- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
The 2013 defensive tackle class has the potential to be one of the best in recent history. Five players -- including No. 1 overall prospect Star Lotulelei of Utah -- at the position project as first-round picks, something that's happened just twice (2003, '10) in the last 0 years.
What makes those five players special? Below is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of each, and a current NFL player who offers a good comparison.
As always, no prospect is an exact clone of his comparison, but they do share similar traits and ability to make a comparable impact for the team that drafts them. The lone draft-eligible non-senior on the list is noted with an asterisk.
Utah's Star Lotulelei (Grade: 96)
Strengths: There's no question that Lotulelei's greatest strength is his ability to bolster a team's run defense, regardless of the scheme. He has the bulk (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) and brute strength to anchor a three-man front, and the upper-body strength and initial quickness to wreak havoc at nose tackle in a four-man front. There's also a lot to like about his ability to press and shed blockers.
Weaknesses: He's made some strides as a pass-rusher this season and has some upside in that area, but Lotulelei is still a relatively one-dimensional bull rusher who doesn't collapse the pocket as often as he could because he plays too high at times. He's also a better hand fighter defending the run than as a pass-rusher, and he can do a better job of countering when offensive linemen win initially in terms of hand placement.
UNC's Sylvester Williams (94)
Strengths: Williams has above average feet and hands for a defensive tackle prospect. And in addition to an explosive first step and the ability to disrupt plays in the backfield, he shows above-average lateral mobility and balance working down the line. He uses violent hands and good upper-body strength to get off blocks whether he's rushing the passer or defending the run.
Weaknesses: Williams (6-2, 320) has shed some weight since last year, making him quicker off the ball and helping his endurance, but he no longer has the bulk teams covet at nose tackle and his pad level has to be more consistent at his current size.
Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins* (93)
Strengths: Versatility is the first word that comes to mind when evaluating Hankins. At 6-3 and 335 pounds, he can line up anywhere along the defensive, line regardless of the front, and exploit favorable matchups. He has enough athletic ability to line up at end, where his size gives offensive tackles and tight ends problems. Or Hankins can line up at defensive tackle, where he's strong enough to anchor when teams run at him and quick enough to generate some push as a pass-rusher.
Weaknesses: He can improve as a pass-rusher, and while Hankins' body control in space is impressive for a man his size he doesn't have as much upside as Lotulelei in this area. He's not as explosive off the line and doesn't close as well.
Georgia's Johnathan Jenkins (92)
Strengths: Jenkins (6-4⅛, 363) has the potential to develop into the prototypical NFL nose tackle. He's almost impossible to move off the ball with one blocker, and he can protect his linebackers by absorbing double teams when he stays low. He's quick enough to get into good initial position, and his massive frame is an asset in this way.
Weaknesses: He's a one-dimensional run stuffer who doesn't offer much in terms of pass rush. Bigger isn't always better, and Jenkins would do well to take a cue from Williams and drop the unnecessary bulk that is affecting his speed and endurance.
Missouri's Sheldon Richardson (90)
Strengths: Concerns about his lack of ideal size (6-2⅞, 290) and offseason shoulder surgery hurt Richardson's preseason grade, but he's generated some buzz and steadily moved up our board with his strong play this year. His first-step quickness, relatively low center of gravity and improved hand fighting make him a disruptive run defender. He is also similar to Williams in his ability to get after the quarterback with foot speed and closing burst.
Weaknesses: Size is still an issue. Richardson would not fit well in a two-gap scheme unless he lined up at end, and even there he wouldn't be a great fit. Any teams interested in drafting him will also want to make sure the shoulder isn't a long term issue.
Steve Muench looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the top five defensive tackles on the board, all of whom could be first-round picks, and the current NFL players they compare to.