Former RB now runs them down
Vea’s athleticism, size put him in line to go in first round
The top defensive line prospects entering the NFL draft:
1. Vita Vea, Washington (6-4, 347 pounds): Remarkable athlete for his size. He played running back in high school and had a cameo at quarterback. Vea has top-end strength, bench-pressing 225 pounds 41 times at the NFL combine. That’s evident on film, where he regularly walks offensive linemen into opposing pockets and takes down running backs with blockers draped all over him. Vea likely projects best as a two-gap nose tackle at the professional level, but he did manage 81⁄ sacks over the
2 past two seasons. Needs to improve his instincts at the point of attack. Projected: Round 1
2. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (6-2,
311): He will get the dirty work done. Immensely strong — Payne can benchpress 500 pounds — he is going to shut down interior running lanes, should command double teams and gets enough push on the pocket to flush quarterbacks to the edge rushers. He was rarely contained when an opponent tried to handle him one-on-one. Payne does a good job batting balls when he cannot generate pressure. Athletic enough that he picked off a pass and had a reception against Clemson in last season’s College Football Playoff semifinal. He had only three sacks in three seasons with the Tide, but his skill set projects him as a plug-and-play starter coming from a defense that consistently funnels talent to the NFL. Projected: Round 1
3. Taven Bryan, Florida (6-5, 291): The J.J. Watt comparisons are a bit over the top, but Bryan does bring a unique blend of strength, athleticism and upside to the position. His frame could make him an ideal five-technique (3-4 defensive end), but he can probably play effectively inside, too, after spending time in an NFL weight room. A highly in- triguing prospect who simply needs to harness his potential so his production aligns with his ability. Son of a Navy SEAL. Projected: Round 1
4. Harrison Phillips, Stanford (6-4,
307): His 42 reps on the bench made him the 2018 combine champ for all positions. That’s not the only reason NFL teams will likely fall in love with Phillips. His size makes him scheme-diverse, he has a reputation as a relentless player, and his wrestling background — he was a three-time Nebraska state champion in high school — will serve him well in the pits. He’s not the most athletic player but gets into the backfield regularly, amassing 141⁄ sacks and 27 tackles for
2 loss over the past two seasons. But what might really distinguish Phillips is his intellect. He graduated from Stanford in
31⁄ years with a double major and is al
2 ready on the board of a non-profit organization. Projected: Round 1-2
5. Maurice Hurst, Michigan (6-2,
292): Lightning first step. He gets excellent penetration, racking up 101⁄ sacks
2 and 241⁄ tackles for a loss (TFLs) over
2 the past two seasons. However, Hurst’s size makes him a much better fit for teams that routinely use four-man fronts. Could be a Geno Atkins clone if all goes according to plan. Hurst was flagged with a heart condition at the combine, which precluded his participation. He was later cleared and worked out at the Wolverines pro day. Bills DT Star Lotulelei overcame a similar hurdle and wound up being a first-rounder in
2013. Projected: Round 1-2
6. Rasheem Green, Southern California (6-4, 275): Needs to get stronger but looks like he should eventually project as a base end, regardless of scheme. However, Green’s length probably ideally tickets him as a five-technique. He might find himself primarily playing on passing downs as a rookie after racking up 10 sacks and 121⁄ TFLs in his final sea
2 son for the Trojans. Really good upside. Projected: Round 2
7. B.J. Hill, North Carolina State
(6-3, 311): Four-year starter who averaged nearly 50 tackles over past three seasons. Good athlete who’s quick on his feet but needs to get stronger. Posted only eight sacks for Wolfpack, so Hill has work to do if he’s going to get snaps on passing downs. Projected: Round 2
8. Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State (6-4, 315): Native Canadian who knocked around before winding up in the Division II program. However, Shepherd looked quite comfortable while facing elite competition at the Senior Bowl. Has requisite size to play on three- and four-man fronts. Projected: Round 2-3
9. Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama (6-4,
297): Another product of the Crimson Tide pipeline and another player with a wrestling background. Hand’s size should allow him to plug into just about any defense, but his talent hasn’t justified fairly pedestrian numbers to date. Projected: Round 2-3
10. Tim Settle, Virginia Tech (6-3,
329): He won’t be 21 until July. Has uncommon quickness for a man his size, helping him record 121⁄ TFLs and four
2 sacks last season. Settle might really develop into something special once an NFL strength coach gets his hands on him. Projected: Round 2-3
11. Derrick Nnadi, Florida State (6-1,
317): Had double-figure TFLs in each of past two seasons. Built low to the ground, he’s a hustler, a trait amplified by his quickness. He’s added some bulk since leaving Tallahassee, which might enable him to hold up more effectively against bigger players and potentially earn a lot of snaps from his next team. Projected: Round 3
Teams in need of defensive linemen
1. Redskins: They finished last against the run in 2017 and didn’t get much from first-rounder Jonathan Allen. Need to continue rebuilding up front.
2. Chargers: Allowed 4.9 yards per rush last year, easily worst figure in the league. Need stout athletic linemen who can clog rush lanes even when DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are rushing wide off the edges.
3. Dolphins: Time to reload after letting Ndamukong Suh go.
4. Chiefs: Chris Jones is one of the game’s unsung young stars, but he’s not getting enough help.
5. Seahawks: Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson are gone, and the defensive line personnel exodus might not be over in Seattle. Pete Carroll could use young, versatile replacements.
Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne is projected to be the second defensive lineman taken in the NFL draft.