2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 25: Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
What you need to know: Brantley landed on the All-SEC second team this past season, thanks to his 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and 31 tackles. He played some of the best football of his Gators career down the stretch in 2016—three tackles for loss and a forced fumble at LSU on Nov. 19, two tackles for loss at Florida State the following week, and a sack during Florida’s dominant Outback Bowl win over Iowa.
After redshirting in 2013, Brantley kicked off his playing days with a bang, notching his lone career fumble recovery in the ’14 opener vs. Eastern Michigan. All told, across his three Florida seasons Brantley chalked up 20.5 tackles for loss.
Strengths: Save perhaps for a well-timed blitz or a fumbled snap, the quickest way for a defense to disrupt a play is for its tackle to blow by the interior O-line and get into the pocket. This is where Brantley (6' 2", 307 lbs.) excels. When he gets the jump early, it’s over—quick reaction, swim move between two defenders, finish. There were times during Brantley’s career, including on a first-and-goal against Tennessee this season, where he was making a tackle almost before the quarterback had time to hand off to his running back.
Making it even tougher for Brantley’s opponents is his ability to move up and down the line. He arguably was most effective—and could be headed toward an NFL future—as a three-tech, but he also played over the ball as a 0-/1-tech and kicked out to a 4-/5-tech alignment when Florida wanted a little extra beef up front.
His limited sack total (5.5 for his career) implies that Brantley is more of a two-down, run-stuffer. Nope. While he may not drop the quarterback all that often, his ability to split the gaps and penetrate make him quite useful on passing downs. He was a consistent presence in the pocket, even if he only had 2.5 sacks last season.
Brantley can pursue laterally, too, which benefits him on run plays. When he was pushed out to the 3- or 5-tech spots, he had the burst to attack the inside shoulder of the lineman blocking him, thus helping to box in RBs.
Weaknesses: For starters, crossing the line between a good player and a great one will start with finishing more of those plays in the backfield. Brantley was able to get after the QB, both by penetrating inside or looping wide, but he didn’t close out enough.
He’ll need to find a little more counter-punching, as well—if he didn’t get the first step on a blocker, he often wound up neutralized; double teams washed him out of plays, particularly on those when he was trying to angle inside toward the ball.
Two more issues to keep an eye on: penalties and endurance. In trying to time the snap, Brantley often found himself in the neutral zone early. And, per Pro Football Focus, his career high in snaps was 434, back in 2015. Can he thrive while playing more than 30–40 snaps per game?
Player comp: Nick Fairley