2018 NFL Draft: Freakish Vita Vea atop shallow interior DL class


Editor’s note: NFL.com analysts Lance Zierlein and Chad Reuter will provide overviews for eight position groups in the 2018 NFL Draft (April 26-28 in Dallas), continuing today with interior defensive linemen.

Defensive tackles and defensive ends in three-man fronts don’t receive the most attention from fans or media. However, defenses that create pressure from those positions wreak havoc on quarterbacks that make their living in the pocket — it certainly helped the Eagles defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The increased usage of run-pass options and play-action from the shotgun in the NFL also creates value for interior players that can attack the mesh point.

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The 2018 draft is not stacked with elite interior defensive linemen, but there are some quick tackles and five-techniques that will collapse NFL pockets, as well as a few run stuffers that can keep offenses from winning on early downs.

Let’s explore this year’s interior DL class.

Teams with greatest need for interior DL help

1) Atlanta Falcons: With Dontari Poe off to Carolina, the Falcons need to find a stout tackle to pair with Grady Jarrett.

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2) Detroit Lions: The Lions‘ defense hasn’t been the same since Ndamukong Suh left town a few years ago. Creating more pressure up the middle will make Ziggy Ansah even more dangerous outside.

3) Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins, who released Suh this offseason, could use a quick tackle to complement Jordan Phillips.

4) Los Angeles Chargers: The Bolts gave up a league-high 4.9 yards per rush last season and need to become more disruptive up the middle. They recently restructured DT Corey Liuget‘s contract to keep him around for at least one more season, but he’s been suspended for the first four games of the 2018 campaign for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Adding a nose tackle and five-technique during the draft would be in the team’s best interest.

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5) Dallas Cowboys: DT David Irving will be back on a one-year tender, and while he has plenty of talent and potential, he’s yet to prove to the Cowboys that they can count on him long term. Plus, the team doesn’t have much depth at the position.

Top 5 players at the position

1) Vita Vea, Washington: A freakish athlete, Vea actually played as a 350-pound edge rusher at times two years ago due to the team’s injuries at the position. He can stand up double-teams and attack ball carriers. Being part of a rotation at the next level will help him stay fresh, maximizing his talents.

2) Maurice Hurst, Michigan: A quick first step makes Hurst the most dangerous penetrator in this group. He plays strong for his size (6-foot-1, 292 pounds), as well. He was diagnosed with a heart condition at the NFL Scouting Combine, but was later cleared by doctors to participate in Michigan’s pro day and was not asked to return for the combine medical recheck, which was a good sign.

3) Da’Ron Payne, Alabama: Payne’s disruptive play in the College Football Playoff gave him a boost heading into the draft process. He demonstrated that quickness all season, though, and at the combine, too. Teams seeking a nose tackle with quickness to challenge gaps on a consistent basis will look his way early in the draft.

4) Taven Bryan, Florida: Bryan was not the most productive player during his time at Florida, especially in his first two years. However, his natural ability is evident, as is his motor. At 6-5, 291 pounds, Bryan might fit best as a five-technique.

5) Harrison Phillips, Stanford: Phillips is a strong defender who’s difficult to move. His agility and nose for the ball in traffic are exemplary; it’s rare for a tackle to lead his team in tackles, as Phillips did last season with 103 stops, even if two-thirds of the tackles were assists.

Most overrated

Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama: Hand was a second-team All-SEC pick as a senior, but he didn’t make as many plays as scouts would like to see from a top-tier talent. If he wants to become a difference maker in the NFL, he’ll need to explode off the snap and break down more quickly to make tackles. If he’s picked in the mid-third or fourth round, Hand could be a solid rotational contributor as an end on a three-man line. Hand would need to pick up his playmaking skills to justify an earlier selection.

Most underrated

Jalyn Holmes, Ohio State: Holmes played outside for the Buckeyes, but I think his NFL future is in a three-man front, where he’d fit as a five-technique. He has the strength to play man-up if asked, but can also win off the edge of a tackle’s pads when needed. In sub packages, his quickness will help bring interior pressure, as well. I expect him to be a starter in the near future.

Boom or bust

Rasheem Green, USC: The former high school All-American has great potential, and Pac-12 ball carriers learned that the hard way at times. Green is a fluid athlete with good length, but tends to get washed out of plays when facing better linemen in the run game. If he can find the ball and play with leverage more consistently, as well as utilize his athleticism to win outside as a 3-4 defensive end, he could prove to be a good value on Day 3 of the draft (Rounds 4-7).

Sleeper alert

P.J. Hall, Sam Houston State: Hall was a dynamic All-American at the FCS level, racking up 86.5 tackles for loss and 42 sacks in 56 games over four years with the Bearkats. At 6-0, 310, he won’t fit every team’s size requirements for an interior player. However, he was a whirling dervish whether he was lined up outside the tackles or inside the guards at Sam Houston State, playing with leverage and quickness. He should be an excellent rotational player, if not a starter, on Sundays.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @chad_reuter.

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