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2017 NFL draft rankings: Top 10 defensive lineman

A pedestrian interior defensive line class that offers some good value on day-two of the draft.

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington
Jonathan Allen making the tackle in the background.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins are still searching for another defensive tackle to pair with Ndamukong Suh. Could they find that missing piece in the draft class? My rankings below consist of defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends. There’s some good talent here, but this year’s class is thinner than recent classes.

Honorable mentions: Carlos Watkins (DT), Clemson; Eddie Vanderdoes (DT), UCLA; Davon Godchaux (DT), LSU; Jaleel Johnson (NT), Iowa; Elijah Qualls (DT), Washington.

10. Charles Walker (DL), 6’1” and 310 pounds, Oklahoma: Walker was used in a unique way at Oklahoma, before leaving the team early for draft preparation.

His concussion issues – which caused him to miss most of his senior season – and character questions raise red flags. To quit on your team raises serious character concerns, but there’s no denying Walker’s talent. Walker played as a base 5-technique in OU’s 3-4 defense, while also moving inside as a 3-technique defensive tackle when they played nickel defense. He has a very powerful upper body with long, strong arms. His physical style of play allows him to still be effective when double teamed. He’s a fluid mover who shows good closing speed to track down the quarterback or running back, and can change his direction without any wasted motion. His outstanding first step allows him to frequently beat guards, especially the bigger, slower ones. He’s a good athlete who shows great balance against assignments and double teams. He needs to improve the angles taken toward the quarterback. He sometimes loses technique when tackling in space, causing missed tackles. He has the nastiness and quickness you want in a defensive lineman, but he is sometimes over aggressive and reacts without using his football I.Q. in downfield pursuit of the running back.

He’s a promising prospect who doesn’t really fit Miami’s scheme. He’d be best suited as a 3-4 defensive end. I expect him to be selected early in the fourth round.

9. Chris Wormley (DL), 6’5” and 298 pounds, Michigan: Wormley is a big-boned athlete, who is a smart, mature player.

A five-year senior who is physical and plays with terrific technique and knee bend. Wormley is a guy who you’ll want to go to war with – a relentless fighter who never gives up on a play. You’ll rarely see him get fooled or commit an ill-advised play. He has good height and length which could cause matchup problems as a 3-4 DE at the next level. He uses his hands effectively by getting underneath lineman and pushing them back, though he is slow in reacting off of the snap. Wormley isn’t a huge sack guy, but will excel in run defense. Average quickness and lack of secondary moves as a pass rusher will get him in trouble at the next level. He must develop more moves other than a bull-rush technique, and avoid getting stuck on blocks.

His ceiling is as a 3-4 DE. He needs plenty of polishing, but should intrigue teams with the strengths he possesses. Expect him to go in the fourth round.

8. Montravius Adams (DT), 6’4” and 304 pounds, Auburn: Adams is a long and thick athlete who can be the anchor of your interior line with proper coaching.

He’s the definition of a space eater who can be plugged into a defense for all three downs. His size is outstanding, and he was double teamed nearly every play of his college career. His closing speed is underrated by some scouts – he can chase down the quarterback quickly once he breaks through the block. He’s very active with quick hands and an outstanding first step burst. He rarely plays lazy or unmotivated, and will grind from start to finish. His combination of upper and lower body strength is used to bull-rush defenders off-balance. He shows the ability to keep his pads low, though he remains a bit inconsistent in this area. Against excellent blockers, he’ll tend to raise his pad level and play too high. The concern with Adams is his lack of secondary moves. If he is initially blocked, he struggles to counter off the block. If he doesn’t win with his first step, he struggles to win battles. Adams needs to avoid playing with his head down for awareness and safety purposes. Too often he ran without definitive purpose once the ball carrier ran away from his direction. In other words, if the play isn’t in front of him or easy to diagnose, he lacks a “plan b” strategy.

An ideal fit would be a 1-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He needs polishing, but I think he’d be a great fit for Miami in the 3rd round.

A rare play of Adams playing defensive end. Still bulldozes his way to the quarterback.

7. Jarron Jones (DT), 6’6” and 316 pounds, Notre Dame: Jones is a monster of a defensive tackle.

He shows his great athleticism with his quick footwork for a defensive tackle. Jones showed he can beat assignments and double teams by using his speed to power transfer from his lower half, rushing lineman back toward the quarterback. His long, muscular arms keep blockers away from his frame, and his first step quickness and snap anticipation are excellent. His closing speed is impressive, as offensive players rarely escape his grasp. Jones uses good timing in disrupting the quarterback’s vision, which shows the ability to bat balls down at the next level. His lower body strength is good, but he could use a little more thickness to complete his frame.

So why isn’t he a first-round pick? Inconsistency. Too many games where he would dominate for some of the game, and then disappears for the rest of it. Not only is his motor and work ethic questioned concerning to many, but his injury history is too. He has one of the higher ceilings out of the interior lineman class, but you question his desire to be great.

The best way to use Jones would be as a 3-technique DT in a 4-3 scheme. His tape suggests he’d be a borderline first-round pick, but his concerns drop him to the third-round. I’d be comfortable with the Dolphins drafting him in the third, but his concerns are reminiscent of Jordan Phillips’ struggles. Though, if he’s there at the 97th pick overall, Miami may feel inclined to take him.

6. Dalvin Tomlinson (DT), 6’3” and 310 pounds, Alabama: Tomlinson isn’t an ideal pass-rushing defensive tackle, but he’s a great run-stuffer.

Tomlinson is a big, thick, wide lineman with good strength and decent length. His corpulent, strong lower half is used to push the pile backwards consistently. His high motor and effort is what impresses me most. Despite limited sack success, he still battles the whole game. He won’t consistently shed blocks, but he’ll be in position to make a play in run defense. His instincts and awareness gives him an edge in diagnosing the play. He has a knack for batting balls down at the line of scrimmage. He plays too upright and gets stuck on blocks. His reaction time and jump off the line of scrimmage is underwhelming. He lacks versatility as a defensive lineman — teams will have to use him in the right scheme. His talent will be questioned since he only has one season with a significant amount of snaps, and may be limited to a two-down player in the NFL. His lack of pass rush will make teams question what his true potential is. His ceiling isn’t very high, but his floor isn’t very low either. He’s good at what he does, but I’m not as high on him as other scouts are.

He’s strictly a space-eating 1-technique DT that can eat up blocks and close gaps in the run game. He’ll battle throughout the game in run defense, but don’t expect much from him in pass rushing. He’s worth a late third-round pick, but I’d be hesitant to select him. He would help Miami’s run defense, but I think there are more appealing options.

5. Tanoh Kpassagnon (DE), 6’7” and 289 pounds, Villanova: Kpassagnon is a raw talent with incredible upside.

He lined up as a 3-4 DE at Villanova, but his technique and hand usage is still a work-in-progress. He’s a strong, cut, lengthy lineman, who can add even more to his frame. He lives in the gym, but also works his butt off on the field. He disrupts throws with his length when he is blocked, and is an overall smart player – always rushing with a purpose. His double-digit sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss was impressive for a guy who played in a three man front. His quick penetration combined with elite athleticism and explosiveness, are traits not many people his size have. I was impressed with his bend around the edge and closing speed to the quarterback. His upper body strength is very difficult to match by most tackles because of his size. I’d like to see him develop more secondary moves at the next level instead of always bending around the edge with speed-to-power. He needs to develop more of a quick-twitch snap response, and play with better leverage as a pass rusher. He’ll need to add mass to his lower half.

It’ll depend how long teams are willing to wait on him, but he could go as soon as the second or third round. I think this would be a homerun selection by Miami if they could get him in the third round. Yes, he was mainly a 3-4 DE, but his talents should translate into a 4-3 DE too. To learn under Cameron Wake for a year would do wonders for Kpassagnon. Let’s not forget, Wake needed polishing himself before reaching his true potential. There’s no reason Kpassagnon can’t follow the same path.

4. Ryan Gasglow (DT), 6’3’ and 302 pounds, Michigan: There are a lot of guys with high motors in this draft, but you won’t find many who brings it every down like Gasglow does.

He’s not going to win every snap, but he will win more battles than expected due to his relentlessness. His lack of ideal size and length will become a weakness that he must overcome in a 3-4 defense. He’s a handful at the point of attack, taking on double teams without moving backwards. He uses his powerful hands to disengage blocks, and great footwork to stay balanced despite double team blocks. He isn’t a great sack artist, but he flashes ability to rush the quarterback. His outstanding run defense is what will raise his draft stock, and he’s a playmaker oppose to being just a space-eater. He possesses a nice swim move among other good secondary moves. Gasglow’s good leverage and lower body explosion powers lineman off-balance, causing a lot of traffic in the backfield. One thing that stood out was his snap anticipation, as he was frequently the first one to jump the snap – which is unusual for a defensive tackle who is mainly a run defender. Gasglow lacks a second gear speed when closing in on his target. He tends to fall in love with his power. He needs to find other ways to win battles and use his secondary moves. He plays too stiff at times and struggles to move laterally.

He may be the best nose tackle in the draft. He’ll likely be used best as a 1-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. He’s a borderline three-down player, but he may be better suited as a two-down player to start his career. He’s on the cusp of the second and third round. I personally don’t love the idea of selecting him in the second round for the Dolphins, and he’ll likely be gone before their pick in the third.

3. Caleb Brantley (DT), 6’3” and 307 pounds, Florida:

Brantley has a muscular, thick frame that causes a mismatch with guards and centers. His quickness and explosive first step off the snap allows him to play every down with great anticipation, almost beating the snap count. He is explosive when he breaks through, and is in the backfield instantly. He does a nice job of dipping his shoulder and keeping his feet active when pass rushing. His outstanding upper body strength makes him a nightmare to defend. His strong hands and arms allows him to disengage quickly. He has a variety of moves that he uses to win at the line, and is very agile and slippery. He can also act as a space-eater, picking up multiple blockers to open things for other players. Brantley is consistently double teamed, blowing plays up if he is blocked one-on-one. His stats failed to live up to expectations, which is concerning for a player with his ability. He’s an inconsistent tackler who sometimes misses on wrap up tackles, and takes occasional poor angles on his target when in the backfield. Brantley gets jumpy before the snap – he had 10 offsides called on him the past two seasons. He’s a decent athlete, but he lacks fluidity in his running. He struggles to change direction smoothly, and has tight hips when asked to run sideline to sideline.

He’s a natural 3-technique DT in a 4-3 defense. He’d be a great pick for the Dolphins, but his weaknesses concern me a little too much for the 22nd pick overall. If Miami can trade back in the first, or take him in the second, then I feel a lot more comfortable with the pick.

Brantley blows the play up by taking down Dalvin Cook in the backfield.

2. Malik McDowell (DL), 6’6” and 295 pounds, Michigan State: The very versatile lineman had his share of highs and lows at Michigan State. The inconsistencies are what saw his draft stock plummet.

He’s a freak athlete who is long and strong. Some say he occasionally struggles with pad leverage because of his size -- I disagree. I think his leverage is great for his size, and he is very consistent in playing low. His incredible range and wing span will make teams drool, and his aggressive play style shows he can handle many positions in 3-4 or 4-3 defenses. Whether it’s a 5-tech in a three-man front or a 3-tech in a four-man front, he will be a nightmare for offensive lines. McDowell has the potential to be the anchor of your defensive line, and single handedly make your team a top 10 run defense. He possesses a nice arsenal of moves to win battles, and shows outstanding snap anticipation. He can beat lineman using both power and speed, and doesn’t rely on one way to beat his assignment. He has high football I.Q. and shows patience in diagnosing the play without making many over aggressive commitments. He is very difficult to hold down in blocks, showing it’s only a matter of time until he breaks through. McDowell takes on double teams, opening opportunities for other defenders to break through the trenches. His pass rush is very good, but can get even better with coaching, and his run defense is outstanding. Despite being an explosive player, he’s not very quick with his first step. He plays with passion but must keep his emotions in check without making bad decisions. His production didn’t match his ability, and some question his work ethic. He looked very uninterested this past season during Michigan State’s mediocre year.

The well-rounded, versatile DT is one of the top talents in the draft when he gives a committed effort. The concerns are there, but if the Dolphins took a chance on him at 22, I would be satisfied with the selection. Are there other needs for the Dolphins? Yes, but McDowell is considered one of the “best player available” options in the first round.

Watch him hunt the running back on these three plays.

Watch him display his versatility here — he is one step late of making the play, but he trucks through blocks and hurries the quarterback into a decision.

1. Jonathan Allen (DL), 6’2” and 286 pounds, Alabama: Allen is a top 10 talent in the draft.

The elite athlete has exceptional size and strength for his position. He shows the bend and flexibility to also play edge if he’s asked to do so. He wins battles using a plethora of moves, using an outstanding motor to hunt his target. Some of the highlight reel plays he made shows he can register 10+ sacks a year as a 3-4 DE, or a 4-3 DT. He has a powerful lower half, and an even stronger upper half that makes him nearly unguardable at the point of attack. He’ll need to be double teamed most of the time at the next level. He’s a menace in the backfield, disrupting play after play by using his strong hands to rip defenders out of the way. Allen may be one of the fastest lineman in the draft, using incredible closing speed to bring his target down in the blink of an eye. He’s a very smart player who is scheme-versatile and will be a leader of your defense. He’ll beat the snap with quickness and will rarely commit dumb penalties. Allen wasn’t asked to defend the run that much, and is still learning to be a run stuffer. A knock on Allen is the amount of talent that he was surrounded by, but he displayed elite attributes that disregard the team he played for. There are very few weaknesses in his game.

This is what happens when you try to guard Allen one-on-one.

He’s simply too quick and fast for his size on this play.

He’s a 3-4 DE, or a 3-technique DT in a 4-3 defense. If he miraculously fell to Miami at 22, management should sprint to the podium to select him. I expect him to be taken no later than 10th overall.