It's a nice draft class of interior defenders this year, especially at the top with Auburn's Derrick Brown, who has the potential to be a top five pick and immediate impact player. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah lists five interior defensive tackles among his top 50 players in the draft. Brown comes in at No. 2 overall on his list.
Top 5 defensive tackle to watch at Combine:
1. Derrick Brown, Auburn, 6-4, 318
A finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy, Brown posted 54 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four defended passes and two forced fumbles this past year. He was a first-round pick if he came out last year, but returned to Auburn to fine-tune his game. That turned out to be a terrific idea. He's got rare physical gifts for the position, combining size and power with elite quickness. He's a disruptor in the middle, which every team is on the lookout for. Likely a top 10 pick.
2. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina, 6-5, 315
Kinlaw was one of the best players at the Senior Bowl last month and was nearly unblockable at times. He's got very good feet and quickness for a man his size, generating six sacks in 12 games from the interior this season. He still has some refinement to do with technique and hand work, but there's no denying the physical gifts and high motor. Kinlaw is a solid first-round pick.
View photos of NFL.com's top defensive tackle prospects attending the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine.
3. Ross Blacklock, TCU, 6-4, 305
Missed 2018 with an Achilles injury. Blacklock returned to have a really nice junior season with 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 12 games. He possesses terrific quickness off the ball with an ability to consistently win one-on-one matchups. He can be disruptive as an interior pass rusher with a nice mix of pass-rush moves and bull rush. Likely a first-round pick.
4. Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M, 6-3, 300
Madubuike has recorded 22.0 tackles for loss and 11.0 sacks over the last two seasons for the Aggies. He's a bit undersized, but the Rams' Aaron Donald has changed the narrative about undersized defensive tackles entering the NFL. Leverage, quickness and strength are assets Madubuike possesses, and he's proven over the last two years he can find and get to the ball.
5. Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma, 6-2, 302
The senior posted 29 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles this past season. He notched 50 tackles and 5.0 sacks from the interior as a junior. He flashed terrific potential, but it hasn't always translated to the stat sheet. He had a really nice week in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, which helped his stock.
Combine sleeper to watch:
Jordan Elliott, Missouri, 6-4, 315
Was the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2017, a key reserve in 2018, and then when given the opportunity to be a full-time starter in the center of the Tigers' defense this past year, he recorded 44 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He's a versatile player that can play multiple spots upfront because of his size and skillset. He has a lot of upside among this class of interior defensive linemen.
Lions need at the position: High
A’Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels are set to become unrestricted free agents for the Lions, and Damon Harrison Sr. said after the season he's contemplating retirement. We'll see what the market looks like for Robinson and Daniels mid-March, and what the Lions' interest in re-signing either player is.
Even if Harrison returns in 2020, there's a need for Detroit to bolster the interior of the defensive line. Da’Shawn Hand is a terrific young player, but he's ended both of his first two seasons on injured reserve. He played in just three games this past season due to injury.
Outside of Hand, the Lions really don't have someone in the middle that can consistently push the pocket and generate some pass rush. Harrison and Robinson are more two-gap run stoppers than consistent rushing threats.
Too often this season, opposing quarterbacks were able to step and elude the edge rush because of a lack of pressure and push up the middle. The best defense the Lions have had in the last two decades was the 2014 squad anchored by Ndamukong Suh in the middle in his prime. Suh had 8.5 sacks from the interior that season and Detroit had 42 sacks as a team.
Both Lions GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia have expressed a similar philosophy to roster building that begins from the ball out and being strong up the middle. I expect Detroit to address that area in free agency and the draft.
Key stat: The Lions had a combined 4.5 sacks recorded by interior defensive linemen in 2019. There were 12 defensive tackles or nose tackles around the league with more sacks individually than the Lions had as an entire defensive tackle unit.