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2015 NFL Draft: Jared's Gems - Defensive Tackle

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Scouting up the 2015 NFL Draft prospects at DT for the Seahawks.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Seahawks took another massive hit healthwise this week when it was announced that Brandon Mebane would be transferred to IR, disqualifying him from playing for the rest of the year. I have been hearing requests for an interior DL Gems since even before Bane went down, so now seems to be a good time to answer those calls.

The bad news: the 2015 DT class is not great at the top. You’ve got Leonard Williams (a pretty sure lock for top 5 overall if he declares), Danny Shelton (most likely a 1st rounder after the year he’s having…plus the low supply), and then some combination of the late-riser Eddie Goldman, and a couple of slowly falling: Michael Bennett and Carl Davis. That’s the top end right now. Plus, the standing idea that DL will always be overdrafted, we will see some reaches in the 1st. We’re not too interested in those.

I won’t embed video of Shelton…hopefully most in this region have seen a fair amount of him live/televised; plus don’t have any cutup since Hawaii game. While Shelton’s 7.5 sacks this year will be the number most people hype (cause sacks are sexy), the number you really want to know about him are his total tackles.  Shelton is averaging 7.30 tackles per game. As a Nose Tackle. That number is PHENOMville. That number is second only to LB John Timu’s 7.60/gm. That number means: you run it right at Danny and he sheds the block and makes the tackle, or his motor is so high he’s catching dudes downfield in pursuit. Either way…it’s a plus-plus skill. We can take mock drafts multiple different ways, but come the draft; if Danny Shelton is a Seahawk…you’re cool with it.

The Ohio State version of Michael Bennett is a 6’2"/288 3-technique DT who is either a poor-man’s Aaron Donald or a young-man’s Clinton McDonald. After averaging 3.23 tackles/game, 0.54 sacks/game, and 0.89 TFL/game in 2013; Bennett opened the year as a pretty commonly thought 1st round projection. But after slowing down his production to: 2.11 tkl/gm, 0.22 sacks/gm, and 0.56 TFL/gm; I’ve watched him wander off into the 2nd round. Bennett currently stands as nfldraftscout.com’s #38 overall prospect.

Bennett is a very refined pass-rushing DT. His getoff is awesome, his hands are strong, and he has plenty of technique/moves. Problem is: this year he’s getting blown off the line in run situations. He can not plant and anchor against 320lb guards, let alone stand up a double-team. I’m not sure I want to pay a price of a 1st or 2nd round on a rotational player that we previously got in the 7th round (Clinton McDonald).

The other 1st rounder faller is Iowa’s Carl Davis. At 6’5"/315, Davis is built more like Kevin Williams. Again, Davis had great 2013 tape and opened as a likely 1st round pick. Again, Davis hasn’t looked as strong in 2014. From what I’m hearing in second-hand scouting circles, Davis’ stock isn’t as down there as it has become for draft media. Unfortunately, draftbreakdown.com doesn’t have any of Davis’ 2014 games up yet, but we’ll go back to his 2013 game vs Michigan.

Scouting-wise, he shows a ton of power, with an impressive bull-rush. He has very little problem with the stack half of "stack and shed", but he’s not really doing enough in the way of shedding the blockers. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for guys this big that can handle a double-team, but I just don’t think it’s as high in the draft as a guy that can stand up the guard and center on one play, and get penetration into the backfield and disengage to make a tackle on the next play. I do like to see how Iowa is using Davis in a fair amount of tilted nose. This is something that Mebane has really taken in and used well in his game. Davis is currently ranked #56 overall by draftscout, but I’d feel better about him around #70.

UCLA’s Ellis McCarthy is a 6’4"/330lb’er that is currently ranked #49 overall, but everything I’ve watched of him says don’t draft him before the 7th round. Basically, he looks to me like the Deandre Coleman of 2015.

We’re now, basically through the first two rounds worth of names at DT. It’s not a promising group, in my opinion. But that’s in terms of value. There is still a lot of value to be found in this class. We’ll look at a few of my favorite current DT values at the varied body types.

0Tech/Nose Tackle

This is a very light class at the very heaviest of DT body types: true Nose Tackles. After the guys that I’ve mentioned; there are only 10 others currently ranked that also check in at 310lbs or bigger. Of those 10, only six presently have draftable projections. Some of that is undervaluing some of this class.

The biggest DT, by far, in this class is ECU’s Terry Williams at 6’1"/353. Terry is a player that was first pointed out to me by Zach Whitman (@zhwhitman on Twitter) as a guy that has surprisingly high SPARQ for someone at his position and size. I’ve since been keeping my eye on Williams and I like what I see. Granted, I like what I see from his 2013 tape when he played more in the 320lb range, but dude is still making plays at 353. We’ll look at footage of both years/both weights.

This is some 2014 tape of the game ECU played against Temple. Unfortunately, you have to spot Terry yourself…he will be #54 in the white jersey, generally lining up over C.

I love the 0:30 mark where Terry gets himself a double-stack of pancakes, getting both the Center and Right Guard to the ground. Now, unlike the Carl Davis tape, notice how Williams is able use upper-body strength to discard the OL to the side just in time to make the tackle. That’s both sides of the "stack and shed". Granted, Williams’ bullrush is not as good as Davis’ was.

Now we’ll look at some 2013 tape.

His first step is better, his push is better, but he’s still maintaining the power to shed the block and anchor vs the run. Terry is currently projected as the #969th overall player. A steal in the 7th.

The next NT I’ll mention is probably not strictly a NT like Terry Williams will be. This is UNI’s Xavier Williams (and we’ve talked about him before here). Listed at 6’3"/309, Xavier has enough frame to add 10-15lbs for a true nose, or can stay at 309 and rotate around between NT, 1T, and maybe even some jumbo 5T a la Red Bryant or Tony McDaniel.

What you need to know about Xavier is he has surprising length for an interior DL. That’s what could help make him interesting as an outside 5T. On the year, Xavier has recorded 66 tackles (6.6tkl/gm…another high number for a DT), 12.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 3 PBU, and 1 blocked kick in his 10 games. By comparison, Danny Shelton: 73 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 0 PBU, 0 blocked kicks.

Detractors will argue Xavier’s playing in a much lesser league, but included in Xavier’s stats is a 10 tackle, 0.5 TFL game vs FBS opponent Iowa. We could also look at the numbers of 2014 Colts’ UDFA Zach Kerr: in 2013 at Delaware, Kerr posted 57 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 PBU over the course of 12 games. In his rookie year as a Colt, Kerr has 12 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF in 9 games. I claimed the Seahawks should have drafted Zach Kerr last year, and I’m claiming they should draft Xavier Williams this year.

This is tape of Xavier and UNI taking on eventual FCS national champions NDSU in a matchup last year. It is really cumbersome to watch the whole game, but it’s the game that I discovered X. He’s wearing the #98 jersey in white.

22:30 we see a nice push, disengage and TFL by Xavier. 30:40 watch X move laterally really well, almost like a LB, to make the tackle. We don’t see Williams used much on 3rd down or obvious passing plays, so we’re not really seeing him pin his ears back and rush the passer. As such, it doesn’t appear his getoff is exceptional. But, then again, 8 sacks this year may suggest he’s improved there.

I have a feeling you, as a reader/viewer, won’t be as impressed with Xavier as I am, but I don’t know…I have this trust in him. Plus, he’s currently coming in at UDFA prices: #338 overall. I’d be willing to go 5th round.

1Tech

Chucky Hunter of TCU is listed at 6’1"/305. Has posted 27 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, and 1 FF. Doesn’t really show any one outstanding trait. Currently a round or two over-priced at #107 overall.

Angelo Blackson is one of a trio of Senior DL coming out of Auburn this year. Blackson at 6’4"/306 might be having the best year of the three:  15 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks. Auburn has a shocking lack of edge rushers on their roster, so they basically rotate their DT rushing outside. So you can make an argument that Angelo could play 5T in the pros, but I’d see him more inside. Here is Blackson getting a sack from LDE.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11805141

Blackson is currently ranked #546 overall.

3Tech

At 6’1"/295, Grady Jarrett from Clemson is going to be a 3T in the pros. He’ll give you a fair amount of interior pressure (6.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks), but he’s also been instrumental in helping Clemson post the 2nd best YPC/allowed in college football. He’s currently ranked #103 overall…just 4 spots ahead of Chucky Hunter…but in Grady’s case the projection is fair. I think Jarrett belongs late 3rd-early 4th. If you're the Seahawks and you've made the playoffs, and you love Jarrett, you probably have to pull the trigger in the 3rd.

Gabe Wright is the second name from that Auburn DL, and a few months ago I would have listed him as my favorite on that DL, and I would have ranked him very high on my overall DT board. But after experimenting with his weight, and bulking up about 15lbs before the season (the ol’ Will Sutton maneuver) to "prove that he can anchor against the run", Wright basically just torpedoed his own season. Or maybe he’s just been less effective inside when Auburn hasn’t had Dee Ford rushing outside. Whatever the case, Wright’s game hasn’t looked the same.

Where he once looked electric off the snap, with extremely heavy hands at the point of attack, Wright now just looks J.A.G.

Ranked #77 overall, I’d need to see Wright fall to about #90 before I’m regaining interest.

Now here is a really complicated player to scout. Quayshawne Buckley of Idaho is a 6’3"/305lb DT that looks more like a 1T, but surprisingly gives you enough pass rush to play 3T. After posting 46 tackles, 15.0 TFL, and 6.5 sacks as a Junior; Buckley’s production has held up his Senior year where he has already recorded 56 tackles, 12.5 TFL, and 4 Sacks.

His scouting gets complicated because of his level  of competition…AND because he might have some character concerns. In fact, he might be this year’s Andru Pulu. Buckley was arrested for DUI a couple years ago and subsequently suspended from the program. The Seahawks have dealt with redflagged players before (Bruce, Tharold come to mind), but there was a very conscious, and well-documented effort from them to avoid redflags in their most recent draft class. If that holds serve through 2015, I think Buckley is off the board. But…the man can play:

Buckley is not currently ranked in draftscout’s top 1000 players. Like I said…probably goes the Pulu/UDFA route, but be ready for him to make the team.

5Tech

This is sort of what I consider the Greg Scruggs position, both in performance and in possible roster spot. The Senior I like best here is Oklahoma’s Chuka Ndulue. Listed at 6’3"/289, Ndulue is playing some 3-4 DE for the Sooners, and though Seattle plays mostly 4-3, they like to do it with 3-4 personnel. Chuka seems like a bright guy, personable, great drawl, and he’ll bring 34 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 2 PBU with his resume. He may also pad that resume with a sub-4.90 forty time (Scruggs ran 4.76 at 284lbs). Ndulue is ranked #299 overall.

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=11521339

Juniors

Now I’m just gonna speed-round some Junior class names. I have no idea which of these guys will declare. If underclassmen have been scared off by the number of guys that declared early for 2014 draft only to go undrafted, then many will not come out this year. If this class is as misinformed/cocky as last year, then we could see a bunch.

I’ve heard some report that Malcom Brown is strongly considering declaring so he can support his wife and two kids; he just wants a 2nd round grade from the draft advisory board. I’ve heard Deforest Buckner may come out if Mariota does. And it sounds like Xavier Cooper, who has a learning disability and probably really struggles maintaining academic eligibility, is likely to enter the draft.

Christian Covington- 6’3"/295

Awesome getoff with decent anchoring, but some injury concerns (currently out with knee problem). Plus he’s from Vancouver and would the 12s really be okay with another Canadian via Rice U?

Rakeem Nunez-Roches- 6’2"/305

A player I first heard of from Tony Pauline. I watched some tape and was really impressed. Huge motor.

Sheldon Rankins- 6’2"/305

Having, arguably, one of the best years of the junior class production-wise: 39 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks…his numbers stack up well next to Leonard Williams. Rankins can also give you snaps at DE.

Vernon Butler- 6’3"/309

A very quiet little player, Butler has 37 tackles, 9.0 TFL, and a sack this year. Video is scarce but intriguing. Reminds me of Dominique Easley a bit:

Malcom Brown- 6’2"/320

Probably reminds me the most of Mebane of all the guys featured today. Snap anticipation needs some work, and that would be reason to return for Senior year, but as I said, he’s probably declaring.

Deforest Buckner- 6’7"/290

A monster of a frame. Buckner’s not getting the same attention as his linemate Armstead, but he’s by far the better athlete, and the more interesting prospect. 55 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, and 3 PBU. May end up being the most Calais-esque from the likes of Oakman/Armstead/Buckner.

Xavier Cooper- 6’4"/299

A Tacoma native, Cooper is rumored to be wanting to declare even though scouts seem to think he needs more work in college. 29 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks.

As you can probably tell from the video (or just guess from common sense), if you get like three of those Juniors (plus the expected Williams/Goldman declares) coming out, this class looks much better, and you can draft DT in the top two rounds. As it stands now, I really only like the following guys at the following prices:

Shelton- anywhere you can get him without a 1st round trade-up

Bennett- after #55

Davis- after #70

Jarrett- a very safe, albeit boring pick in late-3rd

And then a HUGE gap between 3rd and 5th. Once in the 5th round, we’re on Jimmy Staten time, and you sort of shrug your shoulders at the placement of the pick, but instead simply hope that the player picked is one of: Xavier Williams, Terry Williams, Blackson, Ndulue, Buckley. Or two of that list.