There aren’t many years when defensive tackles can claim to be the stars of the draft.
This is one of those years.
The 2019 draft is stocked with athletic, productive prospects who can play more than one position up front. There are projections that as many as three defensive tackles will go in the top 10 and six in the first round.
Tackle is a strength of the Detroit Lions’ defense, but they could draft one with the eighth pick overall if his versatility fits head coach Matt Patricia’s multiple schemes.
Quinnen Williams of Alabama is a consensus pick to be the first defensive tackle drafted, and some analysts regard him as the No. 1 draft prospect overall. Not far behind are Christian Wilkins of Clemson and Ed Oliver of Houston, whose Combine and Pro Day workouts elevated his stock.
Williams isn’t banking on athleticism alone to be the first defensive tackle drafted.
“What sets me apart is my IQ level of football,” he said in his Combine media interview. “I feel like I can break down film like a quarterback and watch different tendencies and things like that.”
View photos of Bucky Brooks' Top 5 defensive tackle draft prospects.
Oliver was more outspoken about his talent – especially when asked about teams possibly using him at linebacker at his Combine weight of 287 pounds.
“I’d ask myself to play linebacker, too,” he said in his Combine session. “I’m a very athletic defensive tackle. I feel like I play with a lot more speed than most D-linemen do – especially the ones coming out this year.
“I feel like when you turn my tape on, you turn the other guys’ tape on, I’m moving at a different speed.”
Following is a breakdown of the top eight defensive tackle candidates, with one to watch and others, along with the Lions’ position breakdown, draft priority, historical rating and key stat:
Defensive tackle draft rating: Strong – perhaps the draft’s strongest, deepest position.
Historical rating: It doesn’t measure up to 2010, when three DTs were taken in the top 10: Ndamukong Suh to the Lions at No. 2, Gerald McCoy to the Bucs at No. 3, and Tyson Alualu to the Jaguars at No. 10.
Lions’ position breakdown: One of the team’s strongest positions, with a giant step forward from the development of 2016 second-round draft pick A’Shawn Robinson and the midseason acquisition of Damon Harrison Sr. in a trade with the Giants. Da’Shawn Hand, a fourth-round bargain in 2018, plays the edge and interior with equal impact.
Lions’ draft priority: Defensive tackle is not a pressing need, but adding one with potential impact can’t be counted out.
Key Lions’ run stat: It was a tale of two halves last season for the run defense: 1,140 yards allowed in the first eight games, 621 in the last eight. Also, the Lions gave up 642 yards on the ground in the first four games – 21 more than in the last eight.
Top 8 defensive tackle prospects:
(Note: Workout results are from Combine or Pro Day.)
1. Quinnen Williams, Alabama: 6-3, 303.
Profile: Tops in the position. Resume isn’t long – one season as a full-time interior dominator --- but it’s dazzling. A 2016 redshirt season, he had 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks in 2017. Exploded in 2018: 18.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and a safety. Finalist for Nagurski and Bednarik Awards and Outland Trophy.
2. Ed Oliver, Houston: 6-2, 287.
Profile: Comparisons to Rams star Aaron Donald stem from workouts that translate to versatility: 32 reps in the bench, 36-inch vertical jump at the Combine and “unofficial” 4.77 and 4.73 Pro Day 40s. In three seasons produced 54 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks. Knee injuries limited him to eight games in 2018.
3. Christian Wilkins, Clemson: 6-3, 315.
Profile: Pushing Oliver for No. 2 DT. One of five unanimous football All Americans in school history, solid on and off field as four-year player. Nagurski finalist as true sophomore in 2016. In 50 career games posted 16 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss, with a sack and tackle for loss vs. Alabama in 2018 national championship game.
4. Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi St.: 6-2, 301.
Profile: Not invited to Combine because of assault incident while in high school but had no issues at Mississippi St. Finished strong in 2018 with 17 of his 32 career tackles for loss. Had 7.5 in the first four games, 7.5 in the last four with two vs. Alabama. Knee injury kept him from running at Pro Day.
5. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson: 6-4, 342.
Profile: 5.05 40 showed good quickness for his size. Also 36 reps in the bench. Voted ACC defensive rookie of the year in 2016 after best statistical season: 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks. Also scored rushing touchdown. Mobility for size – plus strength -- obviously chief assets.
6. Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame: 6-6, 295.
Profile: Meshed quickly on Irish defensive line after switch from offensive line in high school. Heavy freshman rotation player, full-time starter last three years. Used ability – 4.93 40, 23 reps in bench press – to get 10.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks in 2018. Quick with surprising power.
7. Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State: 6-3, 281.
Profile: Showed potential in 2016, after 2015 redshirt season, with four tackles for loss but did not emerge fully until 2018: 13 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries. Played basketball first in high school, switched to football. Combine 40 time of 5.12. Has tools and desire to develop.
8. Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois: 6-0, 324.
Profile: Quickness (5.01 40) with bulk and strength (27 reps in bench). Four-year player after 2014 redshirt season, dominated inside last two seasons: 25 of 34.5 tackles for loss, 14 of 18 sacks. Four games of two or more tackles for loss in 2018. Could be best suited as 4-3 nose tackle. Scored one rushing TD, one receiving TD.
One to watch: Isaiah Buggs, Alabama: 6-3, 306.
Profile: His quiet demeanor earned him the nickname “Big Pooh,” but there was nothing to pooh-pooh in his performance after he transferred to Alabama in 2017 after two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Overshadowed by more high-profile teammates, Buggs broke in quickly in 2017, starting 13 of 14 games with a sack and four tackles for loss. He boosted that in 2018 to 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, starting all 15 games.
He was versatile enough to play the interior and the edge for Alabama.
Others: Ed Alexander, LSU; Trysten Hill, Central Florida; Renell Wren, Arizona State; Gerald Willis III, Miami (Fla.); Byron Cowart, Maryland; Daniel Wise, Kansas; Armon Watts, Arkansas; Greg Gaines, Washington; Albert Huggins, Clemson; Terry Beckner, Missouri; Dontavius Russell, Auburn; Kevin Givens, Penn State; John Cominsky, Charleston.