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2016 NFL Draft: Defensive Line

By: Robert Davis

The 2015 NFL Draft featured some elite talent along the defensive line. The 2016 should be no different, with impressive talent at the top of the draft, as well as tremendous depth throughout the draft.

You would be hard pressed to find a more complete defensive end than Ohio State's Joey Bosa. He stands 6'5 270, plays with a great deal of power, yet is still athletic and quick. He can be a game changer as a pass rusher, as well as make plays against the run. Bosa's power and ability at the point of attack make him a tough matchup. He can absorb blocks and disengage, but also has the power to knock tackles back on contact. He uses a great first step to get upfield, has the athleticism to counter, bend, and the speed to close on the QB. Bosa has all the tools, the refinement, and the toughness to be a difference maker from day one. He is one of the premier prospects available for the 2016 draft and will not have to wait very long to hear his name called on draft day.

DE RANKINGS
  1. Joey Bosa, Ohio St.
  2. DeForest Buckner, Oregon
  3. Shaq Lawson, Clemson
  4. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
  5. Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma St.
  6. Kevin Dodd, Clemson
  7. Jihad Ward, Illinois
  8. Jonathan Bullard, Florida
  9. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan St.
  10. Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Oregon's DeForest Bucker is the ideal five technique in a 34 defense. He's 6'7 290lbs with the frame to get even bigger. He already plays with a great deal of strength and power, so the extra weight would make him even more dangerous. His natural strength and long arms allow him to keep the blocker from reaching his chest, allowing him to control gaps and still get off the block to make plays. He shows impressive athleticism and range for such a big man, and is very active. He doesn't just control his gap, but he can get up field and make plays in the backfield, but can also chase a bit to make plays on the perimeter. His combination of strength and athleticism allow him to apply pressure on the QB, but he may not get a ton of sacks in the NFL, depending on what he is asked to do. Buckner will be in high demand on draft day with the number of teams running variations of a 34 defense. He should hear his name called in the first round, with the possibility of cracking the top ten.

Clemson's Shaq Lawson does not have the typical lean 43 end frame, but that doesn't slow him down. At a listed 6'3 270lbs, he appears to be a bit shorter and stouter than many of his peers. He uses that to his advantage, getting good leverage on his opponent. Combined with his strength, Lawson does an excellent job taking on blocks with the ability to get off and make the play. He also shows very good initial burst and quickness, allowing him to get a step on the blocker to get into the backfield. While he does have the skills to be a force against the run and pass, he may lack the physical skills to be a difference maker as a sack artist. He projects as a solid all around end, and will be coveted for his ability to get into the backfield to disrupt the action.

A'Shawn Robinson of Alabama could be the first true interior linemen off the board. From a physical standpoint, he is really impressive. At 6'4 307, he has great size on the interior, and he has the strength to match. He is tough to move off the ball and he has the ability to knock blockers back off the line of scrimmage. What is more impressive is the athleticism he displays at his size. He has the ability to move down the line of scrimmage to make plays, and the quickness to get upfield and make plays. Robinson's skills allow him to play on the nose or at end in a 34 alignment, and that versatility should carry over to the NFL as well. He is just a true junior, and as such, he does need some work. He needs to work on keeping his pads low, because he can negate his strength when he gets too upright. His pass rushing ability doesn't quite match his quickness and athleticism levels, so the right coach may be able to tap into that trait some more as well. Robinson's upside and potential to play nose tackle stand out and he is a definite first rounder in April.

Emmanuel Ogbah of Oklahoma State is another powerful defensive end. He has a well built frame at 6'4 275 and plays with excellent raw strength. He can push blockers around at times, and shows an impressive bull rush. He also shows impressive athleticism, led by very good quickness. His ability to explode off the line makes him very difficult to stop as a pass rusher. That burst off the line, combined with his strength and solid closing speed, could make him a real force off the edge as a pass rusher. Ogbah has shown some versatility, lining up inside at times, and even dropping into coverage. At this point though, Ogbah is all raw athlete. He relies on his impressive natural gifts and can take some plays off at times. With the right coach, the sky is the limit. He showed off some real explosiveness at the combine, with a 4.63 40, as well as top numbers in the vertical and broad jump for defensive lineman. He has the look of a first rounder, but the depth up front could cause him to slide to the second.

Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche was is an elite physical talent. His blend of bulk, power, and athleticism is special. He has the ability to take on double teams and control gaps, but also the ability to collapse the pocket. His athleticism is so special, that he is utilized in the backfield on offense despite weighing over 290lbs. Nkemdiche has the versatility to play DT in a 43 alignment or DE in a 34 and be a standout. He's never been a huge playmaker in terms of sacks or tackles for loss, but much of that is because of the attention he receives. Some issues off the field will be the biggest factor in where he ends up, as well as playing a role in him reaching his potential. He's a top five pick based on his ability level. He was arrested for marijuana possession, but claims he was just drunk and fell out of a window. Either way, it's not a great look for a top draft prospect. Some teams have been turned off by his interviews, and where he ultimately ends up is anyone's guess. As long as his head is on straight and focused, Nkemdiche is a big time talent and potential game changer. He may be a steal if he falls too much and lands in the right situation.
DT RANKINGS
  1. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
  2. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
  3. Jarran Reed, Alabama
  4. Andrew Billings, Baylor
  5. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
  6. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
  7. Chris Jones, Mississippi St.
  8. Kenny Clark, UCLA
  9. Sheldon Day, Notre Dame
  10. Austin Johnson, Penn St.

Sheldon Rankins of Louisville has used the post season to push himself up draft boards, following a solid showing on the field during his career. You don't realize how talented he is at first sight, as he stands just 6'1 and weights just under 300lbs. Once the action starts, his ability really stands out. Rankins has an excellent burst off the snap, and has tremendous quickness and agility for an interior lineman. He can be unblockable at times and can really disrupt the action in the backfield. He also uses his low center of gravity and strength to push blockers around as well. He can hold up at the point and play the run, but can also use his quickness to get up field and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The biggest knock on Rankins is his size, as there are questions about how well he'll hold up against bigger, more powerful players. He shows the ability to play in both an even or odd front, but may be best suited for a 43 defense. His ability to get up field and lack of size are better suited in that scheme. Despite the size questions, Rankins just makes plays. He stood out during the season, then had a tremendous week at the Senior Bowl. He has the ability to be a real difference maker on the defensive line, but some teams may knock him down a bit because of his size. The ability is there to land in the top 20, but he may not go quite that high on draft day. Whoever ends up pulling the trigger will be very happy, no matter where they select him.

Baylor's Andrew Billings has the game of a classic nose tackle. He's short, squatty, and strong which makes him very difficult to move off the ball. He is a power lifter in his spare time, and that strength is obvious in games. He is an immovable force with the ability to clog lanes inside, even though he's only 6'1 310. Billings does have surprising speed too when he gets moving. He's chased plays from behind because he doesn't give up and gets a chance to build up steam. He is limited as a pass rusher, however. Billings does not change direction well, so he relies on a bull rush and open lane to the QB to bring him down. There is some untapped potential with Billings as well, seeing as he has only played defense for three seasons. He's still working on using his hands and getting off blocks. The right coach might be able to get even more disruption out of him, to go with his gap control ability. Since he isn't flashy and doesn't have tremendous size, Billings draft stock may be a bit limited. He could hear his name called in the first, but he isn't a flashy pick, and won't carry a premium grade as a result.

UCLA DT Kenny Clark isn't very flashy but you get an appreciation for him the more you see him. He is not the most physically gifted player on the interior line, but he knows how to do his job. He has a strong build, probably going a bit shorter than his 6'3 310lb listed size. He does a good job staying low and using his strength to hold his ground and absorb contact. He shows the ability to fight off blocks and make the tackle. Clark can also flash some quickness at times to get upfield and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. He has played a variety of roles up and down the line for the Bruins, and the ability to play different roles will definitely help him in the NFL. While Clark is strong and a good run defender, he probably fits best in a 43 defense. He is capable of playing in a 34 alignment, but he may not have enough girth or length to hold up on the nose consistently, and doesn't have the length to play the five technique. In a 43 defense, his ability against the run will be top notch, and his ability to get upfield at times will be a nice boost. Some players will be taken higher than Clark on the tackle board, but he's the kind of guy that can outperform players taken ahead of him.

Other DE's to watch: Kevin Dodd(Clemson), Noah Spence(Eastern Kentucky), Shilique Calhoun(Michigan St.)

Other DT's to watch: Jarran Reed(Alabama), Vernon Butler(Louisiana Tech), Chris Jones(Mississippi St), Jonathan Bullard(Florida)


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