Da'Ron Payne*, DT, Alabama
Height: 6-2. Weight: 319. Projected 40 Time: 5.10. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 9/23/17: Payne made six tackles against Colorado State. He previously played well against Florida State, showcasing his freakish speed and athleticism. Payne made five tackles against the Seminoles. In 2017, he has 15 tackles and a pass batted.
9/1/17: Scouts who have looked ahead to the 2018 class have raved about Payne's potential. Coming from Alabama, it isn't a stretch that Payne could take on the lead role for the Crimson Tide with Jonathan Allen moving on to the NFL. Payne is a run plugger with a lot of potential to grow. In 2016, Payne recorded 36 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass broken up.
What the stats don't illustrate is that Payne can be physically dominant. He dominated his one-on-ones last year when he was lining up over guards. Payne causes disruption and makes his teammates better. Payne's contributions helped the sacks totals of Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Payne could be poised for a big junior year.
Christian Wilkins*, DT, Clemson
Height: 6-4. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.00. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 9/23/17: Against Louisville, Wilkins caused some disruption while making one tackle. He put together a strong game against Auburn with a handful of tackles and two sacks. In 2017, Wilkins has 12 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks.
9/1/17: Wilkins played well for Clemson in 2016 as part of a tough defensive line that controlled the point of attack. The sophomore recorded 48 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and 10 passes batted. Wilkins made 33 tackles and two sacks as a freshman in 2015. He has a nice skill set with upside.
Wilkins had to play a lot of defensive end last year because of injury. He displayed a nice ability to play there, but his NFL home is on the inside. As a pass-rusher, Wilkins was able to get after the quarterback with pressure coming around the corner. He looked the most dangerous when lining up over guards and firing past them to cause disruption in the backfield. While he played a lot of end, at his weight, Wilkins really doesn't have edge rusher speed for the NFL. He will have to rush from the inside as a pro, but that is his natural position anyway. Wilkins was a solid run defender, too. He has a strong, thick lower body to hold his ground at the point of attack.
Trenton Thompson*, DT, Georgia
Height: 6-4. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 5.00. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 9/23/17: Thompson notched three tackles and one for a loss against Samford. Thus far in 2017, he has totaled 12 tackles with three for a loss. Sources say that Thompson is a definite first-round talent, but they want him to play more consistent football. They also say his body type is a little odd for a three-technique and his body type fits a 3-4 defense end better.
9/1/17: Thompson really improved throughout the 2015 season and started to flash a special skill set. The sophomore totaled 56 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and a pass broken up. Thompson ended his junior year in superb fashion by dominating the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against TCU, recording three sacks.
One of the hardest things to find for a NFL defense is an interior defensive lineman capable of being a steady pass-rusher. Thompson is that rare kind of defender as he has a lot of ability to get after the quarterback. In the pass rush, he is a fast interior defender who routinely fires by guards to collapse the pocket. Thompson can bolt by guards, can use his speed to loop around the line on stunts, and can close on the quarterback in an instant. Thompson is very fast at firing his gap to create disruption in the backfield with an impressive ability to redirect to chase down quarterbacks and running backs. The speed also extends to run defense, as he can flow down the line to get in on tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Dre'Mont Jones*, DT, Ohio State
Height: 6-3. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 4.95. Projected Round (2018): 1-3 9/23/17: After three games, Jones has six tackles with two for a loss. The numbers don't illustrate how much disruption he causes.
9/1/17: Jones is a redshirt sophomore who could break out in 2017. He earned a starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2016 and totaled 52 tackles with four tackles for a loss. Scouting sources say that Jones has a first-round skill set. With Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis drawing attention on the outside, Jones could do some damage on the inside.
Andrew Brown*, DT, Virginia
Height: 6-4. Weight: 285. Projected 40 Time: 4.72. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 9/23/17: This season, Brown has seven tackles with two for a loss and a forced fumble.
9/1/17: Brown is a sturdy defender at the point of attack and impressed last year. Scouting sources say that Brown has a first-round skill set entering the 2017 season. In 2016, he totaled six sacks, 13 tackles for a loss and 38 tackles. Brown has good size to be a base end with quickness and athleticism to get after the quarterback.
Dontavius Russell*, DT, Auburn
Height: 6-3. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.00. Projected Round (2018): 1-3 9/23/17: Russell has five tackles with one for a loss to this point in 2017.
9/1/17: Russell formed a tough interior defensive line in 2016 with Montravius Adams. Scouts who have done advanced work for the 2018 class say that Russell has a first-round skill set. It will be interesting to see if Russell plays up to it as Adams had a first-round skill set but ended up being a third-round pick. Russell had 42 tackles with 4.5 for a loss, and 1.5 sacks in 2015. In 2016, he totaled 29 tackles with two passes batted.
Vita Vea*, DT, Washington
Height: 6-5. Weight: 332. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 1-3. 9/23/17: This year, Vea has nine tackles with a sack.
9/1/17: Vea was a load at the point of attack for Washington in 2016. On the year, he totaled 39 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one force fumble and two passes batted. Vea has a serious combination of size, length, strength, and quickness at the point of attack.
For the NFL, Vea projects as a heavy nose tackle who can be tough at the point of attack. He is a big, thick and strong. Vea can use his size and strength eat up blockers and generally holds gap integrity. He has a quick burst off the snap, and there are times where his size, power, and quickness overwhelm smaller interior linemen. Vea is at his best when he tries to bull his way into the backfield to cause disruption. With his upper body strength and the power in his base, Vea can push off or through blocks. He has a good motor and gives a second effort, too.
Vea needs to show improvement in the pass rush during 2017. The junior needs to develop some pass-rushing moves to go with his bull rush. He has to become more consistent in creating pressure and laying hits on the quarterback in order to be a highly in-demand draft prospect. Otherwise, he could be viewed as just a nose tackle.
Derrick Nnadi*, DT, Florida State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 304. Projected 40 Time: 5.30. Projected Round (2018): 2-3. 9/23/17: Nnadi notched six assisted tackles in Week 1 against Alabama.
9/1/17: Nnadi was expected to have a breakout 2016 season, but he wasn't making much of an impact prior to a huge game against Miami to help lead the Seminoles to a victory. After that, Nnadi was a productive defender for the Seminoles. He totaled 44 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks on the year. Nnadi was a solid nose tackle for the Seminoles in 2015, totaling 45 tackles with two for a loss and two sacks. The senior has the upside to develop during 2017.
Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Height: 6-2. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.40. Projected Round (2018): 3-4. 9/23/17: Lotulelei has five tackles with a pass batted so far this year.
9/1/17: Lotulelei notched 28 tackles with 8.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2016. He is run-stuffing nose tackle for the NFL, but doesn't offer a lot of pass-rush contributions. The younger brother of Star Lotulelei, Lowell Lotulelei had 33 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble in 2014 as a freshman. He is a strong nose tackle at the point of attack. In 2015, Lotulelei had 26 tackles with five for a loss and one sack. He could be limited as a nose tackle who comes off the field in passing situations.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Height: 6-2. Weight: 282. Projected 40 Time: 4.95. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 9/23/17: This season, Hurst has 11 tackles with one tackle for a loss.
9/1/17: Hurst has developed into a tough defender at the point of attack for Michigan. As a sophomore, he had 35 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Hurst improved as a junior with 34 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. The senior would be rated higher if he weren't undersized for defensive tackle in the NFL.
Kendrick Norton*, DT, Miami
Height: 6-3. Weight: 318. Projected 40 Time: 5.23. Projected Round (2018): 3-5 9/23/17: Miami has only played one game thus far. Norton made one tackle in that contest.
9/1/17: Norton had a solid 2016 as a first-year starter for the Hurricanes. The sophomore totaled 39 tackles with 10 for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble on the season. Norton could be better as a junior and senior with development.
Daylon Mack*, DT, Texas A&M
Height: 6-1. Weight: 335. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 4-6. 9/23/17: In 2017, Mack has six tackles with three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
9/1/17: Mack notched just 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2016, but he played better than the numbers illustrate. Mack was a disruptive force on the interior of the defensive line as a freshman in 2015. He totaled 32 tackles with 9.5 for a loss on the season, but also was a bigger presence than the numbers indicate. Mack also was only a rotational player, but he should take on a bigger role as an upperclassman.
Jerry Tillery*, DT, Notre Dame
Height: 6-6. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 4-6. 9/23/17: Tillery is up to 16 tackles with one sack in 2017. He's played well for Notre Dame.
9/1/17: Tillery had 37 tackles with three tackles for a loss in 2016. The sophomore played better than the numbers illustrate and caused some havoc at the point of attack. Tillery has the skill set to develop into more production in 2017 and maybe 2018.
Drew Bailey, DT, Louisville
Height: 6-5. Weight: 294. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 4-6 9/23/17: Bailey has three tackles with .5 sacks at this point this season.
9/1/17: Bailey was a quality run stuffer for Louisville in 2016. He totaled 58 tackles with nine tackles for a loss and two sacks on the year. Getting after the quarterback is critical to helping Bailey's draft stock.
Folorunso Fatukasi, DT, Connecticut
Height: 6-4. Weight: 303. Projected 40 Time: 5.15. Projected Round (2018): 4-6 9/23/17: Fatukasi has four tackles thus far this season.
9/1/17: Fatukasi had a quality junior year for the Huskies as he notched 43 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and a blocked kick. If Fatukasi can improve his pass rush as a senior, he could rise.
Kahlil McKenzie Jr.*, DT, Tennessee
Height: 6-3. Weight: 325. Projected 40 Time: 5.17. Projected Round (2018): 6-FA. 9/23/17: So far in 2017, McKenzie has 13 tackles.
9/1/17: A pectoral injury limited McKenzie to only half the season in 2016. As a freshman in 2015, McKenzie flashed with 24 tackles and a sack. He has to stay healthy and produce as a junior.
9/1/17: Elam is a massive nose tackle candidate for the NFL. He will need to lose weight and get in better condition, but he is a massive lineman who could be a two-gap or zero-technique in the NFL. Elam had 10 tackles as a freshman, 23 tackles as a sophomore and nine as a junior.