From a talent standpoint, the interior defensive line is the most loaded position in the 2016 NFL Draft, and starters will be found all along the first three to four rounds.
Alabama's duo of A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed are two of the draft's top run-defenders. In fact, four of the top six interior DL draft picks could come from the SEC West. And while you won't see names like Andrew Billings, Kenny Clark and Austin Johnson in this report, their talent and potential is equal to many of the top interior linemen of recent years. That's how deep the group is.
Teams with the greatest need
Top eight players
Deforest Buckner: Buckner is very tall with pretty good arm length, massive hands, and has proven to be an ascending pass rusher from the interior. He's best suited to a four- or five-technique spot, but has scheme flexibility.
A'Shawn Robinson: Robinson has the body type of a grown man ready for trench work in the NFL, and his run-stuffing potential is unlimited. He needs to play with better pad level and improve his pass rush game.
Robert Nkemdiche: Nkemdiche has a chiseled frame that has rarely been seen in college circles for a defensive tackle. He's athletic with outstanding reactive explosiveness, but he finished his three-year career at Ole Miss with just 6.5 sacks and zero forced or recovered fumbles.
Sheldon Rankins: Rankins has average size for the position, but plays with outstanding leverage. He has violent but subtle hand usage that puts him in position to make plays, and he has a varied pass-rush approach. Rock-solid, safe draft prospect.
Chris Jones: Has flashed plays that are as impressive as any player on this list, but his motor runs hot and cold. Teams must decide if they can get consistent effort from the big, talented player who can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense.
Jarran Reed: Powerful run-plugger who plays with desired bend and core strength. Looking to shore up your run defense? Reed is your guy. Looking to rush the passer from inside? Reed will not be your guy.
Vernon Butler: Has high-end potential as a big, athletic tackle, but teams have questions about whether or not he can keep his weight in check. Butler can play all along the defensive line and has the talent to become a plus run defender.
Hassan Ridgeway: Polarizing big man with scouts. Some see him as a good NFL starter and others view him as a third-day, rotational defensive tackle. Power and tape flash warrant excitement, but health and conditioning are worries.
Sources Tell Us
"I still don't know if I have a great read on him. I'm usually big on production and he doesn't have it like you want it, but we get paid to coach players up. There is a lot there to coach. I think he'll either drive you crazy or make you look like a genius. Not a lot of middle ground." -- NFC defensive line coach on Nkemdiche
Adolphus Washington: Washington doesn't get it cranked up nearly enough for the talent he possesses. His poor pad level creates leverage issues when he has to go against redirect blocks, and he might not be stout enough against the run. His pass rush might be too inconsistent to warrant a Day 2 selection.
Willie Henry: Henry just turned 21, but he's got enough tape to warrant a look in the second round. He has jarring power in his massive hands and showed a plus closing burst as a twisting, pass rusher, which helped him finish with 6.5 sacks in 2015. Many of his flaws are correctable with coaching.
Boom or bust
Nkemdiche: Much of the "bust" concern has to fall into the category of maturity/character. There are definitely teams who believe Nkemdiche could become a problem with more time and money on his hands as a pro. However, if he matures as a person and player, and if he can respond to his coaching, we might be looking at a multiple Pro Bowl player. Which will it be?
Greg Milhouse: The Campbell defensive tackle ran a sub 5.0-second 40 at his pro day, with a vertical of 33.5 inches and 26 bench reps. In other words, Campbell has some traits. While the level of competition was below average, he showed the potential to be a disruptive defensive playmaker from the interior with enough talent to play on all three downs. He should be a Day 3 pick with a chance to outplay his draft slot.