2014 NFL Draft Positional Breakdowns: Defensive Tackles

Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald is the star of this year’s defensive tackle class. (Photo: Andrew Weber — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino

There are plenty of talented defensive tackles available in the 2014 NFL Draft but the group as a whole lacks players with a complete skill set. Some of the prospects are stout run defenders who lack pass-rush ability; others are undersized prospects who are good penetrators but will struggle to hold up against NFL defensive linemen.

Aaron Donald headlines the defensive tackle class. Donald is an explosive penetrating defensive tackle who wrecks havoc on the interior. Donald has incredible first-step quickness and strength out of his stance that is troubling for guards to handle. He has quick, violent hands which he utilizes to beat his opponent. He has the strength to dispose of blockers and make plays in the backfield.

First Round Grades

1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh: In a highly-decorated, incredibly productive senior season, Donald consistently gave his opponents trouble with his playmaking ability. He lacks the ideal frame for a defensive tackle, but his ability to disrupt from the interior is extremely high.

2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State: Jernigan is a stout run defender who lives making plays near the line of scrimmage. He was a major factor in Florida State’s BCS National Championship Game win this season. Jernigan needs more development as a pass rusher, but if that comes together, watch out.

3. Louis Nix, Notre Dame: Nix is a big and strong force who plays with a high motor for a nose tackle prospect. A defense could be instantly improved by plugging Nix into the middle and allowing him to eat up space, consume blockers and penetrate the line of scrimmage.

4. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota: Big and athletic with the versatility to play multiple positions along a defensive front, Hageman has some technique and consistency issues to iron out, but his talent is obvious.

Second Round

5. Dominique Easley, Florida: Easley tore both of his ACLs in his collegiate career, but is one of the most dominant, disruptive, penetrating forces in college football when healthy. If he checks out medically, he has first-round talent and ability.

6. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Tuitt has the ideal build to play 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. When his motor is running, he can be dominant. Tuitt battled injuries during his 2013 season but if he can get back to his 2012 form, he can be a steal in the second round.

7. Justin Ellis, Lousiana Tech: Ellis is an impressive run defender who disposes blockers and is tough to move. His motor and quickness suggest he can also push the pocket as a pass-rusher. He is one of my “favorites” in this years class.

Third Round

8. Caraun Reid, Princeton: Reid is incredibly quick and has strong hands. He projects as a 3-technique defensive tackle who can penetrate and make plays in the backfield. He had one of the most impressive showings at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine.

9. Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi: Another prospect who had a strong showing at this year’s combine, Thornton has the strength and quickness to play 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 or 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4. He has high upside but needs to be more consistent in his hand usage.

Penn State’s DaQuan Jones should be valued as a mid-round pick in this year’s draft. (Photo: Matthew O’Haren — USA Today Sports)

Fourth Round

10. DaQuan Jones, Penn State: Jones is quick off the ball and has heavy hands. A stout run defender, Jones flashes the ability to penetrate but needs more consistent snap-to-snap effort.

11. Anthony Johnson, LSU: Johnson has an impressive build but has been overhyped during his career and underachieved. Johnson flashes strength and quickness but is raw overall.

Fifth Round

12. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee: McCullers has rare size and length and projects as a two-gap run defender. While McCullers isn’t going to impress with statistical production, his value comes in his ability to occupy blockers and eat space.

13. Ego Ferguson, LSU: Like most SEC defensive line prospects, Ferguson has a great deal of athletic upside. His football skills are under-developed. He has good short-area burst and flashes the ability to locate and close. Ferguson has clear upside but was inconsistent at LSU.

14. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech: With his frame and ability to extend his arms and anchor, Hyder projects as a 3-4 defensive end who can play two gaps or kick inside in even fronts. Hyder has active hands and is a good penetrator who also maintains run fits well. He is strong and physical at the point of attack and has shown he can split double teams.

15. George Uko, USC: Uko would have benefited from another year at USC. He projects as a 3-technique tackle or 5-technique end on an NFL defensive line. He flashes good leverage and hand usage but his technique is inconsistent. He has upside as a pass-rusher.

16. Jay Bromley, Syracuse: Bromley has excellent initial quickness and holds ground well. He flashes the ability to be a disruptive penetrator. He has some pass-rush ability and could be used in a variety of defensive line position across multiple fronts.

17. Will Sutton, Arizona State: Sutton can win with quickness, but he isn’t stout enough to hold ground at the line of scrimmage and is easily driven off the ball by stronger blockers. When he tries to side-step blockers, he ends up further out of alignment, creating holes in the line. He needs to learn to fight pressure with pressure and stay in his fits. Sutton is a good hand fighter, but he lacks the length to create separation from blockers and struggles to disengage. His overall measurables are worrisome.

18. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: When Quarles plays with proper leverage and technique, he is able to do damage. Quarles has some upside as a interior pass-rusher and has a flashed a good bull-rush. He is inconsistent in his ability to disengage from blockers and is driven out of gaps too frequently. He will need to increase his functional strength to succeed in the NFL.

Despite being snubbed from the NFL Scouting Combine, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett should be a late-round draft pick. (Photo: Troy Taormina — USA Today Sports)

Sixth Round

19. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State: One of the most surprising prospects to not receive an invite to this year’s NFL Scouting Combine, Barnett is a stout run defender with violent hands.

20. Deandre Coleman, California: Coleman is a big, strong player who projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 or as a defensive tackle in a 4-3. Coleman is fairly stout against the run but needs to improve his leverage and quickness. Coleman can be a versatile, rotational player.

21. Shamar Stephen, Connecticut: Stephen is another versatile defensive lineman who is flashy but inconsistent on film. He has great size and athleticism but he has limited short-area quickness and ability to disengage from blockers.

22. Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State: Carrethers is a developmental, rotational two-down defender with a big-time motor. His niche is eating space and occupying multiple blockers. He has upside to become a starting nose tackle.

Seventh Round

23. Chris Whaley, Texas: Whaley, a former running back, is a developmental 3-technique prospect with upside as a gap-shooter and penetrator. He is quick but still raw. He could be a steal as a late-round draft pick.

24. Wade Keliikipi, Oregon: A stout and physical nose tackle in Oregon’s 3-4 defense, Keliikipi can also play as a shade tackle in a 4-3 scheme. He needs development to be an effective pass-rusher but could be a solid reserve and rotational player in the NFL.

25. Bruce Gaston, Purdue: Gaston flashes the ability to control the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield. He is athletic, versatile and an intriguing rotational prospect.

26. Eathyn Manumaleuna, BYU: Manumaleuna plays with good leverage and hand usage while he holds his ground well to maintain run fits. He has limited upside at 25 years old but is worth a look in the draft’s late rounds.

27. Zack Kerr, Delaware: Kerr is a big, long, powerful nose tackle with good movement skills for a man of his size. He has subpar instincts but is a good fit for a 3-4 defensive front.

Top Undrafted Free Agents

28. Demonte McAllister, Florida State
29. Tenny Palepoi, Utah
30. Viliami Moala, Cal
31. Jamie Meder, Ashland
32. Lawrence Virgil, Valdosta State
33. Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
34. Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech
35. Robert Thomas, Arkansas
36. Carlos Gray, North Carolina State
37. Beau Allen, Wisconsin
38. Mike Pennel, Colorado State-Pueblo
39. Levi Brown, Temple
40. Garrison Smith, Georgia
41. Ken Bishop, Northern Illinois
42. Francis Bah, Liberty

Tags: Aaron Donald, Anthony Johnson, Beau Allen, Bruce Gaston, Calvin Barnett, Caraun Reid, Carlos Gray, Chris Whaley, Daniel McCullers, DaQuan Jones, Deandre Coleman, Demonte McAllister, Derrick Hopkins, Dominique Easley, Eathyn Manumaleuna, Ego Ferguson, Francis Bah, Garrison Smith, George Uko, Jamie Meder, Jay Bromley, Jeoffrey Pagan, Justin Ellis, Kelcy Quarles, Ken Bishop, Kerry Hyder, Khyri Thornton, Lawrence Virgil, Levi Brown, Louis Nix, Mike Pennel, Ra'Shede Hageman, Robert Thomas, Ryan Carrethers, Shamar Stephen, Stephon Tuitt, Tenny Palepoi, Timmy Jernigan, Viliami Moala, Wade Keliikipi, Will Sutton, Zack Kerr

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