CFF Overview: DI – Top of the Crop
Kicking off the CFF position overview for the defensive interior, Ben Stockwell looks at the top options.
CFF Overview: DI – Top of the Crop
As part of CFF’s free content we are going to be diving deep into each position group of draft eligible prospects and splitting them up into a few sections, best sorting them per their value in our eyes.
For the defensive interior, there are four names who separated themselves and those are who we’ll discuss first as we start with the shortlist of standouts, the top of this year’s crop.
Danny Shelton, Washington
At the top of the draft teams are looking for rare and special players and Danny Shelton is just that in this draft class. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in north of 330 pounds, he has the bulk to be a stout run plugger but combines that with abilities that set him apart. A nose tackle for the Huskies, Shelton has the quickness to be more than “just” a 0-tech in the NFL, his agility and block-shedding ability allows him to stay on the field in passing situations and made him one of the most productive players on the defensive line during his final collegiate season.
Shelton has the bulk and the strength to stack and hold up blockers, but his greater strength lies in his quickness and ability to work off of blocks which may ultimately see his best fit away from the nose tackle position in a 3-4 position that his body type perhaps type casts him for. That may be the only concern with Shelton, that a team cannot see past the 330-pound bulk and plugs him into a position that may not best suit him. A team that can fully appreciate the range of Shelton’s ability and not deploy him solely as a space-eating nose tackle will get the most from him and in the process a potentially special defensive player.
Signature Stat: His 50 defensive stops were second only to Leonard Williams among draft-eligible defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends.
Leonard Williams, USC
Many view Williams as the top defensive lineman in this draft and arguably the best overall player, but we don’t see things quite the same way. In some quarters that will see us labeled at as “haters” but that really isn’t the case, Williams can be a fine player in the NFL and graded extremely highly in our first season of college work, but his play as a pass rusher holds us back from viewing him as a truly special player. What Williams will come in and deliver immediately is stout run defense using his ability to control and shed blocks to find the ball-carrier consistently. Those skills translated into terrific production at USC and should transfer to him being a solid run defender in the NFL as well.
Where we feel Williams is lacking is the explosive ability to get upfield in obvious passing situations and get after the quarterback in the manner that marks out the truly elite defensive linemen. Overall, Williams’ pass rushing production was solid but he excelled when blockers lunged at him and his patient approach allowed him to pick them off, it was rare that Williams (as demonstrated by some underwhelming productivity rushing the passer in third and long situations) really showed explosion to test opposing blockers.
Signature Stat: Led all draft-eligible defensive linemen with a Run Stop Percentage of 14.3%; 46 stops on 322 run defense snaps.
Henry Anderson, Stanford
A 3-4 defense no longer means two-gapping and a player like Henry Anderson affords a player with the versatility to play in a couple of different spots, but at his best is a penetrating 3-4 defensive end. Anderson is a good athlete and commits to shooting gaps which makes him arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in this entire draft class. His 12.2 Pass Rushing Productivity score against Power 5 teams was comfortably the best among draft eligible defensive tackles and 3-4 ends andhis penetration also translated to productive work in run defense, to boot.
What holds Anderson back a little in these rankings are some technical flaws which could cause some problems in the NFL. Anderson ends up on the floor a lot and that is a by-product of his play style and some technical flaws which combined with his ultimate desire to get up the field see him play with poor balance at times. If Anderson can plays with his hands up a little more to protect himself when he is penetrating and plays with a little wider base to hold up against getting blocked from the side then he may just have as much potential as any defensive player in this draft.
Signature Stat: Finished second among draft-eligible 3-4 defensive ends in both our Run Stop Percentage and Pass Rushing Productivity metrics.
Grady Jarrett, Clemson
The two players at the top of this list were extremely productive on high snaps counts during the 2014 season but in Jarrett we find a player who had far less playing time but was far from dwarfed in terms of productivity. Primarily playing the 1-tech for Clemson, Jarrett is a little on the short side and while his lack of height and length can at times be a problem for him, more often he uses it to gain a leverage advantage over opposing blockers; “Low Man Wins”. He works off of blocks extremely well and uses his naturally lower pad level to get under and overpower bigger blockers who don’t consistently bring the technique or leverage to get Jarrett blocked.
Far from a one-dimensional run defender at the 1-tech, Jarrett was also among the most productive pass rushing defensive tackles, ahead of more naturally disruptive pass rushers like Xavier Cooper of Washington State and Michael Bennett of Ohio State. Other players may have better tools and traits than Jarrett, but in terms of consistent performances and production, against even the best teams on Clemson’s schedule, few defensive players can match Jarrett’s résumé.
Signature Stat: Led draft-eligible defensive tackles in both Run Stop Percentage and Pass Rushing Productivity when excluding games against FCS opposition.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.