This doesn’t appear to be a strong defensive tackle class.
When it comes to first-round talent, there’s a chance zero at the position are selected in this year’s NFL draft. The ceiling is likely two and those players aren’t positioned to go in the upper half of the opening round.
Some years have outstanding classes at positions. For instance, quarterback and receiver are exceptionally loaded this year. Whereas two defensive tackles were taken in the first 14 picks a year ago, it will be a surprise if more than one gets his name called in that range this year.
“I think there’s a good chance we don’t see a defensive tackle go in the first round,” NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I would say just talking to people around the league, Christian Barmore is probably the one who’s got a chance.”
Barmore, the defensive tackle out of Alabama, did have a strong 2020 season relative to his collegiate peers. He finished the year with eight sacks, which led the national champion Crimson Tide. He displayed a good burst off the line of scrimmage and is equipped to defend the run.
However, Barmore is also seen as a raw prospect who needs to do a better job of playing within his assignments.
“He is a little bit of a boom or bust,” Jeremiah said. “There is a lot of ability there. You saw the good stuff at the end of the year that gets you fired up, and then I could point out some games in the early or middle part of the season where he doesn’t look like the same guy.”
The only other defensive tackle with a chance to go in the first round is Washington’s Levi Onwuzurike. At 6-foot-2 and 290 pounds, Onwuzurike is likely to play the three-technique spot in the NFL. He has good athleticism and mobility, with his lateral movement allowing him to work through multiple gaps.
Onwuzurike believes his attributes set himself apart as he called himself the best defensive tackle in this year’s class after his pro day in March.
“I think for me it’s my get-off, my strong hands and my pass rush,” Onwuzurike said. “Those three alone easily separate me from all the others. … A lot of those guys can’t do what I do. And I can do what they do.”
After Barmore and Onwuzurike, there is an evident drop-off when it comes to how the talent has been evaluated at the position. From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to who goes where.
Toward the end of the second round and into the third round, USC figures to have a pair of defensive tackles tailor made for the evolving NFL game. Both Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele are stout players over 300 pounds at the position who can plug the middle and stop the run.
Tuipulotu recorded two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in five games this past season.
“What (the NFL) is going to get from me as a football player is I’m a solid run stuffer with the potential to be a solid pass rusher as well,” Tuipulotu said. “And I’m a great hustler on the football field. No matter where the football is, I feel I get to it and make plays. As a person, you’re going to find someone who is accountable at all times and who players can rely on. I’ll do the dirty work and try to help the team win as much as possible, however they want me to.”
Tufele opted out of the 2020 season due to family concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which included his sister catching the novel coronavirus and ending up hospitalized. Instead of playing the season, Tufele, who recorded 4.5 sacks in 2019, spent time with his family and started training for the NFL on his own, which included focusing extra time on core exercise work.
“I was able to find a routine and keep on it,” Tufele said. “At (personal training), I’d been keying more on my core because I remember my coach telling me, ‘Jay, if you don’t get tired, you’re going to make more plays than you can imagine.’ I really keyed in on that.”
The Falcons aren’t in need of a defensive tackle, especially early in the draft, since Grady Jarrett is cemented with the franchise through the 2022 season. At the same time, there is never enough depth in the trenches, which could lead the Falcons to taking a defensive tackle in the middle to late rounds for developmental purposes.
If there was ever a year to do such a thing it would be this one due to the lack of top-end talent at the position.
“It’s probably one of the worst defensive tackle groups that we’ve had in the last decade,” Jeremiah said. “It’s just not very good.”
AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES
QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs
RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs
WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs
TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs
OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs
OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs
END RUSHERS: Pass on this draft stock | Top 10 DEs
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: One star among lackluster block | Top 10 DTs