The ability to get to the quarterback is more important now than ever when overlooking defensive tackles. This year, there are a wide variety of athletes that play inside, and some that even play beyond the tackles as well. Pass-rushing is the mainstay for this upcoming draft class, as it’s large, an illustrious group of prospects will surely thwart offensive lines in the big leagues.
Best Player: DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Versatility. DeMarvin Leal is just about as versatile as it gets for an interior threat. He weighs in at 6’4″, 290 lbs, but the Texas A&M defensive lineman plays just about everywhere upfront. His speed is nothing short of miraculous for a defender his size. Because of this speed and his diversity within his skill set, Texas A&M plays him on the edge as well. Leal is one of the best defensive prospects of this draft class by far. His athleticism is certainly rare for his massive size, and his ability to be a burden for an offense on any part of the field makes him just as special.
Most Overrated: LaBryan Ray, Alabama
Ray had some shining moments during his career in Tuscaloosa, but the super-senior is being outplayed by younger defenders. So far on the season, Ray has totaled a single tackle. He shed some weight in the offseason that put him at around 280 lbs, but the lack of speed and effectiveness seen within his pass-rush raises some eyebrows. He’s also dealt with several injuries throughout his career at ‘Bama, and that doesn’t help his cause. Overall, he’s lost some traction in his game and he’ll need to step up in a big way during the later parts of the season.
Most Underrated: Jordan Davis, Georgia
Playing as a centerpiece for Georgia’s stacked defense, Davis has gathered plenty of positive reviews during his 2021 campaign. To kick it off, he’s an absolute behemoth, weighing in at 6’6″, 340 lbs. He’s a raging nightmare for rushing offenses, as his size makes it extremely difficult to create running lanes inside. Davis also shows quality traits as a pass-rusher, which is icing-on-the-cake for NFL scouts. He can succeed alone as a run-stopper, but his innate ability to sniff out the football is a bonus. Overall, he’s raw as a prospect but has some of the best potential in his class.
Watch Out For: Thomas Booker, Stanford
After a slow start to his 2021 season, Booker wants to step things up. The former 4-star recruit had a strong freshman and sophomore year before dealing with injuries that set his game back. He’s totaled a single tackle for loss in 2021 through three games, but the 6’4″, 310-pound defensive tackle has a certain dominance to his skill set that can turn around his play style. Booker has quality size to him and a great frame to disturb the pocket with. He’s underdeveloped as a prospect, but still has much room to grow.
Preseason Top 5
1. DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M – A versatile and dangerous chess piece along the defensive line. Has the size to play inside, but also has the speed to play outside.
2. Jordan Davis, Georgia – A monstrous interior defender with superb run-stopping abilities and the frame to occupy two blockers on every down.
3. Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma – A raw talent as a defensive tackle. Winfrey has a skill set that will translate more fluently to the NFL.
4. Eyioma Uwzurike, Iowa State – A pass-rushing interior defender with incredible size. Has the speed to also double as a 3-tech defensive end depending on the scheme.
5. Isaiah Thomas, Oklahoma – A towering athlete with a nose for finding the football. He has experience on the edge as well, but Thomas looks most comfortable inside.
Overall, it’s a stacked class with tons of players that have lots to improve upon. This year’s defensive tackle class is most likely going to be the group with the most hidden gems within it. Only some of these players are NFL-ready, but others have the frame and the skeleton of their game worked out.