Ranking and analyzing the top 24 interior defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft
The BTSC Big Board is back, and after going over the best offensive players in this year’s draft, we’ve turned our focus to the defensive side of the ball. We’ll be starting off where every play starts — in the trenches, covering the best interior defensive linemen in this year’s draft.
Veteran nose tackle Tyson Alualu surprisingly left the Steelers in free agency, leaving a need at the position that Pittsburgh might attempt to remedy through the draft process. With a plethora of needs elsewhere on the roster, the Steelers likely won’t attempt to draft a defensive lineman until the later rounds of the draft. And while this year’s class of defensive lineman may not have a surefire first round talent, it’s certainly deep, and there should be some quality prospects available in the sixth and seventh rounds.
But before you check out this edition of the board, make sure you’re caught up on the offensive positions. You can check out the first seven installments of the board here: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers (Part 1), Wide Receivers (Part 2), Tight Ends, Interior Offensive Line, and Offensive Tackles.
As always, the main rankings are steelerfan11’s, while the analysis is a collaborative effort. SNW’s consensus rankings are an average of where the prospects appeared on big boards (ranking all positions) from other draft websites to see where the prospects stack up elsewhere. The websites, in order, are CBS Sports, Drafttek, ESPN, Mock Draft Database, and Tankathon.
This week we’re also excited to announce that Necksnation has joined the team and will be adding analysis to the board. This brings us to a total of five people working on the project, and it’s always great to see that number go up. If you’re a member of the BTSC community and would like to add to the board, please let us know in the comments below.
Let’s get to the rankings:
1. Daviyon Nixon — #54, So, 6’3”, 305 lbs — Iowa
Early 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 43 (NA, 27, 61, 42, 43)
2020 season stats: Tackles 45, TFL 13.5, Sacks 5.5, FF 1, (8 games)
Ryland B.: Nixon is a talented defensive lineman with good size and excellent athletic ability for his position. He’s a good mover and is very explosive. Technique-wise he’s still a bit of a project, but he plays powerfully with violent hands and has enough tools to contribute right away. The Steelers don’t need a defensive lineman early on the draft, and Nixon seems best suited for a 4-3 anyway, but whichever team does get the Iowa lineman will be getting a player with the potential to be among the best at his position in the next few years.
Itz JustNoah: In a relatively weak class for defensive lineman, Nixon is a bright spot. He’s not completely pro ready but he shows plenty of potential. He has excellent hands and athletic ability. Despite having 5.5 sacks (which is not bad for an interior lineman) he didn’t overly impress me as a pass rusher but his power as a run stopper is incredible. He has the ideal size and physical tools to be a starting defensive tackle, he just has to learn proper technique as a pass rusher to be really successful. I don’t think he’s a first round talent yet, but if a team wants to take a chance on him the upside is high.
steelerfan11: Most scouting reports you read will have Nixon pegged as a 3-technique, but there is another player who came out ten years ago and was also seen as either a 3-tech or even a 5-tech defensive end. That guy was Tyson Alualu. This year, Alualu was listed at 6’3” and 304 pounds. At Iowa, Nixon was listed at 6’3” and 305 pounds, but he weighed 313 pounds at Iowa’s pro day, which indicates that he may even be able to add more weight to that frame once he is in the NFL. Nixon was not expected to enter the draft this year, but he seemed to get good feeback about his draft stock and decided to enter after a breakout season. He is quick off the snap, active with the hands, and athletic enough to become one of the better ineterior linemen in the league. The upside is tremendous, and I believe he has more versatility than what the scouting reports will tell you.
2. Christian Barmore — #58, So, 6’5”, 310 lbs — Alabama
Early 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 29 (26, 49, 30, 21, 20)
2020 season stats: Tackles 37, TFL 9.5, Sacks 8, FF 3, PD 5, (12 games)
Itz JustNoah: Barmore has great size even for his position. He has all the right technique that you want from an interior lineman. His strong upper body helps him get in the backfield with ease and he has plenty of strength to help against the run. He’s much more refined than Nixon and I think that a team like the Raiders or possibly the Vikings that are ready to compete now and need a defensive tackle would work best. He can fit in a 3-4 and a 4-3 as long as playing on the interior. I would not be opposed to the Steelers taking him at 24 to add some youth to the defense (especially since Alualu didn’t return) but the offensive line is definitely a bigger need if the top tier guys are still there.
steelerfan11: Barmore struggled to get a hold of a major role on Alabama’s defense, but he really came on at the end of the 2020 season. He does a good job of getting penetration, but he is not a finisher. He has good hand usage and maintains a solid pad level, and he has good upper body strength, but he struggles against double-teams and does not do a great job of winning the battle for leverage. BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict has given him high praise, comparing him to the Steelers’ own Stefon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. He would be a top 15 pick if his success would have been for a longer period of time, but he has the upside and versatility to be a solid defensive lineman for a long time.
3. Levi Onwuzurike — #, Sr, 6’3”, 293 lbs — Washington
Late 2nd round grade
Consensus ranking: 45 (30, 83, 25, 44, 41)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 45, TFL 6, Sacks 2, FF 0, (13 games)
Itz JustNoah: I honestly hadn’t heard anything about Levi until just a couple days ago but after looking at his tape I am thoroughly impressed. He has a great combination of power, finesse, balance and natural athleticism that allows him to succeed against both the run and the pass. He gets after it on every play and he’s almost always around the ball. His production doesn’t tell the full story and you have to watch him to see what he can really do. While he has flexibility to play as a true NT, I think he fits better as your prototypical DT in a 3-4 where he’s lined up almost directly across from the guard.
Ryland B.: A true disruptor up front, Onwuzurike may not have had the flashiest statistics at Washington, but he still made quite the impact. Onwuzurike has exceptional athleticism for someone his size and plays with a relentless motor, constantly making his way into opponents’ backfields. His power and hand usage are very impressive as well. Onwuzurike’s tape is impressive, but my main nitpick is that he seems to play too high at times, allowing him to get driven back and lose the leverage battle, missing some tackles as well. Overall though it isn’t a major issue and is definitely fixable. Onwuzurike may be a little undersized for a traditional 3-4, but if he bulks up a bit or gets placed in the right scheme, he has all of the tools to succeed at the NFL level.
4. Jay Tufele — #78, Jr, 6’2”, 310 lbs — USC
Mid 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 69 (71, 43, 99, 68, 64)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 42, TFL 6.5, Sacks 4.5, FF 0, (13 games)
steelerfan11: Tufele showed the ability to push the pocket as an interior rusher in 2019, but his stock has fallen ever since his decision to opt out of the 2020 season. He is quick off the snap and has violent hands, which allows him to win in a lot of one-on-one situations. Unfortunately, he plays a bit high despite his shorter frame, and he does not have excellent awareness. He has the versatility to fit into just about any scheme, but opting out makes him a tough evaluation. I would not take him until round three.
Ryland B.: Tufele can be a lot of fun to watch. He’s a great athlete, with some of the best burst I’ve seen from a lineman in this class. Tufele’s first step is insanely good, and overall he has excellent mobility and his explosiveness can lead to some highlight reel worthy hits. His rugby background certainly shows up on the football field. He has great size and plays with good power as well. Tufele’s main problem is consistency, as he can play too high or disappear from plays sometimes. Deciding to opt out of the 2020 season might hurt his draft stock as the consistency questions were certainly not answered. If Tufele falls into the middle rounds I think he’d be a great player to develop on the Steelers’ defensive line, but he’ll probably be taken earlier than when Pittsburgh would want to take him.
5. Alim McNeill — #29, Jr, 6’2”, 320 lbs — North Carolina State
Mid 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 68 (NA, 63, NA, 75, 67)
2020 season stats: Tackles 26, TFL 4.5, Sacks 1, FF 1, FR 1, (11 games)
steelerfan11: McNeill does an excellent job of splitting the A-gap and applying pressure from the interior, but he will sometimes get upfield too quickly on running downs and become a non-factor against the run. It is rare for a 320 pound prospect to have issues with “overrunning” plays, but that is sometimes the case with McNeill. He has a quick first step out of his stance, and he maintains a good pad level, but I have concerns as to whether he can adjust the technical difficulties in his game. That said, he has enough intrigue as a penetrating 3-4 nose tackle to warrant a day two pick.
Ryland B.: I can’t say that McNeill was on my draft radar at all until now, but he’s an intriguing prospect who I think could be a really good pick in the middle rounds. Per The Draft Network, McNeill was a linebacker and running back in high school, and that athleticism and mobility shows on tape despite him now being a 320-pound nose guard. He’s massive, powerful, and mobile, but he’s still quite the project despite his upside. Being fairly new to the position, McNeill is still learning the ins and outs of the defensive line and his mental processing can be a bit slow. He has good leverage but his hand usage isn’t great, and while he often is a massive headache for offensive lines, he still gets handled way too easily at times for someone his size. I really like the fit of McNeill on the Steelers, as he has the size to play the nose tackle position but the athletic ability to be more than just a lane-plugging presence in the middle of the defense. The Steelers have a fantastic defensive line coach in Karl Dunbar as well to help smooth the rougher edges of McNeill’s game. The problem, of course, is that he’ll probably be selected long before the Steelers want to address the position.
6. Jaylen Twyman — #97, Jr, 6’2”, 290 lbs — Pittsburgh
Late 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 79 (43, 103, 89, 77, 85)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 57, TFL 12, Sacks 11, (13 games)
steelerfan11: Twyman was drawing comparisons to Aaron Donald after the 2019 season, but he opted out of the 2020 season, which hurt his draft stock. I am in no way comparing Twyman to Donald, but there are some similarities. I really hope that he was training and trying to get stronger over the past year, because that was the big concern with him after 2019. His lack of elite strength was evident on tape, but his quickness made up for his shortcomings in the strength department. He has good awareness and mobility, but his hand usage will need to improve. Another problem is that nobody seems to know where he will fit in the NFL. Twyman still has some developing to do, but the upside is tremendous if the team that drafts him figures out where he fits on the defensive line. His pro day numbers did not make much sense, however. He may have silenced some doubters about his strength with his inpressive 40 bench reps, but his 5.51 40 and 8.00 3-cone drill left a lot to be desired.
Ryland B.: An undersized defensive lineman, Twyman still impressed with some incredible production at Pitt. He’s a twitchy athlete with good mobility, and a well-polished pass rusher. Twyman’s size and strength are probably the biggest concerns, as he wasn’t the greatest run defender and often struggled against double teams. Twyman ended up opting out of the 2020 season, which many viewed as a mistake as there were still a lot of questions regarding his play. However, it seems as if Twyman used his time off wisely, bulking up a gaining strength to put on a show at the Pitt pro day (40 reps on the bench!). Twyman’s limitations may hurt his NFL career, but I believe that if he is put in the right system and can continue to gain strength, he could be very successful on the next level.
7. Darius Stills — #56, Sr, 6’1”, 285 lbs — West Virginia
Late 3rd round grade
Consensus ranking: 96 (57, 130, NA, 102, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 25, TFL 7.5, Sacks 3.5, FF 1, Int 1, PD 3, (10 games)
steelerfan11: Stills is in the same boat as Twyman in that nobody seems to be sure where he will fit. He is probably best suited as a 3-Technique, but his quickness could allow him to become a solid 5-Tech. His quickness off the snap and violent hands help him to get penetration as a pass-rusher. He also does a good job of winning the battle for leverage and maintaining a good pad level. He has good overall awareness and is very consistent at finishing tackles in the backfield, but he will occasionally take himself out of a play by getting upfield too quickly and overrunning plays that are in obvious rushing situations. Overall, I like the upside he brings and find him to be worth the risk if he is still available on day three.
Ryland B.: Steelerfan11 is absolutely correct with the Jaylen Twyman comparison for Stills, as they are both very similar players. Much like Twyman, Stills has drawn some Aaron Donald comparisons throughout his college career. He’s another great athlete who is very quick off of the ball. He’s definitely on the smaller side, but plays with surprising strength, and is a technically strong pass-rusher. Stills has a nice array of moves and very violent hands. In run defense, Stills can struggle, as his size can be an issue and he can over pursue at times. The more I watch Stills the more I like him, but being a 285-pound defensive tackle might just be too big a problem to ignore.
8. Marvin Wilson — #21, Sr, 6’4”, 310 lbs — Florida State
Mid 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 75 (107, 46, 79, 73, 71)
2020 season stats: Tackles 17, TFL 2.5, Sacks 0, FF 0, (6 games)
steelerfan11: Wilson is one of only a handful of players whose draft stock was hurt by returning for his senior season. He was a potential first round pick last season, but he is now widely viewed as a late day two option at best. Listed at 319 pounds, the former five-star recruit has the size to potentially play as a nose tackle in a 3-4 system, but he may be best suited as a 2-Tech in an odd-man front. He is a fairly quick mover for a man his size, but he seemed to regress as a pass-rusher this year. Injuries could have played a part in it, but it is difficult to tell if he will ever reach the potential that he seemed to have coming out of high school.
Ryland B.: Once considered the top defensive line prospect in the draft, Wilson’s stock has taken a nosedive due to a 2020 season in which the star defensive tackle seemed to regress. Wilson is a powerful defender with a strong bull rush and solid athleticism. He’s a decent pass rusher but is strong against the run, although he’s one of those players whose impact may show up more on tape than on the stat sheet. It’s worth noting Wilson has had his share of special teams highlights, having success blocking both kicks and punts. Despite his inconsistency, Wilson has a fairly high floor, and an even higher ceiling if he can maximize his potential.
9. Osa Odighizua — #92, So, 6’2”, 279 lbs — UCLA
Mid 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 121 (68, 211, 92, 114, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 30, TFL 6, Sacks 4, (7 games)
steelerfan11: Odighizua had a nice week at the Senior Bowl, displaying excellent quickness off the snap and a good pad level. The downside is that he will have a hard time in the NFL unless he can add some serious strength. I like his motor and closing speed, and he does a good job of winning the battle for leverage. He will most likely have to play as a 4-3 defensive end who can potentially move inside on passing downs, but until a team can figure out where he fits, it is difficult to find him worthy of a day two selection. He will likely be a mid-round pick that will need to find the right scheme in order to succeed.
Ryland B.: Another smaller interior lineman at 279 pounds, Osa Odighizua is an athletic defender who enjoyed some excellent production at UCLA, although his fit in the NFL is a bit of a mystery. Considered by some to be more of an edge rusher/defensive end than defensive tackle, Odighizua has the physical traits of the former but the skillset of the latter. He plays with good leverage and high effort, but his strength and power can be lacking. The younger brother of Owamagbe Odighizuwa, a third round pick of the Giants back in 2015, Osa is looking to get picked in a similar range, although the team that picks him will have to know how to use him.
10. Tommy Togiai — #72, Jr, 6’2”, 300 lbs — Ohio State
Late 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 112 (NA, 150, NA, 91, 96)
2020 season stats: Tackles 23, TFL 8.5, Sacks 0, FF 1, (7 games)
Necksnation: Tommy Togiai is one of the safer picks on this list. His quickness gives him a high floor, but his size limits his potential ceiling. He stands out as a run defender, where he is aided by his mobility and hand usage. He isn’t the most polished pass rusher, but he has demonstrated improvement in that area, registering 3 sacks in 7 games for Ohio State last year. All in all, Togiai is a good prospect who may be best suited to be an early-down defender at the next level.
Ryland B.: A bit of a departure from the raw, highly-athletic prospects that make up a good portion of this list, Togiai doesn’t have the highest upside, but instead has one of the safer floors in this class. He doesn’t have elite size, but he still uses it well, as he has good strength and power and is a good run defender. As a pass-rusher he’s less developed but he still is fairly quick and mobile and can collapse the pocket from the interior. His hand usage really stood out as well. He’s a very solid prospect to round out the top 10 at his position in this year’s draft.
11. Tyler Shelvin — #72, So, 6’3”, 346 lbs — LSU
Late 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 84 (104, 55, 78, 90, 93)
2020 season stats: (0 games)
2019 season stats: Tackles 39, TFL 3, Sacks 0, PD 2, (13 games)
Itz JustNoah: His production wasn’t the best in 2019 but he still looked great. He has a lot of power in his push, his hand technique is great and he wraps up well. He may not get after the quarterback but he’s incredible as a run stopper and with proper pass rushing technique he could be very good. I think his upside is high and if the Steelers are looking to get someone to replace Alualu or even build for the future, Shelvin would be great value with one of our 4th round picks.
12. Cameron Sample — #5, Sr, 6’3”, 280 lbs — Tulane
Late 4th round grade
Consensus ranking: 187 (NA, 218, 217, 126, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 44, TFL, Sacks 0, PD 0, (12 games)
Ryland B: With a leaner build and a weight of 280 pounds, Sample projects more as an edge rusher on the NFL level than a defensive tackle. Sample’s versatility, the ability to play on the edge, in the interior, and even at linebacker at times, is an impressive and valuable asset. Sample has good straight line speed and solid agility, and he’s a sure tackler who plays with a very good motor. Sample has good pass-rushing technique and run-stopping discipline, and he plays with good power although it is far from ideal for an interior defender. Sample is probably best suited as a defensive end on a 4-3 defense.
13. Naquan Jones — #93, Sr, 6’4”, 340 lbs — Michigan State
Early 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 235 (NA, 225, NA, 244, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 24, TFL 5, Sacks 0, PD 1, FR 1, (7 games)
steelerfan11: Jones is one of my favorite sleepers in this class. His hand usage needs work, and he is not incredibly quick off the snap, but once he gets his body moving in the right direction, he is a threat as a pass rusher from the interior. He is best suited as a 3-4 nose tackle, which makes him a logical fit for the Steelers. He maintains a good pad level in the run game and does a good job of getting leverage on opposing linemen. Jones did not get a ton of opportunities to display his skill set before 2020, but he showed improvement in almost every aspect of his game this season. The Steelers do not currently have a 5th round pick, but he should definitely be considered in round six if he happens to fall that far.
14. Khyris Tonga — #95, Sr, 6’2”, 326 lbs — BYU
Mid 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 304 (NA, 210, NA, 197, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 36, TFL 2.5, Sacks 0, PD 0, (11 games)
steelerfan11: Tonga is an above-average run defender who will only get better in that department. When a hole opens up for the running back to the left or right of him, he sometimes struggles to disengage from his block and make the tackle near the line of scrimmage. He has some intrigue as a pocket disrupter when he maintains a low pad level and uses his impressive bull rush to get into the backfield, but he does not have a ton of other ways of getting to the quarterback. His repertoire of pass rushing moves will need to become bigger if he is going to provide consistent value on passing downs.
15. Milton Williams — #97, Jr, 6’4”, 278 lbs — Louisiana Tech
Mid 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 225 (NA, 292, NA, 157, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 44, TFL 10, Sacks 4.5, PD 1, FR 3, (10 games)
Ryland B.: Williams is an athletic prospect with a lot of upside, but questions regarding his size and strength will make him a risky pick in the upcoming draft. He has good mobility and has some nice pass-rush moves, and he’s a good tackler and run defender. He’s undersized though, and got pushed back more often than you’d like to see from an interior lineman. He rarely did much against double teams, too. On tape I did notice he got held a lot, which is a testament to his quickness and hand-usage. Williams will be an interesting late-round pick, but some major holes in his game may damper his otherwise fantastic upside.
16. LaBryan Ray — #89, Sr, 6’5”, 295 lbs — Alabama
Mid 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: NA (NA, NA, NA, NA, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 12, TFL 0.5, Sacks 0.5, PD 0, (7 games)
steelerfan11: Once considered a potential top 50 pick, Ray’s stock began to drop after a foot injury in 2019 that nearly ended his career. He got multiple second opinions, however, and decided that he would try to make a comeback. He struggled to make it through the year healthy again in 2020, only playing five games. Nonetheless, there is too much talent here to ignore. Despite being a backup in 2018 and only starting one game, the former five-star recruit managed to record 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 6.0 tackles for loss. He is an excellent run defender and has the talent to develop into something decent as a pass-rusher, but he has to prove that he can stay healthy. He projects best as a 3-4 defensive end, and considering that Cameron Heyward is not getting any younger, I would find it worthwhile to take a late-round flier on Ray and see what he can develop into.
17. Tedarrell Slaton — #56, Sr, 6’5”, 358 lbs — Florida
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 149 (NA, 134, NA, 164, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 37, TFL 0, Sacks 1.5, PD 0, (12 games)
Ryland B.: Slaton is a big defensive lineman at 358, but he’s in surprisingly good shape and his athleticism might be his biggest strength as a player. Slaton is quick for someone his size and has excellent strength, often winning his reps with a powerful bull rush. He has some good pass-rush moves as well but is somewhat raw technique-wise. As a run defender Slaton has elite size and can be very effective, but his balance isn’t the greatest and he can have a hard time filling his gap. Slaton is still very raw, but he has the upside to be a very good lineman in the NFL.
18. Quinton Bohanna — #95, Sr, 6’3”, 357 lbs — Kentucky
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 336 (NA, 469, 126, 413, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 10, TFL 2, Sacks 2, PD 2, (8 games)
steelerfan11: I am puzzled as to why Bohanna is not getting any hype. He is not limited to early-down situations like you would expect someone at nearly 360 pounds to be. He is useful on early downs by taking up a ton of space and preventing opposing linemen from getting to the second level of the defense. As a pass rusher, the numbers are not there, but he has shown flashes and has drawn good reviews in that department from the Kentucky coaching staff. He seems to show potential in practices, and we saw some of that begin to eek out on game days. Bohanna still needs to improve as a pass rusher, but I think he has starter potential if he develops more in that area.
19. Marlon Tuipulotu — #95, Jr, 6’3”, 305 lbs — USC
Late 5th round grade
Consensus ranking: 119 (92, 116, 149, 119, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 10, TFL 2, Sacks 0, PD 2, (8 games)
Ryland B.: Tuipulotu is a good defensive tackle prospect was likely overshadowed by his teammate Jay Tufele at USC. Tuipulotu is a good athlete with solid size, and he’s a decent pass-rusher as well with a nice bull rush. He’s pretty quick as well and plays with a high motor. He’s best as a run defender as he can anchor well to fill lanes and make tackles. He can play a bit high at times and get pushed back, though. Overall, I’d say that Tuipulotu is a very solid prospect, and his athletic ability gives him upside that other later-round defenders may not have.
20. Bobby Brown III — #5, Jr, 6’3”, 325 lbs — Texas A&M
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: 150 (NA, 154, NA, 146, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 22, TFL 7.5, Sacks 5.5, PD 0, (9 games)
steelerfan11: Brown is an impressive run defender who has very good functional strength. He does not have a ton of schematic versatility, but his strong upper body and quickness off the line will allow him to contribute immediately as an early-down player in the NFL. The big question is whether he can develop into anything more than that. Questions have risen about whether his motor is always running at 100%, which makes him a tricky evaluation. When he is giving it all he has, he’s shown value on all three downs. When he is not, he has struggled to wrap up plays in the backfield as a run defender and provide much of anything as a pass-rusher. He is worth a late round pick, but the inconsistency in his game will drive his price down.
21. Forrest Merrill — #92, Sr, 6’1”, 349 lbs — Arkansas State
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: 250 (NA, 293, 187, 270, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 27, TFL 4, Sacks 0, PD 0, FF 1, FR 1, (7 games)
Ryland B.: Merrill is a solid small school prospect with good size and a decent all-around game. He could probably shed some weight to gain some quickness, as his athletic profile isn’t the greatest, but it’s not a concern. He has a nice array of pass-rush moves and has good hand usage, but isn’t overly strong or mobile. I see a late-round, practice squad level player who could make the 53-man roster later on in his career with a good trainer.
22. Carlo Kemp — #2, Sr, 6’3”, 286 lbs — Michigan
6th round grade
Consensus ranking: 291 (NA, 279, NA, 302, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 21, TFL 3, Sacks 2, PD 0, (6 games)
steelerfan11: Kemp is a bit undersized for an interior lineman, but that is where he likely plays in the NFL. He has a quick first step out of his stance and has good short area quickness, but he does not have the needed strength to hold up against NFL linemen in the running game. He will need to add some weight, and his pad level will have to become more consistent, but he gets good penetration as a pass rusher and does a good job of finishing tackles. He may never become a starter, but in the right system he could become a solid role player.
23. Jordan Scott — #3, Sr, 6’1”, 322 lbs — Oregon
Consensus ranking: 274 (NA, 261, NA, 286, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 14, TFL 2, Sacks 1, PD 0, (7 games)
Ryland B.: Scott may not be the biggest or tallest lineman in this draft, but he’s built like a nose tackle through and through. His shorter height actually helps him gain leverage and he’s a surprisingly good athlete. Scott isn’t much of a pass-rusher though, and is best suited for the traditional, run-stuffing role of a nose tackle. He has the upside to be a solid two-down lineman in the NFL.
24. Ta’Quan Graham — #49, Sr, 6’4”, 294 lbs — Texas
Consensus ranking: 189 (NA, 144, 182, 242, NA)
2020 season stats: Tackles 23, TFL 7, Sacks 2, PD 1, (9 games)
steelerfan11: Graham does not have a ton of versatility, but he has good strength and holds up well against the run. He does not have much bend of fluidity, however. It is not a necessity as a 3-tech defender, but he does not always play with enough bend in the knees. His pad level is a bit higher than it should be at times, but he has decent hand usage and does a nice job of disengaging from blocks to make tackles as a run defender. Overall, Graham has a lot of technical flaws, but with good coaching he could become a nice backup.
Notable prospects who decided to return to school for 2021:
Ohio State DT Haskell Garrett
Virginia Tech DT Jordan Williams
Ohio State DT Antwaun Jackson
Georgia DT Jordan Davis
NC State DT Cory Durden
Should the Steelers draft a defensive lineman in the 2021 NFL Draft?
steelerfan11: The Steelers lack depth at defensive line, and I would like to see us address it at some point, but I do not think it would be wise to address it in the first two rounds. The class is not very good at all, and the Steelers have other needs. If we get to the end of day two or the beginning of day three and the Steelers have addressed most of the needs on offense, I could see where an Alim McNeill or Jaylen Twyman would make sense. Twyman and Stills would likely have to play 5-technique for the Steelers and be groomed as potential Heyward replacements, but I think it would be worth the risk on day three. Neither of them are going to be the next Aaron Donald, but I believe that both (especially Twyman) have the upside to do special things in the NFL. Another guy that intrigues me is Milton Williams with his insane athleticism. He could also be a potential Cam replacement. He is still a project, but give me his upside in the sixth round all day.
If the Steelers choose to wait, I would like to see them go after a nose tackle with pass-rushing ability such as Naquan Jones. I was really hoping the Steelers would take Bravvion Roy last year. I do not see another player of his caliber in this year’s class, but a guy like Jones or Quinton Bohanna could at least give the team something to work with as a potential down-the-line starter. I have struggled to make sense of the Steelers not re-signing Tyson Alualu. I do not see a definite replacement, which is why I think we will just play with a nose tackle less often. The Steelers play subpackage defenses quite often, and I expect there to be even more of it if we do not find a replacement for Alualu. Next year, Jordan Davis and a few other guys could make sense if they fall to day two, but this draft is strong on offense. Plus, the Steelers have to fix that offensive line if they plan to go anywhere in 2021. More than likely, the best time to find value at this position will be on day three, but there is also a scenario where I could see us foregoing the position completely and bringing back a guy like L.T. Walton. No matter what happens in the draft, I believe that this is a bigger need than many fans think. Alualu had an excellent season in 2020, and it is not going to be easy to replace him.
Necksnation: Prior to the loss of Tyson Alualu, any defensive line pick would have been for depth. Now, the Steelers could find themselves searching for a replacement for Alualu. Without him, the Steelers struggled mightily to defend the run, which is a problem when you have to play the Browns and Ravens four times a year. Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis aren’t the answers, so it would make sense to draft a nose tackle on day 3. Unfortunately, depth is thin at almost every position on defense, so addressing the defensive line may have to wait until the sixth or seventh round. I am someone who believes that the Steelers’ first three picks should all be on offense, and I’d also like them to draft Tre McKitty in the fourth round, which leaves four remaining picks. I could see the Steelers selecting a nose tackle with one of their fourth round picks, but it seems more likely that they take a linebacker or cornerback with that pick. Of course, it’s entirely possible that one of Buggs or Davis improves this offseason and becomes a serviceable nose tackle. Both are 24 years old, so it’s plausible that one of them could make a jump if given proper playing time. In particular, Buggs looked solid in the second half of the Ravens game, which played a big factor in the Steelers coming back to win the game. So while I think there’s a good chance that the Steelers take a defensive lineman in the draft, I would expect one to be selected in the sixth or seventh round.
Ryland B.: With Tyson Alualu’s departure in free agency, the Steelers’ interior defensive line has become a very thin position for the Steelers. However, with much bigger needs elsewhere, the team probably shouldn’t address the position until the middle rounds of the draft at the earliest. The team will likely be looking for someone with the skillset and size to play nose tackle, as even though it isn’t an integral part of the defense anymore, they don’t really have anyone on the roster who can play there right now. Ideally, the athleticism to play defensive end would be great as well, as the Steelers could use some more depth behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Heyward isn’t getting any younger and the Steelers would be wise to start looking at replacements to develop sooner than later. It isn’t a particularly strong class this year on the interior defensive line, but it’s deep enough that the Steelers should be able to find a solid prospect later on in the draft.
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