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2018 NFL Draft DL Rankings

By Jim Johnson
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Ranking the draftable defensive line prospects from the 2018 class, out of Southern Pigskin's coverage area.

These rankings are comprised of what are the draftable/PFA worthy prospects from our coverage area here at Southern Pigskin -- the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, and SoCon.

These rankings include a basic rundown of strengths and weaknesses, from the pre-combine rankings, plus new round projections, player comparisons, and a more in-depth summation of my personal opinion on each respective player.

Starting with the quarterbacks, they will be released one day at a time until all of the position groups are up. After that, they will be easily found in a comprehensive database from a homepage that includes an updated mock draft.

QB | RB | WR | TE | OT | IOL (OG/C) | EDGE (DE/3-4 OLB) | DL | LB | CB | S


1. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama: 6’3, 311

Strengths: Faced high expectations going into the 2017 season, met them, exceeded them, and improved across the board. A unique combination of elite strength and athleticism with the ideal build for the position. Opposing coordinators must scheme away from him in the run game. Showed notable development as a pass rusher last season. An absolute technician, even by Bama’s standards.

Weaknesses: Has the tools to be a good pass rusher but his production was only about average. Would like to see him finish more sacks when he does get pressure.

Player Comparison: Johnathan Hankins, like, tomorrow, but with a way higher pass rush ceiling

IMO: Payne really helped himself in a loaded draft at this position with the way he dominated throughout the College Football Playoff. As polished as any of the Crimson Tide defensive linemen before him and as physically talented as many of them, Payne will be ready to start right away and be an immediate impact player. From day one, teams will have to scheme away from this guy in the run game. If he can put the existing pass rush potential together he could be an All-Pro for years.

Round Grade: Mid 1st

2. Taven Bryan, Florida: 6’5, 291

Strengths: Relative to his position, maybe one of the most athletic prospects in the entire draft class. Above average playmaker against the run -- showed some improvement from 2016 to last season. One of the nation’s premier interior pass rushers over the past two seasons and maintained that level of efficiency with a much larger sample size in 2017.

Weaknesses: Not as strong as one would like, struggles with interior power. Underdeveloped feel, instincts.

Player Comparison: Somewhere between Fletcher Cox and J.J. Watt

IMO: As you’ll notice from the player comps, Bryan is in elite company, athletically. His ceiling is as high or higher than any interior defender in this draft class. His production didn’t match the talent at Florida and that should push him to the end of the first round, but his upside is enough to look past that to an extent. He’s so explosive and should even be able to beat NFL tackles and guards off the rip. I love him as a three tech that can kick inside on passing downs at the next level, but his success is hardly dependent on scheme. Taven’s success is dependent on Taven.

Round Grade: Late 1st

3. Tim Settle, Virginia Tech: 6’2, 329

Strengths: Crazy athlete for how big he is. Good play strength. Very developed run defender that maintained efficiency of production and increased overall production with an increased workload last season. Always been able to get pressure inside or outside, but struggled to finish sacks in 2016 -- remedied that in 2017.

Weaknesses: Pass rush efficiency took a step back with a larger sample size in 2017. Technique needs work. Too many missed tackles.

Player Comparison: D.J. Reader

IMO: Settle is incredibly gifted and sometimes let that work against him at Virginia Tech. If he plays within himself and within the confines of the defense, he could be unstoppable. A rare combination of size and power with ballerina feet. I’m willing to look past his combine showing in favor of the pass rushing upside he displayed throughout his short career. At his age, he’s still pretty raw, but that’s what makes him such an enticing prospect. If he’s already as good as he has been, how good can he be?

Round Grade: Late 2nd

4. Derrick Nnadi, Florida State: 6’1, 317

Strengths: Plays with upper echelon strength and quickness. Highly developed run defender -- one of the nation’s best and most consistent over the past two years. Effective use of bull rush and converts a high rate of pressures to sacks. Overall, pretty technically sound.

Weaknesses: Decent size but not quite the NFL ideal. Pass rush productivity took a step back in 2017. Kind of a one-track pass rusher, needs to develop his repertoire of moves.

Player Comparison: Trevon Coley

IMO: Despite his physique, Nnadi’s skillset best profiles him as a nose tackle. The problem is that there’s no real recent precedent for a successful NFL nose tackle with Nnadi’s lack of length and similar athletic traits. Of course, Nnadi could be the exception that proves the rule, but it’s risky to bet on exceptions. However, if he does pan out, he could be a steal as he’s shown steady progression as a run stopper throughout his college career, and was truly excellent in that respect each of the last two seasons.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

5. R.J. McIntosh, Miami: 6’5, 286

Strengths: Nice size, length for the position with a powerful base and plus play strength. Good get off and great feel as a run defender. Showed flashes of his run stopping prowess in 2016 before busting out last season as one of the nation’s most consistent and productive interior defenders.

Weaknesses: Below average athleticism. Wasn’t as effective a pass rusher last year as he was in 2016 -- even then he was only about average.

Player Comparison: Malik Jackson

IMO: McIntosh has engine that doesn’t stop running. Even without great pass rush production in college, or elite athleticism, he has the tools to translate into a better interior pass rusher than most in this class. He only has one year of really strong tape, but his upside is obvious. Even when the technique leaves him, even when the endurance wears thin, you know you’re going to get 110% from him on every snap. That alone could be enough for some teams.

Round Grade: Early 3rd

6. B.J. Hill, NC State: 6’3, 311

Strengths: Good size for the position. Plus athleticism. Really good feel as a run stopper -- solid production in 2016 followed up by a career year last season. Above average interior pass rusher two years ago, despite lower conversion rate.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal play strength and not quick enough to overcome it. Ideally he could improve both, but at least one has to get better. Pass rush production regressed heavily in 2016.

Player Comparison: Abry Jones

IMO: Until he improves his play strength, he’s going to struggle against the run in the NFL. Still, somebody might be willing to make that trade off for his pass rush ability, despite a step back in production last year. His versatility along the defensive front offers some roster flexibility. That, plus his senior bowl, should have piqued at least a few teams interest enough to earn a day two bid.

Round Grade: Mid 3rd

7. Andrew Brown, Virginia: 6’3, 296

Strengths: Above average play strength combined with a good get off allows him to win at the point of attack. Overcomes athletic limitations to get pressure inside, outside, or with a bull rush. Unceasing competitor, never gives up on any play.

Weaknesses: Not very athletic, a plodder. Works hard and stays with the play but just doesn’t have very good feel as a run defender. Technique has a ways to go. Too many missed tackles and not enough converted sacks.

Player Comparison: Jared Crick

IMO: As highly touted as he was, he really was only about average throughout his career at Virginia. Sure, there were some highlight plays that he and a just a shortlist of others were capable of making, but the inconsistency is frightening. His combine doesn’t hint at any untapped potential that wasn’t on display in college. This is a pocket pushing big man with elite strength -- there will always be a place for that in the league. However, if taken too high he could certainly leave a team wondering what could have been. Just ask UVA fans.

Round Grade: Late 3rd

8. Breeland Speaks, Ole Miss: 6’3, 283

Strengths: Versatile and athletic with good speed for his size. Has a playmaker’s nose, finishing plays against the run and as a pass rusher at a solid rate. One of the premier interior pass rushers in college football last year on a large sample size, after having shown flashes the year prior. Powerful run defender on the edge.

Weaknesses: Only one season of strong production. Needs to be coached up, technically speaking. Can be moved by interior power. Was ejected from two different games in 2017.

Player Comparison: Jeremiah Ledbetter

IMO: Speaks consistently beat offensive lineman to the outside last season, and his explosion numbers at the combine make me think that that might stay a constant. The lack of career production is worth considering, but last year was so strong that it could overpower the former. Probably a defensive end, regardless of scheme, Speaks is a playmaker and that can’t be taught.

Round Grade: Early 4th

9. Trenton Thompson, Georgia: 6’3, 288

Strengths: Good build with a powerful, sturdy base. Above average athleticism for the position. One of the nation’s premier run defenders in 2016, playing with great feel and making a ton of plays. Productive pass rusher two years ago, as well.

Weaknesses: Production fell off a cliff in 2017. Even though his pass rushing numbers were good in 2016 it was more from pursuit and clean up rather than consistent pressure. Persistent injury concerns.

Player Comparison: Adam Gotsis

IMO: Thompson is a unique evaluation because he was so good in 2016, but had some off field issues following that campaign and never looked the same as a junior. People may cite the star power he displayed as a sophomore, but it’s worth questioning how real that was. As he started to establish himself as premier interior lineman, he started to garner more attention and double teams, in which he looked totally lost. He’ll never be much of a pass rusher in the NFL, but he could be a good run stopper. I hesitate to say great, in spite of a great run defending season two years ago, because of the aforementioned. If gameplanned against, he has not show what it takes to transcend it.

Round Grade: Early 4th

10. Taylor Stallworth, South Carolina: 6’2, 305

Strengths: Good overall athleticism. Strong, sturdy power base. Underrated pass rusher -- much better than his almost nonexistent career sack numbers would indicate.

Weaknesses: Less than ideal length. Generally wasn’t utilized on rush downs at South Carolina.

Player Comparison: Anthony Johnson

IMO: Stallworth has two years of very solid tape from college. Solid, not spectacular. His frame doesn’t match his abilities and there’s no obvious scheme fit for him in the NFL. He plays with good power and isn’t easily moved when he anchors. There’s some definite value as a packet mover on pass downs, but he may never be more than a backup or situational piece.

Round Grade: Mid 5th

11. Kendrick Norton, Miami: 6’3, 314

Strengths: Good size with a sturdy base and above average play strength. Good feel against the run.

Weaknesses: Subpar production over the past two seasons as a starter at Miami. A non-threat as a pass rusher. Average athleticism at best.

Player Comparison: Carlos Watkins

IMO: Norton’s is a run deterring gap stuffer that can fit in regardless of scheme. He has the size, length, and strength to hold his own against double teams and there’s still room to improve as a run defender. He doesn’t have the upside of guys that could even be drafted later than him, but he has a specific, defined role in the NFL and he can do it well enough.

Round Grade: Late 5th

12. Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama: 6’4, 297

Strengths: An undeniably talented athlete with top notch lateral agility and change of direction for the position, good play strength and a long, sturdy build. Bull rush bully, winning often with his superior talent. Great tackler.

Weaknesses: Never lived up to his billing as the top overall recruit in the class of 2014. Didn’t start until last season at Alabama. As a part of some of those incredible defensive lines, one would expect more efficient production.

Player Comparison: Willie Henry

IMO: The top high school recruit in the country never lived up to the hype at Alabama. He had dominant showings, but never compiled a full season of even above average play. Especially on the big stages, he consistently no-showed. This is a draft pick based on athleticism and upside more than production.

Round Grade: Late 5th

13. Justin Jones, NC State: 6’3, 309

Strengths: Good size and strength for the position. Showed out as an above average run defender and interior pass rusher in 2016.

Weaknesses: Not very athletic. Regressed across the board in 2017.

Player Comparison: Vincent Taylor

IMO: Doesn’t possess the athletic traits that many of his NC State counterparts have displayed, but he was as integral a part as any of them, save Bradley Chubb, to what was one of the best defensive fronts in college football over the past two years. He took a step back in all facets of his game in 2017, but could be a plenty serviceable NFL backup with no glaring weaknesses.

Round Grade: Mid 6th

14. Zaycoven Henderson, Texas A&M: 6’0, 298

Strengths: Good all-around athlete, quick. Good run defender and pass rusher in 2016, and showed pronounced improvement in both respects last season.

Weaknesses: Undersized with less than ideal length. May not possess adequate play strength and it’s unclear if he could maintain that key athleticism with added weight.

Player Comparison: Tanzel Smart

IMO: Henderson’s draft stock, fair or not, is capped pretty clearly by his size. He has some physical tools to work with, especially with some more translatable pass rush skills, but an inconsistent motor could hamstring his ability to improve or even earn a spot with certain teams.

Round Grade: Early 7th

15. Kentavius Street, NC State: 6’2, 280

Strengths: Versatile with experience playing all over the defensive line for NC State. Deceptive straight line speed. One of the strongest players in the class -- tantalizing power.

Weaknesses: Not as long as one would like for an end and doesn’t carry as much weight as most tackles. Isn’t very quick or laterally agile. Not very productive over the past two years.

Player Comparison: Dominique Easley

IMO: Street unfortunately tore his ACL in a private workout with the Giants in the lead up to this draft, which will likely keep him out of his entire would-be rookie season. That, too, has put his draft stock in an odd position. Famously a freak in the gym, his power is too much to turn down taking a late round flyer on, although he will probably need to kick inside in the NFL due to some of his athletic limitations that were less pronounced against college opponents.

Round Grade: Late 7th

16. Kahlil McKenzie, Tennessee: 6’3, 314

Strengths: Ideal size for the position. Quicks hands with a good initial punch. Reliable tackler.

Weaknesses: Disproportionate length for his size. Underwhelming production. Minus feel, instincts, recognition.

Player Comparison: D.J. Jones

IMO: McKenzie may come from football royalty -- his dad, legendary NFL and Vol linebacker Reginald is now the GM for the Raiders -- but is not likely to reach the heights that his blood has. Still, he offers a solid, sure tackling space eater with enough positive athletic traits to earn a roster spot.

Round Grade: PFA

17. John Atkins, Georgia: 6’3, 321

Strengths: Strong, wide frame. Above average play strength. Consistent. Hard worker.

Weaknesses: Not much athleticism to speak of. No pass rush value.

Player Comparison: Robert Thomas

IMO: You know exactly what you’re going to get from Atkins. Georgia was loaded with more talented defensive linemen last year, but he was their best. That’s a testament to his dedication and relentless work ethic. He’s a space eater with good size to fill that role. He offers little else, but that could be enough to one day be a decent backup in the NFL.

Round Grade: PFA

18. Joshua Frazier, Alabama: 6’3, 321

Strengths: Good size for the position. Technically sound. Willing competitor.

Weaknesses: Extremely limited, athletically. Not much playing time at Alabama -- limited production.

Player Comparison: Richard Ash

IMO: Same as Atkins and McKenzie, Frazier could be a decent backup space eater with little value in the way of pass rush help.

Round Grade: PFA

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP