This 2016 defensive line class may be the deepest the position has been in the last 20 years. This is a good thing for the Green Bay Packers, as D-Line was a position of need even before BJ Raji took his leave of absence.
Letroy Guion, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Josh Boyd would seem to be locks for the roster. Mike Pennel likely will too, but will miss the first part of the season on suspension. Christian Ringo, William Campbell, BJ McBryde, and the newly acquired Ray Drew will compete for roster spots. Adding quality depth will be a priority in the draft.
Oregon’s DeForest Buckner and Ohio State’s Joey Bosa will be off the board in the first 10 picks. However, there is uncertainty where the next group of players will get picked. A’Shawn Robinson from Alabama is a physical freak. He is extremely powerful and athletic and has all the skills you would want in a pro defensive lineman. At times he plays with poor pad level and he lacks the technique you would expect from a defensive player who was coached by Nick Saban.
Clemson’s duo of Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson would likely play OLB in the 3-4. Dodd has the size that reminds you of Julius Peppers (6’5” 277 lbs.) and is coming off a great year at Clemson. He is a hard worker and plays intelligently, which combined with his physical features, makes him a very intriguing prospect. Scouts question why all of that only combined for one great year at the college level. Lawson is an incredibly strong player who lacks the explosion or burst that Dodd does. Lawson will be stout against the run, but may lack the burst and pass rushing moves to get after the Quarterback.
Robert Nkemdiche possesses every physical quality you would want in a defensive lineman. He was the number 1 rated high school recruit in 2013 and attended Ole Miss. However, a lack of production and off the field issues have raised serious question marks about his future. Nkemdiche could be the ultimate boom or bust pick.
Baylor’s Andrew Billings is a true Nose Tackle. He has a weight lifting background and could be a true “block-eater” in a 3-4. However, he is short (6’1”) and is still learning the position (switched from offensive line in college). Billings represents one of the only high round Nose Tackle options.
Mississippi State’s Chris Jones, Alabama’s Jarran Reed, and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins project as 3-4 DEs who have great power, but very limited pass rush ability.
The depth at the position is so deep this year that players with first round grades may slip into the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Other intriguing prospects:
Noah Spence – Eastern Kentucky – Would definitely be an OLB in a 3-4. Great quickness, and pass rush moves. He was kicked off the Ohio State team and didn’t run well at the combine which will hurt his draft stock.
Kenny Clark – UCLA – Powerful player who has shown the ability to rush the passer. Has a wrestling background and knows how to use his leverage. Has lost containment on film and missed tackles are a concern.
Austin Johnson – Penn St – Extremely powerful lower body. Johnson can become a guy who absorbs double-teams. He has not demonstrated an ability to disengage and rush the passer.
Shawn Oakman – Baylor – Looks like Tarzan, plays like… Well, he’s underperformed. An absolute physical specimen, whose production never matched what he looked like. Similar to Nkemdiche but without the off field concerns.
Adolphus Washington – Ohio St – Quick and athletic for a guy his size. Has good pass rush moves, but lacks the lower body strength to bull rush.
Sheldon Day – Notre Dame – Can play multiple positions and has great hands. Great moves and really understands the game. At 293 lbs. he’s small for a 3-4 lineman and would need to add strength for the next level.
The depth at defensive line is so overwhelming that this prospect preview only covers some of the players projected in the top 3 rounds. There is a strong likelihood that Ted Thompson could get great value in the middle rounds, but I would expect the Packers to address the defensive line with multiple picks in the 2016 NFL draft.