The "The Triple Take" now moves to the interior defensive line. In our third installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the defensive line position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Take ...
Matt Williamson: The 2020 interior defensive line group has some star power at the top. Derek Brown, Javon Kinlaw and Ross Blacklock could all develop into high-impact players before long and shouldn't have to wait too long to hear their names called in the draft. After that, this group isn't as clear, but there should be a handful of solid contributors. Lastly, big interior run stuffers no longer carry the value that they once did, but there looks to be quite a few that fit that bill projected to be selected in the middle rounds.
#5 - Marlon Davidson, Auburn (6-4, 303 lbs.) - Davidson was a tough player to classify in terms of which position group he truly belongs…and a lot of that will depend on his landing spot. He probably projects best to a Michael Bennett-like role as a power defensive end that kicks inside on passing downs. But, surprisingly, Davidson is also capable of playing from a two-point stance on the edge. He lined up outside the offensive tackle last year a very high percentage of the time. The fact that Davidson has been adding weight during these past few months indicates that spending more time on the interior is probably in his future. Davidson's upper body strength and heavy hands stand out, but he doesn't change directions well enough to make a living playing in space. His agility could really pay off on the interior though.
#4 - Jordan Elliott, Missouri (6-4, 302 lbs) - Every offense that Missouri faced last year focused on getting Elliott blocked, but he still produced and made a big impact despite facing many double teams. He can align in several spots on the defensive line and displays very good hand usage in both the run and pass game. He should fit in just about anywhere with his ability to either shoot gaps or control them, although his lack of length can be problematic at times. Elliott is very steady and consistent. At the Combine, Elliott showed his initial explosion with an extremely impressive 1.71 10-yard split.
#3 - Ross Blacklock, TCU (6-3, 290 lbs.) - Blacklock is super explosive. He gets into or past his opponent instantaneously. Blacklock needs to be used in an attacking manner and he isn't nearly as comfortable sitting back and taking on blockers. His athletic traits are very obvious with great knee bend, leverage and very sudden change of direction. Blacklock really does a lot of damage running stunts. He chases down much smaller ball carriers all over the field. However, Blacklock is still a work in progress overall, especially as a pass-rusher. Once he learns more in the way of technique and setting up his opponent, watch out.
#2 - Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina (6-5, 324 lbs.) - Kinlaw is an ascending player with remarkable physical gifts. His body type and length really stand out and he has the rare ability to play low with explosive qualities for someone with his build…much in the way Chris Jones shines with the Chiefs. His get-off is really something to see and it takes no time before Kinlaw is controlling his opponent with his great upper body power. His bull-rush is amazing. Just wait until he adds more pass-rush moves to his toolbox and improves his overall processing. You could see some teams preferring Kinlaw to Brown.
#1 - Derrick Brown, Auburn (6-5, 326 lbs.) - Brown is just so incredibly powerful. He is a big man that plays huge snap after snap. Running up the middle when Brown is on the field is an extremely difficult chore. He is dominant in this respect. As a pass-rusher, Brown can simply bully the man in front of him to get to the quarterback. That could work to some degree at the next level, but his overall pass-rush technique will need to be developed to truly fulfill his great promise.
Dale's Takes ...
Dale Lolley: Aaron Donald, Cam Heyward and Fletcher Cox have helped define interior defensive line play in the NFL for the better part of the past decade. They all were selected in the first round of the draft by their respective teams.
Every team now looks for stud interior defensive linemen who can rush the passer. Given the quick passing games that now dominate the league, the guys on the interior have a much shorter path to cross to pressure the quarterback.
This year's draft has some athletic big men who will carry on that trend.
#5 - Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma (6-2, 304 lbs.) - Ran a 4.79 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine at 304 pounds. Gallimore is athletic but needs to tap into that on a more regular basis. He might be the best pure nose tackle in the draft.
#4 - Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M (6-3, 293 lbs.) - Madubuike wins with his speed and athleticism on the interior. He entered the draft as a true junior, so there's still room for growth.
#3 - Ross Blacklock, TCU (6-3, 290 lbs.) - Blacklock has the size and athleticism to play end in a 3-4 or defensive tackle in a 4-3. He's a better pass rusher than run stopper, but is improving at both. Came back strong from an Achilles' tendon tear in 2018, but that might be a red flag for some teams.
#2 - Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina (6-5, 324 lbs.) - Like Brown, Kinlaw has everything you'd want in a dominant defensive player. He just needs to be more consistent.
#1 - Derrick Brown, Auburn (6-5, 326 lbs.) - Brown has elite size, speed and athleticism and should be a top-10 pick. He'll be a star in the NFL and should make an immediate impact.
Mike's Takes ...
Mike Prisuta: Defensive tackles are no longer the wide loads thrown into the middle of the defense to take up space on running downs.
Not with the way this year's prospects ran at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"Remember when we used to have a bunch of slug defensive tackles?" NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah observed. "Those days are over.
"These guys can all move."
Here's how they might move through the NFL Draft's selection process:
#5 - Davon Hamilton, Ohio State (6-4, 320 lbs.) - He had to wait his turn in the Buckeyes' always-stacked defensive rotation but responded with career-high totals in tackles for a loss (10.5) and sacks (six) and 2019. And he's been making a move this offseason. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah credited Hamilton with a "great week" at the Senior Bowl and NFL Network analyst Charles Davis called Hamilton "under the radar" as a prospect.
#4 - Ross Blacklock, TCU (6-3, 290 lbs.) - Jeremiah sees Blacklock as "very twitchy, very explosive," and as one of the Top 20 players available overall (No. 19). At this point Blacklock's skill set stands out more than what he managed to do with it on the field (5.5 career sacks, including 3.5 in 2019), in part because he missed the 2018 season with an Achilles tendon injury. But the risk may well be worth the reward given Blacklock's apparent upside. Top-caliber inside pass rushers are that hard to find.
#3 - Marlon Davidson, Auburn (6-4, 303 lbs.) - He played on the edge a lot in college but Jeremiah is among those who projects Davidson as having the ability to move inside as a sub-package rusher in the NFL. Davidson also played inside at Auburn. Wherever he played (often it was next to top prospect Derrick Brown) Davidson stood out. "His attractiveness to teams is the way they played him at Auburn where he played up and down the line," NFL Network analyst Marc Ross observed during coverage of Senior Bowl week. "Plays hard, he's a banger in there and that's what you're looking for nowadays."
#2 - Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina (6-5, 324 lbs.) - One of the more remarkable stories among prospective draftees. His includes, according to NFL Network reporter Kim Jones, homeless and Kinlaw not eating during his first two days of junior college because he didn't know food was included in his scholarship. And now? "I know there is a God because there were so many times I could have fell victim," Kinlaw told Jones in Indianapolis. Jeremiah characterized Kinlaw at the Senior Bowl as a potential Top-10 pick "with just how strong and destructive he was this week."
#1 - Derrick Brown, Auburn (6-5, 326 lbs.) - The resume includes being recognized as an Associated Press First-Team All-American and as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, so he has the hardware. Brown also looks the part. "He's slim, trim, looks cut, not a lot of fat on him," NFL Network analyst Willie McGinest observed during Combine drills. "Just the way he transfers all that energy going side to side and backwards, that looks good. That's difficult for big guys." For some, maybe. Jeremiah's measurable NFL comparison for Brown was Haloti Ngata (it included an identical 40-yard dash times of 5.16 and 10-yard splits of 1.73). Sold.