football Edit

NFL Draft Preview: DT

A'Shawn Robinson
A'Shawn Robinson

The college football season and Senior Bowl are finished, and the NFL Scouting Combine is coming up before the NFL Draft. Here is our look in order at the top 10 defensive tackles available and a look back at their ranking and recruitment along with an opinion of each from National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell.


Ranking: Robinson was a five-star out of Fort Worth (Texas) Arlington Heights and was rated as the fourth-best prospect at his position in the 2013 class.

Recruiting: In late December before National Signing Day, Robinson said his Texas commitment was "as solid as a rock." Only weeks later, the five-star prospect took an official visit to Alabama and he flipped his pledge to the Crimson Tide shortly after that trip.

Overview: Robinson finished with 46 tackles (7.5 for loss) including 3.5 sacks this past season. He also had a fumble recovery and 10 quarterback hurries.

Farrell’s take: Robinson was a five-star freak out of high school who looked like a six-year NFL veteran but had an up and down season. However, he was much more the dominant player we expected in the second half of 2015. He not only stuffs the run but re-directs launch points by getting his hands up and disrupting the passing game. Robinson plays a bit high which is a concern, but his size/power/speed combo is too tempting to pass up at top heading into workouts.

Ranking: The Loganville (Ga.) Grayson standout was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 class.

Recruiting: Nkemdiche waited until National Signing Day to announce what everyone sort of expected by then -- that Ole Miss was the school for him. LSU was also a finalist, but with his brother at Ole Miss and his mother's wishes that they play together, the Rebels always seemed like the top team in his recruitment.

Overview: In 11 games this season, Nkemdiche finished with 29 tackles (seven for loss) including three sacks. He also recorded seven quarterback hurries.

Farrell’s take: You can’t be ranked any higher than No. 1 in the country and it was clear to all that Nkemdiche was going to be a star, but his career at Ole Miss was a bit of a disappointment despite flashes of that talent. Now, he has some off-field question marks. However, he’s so versatile he should be able to fit any scheme. He can be an end in a 3-4 defense, a 300-pound stand-up hybrid guy or his current defensive tackle position. His skill set would be wasted inside in the NFL, he’s just so quick in space, but he can play all over the field. He’s too naturally gifted to put any lower in what is an average defensive tackle class.

Ranking: Rankins was a three-star prospect out of Covington (Ga.) Eastside and the No. 32 strong-side defensive end in the 2012 class.

Recruiting: The three-star committed to Louisville over Wake Forest and many others in late January, a week or so before National Signing Day.

Overview: Rankins recorded 58 tackles (13 for loss) with six sacks this season. He had a fumble recovery and four quarterback hurries.

Farrell’s take: Rankins was ranked as a strongside defensive end but it doesn’t surprise me that he grew into a dominant defensive tackle with good athleticism because he had that frame out of high school. He wasn’t quite as quick as he is now off the snap and certainly not as powerful, and he has outplayed his ranking in a big way. Some have him ranked lower than this, but his ability to shoot the gap and disrupt in the backfield, something we liked out of high school, puts him up high.

Ranking: The Waco, Texas, four-star prospect was rated as the No. 12 defensive tackle and No. 168 overall in the 2013 class.

Recruiting: Early in his senior season, Billings had his choices narrowed to Baylor, Texas, SMU, TCU and Mississippi State and he wanted to make an early commitment. But Billings decided to hold off and a day before National Signing Day he picked Baylor over the Longhorns and Horned Frogs.

Overview: Billings finished with 40 tackles (15 for loss) including 5.5 sacks in 12 games this season.

Farrell’s take: Billings was one of the strongest players I've ever scouted. There was no doubt that Billings had the physical power to be dominant in college. The big question was about his quickness and ability to beat people off the snap. He's still sluggish at times with that first step, but he slices through blockers or overpowers them to change games in the middle. That power and explosion has been taken to the next level. He has to be accounted for on every play just like in high school. He’s stiff and not very flexible, but for a 3-4 defense he’s your man on the nose.

Ranking: Reed was a three-star coming out of Scooba (Miss.) East Mississippi C.C.

Recruiting: Reed played high school ball in Goldsboro, N.C., and he picked the Crimson Tide over Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

Overview: Reed was fourth on the Crimson Tide with 57 tackles (4.5 for loss) with one sack. He also had eight quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: I’m a big fan of A'Shawn Robinson as you can see by his No. 1 ranking, but Reed could go close behind him or even ahead of him based on team needs. He’s not quite as stout or powerful to me as Robinson, but he’s more active outside the tackles and is a more aggressive tackler. Robinson’s ability to hold the line when he’s on helps Reed and Reed compliments Robinson by being a bit more athletic.

Ranking: The Rialto (Calif.) Wilmer Carter prospect was rated as a four-star in the 2013 class but was outside the Rivals250.

Recruiting: UCLA and Washington were the two finalists for Clark, who took an unofficial visit to Seattle in July but decided he wanted to stay closer to home.

Overview: Clark was second on the Bruins with 75 tackles (11 for loss) including six sacks this season. He also had five pass deflections.

Farrell’s take: Clark was a four-star out of high school but wasn't in the Rivals250 mainly because of concerns against the run. He was a very agile and athletic kid and has added good bulk in college. Now he can clog the middle and flush the passer, making him one of the more scheme versatile guys on this list. He's very active inside and outside the tackles and has actually become better against the run than he is rushing the passer, the opposite of his high school scouting report. I like him better than some others as an NFL guy.

Ranking: Johnson was a three-star defensive tackle out of Richland (N.J.) St. Augustine.

Recruiting: At the time of his commitment in June before his senior season, Johnson picked Penn State over his only other offer from Villanova.

Overview: Johnson finished third on the Nittany Lions with 78 tackles (15 for loss) including 6.5 sacks this season. He also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: Johnson, a three-star out of high school, was a hoops guy more than a football guy. But that athleticism and footwork has helped and certainly showed in college. He was a hard eval as a high school player because he was so raw and not focused on football and we knew it would take him time to develop. This season has been a breakout year for him, but how much of that was because of the attention paid to Anthony Zettel and especially Carl Nassib? He’s this high because he’s a terrific athlete with great size.

Ranking: Butler was a two-star prospect out of Summit (Miss.) North Pike.

Recruiting: Butler committed to Louisiana Tech in January before National Signing Day. He also listed offers from UL-Lafayette, Memphis, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss.

Overview: Butler recorded 50 tackles (10 for loss) including three sacks this season. He also had eight quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: Butler was a two-star in high school who played a bit too high but did have some solid early offers before signing with Louisiana Tech. He has exceeded all expectations and continues to rise on the lists of scouts because of his quick first step and ability to get into the backfield. He has improved his leverage by leaps and bounds from high school but it’s still an issue.

Ranking: The four-star prospect from Indianapolis (Ind.) Warren Central was rated as the No. 18 defensive tackle in the 2012 class.

Recruiting: Day committed to Notre Dame in the summer before his senior season over offers from Florida, LSU, Tennessee, Penn State, Michigan and others.

Overview: Day totaled 45 tackles (15.5 for loss) including four sacks this season. He also forced two fumbles.

Farrell’s take: Day, a former four-star, can be an undersized nose or a 3 tech in a 4-3 defense and be disruptive at the point of attack and get into the backfield. We liked him as a powerful run-stuffer in high school who could work outside the tackles at times to run down plays but his lack of height and stature (despite his listed 6-foot-2) left him outside the top 15 at his position. He has had a better career than I expected and will find a home in the NFL because he can get after the passer, something he improved quite a bit in college.

Ranking: Collins was a three-star prospect out of Kansas City (Mo.) Center and the No. 30 defensive tackle in the 2013 class.

Recruiting: Collins committed to Nebraska in January, weeks before Signing Day, over offers from Kansas, Missouri and others.

Overview: Collins recorded 29 tackles (seven for loss) including 2.5 sacks this season. He also had six quarterback hurries.

Farrell’s take: Collins is very good at penetrating because of his quickness off the snap and that was his strength in high school as well. Collins was a very active tackler coming out of high school and was always in the opponents' backfield, but questions about how stout he could be in the middle against the run held him back from a fourth star. He will have to answer those questions at the NFL level as well, but he could be the most natural pass-rusher on this list.