We continue our quick-hit position overviews for the 2015 NFL Draft with interior defensive linemen.
There is a solid group at the position this year, with arguably the top prospect in the draft, USC's Leonard Williams, leading the way. NFL Media draft analyst Lance Zierlein gives seven interior DLs a first-round grade. After Williams, Oregon's Arik Armstead and Washington's Danny Shelton are expected to be the next players at the position to hear their names called on draft day. Both could go in the top half of the first round.
Here's a quick look at the interior defensive linemen in this draft.
Teams with greatest need (listed in draft order):Tennessee Titans (first-round selection: Second), Chicago Bears (seventh), New York Giants (ninth), Miami Dolphins (14th), San Francisco 49ers (15th), San Diego Chargers (17th), Kansas City Chiefs (18th), Cincinnati Bengals (21st), Detroit Lions (23rd), Arizona Cardinals (24th), Dallas Cowboys (27th), Denver Broncos (28th), Green Bay Packers (30th), New England Patriots (32nd), Seattle Seahawks (63rd).
Biggest upside: Oregon's Arik Armstead. Armstead left Oregon after his junior season and wasn't all that productive with the Ducks, finishing his career with a total of 87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. So, why is he considered a first-round lock? It's all about upside. Armstead (6-foot-7, 292 pounds) never redshirted, was a full-time starter for only one season (2014) and still is learning the position. He is a good athlete for a man of his size (5.10 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, with a 10-yard split of 1.76 seconds, and his vertical was measured at 34 inches). He has long arms and showed a better understanding of how to use his hands in 2014. You're drafting him in the first round off what he can become, not off of what he is right now. He has the tools to be solid against the run and intimidating as a pass rusher. Whether that's as a tackle in a 4-3 base defense or an end in a 3-4 defense is a question, too.
Most underrated: Clemson's Grady Jarrett. Jarrett is a squatty guy (6-1, 304) who was a productive three-year starter at nose tackle for Clemson. He is quicker than he looks, and had a combined 21 tackles for loss in his final two seasons with Clemson. He moves well laterally, has an excellent initial burst and understands leverage. He fits best as a tackle in a one-gap, 4-3 front. Tigers teammates Vic Beasley (an edge rusher) and Stephone Anthony (an inside linebacker) have garnered more attention, but don't overlook Jarrett.
Most overrated: Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips. When Phillips is at his best, he can be dominant. But his lack of consistency should be a concern. Phillips also doesn't have all that much experience. Phillips was a national top-50 recruit out of high school in Towanda, Kansas, in the 2011 signing class. He redshirted that fall, was a backup in 2012, played in just four games in 2013 before receiving a medical redshirt after having back surgery and finally was a full-time starter in 2014. He is a big man (6-5 1/4, 329) who didn't make as many big plays as he should have for a guy with his athleticism. He fits best as a nose tackle, but he has issues with leverage. He has good strength and is used to taking on double-teams, and his upside likely means he goes in the first round. But he is far from a finished product.
Biggest sleeper: Fresno State's Tyeler Davison. Davison (6-2, 316) redshirted as a true freshman in 2010, was a reserve in 2011, then started for three seasons. He has a big-time motor and possesses some pass-rush skills, finishing his career with 14 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. He is a strong guy who fits nicely at either tackle spot in a 4-3 set. He was a wrestler of some renown in high school in Arizona, understands leverage and balance and has strong hands. He has the potential to be the kind of player who goes in the middle rounds, then develops into a longtime pro once he becomes more consistent with his technique.
Better pro than college player: Auburn's Gabe Wright. Wright (6-3, 300) was a national top-100 recruit in the 2011 recruiting class, but never matched the hype in college. He spent only one season as a full-time starter (as a junior in 2013), and he probably would have been best-served to redshirt as a true freshman. While he was inconsistent throughout his college career, he has an intriguing skill set and looks to have the necessary talent to be a solid pro. He has the first-step quickness to be disruptive, but must work on becoming a more refined player.
Top small-school prospect: Chattanooga's Derrick Lott. Lott (6-4, 314) began his career at Georgia, but left after three seasons in a search for more playing time. He missed his freshman season with the Bulldogs in 2009 after having ankle surgery, then saw action in just five games total in 2010 and 2011. He also was at Chattanooga for three seasons; he was granted a sixth year of eligibility because of an elbow injury that caused him to miss most of the 2013 season. He moves well laterally, is surprisingly quick for a guy of his size (he ran a 4.99 40 at the combine) and has some pass-rush ability. Lott, who looks as if he could be a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end, should be a middle-round selection.
First-round grades (in order): Williams, Armstead, Shelton, Brown, Goldman, Phillips and Ohio State's Michael Bennett.