NFL draft interior DL rankings: After Alabama's Jonathan Allen, there's a noticeable dropoff

For all the hoopla over the defensive talent in this draft, especially with pass rushers and in the secondary, the interior defensive line group is surprisingly weak. Of the players we project to be nose tackles, 4-3 defensive tackles and 3-4 defensive ends, there might only be one selected in Round 1 and maybe only a half dozen or so more who should be picked in Rounds 2 and 3 of the draft.

First, let’s explain that we are projecting Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Michigan’s Taco Charlton and others to our “edge rusher” group, which we’ll preview at a later date. So they’re not considered in this group, even though they clearly could play on the interior depending on the scheme of the team that drafts them.

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen leads our interior defensive line rankings for the 2017 NFL draft. (AP)
Alabama’s Jonathan Allen leads our interior defensive line rankings for the 2017 NFL draft. (AP)

And even with the players listed here, there are several different body types. Our top-ranked player, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, is quick enough to play outside or inside in any defensive front and carries his 286 pounds well. Someone such as Allen’s ‘Bama teammate Dalvin Tomlinson, is a lot more stout at 310 or more pounds, and his skill set restricts him to certain techniques in the NFL.

But despite a decent array of physical specimens in this draft class, the defensive interior is not strong on the whole. Allen could — and should, we believe — be a top-10 pick. But no other player listed below him here clearly deserves to be taken in Round 1, unless teams feel that the lack of depth at the position pushes one or two of them into the final few picks on April 27.

Allen could be a star if he’s healthy and keeps his conditioning in line. A handful of others will become steady and valuable contributors in the NFL as well, but we just don’t see the interior DL depth we normally do this year compared to a typical draft class.

Positional grade: D+

The 2016 first round featured five interior defensive linemen drafted in Round 1. In 2015, that number was four. Those might be a bit higher than normal, but this year’s class certainly is below the Mendoza Line for top-end defensive line talent inside. The 2017 class reminds us a little of the lot from 2014, which featured Aaron Donald — clearly a star now — and a lot of question marks thereafter. The other first-round DT that year, Dominique Easley, was released about a year ago to the day. The Chicago Bears released Ego Ferguson, the tackle they drafted in Round 2 that year, and could soon do the same with Will Sutton, whom they drafted in Round 3. Many of the other interior D-linemen who went high in that draft are role players at best.

We think this year’s class will turn out similarly. Allen might never be as good as Donald, one of the handful best defensive players in the NFL already, but he’s the best of a bad lot.

Shutdown Corner’s Top 10 interior offensive linemen for 2017

1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama — 6-foot-3, 286 pounds — Health concerns over his arthritic shoulders are legitimate, and his combine workout was so-so, but Allen’s tape shows a dominant performer
2. Malik McDowell, Michigan State — 6-6, 295 — Brilliant flashes mixed with frustrating lapses, McDowell has a top-10 skill set but carries high bust potential (Full scouting report)
3. Caleb Brantley, Florida — 6-3, 307 — Quick penetrator who would fit best in a 4-3, one-gap system where he’s asked to rotate in and rush the passer predominantly (Full scouting report)
4. Chris Wormley, Michigan — 6-5, 298 — Big, strong, high-floor player who wins with force, has good production and could fit just about every scheme
5. Tanoh Kpassagnon — 6-7, 289 — Greek god physique and clear upside once he puts it all together, but teams must be very patient with his development as he remains raw
6. Montravius Adams, Auburn — 6-3, 304 — Short-armed penetrator can dominate with his quickness, but he’s streaky and profiles as a rotational rusher
7. Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama — 6-3, 310 — Incredibly smart, tough and strong, Tomlinson was overshadowed on talented line but could be a very dependable nose tackle
8. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte — 6-3, 305 — Size-speed prospect from startup program that never has produced an NFL draft pick; must show he can handle rise in competition
9. Carlos Watkins, Clemson — 6-3, 309 — Sack production (10.5 last season) catches the eye, but he looked flashy and sluggish in combine workouts
10. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa — 6-3, 316 — Wins with strong, violent hands and had a nice Senior Bowl showing, but might not be an NFL game-changer

Sleeper
Davon Godchaux, LSU

Godchaux has endured a tough upbringing and a path littered with adversity. His father was in jail when he was born, his house was shot up by people trying to kill his brother and Godchaux’s mother has battled health issues. In football, Godchaux overcame a high-school knee injury to become a standout and a starter on a talented Tigers line as a freshman. Although he was named in a domestic violence case, charges were dropped and he went on to earn awards at the school for his leadership and commitment to the program.

LSU’s Davon Godchaux, No. 57, has a chance to be a solid NFL performer. (AP)
LSU’s Davon Godchaux, No. 57, has a chance to be a solid NFL performer. (AP)

The 6-3, 310-pound plugger can play in the trenches and has three years of solid production (28.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks) despite short arms and a physique that could use a little toning. But Godchaux could be a solid mid-round prospect and develop into a nice contributor. He has shown perseverance and has the temperament to make it with the right development.

Small-school wonder
Jeremy Faulk, Garden City (Kan.) Community College

Faulk has taken the long road to this point and still faces an uphill battle to make it in the NFL. He was kicked out of Baylor after being accused of a sexual assault there, although he was never charged with any crime. So the 6-2, 304-pound Faulk had to re-enroll at Garden City, where he was a JUCO All-American in 2015 (87 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks) and ended up a first-team all-conference pick in 2016. Faulk also started his college career at Florida Atlantic and gained 35 pounds in a short period while he was in Waco, so he’s still developing as a player, having never played a single down at the FBS level.

Can he make the jump? Faulk likely projects to be a practice squad player as a rookie but has some raw ability worth kicking the tires on. He performed well at his pro day at Pittsburg State, per CBS, registering a vertical jump of 31.5 inches, doing 33 reps on the bench press (five additional reps were not allowed for not “locking out” his elbows) and ran two 40-yard dashes timed at 5.0 seconds. Faulk could have potential as a gap-splitting nose tackle, although he likely will go undrafted.

Other 2017 NFL draft position rankings:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive tackles
Interior offensive line (centers and guards)

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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