Da'Ron Payne*, DT, Alabama
Height: 6-2. Weight: 319. Projected 40 Time: 5.10. Projected Round (2018): 1. 11/18/17: In 2017, Payne has 40 tackles, two sacks and a pass batted. He has been superb this season, showcasing his freakish speed and athleticism. Payne has been a tremendous run defender all year, shutting down his gap and keeping teams from running the ball on Alabama. When the Crimson Tide let him rush the passer, Payne has shown the ability to collapse the pocket and pressure the quarterback as well.
Payne gets rave reviews all over the scouting community. In speaking with some general managers who have scouted Alabama, they think Payne and Minkah Fitzpatrick are legit studs for the NFL. Payne looks like a rare nose tackle who has top-25 potential.
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. 11/18/17: Wilkins has 44 tackles with seven tackles for a loss and four sacks in 2017. All year, he has played well, using speed and athleticism to cause disruption at the point of attack. In speaking with sources at multiple teams, they see Wilkins as a future first-rounder.
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.
Vita Vea*, DT, Washington
Height: 6-5. Weight: 332. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 11/18/17: This year, Vea has 30 tackles with three sacks and three passes batted. Team sources say that Vea could be a pick in the back half of the first round during the 2018 NFL Draft. Vea's play this season will help his chances of being a first-round pick. He has shown the ability to contribute somewhat in the pass rush while being big, strong, and having a burst at the point of attack. Vea is very reminiscent of Danny Shelton at Washington, and Shelton ended up going as a top-20 draft pick. That was a bit of a reach by Cleveland, but Vea could end up going in the first round.
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.
Taven Bryan*, DT, Florida
Height: 6-4. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 4.99. Projected Round (2018): 1-2. 11/18/17: This season, Bryan has been enjoying a good year with 33 tackles with four tackles for a loss and three sacks. He had a dominant game against Texas A&M. In speaking with some scouting sources, Bryan has drawn comparisons to Denver Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. Some announcers have compared the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder Bryan to J.J. Watt, and in terms of style of play Bryan is reminiscent of Watt when Bryan is playing well, but Bryan is not consistently dominant to deserve a comparison to Watt.
Bryan has a tremendous get-off with serious explosion off the snap. He also has developed strength with active hands to shed blocks. With his length, Bryan can play end or tackle, and he would be a perfect fit as a five-technique.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Height: 6-2. Weight: 282. Projected 40 Time: 4.95. Projected Round (2018): 1-3. 11/18/17: This season, Hurst has 47 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and 4.5 sacks. He has superb first-step quickness as he is constantly firing his gap and getting into the backfield. Hurst is so fast off the snap that he often is breaking into the backfield while offensive linemen are still getting out of their stances. If Hurst were bigger, he would be a sure-fire first-rounder. Hurst still might be a Thursday night pick, but a lack of weight and length could cause him to go lower.
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.
Dre'Mont Jones*, DT, Ohio State
Height: 6-3. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 4.95. Projected Round (2018): 2-3 11/18/17: On the year, Jones has 15 tackles with four for a loss and one sack. The numbers don't illustrate how much disruption he causes. Jones missed two games with injury, returning to the field in mid-October.
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.
Trenton Thompson*, DT, Georgia
Height: 6-4. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 5.00. Projected Round (2018): 2-3. 11/18/17: Thus far in 2017, Thompson has totaled 26 tackles with three for a loss, but he also missed multiple games with an MCL sprain. 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 that his body type fits a 3-4 defensive 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.
Derrick Nnadi*, DT, Florida State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 304. Projected 40 Time: 5.30. Projected Round (2018): 2-3. 11/18/17: In 2017, Nnadi has notched 44 tackles with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss. He has played well, causing disruption at the point of attack. Nnadi has good strength and quickness. He has some size limitations and would fit on the inside of a 4-3 defense.
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.
Andrew Brown, DT, Virginia
Height: 6-4. Weight: 285. Projected 40 Time: 4.72. Projected Round (2018): 2-4. 11/18/17: This season, Brown has 34 tackles with 8.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He has a lot of talent, but doesn't play up to his skill set consistently.
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): 2-4. 11/18/17: Russell has 30 tackles with two for a loss, one sack and one pass batted to this point in 2017. He's been decent, but unimpressive. Russell definitely should return to Auburn for next season.
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.
Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
Height: 6-4. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 5.24. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 11/18/17: Phillips has turned himself into a NFL prospect with a solid senior season. He has 73 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and two forced fumbles this year. In speaking with a director of college scouting who has been scouting at Stanford, they felt that Phillips is a mid-rounder. He said that Phillips struggles with double teams and has limitations as a pass rusher for the NFL that push him down, but he thinks Phillips is a good run stuffer for the next level. They said his game similar to former Stanford nose tackle David Parry.
As a junior, Phillips had 46 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. He missed his sophomore season with an injury after backing up as a freshman.
Jerry Tillery*, DT, Notre Dame
Height: 6-6. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 11/18/17: Tillery has played well for Notre Dame as he is active at the point of attack. On the season, he has 40 tackles with 5.5 for a loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.
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.
Justin Jones, DT, N.C. State
Height: 6-2. Weight: 315. Projected 40 Time: 5.24. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 11/18/17: Jones has played well this season for N.C. State, showing some quickness at the point of attack to fire into the backfield and cause disruption. He also has rushed the passer pretty well for an interior lineman, having collected 3.5 sacks on the year. He also has 26 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss. Jones missed the season opener.
B.J. Hill, DT, N.C. State
Height: 6-4. Weight: 315. Projected 40 Time: 5.17. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 11/18/17: Hill is part of a talented defensive line for the Wolfpack, and all four their starters are future NFL contributors. Hill is a tough run defender at the point of attack who is tough to move and reliable to fill his gap. In 2017, the senior has 42 tackles with one sack and three passes batted. As a junior, he totaled 39 tackles with 2.5 for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and three passes batted. Hill contributed 50 tackles as a sophomore with 3.5 sacks and 40 tackles as a freshman with 1.5 sacks.
Kendrick Norton*, DT, Miami
Height: 6-3. Weight: 318. Projected 40 Time: 5.23. Projected Round (2018): 3-5 11/18/17: Norton has 20 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks and one pass batted this season.
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.
Bruce Hector, DT, South Florida
Height: 6-2. Weight: 295. Projected 40 Time: 4.95. Projected Round (2018): 3-5. 11/18/17: Sources tell me that Hector is going to be a popular name in the leadup to the 2018 NFL Draft as a sleeper pick who could be a good value. They think for the NFL, Hector could translate as a quick, penetrating three-technique who will contribute in the pass rush. In 2017, Hector has totaled 27 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one pass batted and one forced fumble. Hector showed his pass-rushing skills with six sacks as a junior and five as a sophomore. Interior pass-rushers are tough to find, so Hector could become a hot prospect in the months to come.
Daylon Mack*, DT, Texas A&M
Height: 6-1. Weight: 335. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 4-6. 11/18/17: In 2017, Mack has 15 tackles with five tackles for a loss, one sack and a forced fumble. He would be a good fit as a zero-technique nose tackle in a 3-4 defense at the next level. Mack has been a rotational player for the Aggies, but scouts have noticed that he has some physical talent. The junior should return for his senior year to improve and become an every-down player before going pro.
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.
Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Height: 6-2. Weight: 310. Projected 40 Time: 5.40. Projected Round (2018): 4-6. 11/18/17: Lotulelei has seven tackles with a pass batted so far this year. He is a plugger nose tackle, but he doesn't make stops in the ground game and lacks an ability to contribute in the pass rush.
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.
Folorunso Fatukasi, DT, Connecticut
Height: 6-4. Weight: 303. Projected 40 Time: 5.15. Projected Round (2018): 4-6 11/18/17: Fatukasi has 38 tackles, 6.5 for a loss and three sacks 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): 5-7. 11/18/17: So far in 2017, McKenzie has 33 tackles with 3.5 for a loss and two sacks.
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.
Drew Bailey, DT, Louisville
Height: 6-5. Weight: 294. Projected 40 Time: 5.20. Projected Round (2018): 6-FA 11/18/17: Bailey has eight 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.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
Height: 6-7. Weight: 360. Projected 40 Time: 5.54. Projected Round (2018): 7-FA 11/18/17: Elam has eight tackles with a pass batted thus far in 2017.
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.