DiCecco's Draft Notes: DTs To Watch For Birds
We're nearly a week away from the commencement of the 2021 NFL Draft, yet it's hard to pinpoint which route the Eagles will take with the No. 12 pick, given the various needs throughout their roster.
One area of concern that's been largely overshadowed throughout the offseason has been defensive tackle, where depth should be considered tenuous at best. With that, I decided to examine the position and highlight some players who could be of interest.
View From Inside
Don’t look now, but the sizable financial investments allocated to Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave should incite a sweeping change to the defensive tackle position in the near future to ensure long-term success. Due to the team’s dire financial outlook and inadequate depth, the wealthy tandem will almost assuredly be burdened with an increased snap share in 2021. So, what could the Eagles do to get ahead of the curve and invigorate the position with upside-laden talent?
Well, it likely won’t be an instantaneous fix.
As balanced as this draft class is in many areas, this particular crop of draft-eligible defensive tackles leaves much to be desired. In fact, it qualifies as one of the most underwhelming groups in recent memory. Even more troubling, albeit prematurely, is that the 2022 class figures to yield a similar distinction.
Still, there will be opportunities to come away with a capable interior defender within the first three rounds if they so choose. Let’s take a look at some of those options:
Christian Barmore, Alabama
Barmore is a player who has drawn quite a bit of intrigue as of late, as he's likely to be the lone interior defender selected on opening night. At 6-foot-5, 310 pounds, Barmore is exceptionally athletic and comes equipped with an explosive get-off and superhuman strength to push the pocket. He only logged one season as a starter for the Crimson Tide and dealt with a nagging knee ailment early into the 2020 season, so the lack of extensive experience (24 games, 2 seasons) and overall lack of refinement may cause hesitation for some clubs. Nevertheless, Barmore boasts scheme versatility and has the innate intangibles to evolve into a disruptive interior force at the next level. While I believe that selecting Barmore at No. 12 would be a misuse of resources – they could slide down a few spots and probably secure him – it's hard to discount those inherent traits.
Levi Onwuzurike, Washington:
Onwuzurike was a bit of an enigma at the collegiate level. While the 6-foot-2, 290-pound mauler flashed occasional glimpses of dominance, he was expected by many to break out for his senior campaign, which would have all but cemented his status as the unquestioned No. 2 defensive tackle in this class. But Onwuzurike decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Though his pass-rush prowess never matched his athletic profile – he collected just 7.0 sacks across 34 games – he proved to be a disruptive presence in the middle of the Washington defensive front. Onwuzurike has active hands, will continuously generate penetration, and boasts enough lateral agility to make plays down the line, but his pass-rush attack must be tapped into to unlock his full potential.
Milton Williams, La. Tech:
Williams, one of my favorite interior defenders in this class, isn't coming from a name-brand program, but as I always say, “Scout the player, not the helmet.” Despite compiling a 2019 campaign that included 59 tackles (9.0 for loss), 5.5 sacks as a sophomore, it was his follow-up performance that has vaulted him up draft boards. The Louisiana Tech standout, who amassed 45 tackles (10.0 for loss), and 4.5 sacks in 2020, demonstrated consistency and encouraging development. While Williams may not have the lightning-quick get-off teams covet, the 6-foot-4, 280-pound defender is a fluid mover who wins with leverage and defeats linemen with bend and change of direction. As far as the second wave of DTs are concerned, I’m partial to Williams’ upside. He offers fantastic mid-round value. But he must add size to his frame and improve his play strength to become a more well-rounded player. Williams should thrive in a rotation, but could offer starter upside in the right system.
Daviyon Nixon, Iowa:
Nixon (6-3, 305), heralded for his pass-rush ability, should be available in the third round, where the Eagles pick twice. The former Hawkeye, who has logged 19.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and even a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown in 20 games for the Hawkeyes, would give the Eagles another disruptive interior presence. He often wins the leverage battle, fires off the snap, and has the requisite strength to anchor in the run game. Nixon spent two years at the JUCO level and only has one season of stellar production, but if he continues to hone his craft, add size, and develop his play strength, his upside is immense. Nixon is more in the mold of a rotational rusher in sub packages as a rookie, with potential to seize a starting role in Year 2.
*Other DTs to watch: Alim McNeill, Jay Tufele, Marvin Wilson, Tommy Togiai, Bobby Brown – Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:
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