Early look at the 2019 Defensive Line class

The 2019 Defensive Line class will be the highlight of next spring’s NFL Draft. Here’s an early deep-dive into the loaded group of interior DL prospects.

2019 Defensive Line class rankings

Rank iDL Grade Team Height Weight Year
1) Ed Oliver Top 5 Houston 6’3 292 JR
2) Raekwon Davis Top 15 Alabama 6’7 316 JR
3) Dexter Lawrence Top 15 Clemson 6’4 350 JR
4) Jerry Tillery R1 Notre Dame 6’7 305 SR
5) Rashard Lawrence R1 LSU 6’3 317 JR
6) Derrick Brown R1 Auburn 6’5 325 JR
7) Dre’Mont Jones R2 Ohio State 6’3 286 rJR
8) Christian Wilkins R2 Clemson 6’4 315 SR
9) Isaiah Buggs R2 Alabama 6’5 286 SR
10) Quinnen Williams R2 Alabama 6’4 295 rSO
11) Jonathan Ledbetter R3 Georgia 6’4 280 SR
12) Cortez Broughton R3 Cincinnati 6’2 290 rSR
13) Ricky Walker R3 Virginia Tech 6’2 300 rSR
14) Albert Huggins Clemson 6’3 315 SR
15) Demarcus Christimas Florida State 6’4 305 rSR
16) Renell Wren Arizona State 6’6 297 rSR
17) Greg Gaines Washington 6’2 313 rSR
18) Robert Landers Ohio State 6’1 283 rJR
19) Kingsley Keke Texas A&M 6’4 305 SR
20) Trysten Hill UCF 6’2 315 JR
21) Marquise Copeland Cincinnati 6’2 287 SR
22) Dontavius Russell Auburn 6’3 320 rSR
23) Terry Beckner Jr. Missouri 6’4 295 SR
24) Olive Sagapolu Wisconsin 6’2 342 SR
25) Jalen Dalton UNC 6’6 300 SR
Jeffery Simmons N/A Miss. State 6’4 300 JR

2019 Defensive Line class superlatives

Most NFL-ready: Oliver

Best Pass Rusher: Jones

Best Run Defender: Oliver

Highest Upside: Oliver/Davis

Riskiest: Simmons

Underrated: Tillery/R. Lawrence

Sleeper: Williams/Broughton

“My Guys”: Davis, Tillery, R. Lawrence, Buggs, Williams, Broughton

While not as deep as group of 2019 edge rushers, the interior prospects round out the outstanding 2019 Defensive Line class with tremendous top-end talent. You’ve probably seen the names of some of the top guys: Ed Oliver, Raekwon Davis, Dexter Lawrence, etc. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg. There are at least 10 draft-eligible DT’s with a realistic shot at going first round next year, highlighted by a stacked Junior class. 

With Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen on 1-year deals, the Seahawks could target a DT in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s a breakdown of some of the top prospects potentially available:

Preseason player profiles

Ed Oliver | Houston, JR

  • Unique 5-star recruit who passed on a Power-5 school, a decision that’s paid off handsomely for the 2017 Outland Trophy winner. Phenomenal 2-year production (2016/2017), especially for a true freshman/sophomore: 138 tackles, 38.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.
  • 1 SPARQ score at the Nike Opening in high school, which was by far the top mark amongst DT’s in his year. The next closest to complete testing among 2019 draft eligible DT’s were Rashard Lawrence, Jerry Tillery & Dexter Lawrence, who all scored ~100.
  • Oliver’s only added to his freakish athletic profile since then. Posted ridiculous testing marks this summer, including a 36” vertical & 10”1 broad jump. Has the range of an LB and the footwork of a DB. It’s not an exaggeration to say he’s an Aaron Donald-level athlete.
  • Immensely disruptive. Fires off the snap with lightning quick burst, uncoiling like a snake from a hyper-low stance. Maintains low pad level on contact and combines that with explosive full-body power to win the leverage battle virtually every snap.
  • Oliver has an awesome motor to match his athletic ability. Brings it every rep, and he’s able to maintain his explosiveness throughout the game.
  • Especially effective as a run defender at this point. Immediately resets the line of scrimmage and wreaks havoc in the backfield by winning even the tiniest of gaps. You can’t reach block him – he’s too fast. Keeps his eyes up to follow the action and changes direction on a dime to flow to the ball. Unreal number of TFL’s & stops in the run game – able to make near-impossible plays that no other DT can at the college level.
  • No slouch as a pass rusher either. Attacks just like he does on running plays, scrapping forward or through gaps with unbelievable athleticism and power. He’s racked up 10 sacks through two seasons, but he’s taken advantage of some substandard competition in the AAC to get them. Needs a lot of refinement in both his rush plan & hand use.
  • Listed at 290+ lbs this fall and last, however he’s rumored to play at 275-280. And that looks about right on first glance. Not a deal-breaker considering Aaron Donald weighed in at 285 at the NFL Combine, but it’d be nice to see Oliver in that 285-290 range come spring. Houston lines him up at Nose/1T a lot, but his home will be further out (ideally 3T in a 4-man front) at the next level.
  • Outstanding high-floor / high-ceiling prospect. The key for Oliver is continuing to improve his pass rushing technique, which might require playing under a little more control. I have Nick Bosa rated slightly higher right now, but that can change if Oliver shows that progression this season.

Raekwon Davis | Alabama, JR

  • Monstrous production in 2017, especially considering he was limited to fewer than 450 snaps. Totalled 69 tackles, 10 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT and 1 fumble recovery as part of Bama’s defensive line rotation. Not yet the pass rushing force the sack total indicates, but he flashes extraordinary all-around upside.
  • An “utter freak-show” of an athlete. Listed at 6’7, 315 lbs and appears every bit of it. Looks massive on film with a chiseled frame and long, tree-trunk arms. You can’t carry over 300 lbs much better than Davis does. Strong as an ox, and someone so big he has rare movement skills to boot. Quick feet, fluidity, and remarkable closing burst in space. He honestly looks like Batman flying to the QB when he clears a path.
  • An immovable object. If Davis stays low (the tricky part) and gets a strong hold of blockers (the normal outcome), it’s over. You’re done. He’s bigger, stronger, and longer than any blocker unfortunate enough to meet him. Anchors well vs. double-teams, but at his best creating exceptional leverage vs. a single blocker.
  • Near impossible to move off the line in run defense, with a natural anchor despite being so tall. He shoots his hands quickly with precision & power, stacking and extending to force offensive linemen back on their heels. Often wins complete control right away in that manner, before looking to shed using a push-pull/toss move. Straight rag-dolls guys across the line to disengage and make a play on the ball carrier.
  • Has everything you look for from a physicality, motor & recognition standpoint. Stays aware of the action and works to find the ball.
  • Had a couple great back & forth battles with top-40 Draft picks Frank Ragnow and Braden Smith last year, where he more than held his own. And he did so as a true sophomore against those hyper-athletic Seniors.
  • Lined up at 1T or 2T a lot. I like him better a little further out at 3T or even at 4T/5T across from OT’s. He gets more 1-on-1 matchups out there, allowing him to shine brightest. He’s physically superior to virtually every individual across from him, but keeping those 6’7 pads down takes a toll vs. double teams.
  • Pads rise throughout the course of reps, or when he’s generally fatigued. That’s something to watch with a greater anticipated workload coming. His massive physical advantages are largely neutralized if he stands up tall on contact.
  • Davis’ impressive sack total included a few superb individual efforts, though he somewhat lucked into several of them as well. Still more potential than polished ability as a rusher at this point. Has the classic slow first step you see all the time from linemen in Bama’s containment defense. He’s got explosive traits, but they’re hidden by the late snap reactions. Flashes raw, powerful hand use to win early, yet his pads rise, and his feet & hands stagnate the longer a rep goes on.
  • NFL-ready. His athletic profile and run-defending abilities should translate immediately to the pros. How he develops as a pass rusher this year will determine how high his stock rises.
  • Davis is on the (very) short list of guys who could surpass Ed Oliver & Nick Bosa as the top defensive prospect next spring. Perhaps the only one. He’s not at their level yet, but he’s got tantalizing upside with another year of development.

Dexter Lawrence | Clemson, JR

  • Former top-5 overall recruit who established himself as one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country as a true freshman. Compiled 62 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries, earning hype as a potential future #1 overall pick.
  • Played through foot & ankle injuries throughout 2017 season. Clemson DC Brent Venables says he played on “One leg,” while Lawrence claims he played at “45-50 percent.” Unsurprisingly took a step back from his outstanding freshman campaign, recording only 33 tackles, 2.5 TFL & 2 sacks while missing a couple games.
  • Ridiculous physical profile, carrying a whopping 350 lbs better than most guys that big. Strong as an ox, with abnormal footspeed for such a large DT. Ran a 4.95 forty this spring with a lightning fast 1.70 split. Also posted an impressive 7.67 3-cone time, and benched 225 lbs for 36 reps.
  • An absolute load to pass protect against – if – he has a timely reaction to the snap. Drives OG’s and OC’s back into the pocket with regularity. His repertoire is essentially limited to powerful bull rushes at this point, though he mixes in some quick clubs to swim/rip past interior linemen.
  • Not solely a Nose/1-Tech despite his massive frame. Clemson lines him up at 3-Tech a lot and uses him on twists to match up 1-on-1 with OT’s. While a bit slow-developing, these plays allow Lawrence to generate a head of steam and plow Tackles back into the pocket.
  • Not overly explosive off the snap. Doesn’t get much knee flexion, often standing up tall with iffy balance and therefore negating his massive strength advantage. And he’s inconsistent with the speed & placement with which he shoots his hands. Due to all these issues, Lawrence isn’t quite the space eating monster that you’d expect. His raw power & mobility still make him a problem on the inside, but he’s not nearly as stout as someone like Vita Vea.
  • I think Lawrence would benefit immensely from dropping some weight, yet he’s done the opposite over the last year (340 à 350). Trimming down could help him bend while staying coordinated & balanced. He’s too heavy right now to consistently utilize his athletic gifts.
  • He’s a bit overrated right now given his two-year performance at Clemson, even if we give him a pass for 2017’s injuries. His potential is sky-high though. Like Vita Vea-high, who was the #6 player on the HawkTalk Big Board last year. Lawrence can crack the top-5 with proper development this season, though he hasn’t approached that level yet.

Jerry Tillery | Notre Dame, SR

  • 2014 Nike Opening results: 6’7, 317 lbs, 5.17 forty, 4.53 shuttle, 28” vertical, 100.14 SPARQ.
  • Solid JR-year production for the Irish – 56 tackles, 9 TFL, 4.5 sacks.
  • Exceptional athletic profile. Towering DT with long arms. Quick first step allows him to fire off the ball & gain an edge. Swift & fluid mover. Good strength/power as well, though it’s hidden to a degree by his high pad level. Too wild with his hands right now and lacks balance in both traffic & space.
  • Notre Dame played him out of position at the Nose/1T spot all of 2017. Looks more like an oversized defensive end with his high-cut & relatively lanky frame. Likely fits much better as a 5T-DE in 3-man fronts or attacking gaps at 3T.
  • At a natural disadvantage in pad level and doesn’t overcome it with the great bend of someone like Raekwon Davis. Struggles to anchor as a result, though he leverages his length & strength to get by. It doesn’t help getting constantly double-teamed in the A-Gaps. It just seems like such a poor fit having him play NT, likely brought on by need for Notre Dame last year.
  • Great fluidity with his hands & feet, especially for such a tall/long player. Still needs to tighten up his hand use and overall control, but he flashes natural pass-rushing instincts and a variety of moves Nice to see those skills on someone with his physical & athletic traits.

Rashard Lawrence | LSU, JR

  • 2015 Nike Opening results à 6’2, 309 lbs, 5.21 forty, 4.70 shuttle, 42.5 throw, 29” vert. 102.93 SPARQ score was second only to Ed Oliver among DT’s.
  • Only 19 years old (turns 20 late-August when the college season starts). Despite his youth, he’s a mature leader in LSU’s locker room and an advanced technician beyond his years on the field.
  • So much upper body power through his hands, and he knows how to us them already. His specialty is a picturesque push-pull move. Shoots hands quickly inside, bench presses with great extension, and tosses blockers aside as he flows upfield. Very fluid through the setup & execution of arm-over moves as well.
  • Nice combination of a quick first step, lower body explosiveness, and strength. Effective bull rusher who collapses the pocket at a solid rate.
  • Usually has a natural leverage advantage at 6’3 with long arms. Doesn’t always take advantage due to inconsistent bend though. Stands straight up on pass rushes when fatigued, which was noticeable at times. Played through injuries last season that may have affected his snap-to-snap output.
  • Fairly stout at the point of attack, though he’s not a difference-maker against the run yet.
  • Some stiffness changing directions – not particularly flexible or agile. Put on 15 lbs over the last year. Will he be too heavy at 317 lbs this season?
  • Promising DT prospect for 2019 or 2020. Underrated coming off a ho-hum statistical year where he missed time & played through some pain. With his physical ability, early pass rushing prowess and well-rounded talent, Lawrence has first-round upside.

Derrick Brown | Auburn, JR

  • Emerged as a disruptive force on Auburn’s talented defensive line last year. Finished with 57 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.
  • Impressive explosiveness off the snap, which reminds me a bit of Da’Ron Payne at the Nose/1T spot last year. Not the overall athlete Payne is, but Brown is huge at 6’5, 325 lbs and decent length. Carries the weight quite well and he won’t turn 21 until next April.
  • Big, strong & powerful athlete. Serious pop in his hands.
  • You’d think he’s a classic run stuffer by looking at him, yet he might be most impactful as a pass rusher right now. Quickness off the ball leads to a forceful bull rush, especially when the pads stay down. Also flashes natural instincts and slick hand-use to win through gaps at times.
  • By far his worst game of the season came in the SEC championship vs. Georgia. Performed well in Auburn’s first matchup against them, but he got absolutely mauled when it mattered most. It was a complete departure from an otherwise terrific sophomore season, so you can’t help but wonder if he played hurt.
  • Former 5-star recruit who came into college physically developed but a bit behind on the mental side of the game. Didn’t have a playbook in high school and it took a year of adjusting to that at Auburn. Even during his oft-dominant sophomore year, it was apparent he’s still learning the game. Late to recognize blocks, and he displays suspect vision finding the ball. The most important point of improvement this year is mental processing.
  • Can he become steadier on a snap-to-snap basis? The consistency of his pad level is another key factor in his development. Brown played a lot of snaps last season and his pads rose in concert with his fatigue. Not very flexible to begin with, so he needs to stay down & as balanced as he can. Not yet a dominant run-stuffer at the college level due to leverage, technique & processing issues.
  • Hits the turf too much. Quick first step, but he fires out off-balance when he really tries to time the jump. Gets blindsided by down blocks or double teams he should be able to see from a mile away.
  • Brown is far from a finished product, but he’s got an enticing blend of youth, physical tools and skills to work with. There’s clear 1st-round potential here, even in this loaded iDL draft class. He would be one of the youngest players in the draft if he declared in 2019, so maybe he sticks out all 4 years.

Dre’Mont Jones | Ohio State, rJR

  • Fast get-off. Consistently anticipates the snap and bursts out of his stance. Possesses plus athletic traits & fluidity for an interior lineman.
  • Packs explosive initial punch into the chest of blockers. Then extends to either drive his legs & push the pocket or work through gaps with impeccable hand use. Understands how to attack half a man.
  • Go-to swim move that he sets up using a variety of early movements & fakes. Also showcases a deadly spin move on occasion.
  • Few DT’s at the college level can match Jones’ impact on the game at his best. He plays with such an enticing blend of athleticism, fluidity and advanced hand use. Which make him ridiculously disruptive as a pass rusher. You see the tremendous flashes and it’s easy to overlook the raw aspects of his game. Only 1 sack last year, but his impact went far beyond that. It was uncanny how often he’d win quickly (or even instantly) only to have the QB get the ball out or a teammate beat him to punch.
  • Needs to get stronger and considerably stouter to reliably hold up vs. the run on the inside. Tends to get stood up and driven back if pads venture too high or forced to the turf if he manages to stay low. You can’t get blasted off your spot in the NFL and expect to stay on the field. It’s too easy for the offense to run right at you over & over again.
  • Only has 1 sack over the last two seasons and dropped from 51 tackles in 2016 to 20 last year. Injuries and OSU’s deep rotation held him back, but the production is severely lacking for a player of his profile.
  • Great athlete, though not necessarily an elite one. Strength/leverage issues are compounded by his lack of size. Too small at 286 lbs to be a full time 3-Tech. He is not Aaron Donald. Could potentially play some 4/5-Tech in 3-man fronts, though his slashing style is better suited for one-gapping.
  • The 1st-round hype is a bit premature based on his 2017 performance, but Jones has that ability. Interior pressure is so important that he’s a highly rated prospect even without the necessary run-game chops. He could really explode this year if he improves his functional strength.

Christian Wilkins | Clemson, SR

  • Solid 2-year production as a starter on Clemson’s vaunted defensive line, totalling 108 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks & 13 PD’s over 29 games.
  • Exceptional athletic traits for a 300+ lb defensive lineman. His Spring 2018 testing includes a 4.89 forty, 7.51 3-cone, 4.37 short shuttle, 9-foot broad jump, 31.5” vertical, and 30 bench reps at 225 lbs. Not the longest DT, though his physical profile is otherwise elite.
  • Capable of instant-wins on both run & pass reps when he times the snap well. His get-off is inconsistent at best, but he’s twitchy & explosive in a straight-line.
  • Makes plays other DT’s cannot with his mobility in space. High motor to string out plays and chase the ball, and he can even drop into coverage without looking completely out of place.
  • Up 10-15 lbs over the last year, which hopefully translates to more power.
  • No matter how athletic a DT is, he’ll be beat without keeping his pads down and gaining inside hand position. Unfortunately for Wilkins, that’s been a recurring issue on film.
  • Tends to stand straight up, bend at the hips and get locked in by blockers, which completely neutralizes his athletic gifts. Ultimately struggles to make plays if not with instant burst off the snap, as he’s not a very dynamic pass-rusher. Clemson’s elite defensive front has buoyed his overall production to a degree.
  • His combination of middling length and consistently poor leverage is a bit alarming. And he’s older than a normal Senior (he’ll turn 24 during his rookie year). Overrated at his near-universal 1st-round stock right now. Didn’t really improve from 2016 to 2017 – can he take a step forward this year?

Isaiah Buggs | Alabama, SR

  • High profile JUCO transfer who went relatively unnoticed playing next to Da’Ron Payne & Raekwon Davis last season. He really impressed for the Tide however, earning heavy rotation reps at DE with Davis and 2018 4th-rounder Da’Shawn Hand.
  • Buggs popped on tape when watching Payne last fall, enough so that I ranked him as a borderline top-10 draft-eligible 2018 DT at the time. The big Draft outlets are finally starting to come around on him, and with good reason. He’d have been a day-two pick last year if he came out early, in my opinion of course.
  • Posted 51 tackles, 4 TFL and 1.5 sacks last year, disrupting the run & passing games of opposing offenses. Excelled down the stretch vs. top competition.
  • Lots of 5-Tech RDE in Bama’s 3-man front, lining up on the outside shoulder of Left Tackles. Slides inside in some sub-package pass defenses, which appears to be a more natural fit for him as a pass rusher.
  • Played some 3T in base defenses as well. Excels there due to impressive bend, power & hand-use, though he’s a bit undersized at 285-290 lbs. Some struggles vs. double-teams.
  • Often slow off the ball from the 5T spot. Shaky snap anticipation and not overly explosive out of his stance. A part of it comes from the patience he plays with, but it’s a problem the further away from the Center he is. Gets better jumps from the inside – nothing special though.
  • Average get-off hides that he’s a good overall athlete. Not overly flexible, but he shows swift straight-line burst, agility in traffic, and tremendous power.
  • Outstanding pad level & technique when taking on blockers in both phases. His is teaching tape, because he repeatedly executes the fundamentals while displaying advanced hand techniques to shake free.
  • Gains terrific leverage on contact with controlled bend and strong, accurate hands. Strikes inside the pads with plenty of pop, immediately extending & bench-pressing blockers back vs. the run. Conscious of the action and disengages with ease to bring down ball-carriers in his gap(s). As disciplined and relentless as you’d expect from a Bama lineman vs. the run.
  • Nuanced pass rusher who makes a positive impact at the college level despite lacking a high degree of explosiveness or balance in space. Threatens most with a fierce bull rush, using the same techniques as he does to stand up blockers in the run game. Attacks with a plan and adapts on the fly to opponents’ positioning & movements. Knows how to play half a man once he gets a step into gaps. Works in basic rips and swims off deadly initial hand position with great success. Best working 1-on-1 vs. interior linemen, though he can bull rush tackles back into the pocket as well.
  • Buggs is really underrated right now, not receiving even a fraction of the hype of line-mate Raekwon Davis. However, he’s a great prospect in his own right and will have every chance to show it with Payne & Hand off the NFL. A perceived lack of upside may limit him to day-two of the Draft, but I like his chances of getting there even amongst a stacked iDL class.

Ricky Walker | Virginia Tech, rSR

  • Formed a dynamic interior duo with Tim Settle for the Hokies last season – could break out with Settle off to the NFL. His numbers weren’t too shabby as is last year: 41 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery for a TD.
  • Explosive get-off. Fires off the snap, striking the line like a bowling ball. Maintains naturally low pad level throughout most plays. Very quick, agile feet for a 300-pound DT. Ideally suited as a 1-gap penetrator, where he can attack upfield and work laterally on outside runs.
  • Lacks size – Only 6’2, 300 with short arms. The short arms & stature limit his upside and scheme versatility to an extent.
  • Uses active hands with purpose to stack, clear his pads, and make plays on the ball. Effective in both phases at the college level, particularly defending the run.
  • Lauded for his leadership at Boston College. Intelligent and highly skilled player with an energizer-bunny motor.

Jeffery Simmons | Mississippi State, JR

  • If not for a horrific off-field incident the summer before his freshman season, Simmons would a top-10 prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft. Maybe even top-5. He’s reportedly kept his head on straight in college, yet the incident was so obscene that his draft stock is completely up in the air. I have no idea where to grade or rank him, so I won’t even try.