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Pre-combine rankings: Defensive tackle

The NFL Combine is set for the end of the month, so we are taking a look at each position and how the players rank heading into the big event. In tradition, we also look back at how they ranked out of high school.

Today we look at our top defensive tackles.



The skinny: The five-star named Alabama his favorite in February of his junior year and in May decided to pull the trigger for the Crimson Tide. Florida, USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State and many others were in the running. Allen was third on the Crimson Tide this season with 69 tackles, including 16 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, both team highs. He had three fumble recoveries and 15 QB hurries.

Interesting note: Out of 35 five-star prospects from Virginia in the era, Allen was one of only two that chose the Crimson Tide, along with DE Da’Shawn Hand.

Farrell’s take: As a five-star and the No. 11 prospect in the 2013 class, it was clear that I loved Allen as a player. He was big, intense, ran everything down and could either go around you or bull rush you into the quarterback’s comfort zone. He played end and tackle in high school and couldn’t be stopped at either position. He was downright scary at Stone Bridge High School and has always been a serious worker off the field. His ability to play outside or inside makes him scheme versatile, and the NFL loves that, so he could work in a 3-4 or a 4-3; we debated whether he should be at defensive end or defensive tackle. He should go shortly after Myles Garrett in the draft.

The skinny: Auburn seemed to be the early frontrunner for Adams, but after then-coach Gene Chizik was replaced, it looked like Georgia, Clemson and Alabama had inched into his recruitment. Following a visit to Auburn before Signing Day, however, Adams decided to pick the Tigers. He registered 44 tackles (8.5 for loss) with 4.5 sacks along with an interception, two fumble recoveries and 15 QB hurries this season.

Interesting note: Adams could continue to shoot up draft boards, especially after his Senior Bowl performance where he had six tackles, including one for loss, and a fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: We had Adams as a five-star and the No. 3 player at his position back in 2013 behind Kenny Bigelow, who has been injured most of his USC career, and Eddie Vanderdoes, who has also battled injuries. The only question about Adams really was level of competition, because he was very athletic and could shoot the gap. He missed numerous events with minor injuries, so I guess toughness was questioned as well, but he’s the best pure defensive tackle in the 2017 NFL draft to me. Allen could end up being an end, but Adams will certainly dominate the middle.

The skinny: Brantley decommitted from Florida hours before the Gators were to play Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, only to recommit a few days later. Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, LSU and others were in the mix. He finished this season with 31 tackles including 9.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Interesting note: Brantley and his entire family grew up Florida fans, so it was surprising when he backed off his early pledge. Florida State and others seemed to be interested, but Brantley decided to re-commit to the Gators. After that pledge, 2013 classmate Jordan Sherit tweeted, “Man, you’re crazy.”

Farrell’s take: Brantley was a big, athletic kid out of high school who could not only stuff the run but also get after the passer. He was more of a pocket flusher than a pure sack guy, and that continues now. He doesn’t show up in the stat sheet as much as you’d expect, but when you break down the film, he makes the pocket small and uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks quite often. Others on this list are more athletic, but none are better against the run.

The skinny: McDowell picked Michigan State over Michigan, Ohio State and Florida State on National Signing Day. In nine games this season, McDowell finished with 31 tackles (seven for loss) with 1.5 sacks. He also had five quarterback hurries.

Interesting note: McDowell’s letter of intent didn’t arrive in East Lansing until early April because his mother had strong reservations about him going to Michigan State and she told multiple media outlets that she didn’t want her son playing for the Spartans. Eventually, she relented.

Farrell’s take: The first time I saw McDowell I thought he was a bit soft and too raw to be special despite his size and amazing physical gifts. But everyone told me to wait and watch his progress. He was at our first Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge Presented by Under Armour in Atlanta, and I was underwhelmed considering the hype. The next year at the same event in Chicago, he was a different player and he played lower and more physical. Now he’s one of the best gap-shooting defensive tackles in college football with a first-round NFL ceiling. The Spartans' struggles this past season and all the attention he was paid by offensive linemen hurt his stock a bit, but he could be a great one.

The skinny: The former four-star defensive tackle committed to Clemson over Florida midway through his senior season. Watkins had offers from all over the country but had narrowed it down to the Gators and Tigers leading up to his decision. Watkins had 82 tackles (13.5 for loss) including 10.5 sacks, a team-high. He also finished with 13 QB hurries this season.

Interesting note: Watkins only played in three games during the 2013 season after being involved in a car crash that caused blood clots in both of his legs. He ended up playing in two national title games and winning one this past season.

Farrell’s take: I remember Watkins battling it out for defensive line MVP honors at our Charlotte VTO Camp back in the day with current NFL player Jonathan Bullard, and each brought something different to the table. While Bullard was more athletic and natural as a pass rusher, Watkins was more powerful and was very quick with his hands on the inside. He’s a gap shooter, like most of the guys at the top of this list, and the kind of defensive tackle the NFL covets. His athleticism at his position could allow him to rise on this list.