With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing, I'll be unveiling my picks for the safest prospects at each position.
Interior defensive linemen might be as scheme-dependent as any position on the field. Whether teams ask the prospect to attack one gap, or hold and shed to play two, plays a large role in where they are selected in the draft -- and which teams select them. And if a guy can both fill gaps and penetrate, you have a special player on your hands.
In addition to finding the correct fit for a tackle's skill set, it seems to me that consistent effort is a common thread among the most successful NFL interior studs. Whether you're Vince Wilfork plugging the middle or Aaron Donald winning the shoulder of a guard, conditioning and work ethic are often what creates a playmaker in the trenches.
These three defensive tackles are my safe bets in the 2016 draft class. As with every position group in this series, there is a mix of top-rated prospects and others for whom I project a long NFL career without the early-round hype.
1. Andrew Billings, Baylor: Billings' combination of foot quickness and strength will make him a nightmare matchup for interior offensive lines from Day 1. He can play the nose on a three-man line, but would be a disruptive one-gap player in a four-man front, especially next to another strong tackle minimizing double teams. The early entrant has a great ceiling, as well as a pretty solid floor, making him one of the top players in the class.
2. Jarran Reed, Alabama: Reed plays with a low center of gravity to clog up lanes inside, yet hustles to plays on the outside. That's a good combination for teams looking for an active nose tackle. He has a good motor, and obviously knows the game. Even if he ends up falling out of the first round due to team needs and the deepest defensive tackle group in recent memory, a team will get a solid starter inside.
3. Kenny Clark, UCLA: Plug this former Bruin in as a starter in the middle right away, as he can hold the line of scrimmage and shed blocks to grab ball carriers coming through holes to his left or right. In pass-rush mode, Clark brings enough interior pressure to force quarterbacks to make a decision. He won't be a big sack guy, but 4-3 teams will value his skill set as a nose with the lateral movement skills to stay with stretch plays as well as an ability to give guards a challenge as a rusher.