2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Defensive Tackles
By Bill Lund
The defensive line class for the 2014 NFL Draft appears to be slightly deeper than what was available this year -- and there was some interior D-line talent in the 2013 draft. The operative word for this year's class appears to be "large," as seven of the 10 prospects weigh more than 300 pounds, and three of them are 320-plus. The class is filled with talent that can plug the run and collapse the pocket. Here's a look at the top 10 defensive tackle prospects:
1. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
6-foot-3, 326 pounds
2012 Season: 50 tackles, 2 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble
Nix chose to return for his senior season at Notre Dame. In 2012 he was an integral part of nation's No. 2-ranked defense and a big reason the Fighting Irish have returned to national prominence. A monstrous tackle with the ability to play in a 3-4 or 4-3, Nix engulfs offensive lines. His up front play was essential to the success Manti Te’o enjoyed at linebacker. A renewed dedication to improve his cardio performance will make Nix a better every-down player help propel his stock as the top interior defensive lineman.
2. Anthony Johnson, LSU
2012 Season: 30 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 TFL
The second coming of "The Freak," Johnson is a 300-pounder with reportedly 4.8 speed. Johnson has been a solid contributor to the always strong Tigers defense. With the loss of four defensive linemen to the NFL draft, LSU will look to Johnson to step up and elevate his game to become the 5-star talent he was recruited to be.
3. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
2012 season: 39 tackles, 1 sack, 5.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble
McCullers is a man of enormous size and ability, though his play has yet to match his physical attributes. He has the ability to dominate games in the SEC, but inconsistency plagued him in his first season at Tennessee. The renewed emphasis on conditioning made by a new coaching staff just may be the catalyst to spur McCullers to become the marquee nose tackle they hoped he’d be.
4. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
2012 season: 30 tackles, 1 sack, 8 TFL
The JUCO transfer finished his first season in Stillwater as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, and with the loss of three seniors on the OSU defensive line, much is expected of Barnett. Known for his agressive style of play, Barnett will need to learn to harness his aggressiveness to prevent costly personal fouls. He possesses athleticism and a motor, two traits that coaches at the next level love. If he is able to build on his 2012 season, Barnett may find himself as a first day draft pick.
5. Dominique Easley, Florida
2012 season: 26 tackles, 4 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 1 fumble recovery
With the departure of Shariff Floyd to the Vikings, Easley will be called upon to continue Florida’s dominance on defense. He's athletic enough to have been aligned at the defensive end position. Easley was moved into the interior to provide depth. He has the athleticism, strength and tenacity to be a disruptive force on the Gators front line.
6. Deandre Coleman, California
2012 season: 48 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery
Sonny Dykes was able to convince Coleman to return to Cal for his senior season. Coleman played as a defensive end in a predominantly 3-4 front, but he will move inside in the Bears' new 4-3 scheme. Coleman is Cal's active career leader in tackles for loss (17.5) and with his versatility, size and physical play, hopes the extra year will increase his draft stock.
7. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
2012 season: 35 tackles, 6 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble
After finishing second on the Gophers in sacks and seeing his NFL stock on the rise, Hageman briefly considered declaring for the draft. Hageman helped the Gophers to their first bowl game under Jerry Kill and was awarded all-Big Ten honorable mention for his efforts. Hagemen is still looking to improve his pad level and become a more consistent defender at the line of scrimmage.
8. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
2012 season: 38 tackles, 8 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Quarles quietly had a solid sophomore season for the Gamecocks playing in the shadow of Jadeveon Clowney. He's not the prospect Clowney is, but Quarles is another strong reason for South Carolina to expect its defensive line will help its chances to win the SEC championship. Quarles' frame and ability has him squarely on the NFL radar. Continued improvement will only increase his likelihood of leaving Columbia with Clowney when he declares for the draft.
9. Khyri Thornton DT, Southern Miss
2012 season: 36 tackles, 1 sack, 9.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT
It's always difficult to find silver linings in an 0-12 season, but for the Golden Eagles, Thornton has been one of the few bright spots. His athleticism has helped Thornton become a consistent performer for Southern Miss. If he is able to help lift the Golden Eagles back into bowl contention, we may find him as one of the top defensive tackles moving up draft boards.
10. Ashton Dorsey DT, Texas
2012 season: 28 tackles, 10 TFL
Dorsey is not the biggest interior defensive lineman but he makes up for his lack of ideal size with impressive athleticism. He'll be a great fit in a 4-3 scheme at the next level with his ability to disrupt offense from the 3-technique position. Dorsey is looking to become the next dominant defender in a long line of Longhorns.