At first glance, the class of 2014 NFL Draft defensive tackles looks like an excellent one.
Louis Nix of Notre Dame has a lot of the traits you want in a top defensive tackle prospect. That is, until you watch his 2013 tape. Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, likely the first defensive tackle taken this year, is a sensational athlete for the position. But he's just not a great fit for every team because of his size.
Ra'Shede Hageman of Minnesota is an athletic marvel with size, but he's wildly inconsistent. Florida's Dominique Easley may be the best of the bunch if not for injury.
There's talent here with the defensive tackle class. But there are plenty of flaws as well.
1. Louis Nix | 6'2 3/8, 326 pounds | Defensive tackle | Notre Dame *
Nix was a disappointment in 2013. Not many people will argue that. What can be argued, however, is that Nix is much better than what he was able to put on tape this season. When fully healthy and in shape, Nix's talent is obvious. Add in his non-stop motor and passion for the game, and Nix should be a productive starter in the NFL for a long time, provided he's able to stay healthy.
2. Aaron Donald | 6'0 3/4, 285 pounds | Defensive tackle | Pittsburgh
While teams that run a two-gap defense may not think as highly of Donald, the teams that like him will absolutely love his game. Donald's athleticism is unique to the position. He can often beat opposing linemen with his foot quickness and hand use. While he's a star on the inside, he showed a few times at Pittsburgh that he's capable of lining up at end and being disruptive.
3. Ra'Shede Hageman | 6'5 7/8, 310 pounds | Defensive tackle | Minnesota
Hageman has the skills to be a very good defensive tackle. He's just not quite there yet. Because of that, he's going to get drafted more on his potential than the player he is right now. Hageman is an ultra-athletic tackle who posted 20.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and 11 passes defended the past two seasons. Some will say Hageman has position versatility, but others will say he has an undefined spot. Hageman's best position might be as a five technique going against offensive tackles. That allows Hageman to rely on his combination of power and quickness.
4. Stephon Tuitt | 6'5, 304 pounds | Defensive end/tackle | Notre Dame
A defensive end in Notre Dame's 3-4 system, Tuitt's best spot in the NFL may be inside in a 4-3. It's not an especially good reason why, though. Tuitt just doesn't have the speed or lateral agility to stay at end, maybe even in a 3-4. Tuitt knows how to use his length and size to his advantage. Against the run he can push back an offensive lineman, free a hand and go after the ball carrier. Against the pass, Tuitt knows how to get his hands up and disrupt a passing window. When he's rushing the quarterback, Tuitt shows an excellent bull rush and, again, takes advantage of his length. Getting after the quarterback from the inside will likely be Tuitt's best asset immediately as he moves to the NFL.
5. Tim Jernigan 6'1 5/8, 298 pounds | Defensive tackle | Florida State *
To some degree, Jernigan will have to be in the right schematic fit to really take advantage of his ability. That's why it's always been so hard to find a good landing spot for him in the first round if he slides past a few teams in the middle of the draft. Jernigan is a powerhouse defensive lineman who has some technique flaws to overcome. If he does that, Jernigan can be a disruptive force thanks to his power and pass rush moves.
6. Dominique Easley | 6'2, 288 pounds | Defensive tackle | Florida *
Injuries are cruel. If you play the what-if game, Easley would be a high first-round pick had he not been injured last season. When he was healthy, Easley has the type of speed and quickness that would make even Donald look pedestrian. He was the first man off the line of scrimmage on almost every play, able to use his speed both inside and outside at end. He had ferocious closing speed and a knack for reading the play instantaneously. But there's that injury. A torn ACL and medial meniscus in his right knee ended a magical 2013 season for Easley. He's now torn both ACLs. How he comes back is one of the draft's great unknowns.
7. DaQuan Jones | 6'3 3/4, 322 pounds | Defensive tackle | Penn State
If teams are looking for a classic run-stuffing defensive tackle, Jones should be their guy. He's a powerful run-stop specialist who can push opponents around and into the backfield. He can take up more than one gap on the inside and is, generally, a hard player to avoid when running up the middle. Has the power to play over the nose, but can line up as a one technique as well. Jones won't offer a whole lot as a pass rusher though, other than a bull rush. He doesn't close all that well, and he's mostly a straight-forward player.
8. Ego Ferguson | 6'3, 315 pounds | Defensive tackle | LSU *
So often defensive tackles coming out college are either simply a one-gap player or a two-gap plugger. Ferguson has the ability to be both. There were times at LSU where Ferguson flashed an excellent first step, capably timing the snap and using his foot quickness. There were other plays where he could occupy blockers in the middle, shutting down interior running lanes. That's the thing, though. There were times. Ferguson was inconsistent at LSU, possibly a product of playing on such a deep team. When he's on, Ferguson is a likely starter in the NFL. It's just going to be a matter of getting him there.
9. Ed Stinson | 6'3, 287 pounds | Defensive end/tackle | Alabama
At Alabama, Stinson never really played much inside. Instead, he played end in both three- and four-man fronts. So why is he rated amongst defensive tackles who often outweigh him by at least 15 pounds? Power. Stinson is blessed with incredible pure power, the type that allows him to move offensive linemen around with relative ease. He was often asked to anchor Alabama's defensive line, letting the linebackers make plays around him.
10. Will Sutton | 6'0 1/2, 303 pounds | Defensive tackle | Arizona State
What Sutton will the NFL be getting? Will they get the dominant, relatively slim 2012 version? Or will they get the 2013 version who was asked to bulk up, severely hampering his quickness? If it's the 2012 version, a team will be getting a tackle with a good first step, active hands and uncanny closing speed. If they get the 2013 version, they'll get a much slower player who was too often put on the ground by offensive linemen.
11. Anthony Johnson | 6'2 1/4, 308 pounds | Defensive tackle | LSU *
For a defensive lineman, Johnson can have deceptive athleticism. When he times his jumps properly, he’s often the first player off the line and can be disruptive in the middle. When Johnson doesn’t win with his initial quickness, he doesn’t seem to have the counter moves to keep going as a pass rusher. Johnson will be best in a one-gap system that takes advantage of his quickness. Has good range for a interior defensive lineman. Gets way too high in his pads too often and will get knocked off balance. Gets turned around too much, which kills any instincts he may have.
12. Caraun Reid | 6'2 1/8, 302 pounds | Defensive tackle | Princeton
At the Senior Bowl, Reid proved he can hang with a higher level of competition. There he showed a good first step and the ability to excel working a single gap. For an interior lineman, Reid has a good array of pass rush moves at his disposal. Doesn't handle double teams particularly well.
13. Calvin Barnett | 6'2, 300 pounds | Defensive tackle | Oklahoma State
14. Jay Bromley | 6'3 1/8, 306 pounds | Defensive tackle | Syracuse
15. Kelcy Quarles | 6'3 3/4, 297 pounds | Defensive tackle | South Carolina *
16. Taylor Hart | 6'6, 281 pounds | Defensive tackle | Oregon
17. Kerry Hyder | 6'2 1/2, 290 pounds | Defensive tackle | Texas Tech
18. DeAndre Coleman | 6'5, 314 pounds | Defensive tackle | California
19. Ryan Carrethers | 6'1 1/4, 337 pounds | Defensive tackle | Arkansas State
20. Daniel McCullers | 6'7, 352 pounds | Defensive Tackle | Tennessee
21. Derrick Hopkins | 6'0, 306 pounds | Defensive tackle | Virginia Tech
22. Chris Whaley | 6’3, 295 pounds | Defensive tackle | Texas
23. Beau Allen | 6'2, 334 pounds | Defensive tackle | Wisconsin
24. Justin Ellis | 6'1 1/4, 334 pounds | Defensive tackle | Louisiana Tech
25. George Uko | 6'2 5/8, 284 pounds | Defensive tackle | Southern California
26. Wade Keliikipi | 6'3, 306 pounds | Defensive tackle | Oregon
27. Roosevelt Nix | 5'11, 267 pounds | Defensive tackle | Kent State
28. Darious Cummings | 6'2, 301 pounds | Defensive Tackle | Florida