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Ledyard’s 2017 NFL Draft Positional Rankings | Defensive Line

Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire

1. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

Inside the War Room: McDowell’s character concerns get all the hype and attention, which is a shame because it overshadows just how incredibly dominant he can be on the field. He is a ridiculous athlete with length and exceptional flexibility for a 6-foot-6, 295-pound defensive lineman.

Michigan State’s defense asked him to shoot gaps and attack constantly, so McDowell will need to utilize his tools better to control the line of scrimmage at the next level. If McDowell can take to coaching and learn to be more disciplined with his technique, the sky is the limit because he’s already impressive at reading and reacting to his visual keys. His ceiling is similar to Myles Garrett’s as one of the highest in the draft, but teams will have to vet if he’ll bring the work ethic and locker room demeanor to survive in the NFL.

Favorite Trait: Explosiveness/Power

Best Fit: Three technique (Versatile)

Round Grade: First

2. Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama

Inside the War Room: I don’t care if you rank Jon Allen with defensive linemen or edge defenders, but you’re kidding yourself if you think most of his production as a pass rusher is coming from a defensive end spot. Allen isn’t an elite athlete, but he does possess outstanding technique, hand usage and mental processing to play in a one-gap or two-gap role. He may not have the dominant ceiling of McDowell, but Allen is explosive and powerful enough to one gap as a three technique full-time, despite his 286-pound frame.

3 September 2016: Alabama Crimson Tide defensive end Jonathan Allen (#93) during the Advocare Classic college football game between the USC Trojans and Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Alabama won the game 52-6. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire)

You’re not going to put on tape of Alabama and see Allen get pushed around versus solo blocks or doubles, so don’t create problems where there are none in terms of his NFL projection. He plays with such terrific hand placement and leverage to control the point of attack, and his arsenal as a pass rusher has no shortage of moves. Allen can play your strong-side 4-3 defensive end on early or short-yardage downs if need be, and he can kick inside whenever necessary, but especially on long and late downs. In today’s NFL, there’s a lot of value in what Allen brings to the table, even if he doesn’t have the highest ceiling.

Favorite Trait: Hand usage/Power

Best Fit: Three technique (Versatile)

Round Grade: First

3. Chris Wormley, DL, Michigan

Inside the War Room: One of the safest picks in the draft, Wormley has all the physical tools to be a dominant interior defensive lineman after playing all over the front for Michigan. It’s impressive to watch someone as tall as Wormley (6-foot-5) play with such leverage and knee bend at the point of attack, making it very difficult for opponents to get control of him at the line of scrimmage.

Wormley is exceptionally physical and heavy-handed, and he has an astute awareness of blocking schemes and how to attack his visual keys. Run defense is about being the low man and winning chest control off the snap, and Wormley excels in both of those areas. He’s a work in progress as a pass rusher, but his pro day revealed elite athletic testing that might suggest a high ceiling at the next level. He’s got a nasty bull rush, which will aid him greatly when he learns to string moves together into more sophisticated attacks.

Favorite Trait: Hand usage/Leverage

Best Fit: Three technique/Five technique (3-4 DE)

Round Grade: Early 2nd

4. Caleb Brantley, DL, Florida

Inside the War Room: The motor doesn’t always run hot for Brantley, but when it does, he looks like a first rounder. He’s exceptionally stout and leveraged at the point of attack, capable of dominating gaps with power or burst off the snap. The junior needs to improve his technique against reach blocks, as he’ll fail to fight play-side and instead try to backdoor plays to make stops.

As the combine revealed, he’s not that elite of an athlete, but Brantley is explosive off the ball and has a variety of pass rush moves and fluid hips to maneuver to the quarterback. He needs to do a better job of finishing plays and learning to go to a counter move when his initial rush stalls out. Conditioning might be an issue, and Brantley has admitted that he’s been too lazy in the past. Buyer beware.

Favorite Trait: Burst/Power

Best Fit: Three technique

Round Grade: Early-mid second

5. Jaleel Johnson, DL, Iowa

Inside the War Room: The smartest defensive lineman in the draft, Johnson is a technically savvy workhorse up front, with the versatility to play the one- or three-technique spots in a 4-3 front. He’s not a penetrating force, but Johnson consistently wins his gap and bottles things up inside, showing the power and hand placement to eat up blockers in the run game or as a pass rusher.

Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson of Iowa (97) runs through drills during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Unfortunately, Johnson doesn’t have a lot of variety to his rush game and doesn’t have the athleticism to be anything more than capable pass rushing threat. Similar to Jarran Reed last year, he’ll be a high-floor, Day 2 prospect who will play 60 percent of his new team’s snaps at a consistently high level.

Favorite Trait: Technique/Mental Processing

Best Fit: One technique/Three technique

Round Grade: Mid-late second

6. Dalvin Tomlinson, DL, Alabama

Inside the War Room: Raw power. High football IQ. Ability to eat double teams for lunch. That’s what you’re getting with Tomlinson, who played at a high level in Alabama’s deep defensive line rotation. He’s not going to give you a true three-down presence, but he’s not totally ineffective as a pass rusher either, with the power to push the pocket and some swats and clubs to work off blocks. No overwhelming athletic traits stand out with Tomlinson, but some NFL team is going to get a very solid football player with superb run-stuffing, gap-eating ability up front.

Favorite Trait: Power/Technique

Best Fit: One technique

Round Grade: Early third

7. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, UCLA

Inside the War Room: Vanderdoes might have been higher on this list if not for a torn ACL in his left knee in 2015 that forced him to take a redshirt year. He wasn’t quite the same player since returning from the injury, but the energy and jarring power that helped make him such a hot recruit were still there.

Quietly a very athletic interior defensive lineman, Vanderdoes’ burly frame and soft middle don’t exactly belie elite movement skills, but his range got better and better as he returned to form. He’s overaggressive and out of control at times, but Vanderdoes can absolutely dominate blockers with his punch, and he does flash an assortment of moves as a pass rusher. He has too much movement without a purpose right now when getting after the quarterback, but dropping 15 pounds for the combine and testing at a high level was a terrific sign that Vanderdoes is ready to get back to reaching that high ceiling.

Favorite Trait: Power/Energy

Best Fit: Versatile (One technique/Three technique)

Round Grade: Early-mid third

8. Larry Ogunjobi, DL, Charlotte

Inside the War Room: Ogunjobi is talented and has the size to be an eventual starter in the NFL, but he was too out of control and worked his way out of plays too often on tape. I wanted to like his Louisville performance because he had a number of quarterback hits and pressures in that game, but I found that most of his success came from moving gaps and the Cardinals miscommunicating up front.

He moves really well for a three technique but needs to play more leveraged and disciplined at the point of attack. If he lands with a good defensive coordinator who can develop his mental processing and hand technique, Ogunjobi’s can become much more than just the rotational depth piece he’ll be as a rookie.

Favorite Trait: Explosiveness/Movement skills

Best Fit: Three technique

Round Grade: Mid-late third

9. D.J. Jones, DL, Ole Miss

Inside the War Room: I’m a sucker for low center of gravity defensive linemen with head-snapping power and athleticism that their frame does not belie. Jones is such a prospect, with the violent punch and a quick first step to gain control at the line of scrimmage. He’s still coming along as a pass rusher, and long-levered interior offensive linemen could be his undoing if he doesn’t learn to attack and counter quickly.

(Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

I love Jones’ ability to stack blockers and re-set the line of scrimmage, but you’re going to need playmaking linebackers behind him because he doesn’t work off contact as well as you’d like. I think he can start on early downs in the NFL, potentially at nose tackle or three technique, but there might be a ceiling on how impactful he can be down-to-down.

Favorite Trait: Power/Leverage

Best Fit: One technique

Round Grade: Early fourth

10. Tanzel Smart, DL, Tulane

Inside the War Room: An undersized, penetrating defensive tackle with the burst to be disruptive in a one-gap front, Smart doesn’t have the size, length or power to be a full-time player in the NFL, but he can have an impact in a rotation. Everything about Smart’s play on the field is 100 miles per hour, and while his pass rush plan isn’t always intricate, his quickness and violent hands really disrupt the pocket. If he improves his technique, Smart has the ability to be a nice sub-package rusher on long and late downs, similar to Tom Johnson in Minnesota.

Favorite Trait: Explosiveness/Energy

Best Fit: Sub-package three technique

Round Grade: Mid-late fourth

11. Carlos Watkins, DL, Clemson

Inside the War Room: Watkins can hold the point of attack and has good technique, but he’s just not athletic or explosive enough to be a high-impact defender. He’s a cleanup guy as a pass rusher, without any suddenness or moves to consistently clear hands and win one-on-one. Watkins doesn’t have the burst to be a penetrating type three technique, and he’s not really powerful or stout enough to be a two-gapping nose tackle. He can be a part-time starter in a rotation and not be a major liability, I just don’t really see Watkins being anything more than an average presence on an NFL defensive line.

Favorite Trait: Versatility

Best Fit: One technique/Three technique

Round Grade: Late fourth

12. Nazair Jones, DL, North Carolina

Inside the War Room: Jones has a great first step, but his pad level gets high after a strong initial surge, and he isn’t efficient enough with his hands to really take advantage of his burst off the ball. He’s a very linear defender who will likely be at his best as a developmental five technique in a 3-4 front, capable of holding the line of scrimmage and freeing up more athletic, rangy players behind him to attack the football.

Favorite Trait: Burst

Best Fit: Five technique (3-4 DE)

Round Grade: Early fifth

13. Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn

Inside the War Room: Adams is quick off the ball and will win with disruption at times, but he’s incredibly linear, with very little bend or change of direction in his upright frame. He’s poor at reading blocks off the snap and gets washed way too often to be anything more than a sub-package player without substantial development in the NFL. Adams will need to significantly upgrade his arsenal of rush moves and efficiency as a tackler to ever hope for a vital role at the next level.

(Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire).

Favorite Trait: Burst

Best Fit: Three technique

Round Grade: Early fifth

14. Isaac Rochell, DL, Notre Dame

Inside the War Room: Rochell was misused off the edge at times by Notre Dame, but he could be a developmental 3-technique in the NFL if he bulks up. He’s a high character prospect who works hard and showed pass rush potential in Mobile, so his best football could be ahead of him as at least a sub-package interior defender.

Favorite Trait: Motor/Work ethic

Best Fit: Sub-package interior rusher

Round Grade: Mid-late fifth

15. Charles Walker, DL, Oklahoma

Inside the War Room: He has talent and athleticism, I just don’t know if he cares. He left Oklahoma early to prepare for the draft, but he didn’t look like he was there when he was on the field either. If the right coach can draw some desire and fire out of him, Walker has some ability, but he’s too lethargic off the ball, sloppy with his technique and slow to read his visual keys to play anytime soon in the NFL.

Favorite Trait: Burst (when he’s engaged)

Best Fit: Three technique

Round Grade: Mid-late fifth

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