2018 NFL Draft Interior DL Rankings

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Interior Defensive Line is a deep position group in the 2018 NFL Draft, who comes in at #1? (Photos courtesy AP, Getty Images, and Alabama Athletics)

 

This year’s rendition of the NFL Draft is quickly approaching. Rumors are being tossed around on social media 24/7 and it’s difficult to wade through the nonsense to get to the facts. This week will be a busy one for me here on FakePigskin as I’ll be covering a different defensive position group every day leading up to the draft, with my final mock draft coming out shortly before festivities begin at AT&T Stadium on Thursday night.

 

Stay tuned as these articles will be released throughout the following days:

Interior Defensive Linemen: Today (4/21)

Edge Rushers: Tomorrow (4/22)

Off-Ball Linebackers: Monday (4/23)

Cornerbacks: Tuesday (4/24)

Safeties: Wednesday (4/25)

Four Round Mock Draft: Thursday (4/26)

 

The following players are who I consider the top-twenty interior defensive line prospects in this year’s draft, including the scheme that I believe best matches with each player’s skillset. This class of iDL is a deep group in which I expect multiple players to hear their name called in Round 1 on Thursday night, as well as starting caliber rookies being available on Day 3 of the draft. Let’s jump right in!

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Medical history aside, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst is among the safest picks in this year’s draft. High floor, with a high ceiling to match. (Mike Mulholland – MLive)

1: Maurice Hurst, Michigan

Grade: Top 15

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

When Maurice Hurst was sent home from the NFL Combine last month after he was red-flagged due to a heart condition, Hurst’s draft stock and the possibility of a future in the NFL career were in doubt. After heading back to Ann Arbor and consequently Harvard to be subject to more medical tests, Hurst was given the green light from doctors to continue his football career. If Hurst’s medical scare causes him to slip come draft night, whichever team comes away with the former Michigan lineman could have themselves the steal of the draft.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Vita Vea stands alone among two-gapping nose tackle prospects this year. (Otto Greule Jr. – Getty Images)

2: Vita Vea, Washington

Grade: Mid 1st Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, NT

In a draft class like this year where top-tier, physical, run-stuffing defensive linemen are few and far between, Vita Vea has made a name for himself to any 3-4 front team needing help up the middle. The 347-pound nose tackle has exceptional lower body power that will garner double-teams starting in his rookie season. While his pass-rushing skill set does need to be enhanced, Vea has the tools to become an all-around player given adequate coaching.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Taven Bryan has the raw athleticism teams will drool over, but can he be groomed into a future All-Pro? (Cyndi Chambers – Correspondent)

3: Taven Bryan, Florida

Grade: Late 1st Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

While comparisons to J.J. Watt may be a stretch too far, Florida’s Taven Bryan is one of the most intriguing defensive prospects this year due to his athletic abilities. Physical skillsets like Bryan’s are an uncoachable trait, but he is still a very raw product after only starting 14 games for Florida. In the right landing spot with a talented coaching staff, Bryan could very easily be the most impressive lineman from this class three to five years in the future.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Da’Ron Payne has the versatility to play almost every position on the defensive line, making him a great match for any team. (Mark Humphrey – AP)

4: Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

Grade: Early 2nd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

While some players are scheme-dependent and may not make much sense being drafted by certain teams, I would argue that Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne is a player who should be on every single team’s radar because of his versatility across all line positions. Payne has the body size and strength to be a two-gapping run defender, while also utilizing his athletic skill set off the line of scrimmage to warrant attention as a pass rusher as well.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Nathan Shepherd found the spotlight as a Senior Bowl standout in January, what team will he shine on as a pro? (Everett Royer – ksportsimages.com)

5: Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State

Grade: 2nd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

Every year, there a few players who head down to Mobile, Alabama in late January as relatively unknown, but by the time they leave town at the end of the week, they’ve garnered so much attention that every team knows their background down to the name of their senior prom date. Fort Hays State’s Nathan Shepherd put himself on the map from the start of Senior Bowl activities by outmatching every opponent he was lined up against. While Shepherd may need some time to adjust to NFL-quality competition, by the time he is due to sign his second contract, I could see him being among the top interior pass rushers in the league.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Harrison Phillips will be able to adjust to either a one or two-gapping role in the NFL and could be a valuable asset to any team. (Robert Johnson – Icon Sportswire)

6: Harrison Phillips, Stanford

Grade: Early 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

In my mind, Harrison Phillips getting drafted into the right NFL system has the opportunity to become one of this year’s biggest draft success stories. Phillips’ most accurate physical comparison would be to that of a full-grown bear, and the former three-time state champion wrestler has the flexibility and slipperiness to work his way through and around opposing linemen. Phillips has a high football intelligence and consistently out-smarts his opponents on tape throughout the course of games. While his run defense could use improvement, Phillips should be a fantastic value pick in this year’s draft.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Derrick Nnadi excels as a defender against the run but will need to improve his pass rushing abilities to be a 3-down NFL player. (Glenn Beil – USA Today Sports)

7: Derrick Nnadi, Florida State

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

At his current size, Florida State product Derrick Nnadi will make for a decent run defender in a four-man front, but where Nnadi’s future value may lie is as a nose tackle, given the fact that he can add more mass to his frame. If Nnadi would rather keep at his current weight, he needs to develop a better pass-rushing plan to attack the quarterback and become a more well-rounded player to stay on the field all three downs.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Tim Settle has the potential to develop into the best pure pass rushing DT of this draft class. (Mark Umansky – The Key Play)

8: Tim Settle, Virginia Tech

Grade: 3rd Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

Sometimes when watching tape on linemen, one player stands out so much from their first move off the line of scrimmage that it draws your attention away from all other players on the field. Tim Settle is that player when watching Virginia Tech film. The redshirt sophomore uses a flurry of moves to penetrate through offensive counterparts and has the overall mass to draw multiple blockers on an every-down basis. Settle is among the most talented linemen in this class when it comes to getting to the quarterback, but he will need to become more disciplined concerning the run in order to keep his coaches happy with his play.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Justin Jones was one of the most impressive linemen I watched during the Senior Bowl in January (Streeter Lecka – Getty Images)

9: Justin Jones, North Carolina State

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

Among developmental products coming out of the draft this year, Justin Jones has a raw defensive skillset versus the run, but his abilities as a one-gapping pass rush specialist will earn him snaps during his rookie season. Jones played alongside some very talented linemen during his time at NC State, but it was in practices at the Senior Bowl, watching him use his arsenal of pass rushing moves, where I was most enamored by Jones’ abilities. If an NFL team already has established interior defenders that are able to defend against the run, then Justin Jones would make for an excellent mid-round pick.

 

2018 NFL Draft - iDL

Deadrin Senat can be used as a primary run-stuffer in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, taking on multiple gap responsibilities. (Aaron Doster – USA Today Sports)

10: Deadrin Senat, South Florida

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, NT

Sometimes, one-trick ponies do have their place in the league. Although it is becoming more and more rare to see players that specialize in just one area of the game, when an athlete does that one skill very well, they can become a valuable asset. That’s just what South Florida’s Deadrin Senat will be in the NFL as a 1st down run defender, two-gapping from either the 0-tech or 1-tech in odd and even fronts. Senat uses his strength to make up for lack of length, and will immediately be able to improve any team’s defense who struggled against the run in 2017.

 

Best of the Rest:

11: Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, 5-Tech

 

12: Trenton Thompson, Georgia

Grade: 4th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

 

13: Poona Ford, Texas

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, NT

 

14: P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

 

15: B.J. Hill, North Carolina State

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

 

16: Andrew Brown, Virginia

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, 5-Tech

 

17: Breeland Speaks, Ole Miss

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 3-4, 5-Tech

 

18: Bilal Nichols, Delaware

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

 

19: R.J. McIntosh, Miami

Grade: 5th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 3-Tech

 

20: Kendrick Norton, Miami

Grade: 6th Round

Scheme Fit: 4-3, 1-Tech

 

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