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The impact of Clemson's ridiculously talented defensive line on the 2019 NFL Draft

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  • The impact of Clemson's ridiculously talented defensive line on the 2019 NFL Draft

    The impact of Clemson's ridiculously talented defensive line on the 2019 NFL Draft
    As many as four Clemson Tiger defensive front players could go in the first round in 2019
    By Chris Trapasso
    @ChrisTrapasso
    CBSSports.com Jun 7, 2018 • 5 min read

    Clemson enters this college football season boasting three defensive linemen who likely would've been picked in the first or second round of the 2018 draft. [Insert Dabo Swinney locker room dance GIF]

    Many believed -- including myself -- that Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant would declare for the draft after stellar 2017 campaigns. Instead, the trio is still intact, as all decided to stay with the Tigers for one more season.

    Add to that triumvirate Dexter Lawrence, the largest and most hyped high school recruit out of the foursome, and you get, on paper, a collegiate defensive line for the ages.

    NC State's group from a season ago had one first-rounder (Bradley Chubb) and two third-rounders (B.J. Hill and Justin Jones). That same program represents the recent gold standard in unfairly loaded defensive fronts that ultimately yielded early NFL Draft picks when the Wolfpack's 2005 contingent featured three Round 1 selections in the '06 NFL Draft (Mario Williams at No. 1, Manny Lawson at No. 22, John McCargo at No. 26).

    This Clemson team could see four defensive linemen go in the first round of the 2019 draft. Seriously. Here's a snapshot of each before they embark on a season of block-destroying in the ACC.

    Clelin Ferrell
    2016: 44 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks
    2017: 66 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks

    This young man has the most NFL superstar potential of the group. Listed at 6-feet-5 and 260 pounds with a frame that could reasonably add more weight -- which is frightening for offensive linemen -- Ferrell, who just turned 21, plays with immense juice on the edge.

    He deploys his hands well when turning the corner too, although his repertoire of pass-rushing moves could use more diversity. Right now, he's mainly a speed-to-power player who flashes good bend and has superior athletic gifts. While we won't get official measurements until the combine, Ferrell's arms look like some of the longest in college football for the defensive end position, a major luxury pro teams will love because he has an enormous tackle radius and can get his hands on the football on rushes that don't end in the quarterback's lap.

    Ferrell should build on his two forced fumbles of 2017 and approach or eclipse double-digit tackles for loss and sacks. He should challenge Nick Bosa to be the first pure edge-rusher to be taken in the 2019 draft.

    Early comparison: Robert Quinn


    Christian Wilkins
    2016: 48 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 9 PBUs
    2017: 60 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks

    Wilkins is one of those household name college players who has seemingly been around for a decade, as he made an impact with 33 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the national runner-up Clemson squad of 2015.

    He'll be 23 in December and has a unique frame at 6-4 and 300 pounds which lends credence to the idea that he can be a member of an NFL defensive line who aligns at a different position seemingly every snap. Wilkins' fluidity when changing directions is more impressive than his explosiveness up the field, and he appeared to rely on his plus strength too often last season instead of utilizing intricate pass-rushing moves to disrupt the backfield.

    Some NFL teams will be enamored with the versatility of a tall, 300-pound athlete on their defensive front. Others will see a heavy defensive end lacking bend who loses the leverage battle on the inside because of his height. We know he can take on blocks, and he is noticeably strong, but Wilkins can be showcased if he's given more opportunities to attack upfield for the Tigers this season. He should be drafted in the first round on his physical talent and long-standing production alone yet could move into the top half of the Round 1 if he proves to be a capable one-gap penetrator.

    Early comparison: Johnathan Hankins


    Dexter Lawrence
    2016: 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks
    2017: 33 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks

    Lawrence doesn't turn 21 until November, and he's a rare prospect who had an NFL body at 18 years old. Listed at 6-4 and 327 pounds as the No. 2 overall recruit in the high school Class of 2016 by 247Sports, he has packed on some additional weight at Clemson and has carried it well.

    Lawrence stands out among the trees and has plays when, in the moment, you realize that as one of college football's biggest defenders he shouldn't be moving as fast as he is. However, he does possess many nose tackle traits, meaning he's not super twitchy. Lawrence's height can hurt him against stocky, powerful interior linemen, but no one would contend he's easily moved. More important, the former five-star recruit can use a swipe move to occasionally get to the quarterback, and when he can pin his ears back, his bull rush is Herculean.

    Similar to Wilkins, Lawrence's body type makes him a defensive line tweener, but at the NFL level he's likely to stay inside where he can cause the most disruption. Heck, he could shed some weight to get back into the 320s and be one of the most physically imposing 3-4 ends in the league. Also like Wilkins, if Lawrence is asked to attack more often and reaches or eclipses his 2016 figures, he should go in the top half of Round 1. If not, he might slide due to most of his impact coming against the run.

    Early comparison: Dontari Poe


    Austin Bryant
    2017: 50 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks

    Tasked on many plays with the responsibility to react to the read-option as the unblocked end, Bryant didn't have sack numbers in 2017 that were fully indicative of his individual performance on the outside. Another monster physically, Bryant stands 6-5 and is a chiseled 260 pounds. He really has a towering presence on the edge of Clemson's front.

    Being able to stymie the read-option has become an important skill for defensive ends, and his work there as a tall, long outside defensive lineman was outstanding in 2017. Bryant is a plus linear athlete with excellent burst and closing speed, particularly for someone of his stature.

    He's not a twitchy, bendy, change-of-direction edge-rusher, which does limit what he can bring to a team at the professional level. However, there is a fair amount of coverage snaps on his résumé, and he's only minimally awkward sinking in zone. There's a good chance he'll be viewed as a SAM linebacker for a club that mainly aligns that player close to the line of scrimmage in an under front. He would also be a nice fit as a LEO hybrid linebacker/end used in schemes run by Pete Carroll and his coaching descendants, among others. With another highly productive season, Bryant should hear his name called in the back half of the first round. If not, he looks like a classic early second-rounder. He'll be 22 in November.

    Early comparison: Connor Barwin

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  • Nick
    USA Today/NFL Draft Scout rank 2009 DL Prospects
    Nick
    Versatility at end position: Rating the D-linemen in NFL draft class
    By Frank Cooney, Special to USA TODAY

    There is more mobility than muscle available among top defensive linemen in this year's NFL draft, which should work just fine with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers joining the league's trend toward versatile 3-4 alignments.

    According to ratings by NFLDraftScout.com, two of the top 10 overall players are defensive ends and up to five might be taken in the first round. That is opposed to only two first-round prospects at defensive tackle and only four expected to be called on the first day of the draft.

    Teams are obviously in tune with the versatility of this year's defensive ends, as 18 were asked to go through drills as linebackers during the scouting combine. That included five of the top-10 defensive ends, led by top-rated Brian Orakpo of Texas and second-ranked Everette Brown, the athletic underclassman from Florida State.

    Last year, LSU's Glenn Dorsey was supposed to be the very best of a talented group of defensive tackles, but he didn't make much of an impact as a rookie after being drafted No. 5 overall by the Kansas City Chiefs.

    This year, B.J. Raji, a 6-2, 337-pound Boston College behemoth, is the best of a less-than-average group of defensive tackles and the only one from his position expected to be selected in the top 20.

    Here is a closer look at this year's top defensive line prospects (school, height and weight listed; *indicates underclassman):


    DEFENSIVE ENDS

    1. Brian Orakpo, Texas, 6-3, 263: Concerns over his durability surfaced again at the combine when Orakpo pulled a hamstring during workouts. He bench pressed 225 pounds 31 times and hopes to impress in other events at his March 25 pro day. Orakpo doesn't have a great burst off the line but manages to bully his way into leverage position and collected 11˝ sacks in 2008. He won the Lombardi, Hendricks and Nagurski awards, but scouts are not convinced his many awards are a measure of his production or that he has played up to his abilities. Even before the combine injury, they were taking a close look at medical reports because he missed time each of the past two seasons with knee issues.

    2. * Everette Brown, Florida State, 6-2, 256: He was moved all over the front seven in college to create mismatches. He might become a 3-4 rush linebacker in the NFL, especially after measuring only 6-2 at the combine after being listed at 6-4 during his college career. Brown is an explosive pass rusher who had 21˝ tackles for a loss and 13˝ sacks last season. Beyond pure speed, Brown knows how to use his hands and arms. His quick footwork and excellent balance frustrated college blockers. Assessing himself in Indianapolis, Brown said: "I feel I am the best pass rusher to use my speed, quickness and strength to get to the quarterback...
    -03-06-2009, 10:11 AM
  • Nick
    Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects
    Nick
    Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects
    May 11, 2017
    Mel Kiper Jr.
    Football analyst

    Say so long to the Class of 2017. It's time for my annual way-too-early look at next year's (potential) NFL draft class.

    So how'd I do last year? Well, three from my top five went in the top six in the 2017 draft -- Myles Garrett (1), Leonard Fournette (4) and Jamal Adams (6) -- and another went 12th (Deshaun Watson). Tim Williams, on the other hand, dropped all the way to No. 78 after an inconsistent season. A few others dropped big time or returned to school for another season, but overall it was pretty solid.

    A few notes on my first 2018 Big Board:

    I'm not going to be too scouting-heavy here. My own reports on these guys are still half-formed, and so much will change between now and the 2018 draft.

    Keep in mind that several prospects here have only started one season, and so I'm projecting based on size, athletic ability, statistics and what I hear from people around the league.

    Speaking of sizes, what's listed here is what schools give out. These could vary greatly when players show up for the 2018 combine. True height and weight really matters for almost every position.

    Check out Todd McShay's first 2018 mock draft, and come back next week for my way-too-early rankings across every position group.

    Note: One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2017 season.


    1. **Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

    Darnold has everything NFL teams want in a starter. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), makes quick decisions and is an accurate and natural passer. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes last season and ranked second in the nation in Total QBR (86.8). He does have an unorthodox, long delivery, however, that will have to be retooled. And the third-year sophomore has only started 10 games.



    2. *Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

    There is some projection here because Fitzpatrick (6-1, 195) has played both corner and safety and appears likely to stick at safety in 2017. But the versatility is a plus, and he could be really good at either spot. He has eight interceptions in two seasons, and four of those were returned for touchdowns. I also like that Fitzpatrick will get after it on special teams. He had 11 special-teams tackles in 2016.


    3. *Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

    The buzz has been growing around the 6-5, 216-pound Allen, who can really throw. His numbers weren't great last season -- 28 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions while completing 56 percent of his passes -- but NFL teams will take into account the talent around him. And Wyoming is losing a few offensive players to the NFL, including center Chase Roullier, running back Brian Hill, wide receiver Tanner Gentry and tight end...
    -05-12-2017, 06:42 AM
  • Nick
    2017 NFL Draft Round 7 #234: Rams select Ejuan Price, LB, Pittsburgh
    Nick
    For details about this player, we got to RamFanEsq!...
    -04-29-2017, 04:05 PM
  • Nick
    Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects
    Nick
    Mel Kiper's way-too-early Big Board: Top 25 2018 prospects
    May 11, 2017
    Mel Kiper Jr.
    Football analyst

    Say so long to the Class of 2017. It's time for my annual way-too-early look at next year's (potential) NFL draft class.

    So how'd I do last year? Well, three from my top five went in the top six in the 2017 draft -- Myles Garrett (1), Leonard Fournette (4) and Jamal Adams (6) -- and another went 12th (Deshaun Watson). Tim Williams, on the other hand, dropped all the way to No. 78 after an inconsistent season. A few others dropped big time or returned to school for another season, but overall it was pretty solid.

    A few notes on my first 2018 Big Board:

    I'm not going to be too scouting-heavy here. My own reports on these guys are still half-formed, and so much will change between now and the 2018 draft.

    Keep in mind that several prospects here have only started one season, and so I'm projecting based on size, athletic ability, statistics and what I hear from people around the league.

    Speaking of sizes, what's listed here is what schools give out. These could vary greatly when players show up for the 2018 combine. True height and weight really matters for almost every position.

    Check out Todd McShay's first 2018 mock draft, and come back next week for my way-too-early rankings across every position group.

    Note: One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2017 season.


    1. **Sam Darnold, QB, Southern California

    Darnold has everything NFL teams want in a starter. He has a big frame (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), makes quick decisions and is an accurate and natural passer. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes last season and ranked second in the nation in Total QBR (86.8). He does have an unorthodox, long delivery, however, that will have to be retooled. And the third-year sophomore has only started 10 games.


    2. *Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

    There is some projection here because Fitzpatrick (6-1, 195) has played both corner and safety and appears likely to stick at safety in 2017. But the versatility is a plus, and he could be really good at either spot. He has eight interceptions in two seasons, and four of those were returned for touchdowns. I also like that Fitzpatrick will get after it on special teams. He had 11 special-teams tackles in 2016.


    3. *Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

    The buzz has been growing around the 6-5, 216-pound Allen, who can really throw. His numbers weren't great last season -- 28 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions while completing 56 percent of his passes -- but NFL teams will take into account the talent around him. And Wyoming is losing a few offensive players to the NFL, including center Chase Roullier, running back Brian Hill, wide receiver Tanner Gentry and tight end Jacob Hollister....
    -07-15-2017, 08:11 AM
  • Nick
    2017 NFL Draft Round 6 #189: Rams select Tanzel Smart, DL, Tulane
    Nick
    TANZEL SMART
    TULANE AAC

    COMBINE RESULTS
    5.24 SEC
    22 REPS
    27.0 INCH
    105.0 INCH
    7.53 SEC
    4.57 SEC

    6'1"
    HEIGHT
    32 7/8"
    ARM LENGTH
    296LBS.
    WEIGHT
    9 5/8"
    HANDS

    OVERVIEW
    Even though Smart grew up in Baton Rouge and was a first-team all-state pick, he did not get a chance to play SEC football, so he went to nearby Tulane to show his wares. Playing in every game as a freshman, he was credited with 14 tackles. Then he was rewarded with a starting role each of the next three seasons, increasing his production from his sophomore (47 tackles, 6.5 for loss, two sacks), junior (62 stops, 15 for loss, two sacks), and senior (67 tackles, 18.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks) seasons. He was a first-team All-American Athletic Conference pick in both 2015 and 2016 for his efforts.

    ANALYSIS
    STRENGTHS Excited to play football on every single rep. Times up snap and is quick into the neutral zone. Always searching for the ball. Uses hand quickness to disengage and tackle on time. Good football instincts and quick to recognize and react to screens. Plays with quick hands and quick feet that get him in position to make plays. Gets to blocker's edge with low center of gravity to drive up the field and disrupt. Able to fill a stat sheet up against both run and pass. Feet and hands are a whirlwind of action that never stop looking for improved positioning. Catches blockers under their pads and has the leg drive to bull them back into the pocket.

    WEAKNESSES Short and squatty frame. Matched up against below average competition on most weeks. Plays straight-legged which limits his change of direction. Lack of length causes him to swing and miss in tackle attempts against shifty runners. May not have enough raw power to make up for his lack of size. Long-armed guards can stab his chest and stick him in neutral.

    DRAFT PROJECTION Rounds 5-6

    NFL COMPARISON Rakeem Nunez-Roches

    BOTTOM LINE He's a three-technique only who lacks desired size and length, but his quickness and disruptive nature lead to consistent production week in and week out. Smart needs to be in an upfield scheme that takes advantage of his ability to play in the gaps. His draft stock will take a hit due to his lack of measurables, but he has NFL backup potential thanks to his ability to rush the passer.
    -04-29-2017, 02:05 PM
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