1) Jonathan Allen, Alabama Crimson Tide
Career Stats: 152 Tackles, 44.5 TFL, 28 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles
Height: 6'3 Weight: 286
Arm Length: 33 & 5/8 Inches
Bench Press: 21 Reps
3 Cone Drill: 7.49 Seconds
While there is the consensus that Myles Garrett is the best prospect in this draft, it would not surprise me in the least if Allen ended up having a better career than Garrett. While watching Allen, I can honestly say that I did not identify any true weaknesses in his game. In my opinion, the only thing that is really holding him back is his size if he does play defensive tackle. I think he can definitely still do it, but he might be a better fit as a defensive end in a 3-4 front. When watching Allen, the first thing that stands out to me is his burst off the line which is nothing short of exceptional. He plays with great leverage and fires off of the line of scrimmage into the gap with almost blinding speed. His impressive tackles for loss and sack total is built a lot on his ability to beat his man right off the bat. He has both the ability to win with this speed or win with power. He shows great natural strength and has violent hands which help him disengage from his blocker if he isn't able to win immediately. Watching some of his games, it was almost comical how he throws offensive linemen around. Guards seem to have a very difficult time keeping their hands on him to sustain a block and when combined with his speed they are always moving backwards. Allen's sack total is a true indication as a pass rusher, although he did obtain most of his sacks lining up as an edge rusher. But as an interior rusher, he shows the ability to close in on the quarterback and frightening speed and doesn't give them many options in terms of stepping up to throw. While Allen's pass rushing ability is what he'll be coveted for, he is also a tremendous run blocker. He holds up his position at the point of attack, and shuts down running lanes. He plays with excellent leverage and rarely gets moved by anything other than a double team. Allen was undoubtedly the focal point of a defense just loaded with talent. It would be a major upset in my opinion if Allen fell passed the third selection barring a run on quarterbacks.
Stat to Know - 22.5: Sacks that Allen had during his junior and senior campaigns, and the same number as Myles Garrett over the same two year span.
2) Caleb Brantley, Florida Gators
Career Stats: 80 Tackles, 20.5 TFL, 5.5 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles
Height: 6'3 Weight: 307
Arm Length: 32 Inches
Bench Press: 21 Reps
3 Cone Drill: 7.66 Seconds
Justin is the one who mentioned that I should watch Brantley and I'm glad that I did. He showed a lot of natural athleticism and good technique which makes me think he could see some significant playing time as a rookie. It is clear when you watch his tape that he is someone who is going to affect a game much more than his stats are going to lead on. This is both a positive and a negative however. The drawback is that there were times when I watched him that I feel like he didn't finish plays, whether it was getting the quarterback down before the ball is thrown or completing a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a running back. The positive is that he generates pressure up the middle and forces quarterbacks to move around which set ups his teammates for sacks, something that isn't indicated by his totals above. Lot most elite defensive tackles, the first thing that should jump off the screen is their quickness off the line of scrimmage. Brantley looks incredibly explosive and fires through the gap faster than a lot of guys can react against him. A testament to his athleticism, Brantley is incredibly nimble and moves through traffic well to the quarterback or running back. If he gets a line of sight on his man, he closes the gap quickly to shut down the play. I think what separates Brantley from other tackles is his repertoire of pass rushing moves. I saw him hit a lot of swim moves and spins against guards who were largely caught by surprise by how he moves like a blitzing linebacker. Combined with his violent use of his hands, and interior lineman really struggle to keep him in front of them. Brantley has adequate strength and is good at shutting down running lanes, but there were times that I felt he looked a little bit inconsistent against the run. There would be a series where he either clogs the lane or sheds a block to make the tackle, and then others he just gets completely taken out of the play. Developing more consistency will be key to his success as a pro, but I like what he brings to the game right now. I think that he could be a plug and play type player if drafted in the mid 20s of the first round.
Number to Know - 5.5: Number of sacks Brantley had over two seasons, a bit of a low number. While he can be a disrupter, he needs to finish more plays for loss.
3) Malik McDowell, Michigan State Spartans
Career Stats: 88 Tackles, 24.5 TFL, 7.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
Height: 6'6 Weight: 295
Arm Length: 34 & 3/4 Inches
Bench Press: 23 Reps
3 Cone Drill: 7.69 Seconds
Oh what could have been. A high five star athlete, McDowell committed to Michigan State over Michigan and Ohio State much to the chagrin of his parents who wanted him to be a Buckeye to get away from his hood rat friends. He did not listen and played for the Spartans where he looked like a top ten, or even top five, pick prior to his junior year. But then those major character concerns reared their ugly head and McDowell was heavily criticized this past year for his lack of effort in both improving his game and playing hard every single play. It may just be enough to drop him out of the first round. It is sad to see because he is just such a brilliant natural athlete. As I've been preaching above, the first thing you want to see is explosiveness out of their stance and McDowell might be better than Allen in that regard. I saw several plays each game where he was through the line before the guard was out of his stance. What I really love about his game is just how versatile he is. He often lined up inside as a tackle but would also line up as a five technique and showed outstanding bend to get around tackles. It is not a stretch to say the with the exception of nose tackle, he can play any position in any scheme. His exceptional size and arm length makes him a tremendous fit as a defensive end if he is drafted to a team that runs a 3-4. Once he is in the open, look out as he is someone who will take not two steps to get to the quarterback. McDowell is not just a speed freak as he also shows a lot of natural strength and the ability to shed blocks with that strength. However, the other major gripe that I have with him is just how raw he is which actually ties back to his work ethic and character concerns. Several scouts at the Combine said that he was the worst interview they had ever done. If he is not committed to getting better everyday in practice, then he will wash out before his rookie contract is over. It is such a shame today because sky is the limit for this kid.
Number to Know - 3: As in he was the second highest rated defensive tackle according to Rivals coming out of high school, behind DeShawn Hand who can't crack the starting lineup at Bama and Myles Garrett who is going first overall.