Five big DT questions heading into 2019 season
Pro Football Focus is an invaluable resource to dive deeper into statistics when thinking about college football and the NFL Draft. Here is a breakdown of five defensive tackle storylines heading into next season, what the numbers could mean down the road and a take from Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.
1. Is Marvin Wilson living up to the hype?
Overview: Wilson is not at the top of the Florida State season stats, but according to Pro Football Focus he graded out as one of the top-11 defensive tackles nationally last season and here are some names ahead of him: Quinnen Williams, Ed Oliver, Christian Wilkins, Jeffery Simmons, Jerry Tillery and Dre’Mont Jones.
With all those players headed to the NFL Draft, Wilson has a chance next season to really live up to his billing as not only a five-star prospect but also the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2017 class. Wilson had 23 quarterback hurries this past season – just as many as Simmons and three more than Oliver. He had eight hits on quarterbacks, one more than Tillery and Simmons and five more than Oliver. Although many people aren’t talking about Wilson dominating at defensive tackle yet, that might change soon.
Farrell’s take: Wilson gets overlooked a bit because Florida State was so bad last season and expectations were so high for him coming out of high school. At one point our No. 1 overall prospect in 2017, Wilson has a great work ethic and motor with tremendous skills and technique. With so many elite defensive tackles out of college football, Wilson will step up as one of the top four or five in the country for the Seminoles.
2. Did Derrick Brown make a smart move coming back to Auburn?
Overview: Brown graded out in the top-12 according to Pro Football Focus and he had some impressive numbers at Auburn this past season – five sacks, six hits on quarterbacks and 17 quarterback hurries. Did he make the wisest decision possible by coming back for another season, letting this deep defensive line group get drafted and waiting his turn following his senior year?
Brown is fantastic and might have vied for a first-round grade but Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Williams, Rashan Gary, Simmons, Montez Sweat, Oliver, Brian Burns and a host of Clemson players were probably going to get drafted ahead of him on the defensive line. Some of those players are edge rushers and Brown is a massive defensive tackle but will coming back for one more season of domination in the SEC serve him best?
Farrell’s take: If he stays healthy it’s a great decision. I really like Brown as a college player and NFL prospect and another year learning under the excellent coaches at Auburn will make him even better. Brown is a load in the middle and now needs to work on becoming a better gap shooter and pass rusher and if he takes that next step he could be one of the top two or three defensive tackles in the NFL Draft when it’s his turn.
3. Do you believe in Raekwon Davis?
Overview: After scanning the top list of players for quarterback hurries, Davis had just as many last season as Williams, who should be one of the top overall picks in the NFL Draft. Analysts are raving about Williams’ disruptive ability, his aggressive and relentless pursuit and his career at Alabama as reasons why he will be so highly drafted next month.
Will Davis get the same treatment after next season when he heads to the NFL Draft? The bet would probably be no because while Davis had 29 quarterback hurries, the 6-foot-7, 309-pounder had only two sacks this past season and he hit the quarterback only five times playing 725 snaps. To his credit, Williams played 78 fewer snaps than Davis this past season but totaled 10 more sacks and 11 more hits. For Davis’ draft stock to rise, his production might have to go up next season, too.
Farrell’s take: I am not sure on this one. Davis is an excellent talent but he didn’t take that next step of development last year as expected, so he needs to have a big season. It’s hard for such a tall player to play with natural leverage and he needs to lower his pad level a bit and add some burst in pursuit. If he can do those things and be more consistent, he will be a very intriguing prospect for the NFL but I’m not sold yet.
4. Will Mustafa Johnson dominate the Pac-12 next season?
Overview: Maybe lost in the shuffle of all the big-time defensive linemen across the SEC, Big Ten and the ACC is Johnson, who had just as many sacks as Williams and Jones last season – 10 total, tied for the nation’s lead - and the Colorado defensive lineman added eight hits on quarterbacks and 32 hurries, good for fourth nationally.
What’s even more impressive is that the JUCO transfer for the Buffaloes, who picked Colorado over Oregon State and Kansas, did all that work playing only 690 snaps. Twenty-three defensive tackles played more.
Farrell’s take: Johnson is a terrific player who can rush the passer, which is what the NFL loves from big men who can also play on the interior of the defensive line. Will he dominate next season? That might be going a bit far and I bet he flies under the radar a bit nationally because he’s not at a power program. But the NFL doesn’t miss much and will certainly pay attention. Johnson is one of the best kept secrets in college football.
5. Is Justin Madubuike the next big-time SEC linemen to be drafted?
Overview: Texas A&M sent eight players to the NFL Scouting Combine this year but none are surefire first-round draft picks, although many of them could be considered steals in later rounds. A first-round pick for the Aggies could be coming after next season though if Madubuike continues to deliver like he did this past season with eight sacks, 11 hits on quarterbacks and 25 quarterback hurries. His sacks tied him for fourth nationally on Pro Football Focus even though he was No. 37 in terms of snaps played with 652. With so many elite players heading to the draft this year, is Madubuike next in line in the SEC?
Farrell's take: Madubuike gets overlooked a bit in the SEC and nationally as a great defensive lineman but he has so many tools and skills he won’t be ignored for long. He can play the run and get after the quarterback and has excellent athleticism. He’s one of the keys to the Texas A&M defense next season and should get a lot of national attention as he quietly dominates once again.