While not featuring the absurd wealth of blue-chip talent as the wide receiver position, defensive tackle just might be the deepest group on the defensive side of the ball. This year’s draft figures to at least match the four defensive tackles taken in the first round in 2013, but there appear to be clearly more second- and third-round options than last year.
The class offers a variety of elite defensive tackles, from undersized disruptors like Aaron Donald and Timmy Jernigan, to massive run stuffers like Louis Nix III, to position-flexible athletes like Stephon Tuitt and Ra’Shede Hageman.
The Dolphins have selected their share of defensive linemen in recent years, but they haven’t taken a player designated as a defensive tackle in any of the first three rounds since making Tim Bowens the 20th selection in the first round in 1994. Bowens actually is one of two defensive tackles taken in the first round by the Dolphins in their draft history, along with Mike Kadish in 1972. (Current defensive tackle Jared Odrick
was designated as a defensive end when the Dolphins took him in the first round in 2010.) The Dolphins have drafted four defensive tackles in the second round, but none since selecting Mike Charles in 1983. BREAKING DOWN THE TOP DEFENSIVE TACKLE PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)
Aaron Donald is not physically imposing, nor was he highly recruited out of high school. Yet he was the most productive defensive player in college football in 2013 and then went out and continued to boost his draft stock with tremendous showings at the Senior Bowl (named Most Outstanding Overall Player for the week of practice) and the combine (he had the fastest 40-yard dash among DTs and the second-highest number of reps in the bench press). Donald cleaned up at the ESPN Home Depot Awards Show last fall when he won the Outland, Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards for a senior season that included 11 sacks and a nation-best 28.5 tackles for loss. Given his size, Donald is almost limited to playing inside in a 4-3 scheme but he brings to mind Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ra’Shede Hageman is one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft at any position, both because of his background and also because of his immense potential. The background is this: Hageman went through about a dozen foster homes before being adopted at the age of 7, was suspended for the last three games of his redshirt freshman season in 2010 because of academic issues, and graduated last December with a degree in youth studies. On the field, Hageman arrived at Minnesota as a highly recruited tight end, was moved to defensive end and finally to defensive tackle where he became a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior in 2013. While he’s a bit raw and has been criticized for being inconsistent, Hageman has perhaps more upside than any defensive tackle in the draft.
Timmy Jernigan arrived at Florida State as one of the top defensive tackle recruits and made a contribution right away as he earned Freshman All-American honors. Jernigan didn’t become a full-time starter until his junior year, but he showed he was worth the wait. Jernigan was the leader of FSU’s star-studded defense and he earned second-team AP All-America recognition after finishing with 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Jernigan, who entered the draft as an underclassman, won’t turn 22 until after the start of the 2014 season. While he is a tad smaller than the typical defensive tackle, Jernigan makes up for it with his strength, tenacity and foot quickness. He’s probably best suited to play inside in a 4-3 scheme.
For NFL teams using a 3-4 defensive scheme, Louis Nix III is the guy who clearly stands out as the most prominent run stopper. Heavily recruited out of Jacksonville, Nix moved into the starting lineup in 2011 as a redshirt freshman and emerged as a star in 2012 when Notre Dame went undefeated during the regular season. In a lopsided loss against Alabama in the BCS title game, Nix still managed to record two tackles for loss. Nix wasn’t quite as dominant in 2013 and developed knee problems late in the season. Nix underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in November and declared for the draft despite having a year of eligibility left. Because he stands out as the top nose tackle in this year’s draft, it’s not difficult to envision Nix being a top 15 pick.
Stephon Tuitt arrived at Notre Dame as a top recruit out of Georgia and started three games as a true freshman in 2011 before emerging as a star in 2012. In helping the Fighting Irish reach the BCS title game, Tuitt recorded 12 sacks and three forced fumbles while earning second-team AP All-America honors. While still productive, Tuitt wasn’t nearly as dominant last fall after he arrived at camp having gained weight following hernia surgery. That didn’t stop Tuitt from entering the draft as an underclassman. He underwent foot surgery in March after an injury was discovered at the combine. Tuitt played mostly defensive end in a 3-4 scheme at Notre Dame, but he’s got the physical dimensions and athletic ability to line up inside or maybe even play end in a 4-3 defense. THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)Dominique Easley
Florida DaQuan Jones
Penn State Kelcy Quarles
South Carolina Will Sutton
Arizona State Anthony Johnson
LSU BREAKING DOWN THE CORNERBACK CLASS Small-school prospects to watch:
Zach Kerr, Delaware; Mike Pennel, Colorado State Pueblo; Caraun Reid, Princeton NFL bloodlines:
Arizona State’s Will Sutton is the son of Mickey Sutton, who played five seasons (1986-90) in the NFL as a cornerback and punt returner for the Rams, Packers and Bills … Texas Tech’s Kerry Hyder is the cousin of Detroit Lions cornerback Chris Houston … Brigham Young’s Eathyn Manumaleuna is the cousin of Brandon Manumaleuna, who had a 10-year career (2001-10) as a tight end with the Rams, Chargers and Bears … Utah’s Tenny Palepoi is the younger brother of Anton Palepoi, a defensive end who played four seasons (2002-05) with the Seahawks, Broncos and Cardinals. Long shot to watch:
A teammate of Dolphins defensive back Don Jones
at Arkansas State, Ryan Carrethers is a 6-foot-1, 335-pound run-stuffing nose tackle who earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors the last two seasons. Carrethers scored a rushing touchdown in 2013 while lining up at fullback and also blocked two field goals, including one that clinched A-State’s victory against Ball State in the 2014 GoDaddy Bowl.