We’re going to just keep rolling with our combine preview series this week taking a look at 10 interior defensive line prospects with something to prove a the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine. Billed as one of the best positions in the draft, there’s certainly a ton of athleticism in a class that has plenty to choose from in terms of variety. The edge players often get the hype in most classes, but the big men in 2018 will be hearing their names called more frequently and with more gusto to their fan bases as the class has the chance to be one of the best in recent memory.
Catch up on our NFL Combine preview material here:
- 10 offensive linemen to watch
- 10 running backs to watch
- 10 wide receivers/tight ends to watch
- 10 edge rushers to watch
- 3 players that may impress, 3 that may disappoint
Vita Vea, DT/NT, Washington
Let’s knock out one of the biggest names, and biggest players, first. Vea has been described as a ridiculous athlete and not just for his size. He reportedly ran a 4.8 40-yard dash when he weighed 335 pounds and has been projected by scouts to run in the 4.9s at his current 345 weight. While you don’t expect a DT to run 40 yards in a straight line, don’t be fooled. Teams don’t care about running 40 yards, they care about the level of athleticism it takes for a man of that size to be able to run that fast for that far, and if Vea lives up to his billing, you can write him in pen among the top 15 picks.
Tim Settle, NT, Virginia Tech
So you missed out on Vita Vea in the first round, poor thing. Don’t fret, as Tim Settle has been getting hype as a viable alternative to the Washington Mutant, and he’s no slouch in his own right. Settle carries a lot of bad weight and is a candidate to win the prop bet for being the first prospect called “sloppy” in 2018. While his strength and explosiveness are top notch, I don’t expect Settle to shine in agility drills, and, frankly, he may be one of the first players to slip during the cone drill as balance isn’t a strong suit of this big man. A strong showing at the combine could see Settle sneak into the first round, or lock him into the second.
Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State
We could always use more Canadians in the NFL! Shepherd was relatively unknown until destroying pretty much anything he touched at the Senior Bowl practices. He would, unfortunately, leave injured before he could raise his status more and is still currently expected to go Day 3. Though he’s incredibly raw and comes from a smaller school, making his projection difficult, those I’ve talked to have spoken positively about his athleticism and the expectation is that he will put on a good show in movement drills at the combine.
Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
When your chief traits all revolve around athletic ability, the combine is your shot to show that it’s an actual toolset and not having maxed out your potential. Undersized on the interior and lacking the stout build that many smaller tackles have, teams are going to have to weigh his build and athletic traits very carefully when assessing his value. With as many concerns about his technique and current level of playing ability, I’m still a bit surprised he’s hyped in the first round as often as he is, with much of that being based on his projection and not the impact he’ll have in the first year or two.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Short and around 280 pounds, the measurements portion of the combine will be important for Hurst and many of the NFL scouts watching. His size will turn off some immediately, but he can keep his draft status high with a strong showing in the explosion drills, vertical and broad, as his billing as a 3-technique will rely on those talents. If he can also post strong numbers in the other drills, he could turn on teams that don’t run a 4-3 as a possibility, since scheme limitations are going to be a concern throughout the draft process at his size.
Lowell Lotulelei, NT, Utah
Once considered a top prospect and possible first rounder, that talk all but died this past season and returning to school appeared to be a mistake for him. His weight is good for his position, but his overall size and length aren’t great and will likely limit him to solely the nose tackle position in the NFL. Athleticism in all facets appear concerning and Lotulelei will also have to answer questions about his work ethic, weight, and love of the game, in addition to his drop off in play last year.
Harrison Phillips, NT, Stanford
Easily the most productive tackle in the class, you often see eyebrows raise when they see the numbers he put up in college. Once you start digging into his tape, however, the questions start to pile up. His build isn’t ideal to play the run-stuffing role he played at Stanford, and his athleticism isn’t impressive enough to project him in the 3-technique or outward. If he can put together a strong enough combine to minimize either of those concerns, I think you start hearing about Phillips in late Day 1 again rather than Day 2 and falling.
Derrick Nnadi, NT, FLorida State
Size is going to be a bigger concern for Nnadi than it is even for Maurice Hurst, as he doesn’t appear to have the same level of athletic ability. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein has one of my favorite quotes of this draft season regarding Nnadi’s body type: “Robust build with a burly booty.”
There was some first-round hype around Nnadi, but nobody I’ve spoken to who has taken a deep dive into this class has him rated anywhere in the first two days. If he can put respectable numbers together and crush the drills, he’ll have a chance to push late into Day 2. If neither of those things happen, you’ll see him slide later into Day 3.
Justin Jones, DT, North Carolina State
Straight line pass rushing isn’t just an edge thing, you just hear it referred to as a ‘penetrating interior defender’ if it’s a defensive tackle instead of an end. That term is used well on someone like Jones, who has strong explosion and snap timing, but flails his arms and hands around enough that you will probably hear the coaches groaning in Indy. His agility measurements will likely be poor, but I expect him to do well everywhere else. Drills are going to be the big talking point for him and is his best shot to push earlier into Day 3.
Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
This is one I’m selfishly very interested in. Though he’s taller for a DT at around 6-foot-4, Thompson gets excellent leverage and stays low at the snap, making him very interesting as a 3-technique option. His athleticism in general looks impressive on tape, enough so that I’ve seen some first-round mocks with him present based solely on projection. I doubt he goes that high, but he could push into Day 2 with a strong enough showing at the combine, and there could be legitimate first-round buzz on a national level if he shows well enough in drills.