After the offensive prospects concluded with their drills at the NFL Scouting Combine, it was time for the side of the ball that has been overwhelmingly praised in this draft class. The defensive potential in this group has been labeled ‘scary good’. Starting off with the interior defensive linemen, there were plenty of notable names that added more to their already impressive draft profiles, while there were others who weren’t well-known names coming into the event but left Indianapolis with their presence felt.
Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama
Already sitting near the top of most of mock drafts and big boards, Williams did not waste any time proving why he’s seen in that realm. Running 4.83 and 4.87 forties consecutively with a 1.67 10-yard split put him in elite company. Aaron Donald (1.63) and Fletcher Cox (1.66) are some of the more notable names who have been a part of that distinguished group (h/t Dane Brugler) with such recorded times.
During the on-field drills, the former anchor of the Crimson Tide interior defensive linemen showed innate ability to move laterally, bend, and explode out his cuts. He showed plenty of force on the “stack and shed” drill, which is why he was able to take stay clean so often and record 26.0 tackles for loss during his career. Though only a one-year starter, the astronomical potential is evident in his game.
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
The emotional leader of the top defensive line in the country, Wilkins continued to build on an already trending stock. His athleticism is widely considered one of the best parts of his game, and it showed. Wilkins suffered some slight slips in drills, but when able to dig his cleats into the turf, he exhibited clean change of direction and upfield burst.
After experimenting as a lead blocker and even taking some handoffs on occasions, Wilkins has seen his stock soar after returning for his senior season. Graduating in two and a half years and obtaining his master’s degree, combined with being a two-time team captain, teams are infatuated with his maturity and leadership skills.
Trysten Hill, DT, Central Florida (UCF)
The biggest story of this group came following the Knight’s performance. Not generating a lot of buzz coming into the event, he left with a star beside his name. His fluidity and suddenness in drills went unmatched by most of his counterparts. Running a 5.05 forty, jumping a 9’7″ in the broad jump, and posting a 35″ vertical helped his case.
Hill is known for his ball get-off and effort in games, but an unfortunate situation happened last season, where he went from being a full-time starter(started all 13 games in 2017) to starting just one game last season. Teams will now go back and do their homework as to why that happened and also dive deeper into his games to see if the explosiveness matches. Hill came in as a Day 3 possibility but is now one of the hottest names exiting the Combine.
Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois
Made famous by his illustrious career for the Leathernecks, but also from his story at the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl that involved the birth of his daughter, Saunders opted to remain at the event after he and his fiancee mutually agreed on the decision. Continuing to build on his draft stock, Saunders had a steady showing on Sunday. A short and compact type of body that packs a powerful punch, his hand strength was evident on the bag drills, as he clubbed the pop-up dummies prior to bending the arc around them. Teams that are okay with Saunders’s shorter stature will find him an intriguing addition as a rotational depth piece on the interior during the latter portions of Day 2 and Day 3.
Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Oliver didn’t participate in the on-field drills, but he still stuck out because he jumped a 36″ in the vertical and a 10′ on the broad jump. There will be lots of anticipation up until Oliver’s pro day. Measuring at 6-1 7/8, 287 helped him check off a lot of boxes surrounding his size concerns.
Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
At 6-6 1/2, 295, Tillery is a much larger interior defender than many are accustomed to. The Stanford game was the best individual game of his career, where he recorded four sacks and a forced fumble. Showing flashes of that during the Combine, his best moment came during the “wave” drill, where he was asked to test his lateral agility, hip mobility, and re-direction skills. For his size, his functionality in these drills was excellent. He still stands too tall, though, which is natural for him, considering his height and length. That concern matches his tape, as his pads tend to rise when unable to disengage at the point of attack.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
The massive nose tackle’s morning came to a quick halt after suffering an apparent quad strain injury following a 5.05 forty with a 1.76 10-yard split. Many wanted to see the former Tiger perform on-field drills just to see how well he moved in space. Lawrence will have a chance to perform again during Clemson’s pro day on March 14.
Dre’mont Jones, DT, Ohio State
Jones ran a 5.13 forty time, which was much slower than expected. It didn’t hurt him during the on-field drills portion, though. Known for his first-step burst and slippery nature, he supported his film during drills. Jones was able to alter his paths swiftly after violently sticking his foot in the ground. The former Buckeye was also requested to perform linebacker drills by some teams, which caught him by surprise. Jones looked extremely uncomfortable while doing so, though he dropped nearly every pass that came in his direction.
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