Defensive tackle is the new cornerback, haven't you heard? If you've taken the time to look at a 2015 NFL mock draft this year, you've probably exclusively seen a defensive tackle mocked to the Detroit Lions in the first round. They aren't wrong, though. As it stands, the Lions have their top three DTs set to hit free agency, including Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. If they decide to part ways with all three tackles, their top DT going into the draft would be Caraun Reid, who played just 112 snaps as a rookie last year. Of course, there are plenty of moves to be made between now and the end of April, so I will not dwell on the possibilities during free agency. I will simply talk about one of the top DT prospects in the draft: Michael Bennett.
Bennett is a bit undersized for a DT (6-foot-2, 288 pounds), but is an intriguing prospect nonetheless. He had a slow start to his 2014 campaign, but ended up turning it around with six sacks in his final seven games. I took notice that as the season wore on, Bennett started to line up more in the 3-technique -- outside shoulder of the offensive guard -- rather than the 0- or 1-technique (over center or inside shoulder of guard).
This made a lot more sense for Bennett's style. There were far too many snaps where I saw him lined up over the center in a 3-4 formation or on the outside shoulder of the center in a 4-3. Bennett wins with his quickness and strength off the snap and will punish guards when given a straight line to the quarterback.
|First 8 Games||15||8||7||3||1||2|
|Final 7 Games||25||17||8||11||6||1||3|
For their fifth game of the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes went on the road to match up against Maryland, and Bennett lined up in the 0-tech or 1-tech for a large portion of the game. On one of his first snaps in the 3-tech, Bennett broke free for his first sack of the season.
As I previously stated, Bennett is extremely quick off the snap. He has an elite first step and is often the first person off the line of scrimmage. He explodes off the snap as if he wants to attack the guard's outside shoulder, only to quickly change directions and make his assignment look like he was trapped in quicksand. Bennett is extremely agile for a DT. These types of plays became more frequent as the season progressed.
Here's an interesting play where Bennett is actually lined up over the center in a two-point stance. He gets stuffed by the center initially, but shows great awareness by spinning away from his block and toward the QB for a sack and a forced punt.
Toward the end of the season, Bennett played a major part in OSU's Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin. Bennett doesn't necessarily explode off the snap in this play, but he does catch the guard overextending and quickly sheds the block by swatting his hands out of the way and swimming inside.
At this point, I really started to feel bad for Wisconsin's left guard. Bennett completely abused him all game and nearly goes in untouched on this play before getting to the QB and knocking the ball loose.
Effective vs. the Run
Not only did Bennett dismantle Wisconsin's offensive line in the pass game, but he also did a spectacular job of shutting down arguably the top-ranked running back of this year's class in Melvin Gordon.
Bennett is lined up over the right guard on this play and is able to shed two blocks before stuffing Gordon for a loss.
Here's a better example of Bennett blowing up a running play. Once again, he shakes off the left guard and makes a play on the ball. It appears that he's the first one to get to the ball and forces the fumble, which ultimately leads to a touchdown before the half ends.
How He Fits
Michael Bennett is Aaron Donald without the elite strength. He will thrive as a pass-rushing DT and occasionally make splash plays versus the run. He's extremely quick and is a nightmare for guards when given a straight line to the quarterback.
I'd put Bennett's value anywhere between the Lions' first- and second-round pick right now. He may be a slight reach with the No. 23 pick, but can be a steal with the No. 54 pick. I could see him being a major contributor with the Lions if paired with a guy who demands double teams like Ndamukong Suh or Nick Fairley. There are plenty of options the Lions will consider this offseason, and if there is a clear need at DT by the time the draft hits, Bennett would be a great choice to rekindle their interior defensive line.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any suggestions of prospects you would like to be profiled in the comments below.