Da'Ron Payne*, NT, 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*, NT, 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.
Vita Vea*, NT, 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.
Lowell Lotulelei, NT, 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.
Daylon Mack*, NT, 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*, NT, 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.
Kahlil McKenzie Jr.*, NT, 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.