NFL Draft analyst Rob Rang offers his evaluation of the top defensive tackle prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft class.
Quinnen Williams, Alabama, 6-3, 303, 4.83
Strengths: Prototypical build for an interior defensive lineman with broad shoulders and a thick, evenly distributed musculature. Blessed with an exceptional combination of raw power and shocking quickness, alternately beating opponents with strength and speed. Often the first defender off the ball, surprising would-be blockers with his quick-twitch explosiveness, showing the ability to fire through gaps to penetrate and ruining plays from the start. Terrific upper body strength and length to stack and shed at the point of attack, utilizing a powerful push-pull technique to quickly rip through would-be blockers. Appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential.
Weaknesses: Still just a pup, lacking ideal awareness of trap and cut blocks coming his way, with some knockdown blocks on tape (Georgia, Texas A&M). Successfully negated by Oklahoma’s (one tackle) quick-tempo passing attack. Needs to show greater awareness of passing lanes, deflecting just one pass in two seasons with the Tide.
Ed Oliver, Houston, 6-2, 287, 4.85 (est.)
Strengths: A truly exceptional athlete for the position, exhibiting the light feet and loose hips of a much smaller man. Explodes off the snap like he is fired from a cannon, slicing through gaps, including those of would-be double-team blocks. Easy bend to get skinny, showing the core flexibility to slither his away around opponents and quickly re-direct left or right to pursue the ball carrier. Terrific awareness of the ball around him, recording 11 passes defensed over his career, including six as a freshman. Pursues with passion, often 10-plus yards downfield.
Weaknesses: Significantly undersized with short arms (31¾ inches), which shows up on tape. Lacks the bulk teams want on the interior of the defensive line and already owns a muscle-packed frame, suggesting that he may not have much room for additional weight without compromising his trademark quickness and agility. Health and character each require some vetting after Oliver missed four games due to a knee injury in 2018 and had a well-documented shouting match with then-Houston head coach Major Applewhite.
Dexter Lawrence, Clemson, 6-4, 342, 5.05
Strengths: Simply massive. Broad shoulders with a thick overall musculature that warrants an “oversized load” banner when he’s driving home from the stadium. Surprisingly quick off the snap with rare straight-line speed for a man of his size. Explosive power as a bull rusher, routinely walking the center into the pocket when he’s single blocked. Almost immovable when he keeps his pads low, including against double-teams.
Weaknesses: Classic run-stuffer in an era that doesn’t place as much value on his role. Almost too big, catching a lot of blocks because he’s so broad across the shoulders. While quick in short areas, Lawrence tires easily, making few plays outside of the tackle box. Limited pass rush repertoire, relying almost exclusively on simple bull rushes. Requires a thorough vetting after testing positive for a banned substance prior to the 2018 playoffs.
Christian Wilkins, Clemson, 6-3, 315, 5.04
Strengths: Terrific initial quickness to split gaps and possesses the lateral agility and balance of a much smaller man, showing enough burst to cross the face of tackles when slid outside, record tackles while covering punts or converting fake punts on designed passes (2015) and runs (2016) for first downs. Terrific awareness and motor for the position. Set a school record (for defensive linemen) with 10 tipped passes while playing DE in 2016. Plays like an undrafted free agent trying to make the team, pursuing laterally and downfield with passion. Played on three different special teams units. Did not miss a game in four seasons at Clemson and comes with a sterling reputation off the field, including earning Academic All-American accolades.
Weaknesses: More quick than powerful, struggling to anchor against double-teams. Though his gaudy tackle statistics are impressive, too many of them occur yards downfield.
Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame, 6-6, 295, 4.93
Strengths: Among the most physically imposing players in the draft. Surprisingly quick off the ball, showing impressive agility for a man of his size to get home on twists or when pursuing laterally and downfield. Better at anchoring than his size suggests, showing incredible core strength and leg drive to root himself to the ground and hold up.
Weaknesses: Limited awareness and hand-eye coordination to disrupt passing lanes, failing to register even a single tipped pass and just one kick (PAT vs. Florida State, 2018) during his college career. Needs to show more awareness of trap blocks coming his way. Struggled with immaturity early in his career.