Because there have been no sports for the past four months, I have been able to watch a lot of game film on the 2021 NFL Draft class. Now that the college football season is (hopefully) approaching, it is time to publish some rankings. I’ve decided to start on the defensive side of the ball with the defensive tackle position. The DT class is average. It is not as top-heavy as last year and there is some solid talent among the position.
This defensive tackle class is very athletic, but also very unproven. If there is no college football in the fall of 2020, many of these players will not be able to raise their draft stock. All that can be analyzed is their previous gameplay. Fortunately for me, I have watched a ton of film over the past few months and have my preseason rankings ready to go. Here are the top 20 defensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft as of July, 2020.
1. Marvin Wilson, FSU
Marvin Wilson, a senior from Florida State, is the clearcut number one defensive tackle at the moment. His ability to rush the passer is incredible considering his 310 pound frame. Wilson is very light on his feet and can move quite effectively in pursuit. He is also extremely powerful and often wins reps in the trenches based on pure strength alone. He can definitely add some pass rushing moves to his repertoire, but there aren’t too many lineman who could out-strengthen Marvin Wilson.
Wilson is more than just a nose tackle and gets off the line really well, even against the run. He plugs the gaps well and has good awareness of when a runner cuts or spins. Wilson is also a fundamentally sound tackler and should maintain his efficiency in the 2020 season. Wilson could have been a first round pick in this year’s draft. I see no reason why he can’t become a top 15 selection in the 2021 draft.
2. Jaylen Twyman, Pitt
Twyman is the most intriguing prospect to come out of Pittsburgh since Aaron Donald. No, I am not comparing one to the other, but I think Twyman can have similar success in the NFL. The first thing to know about Twyman is that he is a top notch athlete for the defensive tackle position. He is a little undersized at 6’2″, but moves so quick at 290 pounds. He has a few defined pass rushing moves which allowed him to accumulate 10.5 sacks last season.
Twyman has a really good speed-power combination when rushing the passer. He also has very good awareness in the run-pass option, which should translate to solid vision in the NFL against the passer. One thing Twyman can improve on is his effectiveness in the run game. If he can shed run blocks better and plug the right gaps, he can exceed expectations in 2020 and become a high selection in next year’s draft.
3. Jay Tufele, USC
Tufele is a dominant athlete at the defensive tackle position. He explodes off the snap and puts pressure on the quarterback using an array of moves, highlighted by his bull rush. He has played the 3-tech in a primarily 4-3 USC defensive scheme, which should translate well to a DT’s role in the NFL. Tufele is a grinder, he always hustles and never gives up on reps. He has a solid motor which is beneficial in both the run and pass games.
Against the run, he shoots the gaps well and maintains balance when switching directions. He uses his hands very effectively, although his pad levels can vary from rep to rep. Consistency is the key to Tufele’s growth. If he can gain some more consistency in his rushing combos, Tufele could hear his name called early in the 2021 NFL Draft.
4. Christian Barmore, Alabama
If you’re looking for the next great Alabama defensive tackle, Christian Barmore might be your guy. Barmore measures in at 6’5″ and 310 pounds and has all the tools necessary to turn himself into a top prospect. He offers tons of upside as a pass rusher. He has a strong frame and does a good job of driving his knees to create power and uses his hands well to shed blocks. His go-to move is the swim move to his left, but it is very efficient.
Barmore has not logged much production, as he was lower on the Alabama depth chart as a redshirt freshman. He should thrive in a starting role in the 2020 season if he could clean up a few things. Barmore is somewhat of an inefficient tackler. He usually has no problems getting into the backfield or reaching the runner, but he can struggle bringing the ball handler down. He can also develop some more concrete pass rushing moves to increase effectiveness in reps. Barmore is definitely a prospect to watch for in 2020, as he can rise up the ranks with a strong season.
5. Darius Stills, WVU
Darius Stills is a player any coach would love to have on their team. Although he lacks in size, he more than makes up for it with effort. Stills never gives up on a play and is incredibly motivated to destroy the opposing offensive line. Stills has great burst off the line and great instincts to find the ball in the backfield. He could very well be a combine warrior next year, as his quickness should translate well to the 40-yard dash and his strength should project well in the benching.
Stills is solid in pursuit, as he never alters stride when changing direction. One concern with Darius Stills is that he might be limited in the pass rushing game at the next level. In college, he typically resorts to overpowering the blocker without using many technically sound moves. In the NFL, he will be matched with lineman who match him in strength. Stills could benefit from developing some combination of push-pull or swim moves when rushing the passer. Albeit, Stills still makes the top 5 on this list due to his unique blend of speed and strength.
6. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
Onwuzurike, the nose tackle for the Huskies, measures in at 6’3″ 293 pounds. He can line up all along the defensive line, primarily as a 3 to 5-tech. Onwuzurike exhibits a lot of power and explosion at the line. He is a strong defender who is not easily moved by the offensive line. He is a threat on all three downs and has made an impact on special teams during his two years in Washington. Last year against Arizona, Onwuzurike came up with a huge blocked punt.
Onwuzurike’s stats don’t really do justice to who he is as a player. It has been difficult for him to come up with sacks because he is frequently double teamed, as Washington usually rushes only three or four. Onwuzurike is a big part of Joe Tryon’s success on the edge. I have also seen Onwuzurike lose his footing a bit, signaling that he might play a little too fast. Onwuzurike still has a ton of upside on the defensive line and can be a solid selection on day 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft.
7. Mustafa Johnson, Colorado
Mustafa Johnson was an interesting film study. I think he can be the guy that rises up draft boards after the 2020 season. Johnson is an incredible athlete who’s physicality drives his play. He has one of the more defined sets of pass rushing moves than I have seen with the defensive tackle class. He is versatile on the line and can play both the 3-tech on the inside and 5-tech on the outside, like Levi Onwuzurike. Johnson is quick in recognition and pursuit and maintains good leverage throughout each play.
Johnson is active with his hands, but can sometimes be overly aggressive. He tries to go for the ball a lot, which can limit his tackle radius in pursuit. His height could also be an issue, as he stands at 6’2″. However, his frame doesn’t concern me because he produces. He has tons of football IQ, especially when recognizing types of blocks. Johnson can definitely improve his stock in 2020, as many evaluators are not as high on him as I am.
8. Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Tyler Shelvin is a true 0-tech nose tackle for the Tigers. He is 6’3″ 350 pounds and is a tremendous run stopper. He was one of the best defensive lineman against the run in the SEC last season. Shelvin excels at penetrating the gaps and at anticipating a runner’s cuts. Shelvin is quick for his position as a nose tackle and is capable of changing direction to chase down a running back in the middle of the field for an assisted tackle.
However, Shelvin is more of a two-down player right now. He puts little to no pressure on the quarterback in passing situations. He does not have any defined pass rushing moves, which is why I’ve knocked him down a bit on this list. If he can add some pass rush technique, he can certainly rise up my board. There’s no denying his superior talent in the run game, however, which is why he is a top ten defensive tackle.
9. Corey Durden, FSU
Durden in the top ten is a bit of a projection, as he has a limited sample size. Durden is used primarily as a defensive end with his hand in the ground pre-snap. He is very effective in the pass game, as he puts much pressure on the quarterback. Durden’s bull rush generally gets him close to the quarterback, and is arsenal of other pass rushing moves help him get the job done. Blockers have a tough time moving Durden.
Durden can definitely improve in the run game, as he is a step behind Marvin Wilson off the snap and in pursuit. His tackling technique can also be improved, as he misses some one-on-one attempts versus opposing running backs. Durden is still a raw prospect so I would not be opposed to him returning to school for his senior year. However, there is plenty to like for Durden to be ranked as a top ten defensive tackle.
10. Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin
The new leader of Wisconsin’s defense, Isaiahh Loudermilk, rounds out the top ten. Loudermilk, the 6’7″ 300 pound defensive tackle, plays the 3-tech with a ton of upper-body strength. Loudermilk might not have the production numbers that these other prospects have put up, but he has promising intangibles to build on. He is a smart player with good vision and instincts. He uses his hands well to deflect passes and push back the blocker with contact to the shoulders.
Similar to Darius Stills, Loudermilk typically resorts to the bull rush rather than defined pass rushing moves. However, he is not nearly as quick. Loudermilk is also neutralized when he is double teamed. If Loudermilk can become more consistent and develop pass rushing moves to use on a lineman his size, he can be a solid prospect for next year’s draft.