2017 Preseason All-American Projections: Defensive Tackles

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises and the stars of next fall could be the headlining players next April in the 2018 NFL Draft.

First-Team Defensive Tackles:

Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Lawrence was a tremendous freshman who helped Clemson win last season’s National Championship. NFL sources have already raved about Lawrence as he was impossible to ignore last year. Lawrence was an All-Freshman selection all over the nation while being the ACC Rookie of the Year. On the year, he totaled 63 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and a pass batted. With other good talent around him and now having a year of experience, Lawrence could dominate as a sophomore. He is a heavy favorite to end up being a First-Team All-American in 2017.

Ed Oliver, Houston

Oliver dominated at the point of attack last season, starting with his debut game against Oklahoma. The freshman overwhelmed offensive linemen throughout 2016 with his quickness, athletic ability, and physicality. He totaled 66 tackles with 22.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and nine passes batted on the year.

The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder is going to see a ton of double teams for the rest of his college career, but Oliver is good enough to produce even with the extra attention. Oliver and Lawrence look like future top-five picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Those talented sophomores could be the top defensive tackles in the nation in 2017 and be a First-Team All-American duo.

Second-Team Defensive Tackles:

Trenton Thompson, Georgia

Thompson went under the radar to a degree last year, but he was very good for Georgia and finished the season in dominant fashion. He totaled 56 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, and a pass broken up on the year. One of the hardest things to find for an 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 (6-4, 295) has a good skill set and could post a huge junior year to earn All-American honors.

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

Scouts who have looked ahead to the 2018 class have raved about Payne’s potential. Coming from Alabama, it isn’t a stretch, as 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 collected 36 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, and one pass broken up. Sources say that Payne helped create sacks for Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson last season via his ability to collapse the pocket. Payne should see more pass-rushing opportunities in 2017 with that trio now in the NFL. Given his tremendous skill set of size, speed and athleticism, Payne could be poised for a huge junior season that lands him with a lot of postseason accolades with All-American selections.

Third-Team Defensive Tackles:

Christian Wilkins, Clemson

Wilkins (6-4, 310) 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 on the season, plus had to play a lot of defensive end because of injuries to teammates. Wilkins showed a nice ability to play defensive end, but his NFL home is going to be on the inside. As a pass-rusher, Wilkins is able to get after the quarterback with pressure coming around the corner or up the inside. He has a first-round skill set and should produce a big 2017 season playing next to a difference-maker like Des Lawrence.

Vita Vea, Washington

Vea was a load at the point of attack for Washington in 2016. He totaled 39 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, one force fumble and two passes batted.

Vea is a heavy nose tackle who can be tough at the point of attack, possesing a serious combination of size, length, strength, and quickness at the point of attack. He should see a lot of double teams this season, and it can be tough for a nose tackle to produce a lot of numbers based on the nature of the position. Thus, Vea might not be a First-Team All-American, but could be more likely to be a Second- or Third-Team selection.

Honorable Mentions: Ohio State’s Dre’Mont Jones, Auburn’s Dontavius Russell, Florida State’s Derrick Nnadi, Utah’s Lowell Lotulelei, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, Texas A&M’s Daylon Mack, Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery and Tennessee’s Kahlil McKenzie Jr.

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