SI All-American Watch List: Top Interior Defensive Lineman

Breaking down the top 15 Interior Defensive Linemen and some on the cusp in the class of 2022 from across the country.
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As the 2021 football season draws near, SI All-American continues to evaluate the nation's top prospects at every position for the college football recruiting class of 2022. The first wave of the evaluations are the 'Watch List' selections, also known as SI All-American candidates, to be released throughout the month of July.

It precedes the SI99 rankings, our preseason mark of America's top college football prospects regardless of position, to be released the first week of August.

Naturally, the quarterback watch list was up first, rolled out in several releases two weeks ago. Last week we moved to skill positions, beginning with a pair of cornerback releases ahead of the nickel defensive back watch list. To cap the week, the flip side is considered in a look at the nation's most impressive wide receiver projections. The top 10 wide receivers were released on Friday and slot receivers debuted Monday.

Edge rushers capped last week's releases, including the first batch released Thursday ahead of the top 10 reveal Friday. After a step back on offense at running back Tuesday, the interior defensive line takes center stage.  

1. Walter Nolen

Vitals: 6'4", 305 pounds
School: Powell (Tenn.) High School
Recruiting: Considering Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia

Nolen has fantastic lateral movement and exceptional balance. One of the strongest lineman in the country, in and out of the weight room. We haven’t noticed an ounce of stiffness (common in taller defensive lineman), and he’s a missile out of his stance. He doesn’t get washed, he doesn’t over pursue. Nolen maximizes his talents within his team’s system, yet he remains the star of the show whenever he steps on the field m -- in any setting. His motor combined with his size/speed is enough for any college coach to drool over. Will make any college defensive line unit deeper the second he steps onto campus. 

2. Travis Shaw

Vitals: 6'5", 310 pounds 
School: Greensboro (N.C.) Grimsley 
Recruiting: Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia, others

Shaw is massive but carries his weight extremely well. Basketball footwork in the trenches is always a plus; he even shows some decent bend while pass-rushing, rare for 300-pounders. He’s quick to redirect and can win with both power and speed on the inside. Shaw’s got a non-stop motor - the type of defensive lineman that the entire offensive unit, from the center on out, hates by the end of the game. Bulldozes through blocks and dominates the line of scrimmage. When evaluating the Greensboro native, one must look deep to find areas of his game worthy of critique. This alone is telling, and by the third or fourth clip, coaches need not look any further before asking their recruiting coordinator for Shaw’s contact info. A special talent, he can be inserted into pretty much any collegiate D-line rotation in the country once he graduates high school.

3. Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy

Vitals: 6'3", 280 pounds
School: Lakeland (Fla.) High School
Recruiting: Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Clemson, Florida, others

A physically imposing and highly coordinated athlete, Dindy has shocking straight-line speed. He lacks premiere bend off the edge, something that we’re anticipating will bump him down inside the tackle at the next level, but makes up for it in footwork and quickness. Absolutely vicious tackler. Good pass rush moves; he’s even used “the hump” with some success. Dindy stuns his opponent by popping their shoulders up (some call it knock-back) and earning leverage. His junior year film is a clinic on quick get-offs. He has one of the fastest first steps in the country we've seen to date. He tested off the charts the summer prior to his junior season (4.89 forty, 10-foot broad jump), and according to our sources, he's only getting faster. 

4. Mykel Williams

Vitals: 6'5", 265 pounds
School: Hardaway (Ga.) High School
Recruiting: Committed to USC

Big body with great composition but plenty of room for additional weight. Williams is extremely athletic, with great bend and stunning quickness. When rushing the passer, he can use his speed to entice kick-steps, then quickly transfers to power. We’ve seen Williams use good eye discipline out on the edge. He seldom gets swallowed up, stays “half-man” on all linemen he’s engaged with, making disengagement a breeze. The moment he stepped on the high school field, Williams has been an elite prospect. He’s athletic enough to play inside or outside at the next level but the frame keeps the Trojan commitment on the interior for this projection.

5. Anthony Lucas

Vitals: 6'5", 290 pounds
School: Scottsdale (Ariz.) Chaparral High School
Recruiting: Considering Notre Dame, Alabama, UCLA, ASU, Wisconsin

Widebody from head to toe. NFL size with good composition. Room for a little more good weight. Great Length. Solid out on the edge, but might get out-twitched at the next level. Highly coordinated when changing direction. We really like his lateral first step, because he doesn’t give any ground when trading gaps. Big, powerful stepper. His compact style of pass-rushing fits the interior better than the edge. Locking out blockers was coached into him well. Can sometimes give up his chest with low, late punches. Pad level is decent, angles of pursuit look good. Shows flashes of pass-rushing brilliance. Eyes can sometimes get lost in the backfield. Would benefit from more active hands when rushing the passer. 

Lucas is a people mover, and himself, a very difficult person to move. He has great size and good speed, and some great feet under him, too. If he can continue to develop good habits, the physical stuff will come. We are bullish on him making tangible contributions to any program he joins. 

6. Jaheim Oatis

Vitals: 6'6", 340 pounds
School: Columbia (Miss.) High School
Recruiting: Committed to Alabama

Massive human. In good physical form considering his weight. Developed from the ground-up, as a true defensive lineman. He can’t be moved back, and he can defeat the cut block. Oatis is a force on the interior through sheer power. Quick when he needs to be. He’s a magnet to the ball. He knows he’s not going to chase down a running back on a zone stretch the opposite way, but he always fills that cut-back lane. Plays lower than you’d expect from a 6’6 recruit. Solid hand-fighter. Great block recognition and he protects his chest well, too.

Oatis was offered a scholarship by Alabama in the 8th grade. This is reflected in his IQ along the line of scrimmage. He does not get distracted easily. Yes, he is physically gifted, but he also does a lot of the little things right, which likely factored into why programs felt comfortable offering so early beyond the obvious.

7. Chris McClellan

Vitals: 6'4", 290 pounds
School: Owasso (Okla.) High School
Recruiting: Considering Ohio State, UCS, Florida, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, others 

Leanly built his way up to 290 on his way from defensive end to defensive tackle. Nice length. After watching his film, the first thing that sticks out is his long arms and his ability to quickly strike-and-shed blockers. He has good feet to match a very strong build. Great closing burst for a lineman.

It looks like he set up blockers for his moves, based on how effective some of his swims are. McClellan can get skinny through a gap when he needs to. Skilled when slanting into gaps. Fantastic pad level throughout his film. Active hands with a nasty punch. Easily manipulates blocker’s shoulder pads. Violent in every facet of his game. Solid tackler. He does most of his damage in between the tackles, slanting or stemming and disrupting. Every time the ball is snapped, he seems to have a plan for how he is attacking each blocker. Because he attacks with a plan in mind, he maximizes his already imposing physicality. 

8. Khurtiss Perry

Vitals: 6'3", 265 pounds
School: Montgomery (Ala.) Park Crossing
Recruiting: Considering Michigan, Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn, Miami, others

Perry plays with fast twitch off the edge, but he will likely be moved inside at the next level. Fantastic change of direction. He can flip his hips when rushing from the edge, and blow up any puller to his side. Great feel for the way his opponent is trying to block him. He can work around anchored offensive lineman by feeling their weight, not by guessing. His motor is off the charts, and he’s got the D-line X factor: a great get-off. Good eyes to see pullers, yet exceedingly fast upfield when teams try to pin him with a crack block. Perry checks all the most important defensive line boxes with his high-performance motor, elite quickness, and powerful punch at the point of attack. Good feet that do not stop chopping when he's engaged. We're very excited to see the senior season development out of Perry as well as where he will suit up at the next level.

9. Justice Finkley

Vitals: 6'2", 260 pounds
School: Trussville (Ala.) Hewitt-Trussville
Recruiting: Considering Colorado, Alabama, Texas

Justice Finkley is about as fast-twitch as they come along the defensive interior. When he plays low and gets off the ball, there is nobody that can block him one-on-one. His speed is on another level, the trick with Finkley will be maintaining that quickness advantage as long as he can. If your name isn’t Aaron Donald, you’ll probably never be able to keep that same ability gap, but Finkley has a shot at proliferating the prototypical undersized interior ‘tweener’s streak of offensive disruption. His experience in a slanting, stemming high school defense is his best fit at the next level, from a schematic perspective. 

10. Christen Miller

Vitals: 6'5", 280 pounds
School: Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove
Recruiting: Considering USC, Georgia, Ohio State

Miller is a born-and-bred defensive tackle. He’s got big, lumbering legs and a stifling punch on an ideal frame (6'5", 280 ponds). He does all the little things right, while playing some of the best competition nationally, like staying square as long as possible on the line of scrimmage. He also uses his hands to feel and follow pulling and trapping offensive linemen. Miller displays that good habit of fighting through down-blocks rather than getting washed, or going up and over to create running lanes all while athletic enough for pass rushing upside. At this time, he appears not as concerned with penetration as he is with block shedding in the middle of the front.

11. Jamari Lyons

Vitals: 6'4", 295 pounds
School: Vierra (Fla.) High School
Recruiting: Considering Florida, South Carolina, Indiana, others

Jamari Lyons is an athletic, disruptive defensive end with a knack for sacks. He is a fantastic football player, and reminded our staff of Chris Jones, the way he uses his relative length to sidestep his blocker. Ankle mobility is worth nothing, short-area lean is very impressive. Good vision and he is a violent finisher. Long arms that he uses very well; he's developed an excellent long-arm move. Disciplined with his technique. Crosses face on down blocks, even though he could easily use his speed to backdoor those. Plays with great leverage and keeps his hands inside to control the blocker's chest plate. Very high ceiling for Lyons with his best ball well ahead of him. 

12. Ben Roberts

Vitals: 6'4", 290 pounds
School: Salt Lake City (Utah) East
Recruiting: Committed to Washington

We fell in love with the thought of Roberts moving down to the 3-technique, due to the fact that he beats offensive tackles consistently with power. He will be too quick for guards, making him an ideal three-down player if he can get in great shape. Roberts played defensive end at against some very good offensive tackles during his junior season. He beat them all like a drum. He stuns his opponent with violent hands, exploding into their chest pads. He is very comfortable using push-pull, giving us confidence in his ability to make the transition to life in between the tackles. Should be able to win one-on-one matchups at the next level. 

13. Dani Dennis-Sutton

Vitals: 6'5", 250 pounds
School: Owings Mills (Md.) McDonough
Recruiting: Committed to Penn State

Built about as well, physically, as any prospect in the class -- Dennis-Sutton moves like an edge prospect or perhaps even a linebacker. On tape he flashes the type of tangible movement skill that will create even more problems for blockers when he bulks up over the next year or two. The Penn State pledge is already strong with his hand technique and can play the leverage game despite a 6'5" frame. If one was to bank on a prospect moving up this list with a strong senior season, Dennis-Sutton is the one to move the chips in on. 

14. Keithian "Bear" Alexander

Vitals: 6'3.5", 330 pounds
School: Brewer (Texas) High School
Recruiting: Considering Alabama, Texas A&M, Miami, others 

"Bear" Alexander didn't have as much publicly available film to evaluate as his peers on this list, possibly due to moving around to different high schools, but those who witnessed Alexander's junior season at Denton-Ryan High definitely saw the greatness that is "Bear." He is one of the most recruited players in the country for a reason. The former Georgia commitment is a huge human that can move at a ridiculous speed relative to his size. Alexander's big mittens throw punches that resemble a grizzly's swipe. He'll be a force at the next level using his hips to press and collapse pockets from within. 

15. Zxavian Harris

Vitals: 6'8", 350 pounds
School: Madison (Miss.) Germantown
Recruiting: Committed to Ole Miss

Apart from the obvious size, Harris is a technically-sound football player, playing against a high level of competition. He is borderline unbeatable if he can lock his arms out on his opponent. At his current size, you'd be hard-pressed to find another high school lineman that can out-reach Harris. He can move the pocket deep into the quarterback's comfort zone and plays with good leverage, which is a very good sign at his height. If he can stay at a good weight, Harris has NFL written all over him. 

Notables

* Caden Curry and Nyjalik Kelly, both among the best in the trenches, flash more as edge projections than those sliding inside. Down the line, however, bulk could lead to a position change despite an interior pass rusher label.

* Tyson Ford is a sculpted prospect headed to Notre Dame. He works on the outside with a strong first step and plenty of power in high school but has a frame that will be filled out with relative ease, pushing him inside as a taller interior rusher like DeForest Buckner or Raekwon Davis.  

* Aaron Graves is shot out of a cannon on Frida nights, on the edge of the offensive and defensive line. The two-time All-State selection was near impossible to deal with as a junior, compiling 8.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss on the year. Graves closes the gap between he and the opponent to put immediate pressure on the blocker. Efficiency and violent hands lead to easy wins and his frame can carry another 30 pounds at Iowa without much imagination. 

* Quency Wiggins is a downhill power player with position versatility up front. He is long and athletic enough to set the edge but has a lower half ready to mix it up with guards and centers. He plays behind his pads out of a three or four-point stance, too. 

* Hero Kanu is cat quick out of his stance and works as a grunt inside and out on Friday nights. As athletic, pound for pound, as anybody on the list, he plays a controlled game and can really stress a blocker at the point of attack.