Building the Perfect 2020 Defensive Linemen

Derrik Klassen

Build: Jordan Elliott, Missouri

In terms of skill set, Jordan Elliott is a “good-not-great” prospect kind of across the board, but in terms of looking the part, he absolutely takes the cake. 

Elliott measured in at 6-foot-4 and 302 pounds at the NFL Combine, giving him just enough size and heft to survive in the run game and versus stronger blockers while being lean and light enough to function as a penetrator in both the run game and pass game. 

Though his arms are a bit on the short side at 32 ⅜”, short arms at the defensive tackle position are not as pressing as it may be elsewhere considering how compact the action is between the tackles anyway. Plenty of guys such as Aaron Donald, Larry Ogunjobi, Sharrif Floyd, Kenny Clark, Grady Jarrett, Matt Ioannidis, and others have been just fine despite sub-33” arms

Get-Off / Snap Explosion: Ross Blacklock, TCU

Good luck convincing me 305-pounds is supposed to move this way. With just one step in the first clip above, Blacklock jumps from the left A-gap (between guard and center) to the right A-gap. The opposing center has zero time to find a good place to latch onto the moving target that is Blacklock’s frame, giving the TCU DT a free run at the quarterback with a smidgen of hand-fighting on the way. 

Being able to win right off the snap on a stunt with such ease is a gift that all defensive coordinators wish their defensive tackles had. With that ability, Blacklock not only has the tools to win on his own as a dancing bear, but becomes a weapon on stunts, twists, and other various “games” up front that can be used to generate pressure with fewer overall pass-rushers. 

Stunts can also be huge in the run game for blitzing purposes, as is often the case in TCU’s defense. HC Gary Patterson loves to play out of a 4-2-5 and stunt his front-four one way or the other to generate certain run fit structures. Blacklock was a critical piece in doing so over the past couple years. 

While Blacklock still has some work to do in terms of technique and adding raw strength, he has the caliber of quickness and explosion that makes for elite penetrating defensive tackles. 

Lateral Agility: Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma

300-pound men perfectly executing a spin move and tracking down a quarterback in space is supposed to be reserved for Fletcher Cox and … well, just Fletcher Cox. This particular clip looks like prime Demarcus Ware giving the work to some poor left tackle, not a defensive tackle versus a center. 

If the move alone was not impressive enough, the opponent was Texas C Zach Shackelford, who is expected to be drafted at some point on Day 3 this year. Sure, Gallimore should be expected to beat a guy like that, but to do so in such embarrassing fashion is a statement. 

Gallimore’s nimble nature comes in handy versus the run, too. While he does not have the heftiest anchor around, Gallimore can slip from one gap to another with relative ease for a big man. He can help hunt down plays that get a gap past him, as well as recover on cutbacks as needed. 

Strength: Derrick Brown, Auburn

Derrick Brown is a bully. At 6-foot-5 and 326-pounds, Brown may not be the nimblest or most explosive defensive tackle in the class, but his raw strength and anchor is unmatched. Brown can straight up forklift opposing 300-plus pound offensive linemen like he’s still playing high school ball. 

This is the same LSU offensive line which won the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in college football. In particular, that right guard is Damien Lewis, the very same Damien Lewis who earned 2nd-team All-SEC honors and is projected to be a top-150 pick in this year’s draft. Brown hits Lewis with a strong initial punch before driving his hands up above his eyes, which serves to bend Lewis’ frame backwards and force him to lose his balance. Once Lewis’ balance starts to fade, Brown pushes straight through to the real target, quarterback Joe Burrow, and brings him down for a near-safety. 

Pass-Rush: Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

The sack numbers may not support it, but Kinlaw is a terrorizing pass-rusher. Despite a 6-foot-5 and 324-pound frame that would normally make it awkward for a defensive tackle to get moving, Kinlaw flies off the line of scrimmage and engages pass protectors with an unmatched furry. Kinlaw has the explosion, lateral movement, and crafty hands to be a devastating pass-rusher.

While pass-rushers can win in any number of ways, it is Kinlaw’s powerful hands that really seal the deal. Be it ripping away a blocker’s hands out of his frame or simply giving an offensive guard a good shock to the chest, Kinlaw’s heavy yet nimble hands are a problem for opposing pass blockers. Kinlaw is an excellent prospect as is, but if his powerful and crafty hands could be inserted onto a slightly smaller, more agile defensive tackle, it would make for one hell of a prospect. 

Run-Defense: Derrick Brown, Auburn

Brown’s mountainous size and aforementioned strength also make him the perfect run defender for the heart of a defense. No, he is not going to knife through a gap the same way Gerald McCoy or Aaron Donald can, but for teams looking for their version of Damon “Snacks” Harrison or D.J. Reader, Brown is absolutely the dude.

In both clips above, Brown blows up the line of scrimmage and forces Georgia’s running back to bounce the play to a different rushing lane. While Brown is not the main tackler in either clip, he is the reason the running back is delayed in getting into a rushing lane and why the rest of the Auburn defense has time to swarm to shut the running back down before he can get going. 

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