dirty work. He gets off the ball much better than most linemen his size. As a pass-rusher, Shelvin will push the man in front of him backwards but getting after quarterbacks isn't going to be his forte. But if the opponent plans on running the ball up the middle, double teaming Shelvin is probably a must. Shelvin would have been much more sought after a decade or two ago, but what he brings to the table is still very impressive.
#4 - Tommy Togiai, Ohio State, (6-2, 300 lbs.) - Togiai is very active and consistently wins the leverage battle at the line of scrimmage. That makes him difficult enough to play against, but Togiai also shows good lateral agility as well as refined hand usage. He shines as a bull-rusher but isn't limited to just a basic pass-rush plan. Togiai put on a dominant performance against Clemson in the college playoffs, but unfortunately couldn't play in the National Championship game because of COVID issues. He didn't log a lot of snaps overall for Ohio State this past year but was highly productive on a per-snap basis.
#3 - Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6-3, 294 lbs.) - Quickness and athleticism are Onwuzurike's calling card. He is an upfield player. Onwuzurike gets off the ball low and with leverage, which certainly helps him as a run defender as well. He was highly productive at Washington before opting out for the 2020 season. But the last we saw of Onwuzurike, he won mostly with his explosion off the snap rather than refined technique for the position and needs to show better consistency as well. He has a lot of traits though without question for a 3 Technique defensive tackle at the next level.
#2 - Alim McNeill, North Carolina State (6-2, 320 lbs.) - McNeill has only been playing the position for three seasons and played running back and linebacker at the high school level. That gives you some idea of his long-term potential as well as his high-end athletic ability for the interior defensive line. He has great girth. McNeill was a true nose tackle in college and not asked to penetrate all that much, but he proved to be very difficult to move backwards in that role at North Carolina State. He needs work without question, especially with his pass-rush package, but McNeill's flashes are tantalizing.
#1 - Christian Barmore, Alabama (6-5, 310 lbs.) - Basically a one-and-a-half-year starter at Alabama, Barmore got better and better the more he played and really stood out in the college playoffs, helping Alabama win another National Championship. He has great size and natural power. Barmore has very good length, heavy hands and is much more flexible than most players with his dimensions. Barmore can line up all over the interior of the defensive line and is one of the most accomplished pass-rushers in this draft class.
Dale's Second Take on the DL position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Jaylen Twyman, Pitt (6-1, 302 lbs.) - After opting out in 2020, Twyman needed to show off some traits at his pro day. He showed that he spent his time off in the weight room. Twyman did 40 reps on the bench, which ranks in the 98th percentile for the position. He also weighed in just a shade over 300 pounds, which was bigger than his listed weight. Now, he didn't run well, but most of the Pitt players did not, which tends to suggest the Panthers have a slow track. Twyman's production in 2019 was there. He's a power player and he displayed his power to emerge from a middling defensive tackle group.
Who's emerged and why?
Milton Williams, Lousiana Tech (6-3, 284 lbs.) - Blazed through his pro day with a 4.62 40-yard dash while also hitting 39 inches on his vertical jump and 34 reps on the bench press. But his most impressive pro day number might have been his 3-cone drill time of 6.87 seconds. How good is that? It would have been better than any of the running backs at last year's NFL Scouting Combine. This guy is quick as a cat and has the agility of one, as well. He is solidly a Day 2 pick now.
Other Notes: Isaiah Loudermilk of Wisconsin measured in at 6-6, 293 pounds. He's got long arms, but showed good athleticism at his pro day. He could be a nice late-round sleeper. … Jonathan Marshall of Arkansas tested really well at 6-3, 310 pounds. His play didn't necessarily match the measureables, so teams will have to dig into him more. … O'Bryan Goodson of Memphis measured in at just 5-10. He weighed in at 276 pounds, but both were well under the 6-0, 297 pounds at which he was listed.
Dale's First Take on the DL position ...
#5 - Tyler Shelvin, LSU (6-3, 346 lbs.) - Shelvin may be the best pure old-school nose tackle available this year. He's a load in the middle. But he opted out of the 2020 season, so it will be interesting to see what he looks like at LSU's pro day. In 17 career games, he had just 1.5 sacks, so there's not much pass rush here, but he's got a good motor and demands double teams with his overwhelming size and strength.
#4 - Alim McNeill, North Carolina State (6-2, 320 lbs.) - Not a true nose tackle, but is lightning quick at the snap of the ball, similar to the first step of former Steelers and current Philadelphia Eagles lineman Javon Hargrave. A high school running back and linebacker, he'll need to continue to develop as a pass rusher - just 10 career sacks - but the potential is there.
#3 - Daviyon Nixon, Iowa (6-3, 305 lbs.) - Has a good burst at the snap of the ball and uses his hands well and is a disruptive penetrator. Played just two seasons at Iowa after junior college but had 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in just eight games in 2020. Nixon has plenty of upside potential as a pass rusher in a 4-3 defense or an end in a 3-4.
#2 - Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6-3, 294 lbs.) - Opted out in 2020, so we haven't seen him on the field in over a year, but was disruptive in 2019 when he had 45 tackles, including six for a loss, and a pair of sacks. Plays with great leverage and athleticism. Some analysts have him rated as the No. 1 defensive tackle in this draft, but his pro day will be very important for him to nail down that spot.
#1 - Christian Barmore, Alabama (6-5, 310 lbs.) - The latest in the long line of strong Alabama defensive interior players, Barmore might not be quite as highly rated as some of those who have come before him, but you have a pretty good idea of what you're getting. A redshirt sophomore, the Philadelphia native initially committed to Temple before backing out and heading to Alabama. In two seasons, he recorded 63 tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks in 22 games. But on Alabama's talented front, he was never a starter, working as a rotational player. That shows what kind of talent they have in Tuscaloosa.
Mike's Second Take on the DL position ...
Who's stock has risen and why?
Milton Williams, Lousiana Tech (6-3, 284 lbs.) - Milton got the attention of Pro Football Focus and, presumably, other evaluators, as well, at Louisiana Tech's Pro Day. His registered historical percentiles at the defensive line position as reported by PFF included a vertical leap of 381/2" (99th), a broad jump of 12'1" (97th), 34 bench press reps at 225 pounds (91st) and a three-cone drill of 6.87 seconds (100th).
PFF characterized Williams' rise as meteoric: "A year ago, Williams wasn't even in the draft conversation. After the 2020 season, it looked like he could be a good pick in the middle of Day 3. Now, he could be the second interior defensive lineman off the board in the late second or early third round. It's safe to buy into the hype with Williams."
Willians had 19.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in three seasons at Louisiana Tech (10 and 4.5 in 10 games in 2020).
Other Notes: The numbers at Pitt's Pro Day, one of them, at least, suggested Jaylen Twyman's 10.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss in 13 games in 2019 weren't a fluke. Twyman (6-1, 301 lbs.) became the first defensive lineman to lead Pitt in sacks since Aaron Donald that season. "He's not Aaron Donald, but nobody's Aaron Donald," Jeremiah clarified. "You look at the 40 time, it's not gonna wow you (5.39), but the number I thought was curious was the vertical jump, 321/2" which shows you some of the explosiveness you see on tape which led to all of that production." PFF listed Twyman at 5.51 in the 40 and 33" in the vertical, but Jeremiah's point is nonetheless made. The final assessment from Jeremiah was "intriguing," and he projected Twyman to go "maybe at the end of Day 2 or early on Day 3." … Jeremiah classified defensive tackle as the weakest position group of the upcoming draft and said there might not be a first-round selection in the bunch. Brooks agreed.
Mike's First Take on the DL position ...
#5 - Jaylen Twyman, Pitt (6-2, 290 lbs.) - He's relatively under-sized and there's only a two-year sample size to analyze since Twyman opted out of the 2020 season. But in the second of his two seasons at Pitt, Twyman had 10.5 sacks in 13 games as a sophomore in 2019. That was 10 more than he'd managed as a freshman in 2018. There's a lot of developing to do and a lot of work to be done toward that end. But that could be said about a lot of players who will end up getting drafted, and a lot of those players don't have 10.5 sacks on their resumes. Reach for the stars.
#4 - Jay Tufele, USC (6-2, 305 lbs.) - Tufele only played two seasons at USC but that was enough for him to consistently display an attention-getting combination of size and athleticism. He accounted for three sacks in 2018 and three-and-a-half in 2019 and was named USC's Defensive Lineman of the Year in both seasons, even though he wasn't a full-time starter in '18. Tufele's explosion coming off the ball and his motor are particularly intriguing qualities for a player who is still on the rise and seemingly has the desire to keep rising.
#3 - Daviyon Nixon, Iowa (6-3, 305 lbs.) - Ever see a 304-pound defensive tackle make a leaping interception and then run 71 yards for a touchdown? Nixon pulled that off against Penn State in November on a play that was unfolding in front of him after starting to rush the passer as one of two down linemen in a sub-package. He read the running back running past him into the flat and reacted to a pass that was thrown above his head from 4 yards away. Nixon caught the ball, took off and, one cut later he was gone. Nixon had five-and-a-half sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss in eight games overall in 2020, none of which were as spectacular as what transpired at Penn State.
#2 - Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6-3, 294 lbs.) - Onwuzurike opted out in 2020 and only practiced once at the Senior Bowl due to an injury, but that one practice made a statement in terms of showing the scouts what they needed to see. "He retired when he was on top," NFL Network analyst Bucky Brooks declared during coverage of Senior Bowl week. "He had a great day on Tuesday, showed everything that you wanted to see. He's a fantastic athlete inside at defensive tackle. His first-step quickness, his hand-placement, and his ability to work on and off blockers is impressive." Onwuzurike had seven sacks in his three seasons at Washington.
#1 - Christian Barmore, Alabama (6-5, 310 lbs.) - Barmore is another product of an Alabama program at which players often have to wait their turn and then make the most of their opportunity in the spotlight when it finally arrives. He did both in 2020, and finished with eight sacks, nine-and-a-half tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and three passes defensed in 11 games. The Alabama store, it seems, never runs out of merchandise.