2021 NFL Draft Defensive Tackle Rankings

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
February 28th, 2021

1) Christian Barmore, Alabama; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 310

Another Alabama player is kicking off our list for defensive tackles as Christian Barmore steps into the top spot. This class of tackles isn’t very talented, there aren’t any Derrick Browns or Javon Kinlaws to top the grades, but it’s deep with pretty good players and Barmore sticks out as the best. The Alabama product is wildly powerful and demanded a double team on a line full of scary players. When he wasn’t double teamed he would blow gaping holes in the line, using his speed and strength to combine with elite real-time adjustments to get to the quarterback. Even when he was doubles he often advanced his position anyways. This player is clearly a head above the rest and will be picked accordingly.

2) Tommy Togiai, Ohio State; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 300

Ohio State didn’t have their usual wrecking ball off the edge this season despite making the National Championship game, but they did have Tommy Togiai emerge from the dark to become one of the best players on the defensive unit. Like Barmore, Togiai was excellent in all settings, progressing double teams proving he can be a true nose. Togiai is quick off the ball and absolutely worked linemen in one-on-ones, displaying fantastic athletic abilities. His strength is always evident and his effort makes him a top shelf player. I do have a couple of very slight concerns in that I want him to get better at shedding blockers and do a bit better at holding his line while moving laterally, but otherwise the player is ready to start in the NFL.

3) Daviyon Nixon, Iowa; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 305

Iowa is another team that usually excels at producing top shelf talent on the defensive line and Daviyon Nixon is their contribution this season. Nixon is one of the better athletes in this class and uses his speed to win duels on the offensive line. If left with a solo block he can slide right by interior offensive linemen so he often saw double teams. Nixon displayed patience, not letting himself be pushed off his spot for the sake of making a move, and very good play identification. He has a nice swim, sheds well, and is clearly a very talented athlete, but I would like him to stay aggressive through blocks. Sometimes he will stop his feet when he doesn’t gain any ground and almost quit on the play and at times he can settle in pass rush situations which made Iowa vulnerable downfield.

4) Marvin Wilson II, Florida State; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 305

Marvin Wilson was one of my favorite interior defensive linemen to watch film on this year because he’s just so good. He’s an absolute freak of nature in his strength, demolishing solo blocks and getting a nice drive in double teams. At the same time he has great moves, including a very convincing swim, and really impressive mobility, getting off the ball quickly and working upfield very well. He absolutely obliterates the pocket and positions himself well so that he’s always dictating the play even if he’s not in on the tackle. Wilson could easily end up being the best player from this position group if he pans out the way we want all prospects to pan out.

5) Levi Onwuzurike, Washington; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 288

Onwuzurike is the top player in the second tier of defensive tackles, guys who can get snaps this season in the NFL but aren’t good enough to start or be every down players for a challenging team. What I really liked about the Washington product was his versatility. He was able to line up anywhere on the line, partially due to his smaller size, and was effective from all over. His biggest asset is his mobility, getting across the face of blockers well and collapsing pockets with his spin move. He saw a lot of double teams but because of his versatility and mobility, he was able to cause a lot of confusion along the lines. That won’t be as easy in the NFL and that element of surprise combined with his strength won’t be as effective, so he may struggle to fit in at first. A creative defensive coordinator will have a field day with the player but it may be easier to slot him into one position and have him maximize his efficiency there. But that wouldn’t be as fun.

6) Khyiris Tonga, BYU; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 321

Tonga, a bit like Tommy Togiai, wasn’t really expected to be challenging for a high draft position this season, but an explosive run of games for a very good team makes Tonga a very big asset in this draft. Tonga is a much more effective player in pass rush than he is in the run stop, but he’s going to be useful whenever he’s used correctly. He’s a brute of an athlete with immense strength and mauling intentions against interior linemen. Left to a solo block he will certainly end up in the backfield and his quickness means you don’t have much time to spare. Even in double teams Tonga doesn’t get driven back and his intelligence means that he’s exceptional at getting to his spot and affecting the play from there. He identifies the ball well and enjoys blowing up plays before they start. He could be a very nice passing down specialist for a team this season.

7) Jay Tufele, USC; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 305

Jay Tufele is a lot higher up on a lot of draft boards than I have him and will likely be taken higher than I would be willing to pay, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him as a player, it’s more that I just don’t see his upside. There’s plenty of good things that he does. He sheds blockers well and he’s an exceptional identifier of the ball. At the same time he’s pretty quick and has a devastating swim move, using very strong arms to move solo blocks to get to the quarterback. When he has his eyes on the ball Tufele does his best work, but there’s a lot of issues that I see. Tufele’s mobility is really unimpressive to me and I don’t see that improving. His hips seem to be set in concrete and he doesn’t do a very good job of dealing with double teams. He doesn’t really dominate his blocks and would probably be best in a 4-3 set which isn’t ideal for a player you’re taking with a very high pick. If he can improve his movement he could end up being a three down player but I don’t see it right now.

8) Tyler Shelvin, LSU; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 346

I had very high hopes for Tyler Shelvin this season so when he opted out of playing I was a bit disappointed, but I think he could be very good in the NFL. You do have to take his film with a grain of salt because everyone on the 2019 defense is or will be a very good NFL player in some capacity, but Shelvin can still stand out. For starters he’s one of the biggest players in the entire draft and absolutely dominated the run because of it. He can get to his position and plug a hole like very few people in the draft. He identifies the football very well and sheds into tackles very efficiently. He destroys solo blocks because of his size, but his hands are very effective and an underrated part of his game. The issue with Shelvin is that he’s not very good in the pass rush. He struggles to get pressure and when he does he has trouble bringing the quarterback down. He’s almost certainly a run specialist in the NFL unless someone can improve his ability to collapse the pocket regularly.

9) Tedarrell Slaton, Florida; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 340

Slaton isn’t the wildly dominant every down player that some of players ahead of him are, but he was wildly effective this season despite his stats. He was the anchor of a defense that was largely disappointing and helped keep Florida in some games that they probably should have been blown out in. Despite his size he’s very mobile and can do a lot of things on the field. He’s excellent at getting into positions that collapse the pocket, setting up with nice spins moves and very good strength. He was absolutely dominant against South Carolina and demanded double teams and made Florida’s run stop objectively better. He tracks the football well and has great effort that stood out in a disappointing defense. He may be used as a run specialist until he’s more acclimated with the NFL but he’s good enough to play all three downs regardless of situation.

10) Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 325

Bobby Brown had big shoes to fill once Justin Madubuike left for the NFL but he did a fine job of getting his work done effectively. He’s an absolutely huge frame with an extremely strong base and a lower body that could get a drive in nearly any situation he was placed in. He was very good at creating pressure in the pocket with his strength and that ‘s very impressive considering he was playing a very difficult SEC schedule. As the season went on Brown turned up the heat and becan getting pressure so some recency bias may get him picked a bit higher than he really deserves, but he’s a very good player with nice upside in the right scenario.

11) Jaylen Twyman, Pitt; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 290

Twyman sat out the 2020 season so we are operating off of film that’s a bit older, but he played for a Pitt line that was absolutely loaded and did a ton of damage in the ACC. Twyman won’t be as good as Aaron Donald, another Pitt grad, but he will be good enough to play snaps in the NFL this season. There’s inklings of an extremely good player here, but he has yet to put everything together. There’s some good play identification and decent strength to go with it. His movement is fine and while he’s a touch slow in general, he can be quick off the ball. His moves can be effective but also a bit slow. His body control is pretty exceptional and that shows when moving laterally and his understanding of the game is certainly there, staying low around blocks and getting to the right spots, but he’s just a level too low everywhere. If he can just improve everything by a notch or two he’s going to be a great player in the NFL.

12) Marlon Tuipulotu, USC; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 305

USC’s other defensive tackle, Marlon Tuipulotu, didn’t get nearly as much attention as Jay Tufele but was just as important to the Trojan’s season as his counterpart. Marlon was a run specialist that played a lot of downs for USC which might have brought his overall effectiveness down a bit. He has decent movement and good ball identification, a good formula for a run stopper, but the pass rush upside just isn’t there. He preferred to go around blocks but wasn’t really fast enough to affect plays when doing so. Tuipulota tracks the football very well and anchors his position well enough to shut down plays, but I have qualms about his pass rush situation. He’s good enough to play nose on run downs but I don’t see much else here.

13) Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 279

Odighizuwa is a really interesting player. While he’s not really big enough to play defensive tackle UCLA still used him there and he was pretty effective. He’s almost a niche player who’s best suited to be an outside defensive tackle in a 3-4 or a pass rusher who crosses into interior offensive linemen, but neither of those classifications are worthy of a very high draft pick unless you’re an unreal talent which Osa is not. He did a lot for UCLA and that makes him valuable, but I’m not sure how NFL teams will slot him into packages. He can line up outside, inside, he can stand or stay in a three or four technique, he sometimes drops three yards, sometimes rushes, so he’s clearly useful, but might not be someone every team can find a spot for. I liked how active the player was, using his hands to help him drive well in pass rush. He’s not strong enough to work a double team and has to use his movement to win blocks. If the player doesn’t gain ground in the first few seconds you can just about count him out of getting pressure which is a big issue, but his movement is good enough to beat interior linemen with a bit of consistency. I’m not really smart enough to figure out where Odighizuwa fits in, but that’s not really my job. There’s upside here I think but I’m not sure where.

14) Alim McNeill, NC State; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 320

Alim McNeill was the heart of the defensive line at NC State and helped them become one of the better programs in the nation this season. There wasn’t a lot of other talent on the line which meant he saw a lot of double teams, but he was still able to get penetration through them on occasion. Mainly I would like to see him do two things in the NFL: clog holes and create holes. He’s big enough to eliminate two gaps on run plays and strong enough to blow up blocks otherwise, and he’s a good enough athlete to make plays. The issue is almost solely with identifying plays. He’s very bad at it. Sometimes it looked like McNeill was just guessing and other times he simply seemed lost. If he can improve those aspects he could turn out to be a very good player but otherwise I think he will struggle.

15) Mustafa Johnson, Colorado; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 290

Like McNeill, Johnson is really a one issue player with some good upside elsewhere. I would like to see Johnson get a bit bigger for the NFL but my main issue is that he really struggles to get off his block to make tackles. Occupying a running lane is a good thing but if you can’t shed to make the tackle you’re really just out there taking up space. THis is puzzling because Johnson is a very good lateral mover, but not good enough to get off blocks apparently. His speed isn’t great but he has nice balance and processes the game quick enough to mitigate those issues. I like Johnson to play containment more because of those shedding issues and good position. Johnson is good at getting upfield and uses his strength to get there, but I want to see him make tackles with more consistency.

Other Draft Material

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