- The defensive linemen class is arguably the strongest of the entire 2019 NFL draft, and these six interior players could be drafted in the first round.
The 2019 NFL draft will be headlined by the hoards of defensive talent, most notably so on the defensive line. Six of the top 10 picks in The MMQB’s most recent mock draft were on the defensive line, including each of the top five selections. Pass-rush-needy teams will get their chance at an interior force, fortifying their front seven for years to come.
Which interior defensive lineman can you expect to see taken in round one of the 2019 draft?
Quinnen Williams, Alabama
The redshirt sophomore is just 19 years old and some may be concerned about his experience level when squaring off against more experienced offensive linemen early on. But his tape against the SEC should dissipate most concerns. Williams racked up 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks against LSU, and Georgia faced similar problems in the SEC championship game. Williams was the best lineman in his conference by a solid margin in 2018, and is the best interior defensive lineman in the draft.
Ed Oliver, Houston
Oliver’s 2018 was marred by injury, missing four of the Cougars’ final five games due to a knee injury. But last season he put up enough dominant tape to likely garner a top-10 selection. Oliver destroys interior linemen and swallows up opposing backs, sporting an insane 53 tackles for loss in 32 career games. He’s also no slouch as a pass rusher—Oliver’s quick hands and explosion overwhelm guards and centers. Blocking him one-on-one is often an invitation for trouble.
The Houston product has earned comparisons to Rams DT Aaron Donald. Both are undersized and elite bull rushers inside, but Oliver isn’t the same caliber of prospect. Donald can burst through double teams with ease, while Oliver can be thrown to the turf by a center-guard combo. Donald is an NFL unicorn. Oliver is a step below as a prospect, but should still be a Pro-Bowl caliber player early in his career.
Christian Wilkins, Clemson
It’s hard to find a 300-plus pound lineman as quick and nimble as Wilkins. Clemson’s interior presence served as a goal line running back for the Tigers in 2018 and threw a touchdown pass to boot. He didn’t look out of place doing either. Wilkins is quicker than Williams, and has shown elite ability to take down running backs as they string toward the sideline.
Wilkins doesn’t always match his athleticism with physicality. He can be a movable object inside. He won’t work through double teams, and doesn’t encourage much contact. Those questions could drop Wilkins out of the top ten. If Williams can develop a greater mean streak at the point of attack, he may emerge as a Pro Bowl tackle.
Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
Lawrence is a sheer run stuffer, compared to Vita Vea of the Buccaneers at 350 pounds. The biggest questions come from his ability to stay on the field on third down, with doubts surrounding his upside as a pass rusher. Ferrell and Wilkins provided a majority of the QB pressure for Clemson in 2018. Yet even with the pass-defense skepticism, Lawrence is as rock-solid of a run presence as you will find, built in the mold of Damon Harrison.
Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
Simmons is one of the more polished line products available. He’s useful with his hands and a true three-down tackle, able to collapse the pocket and push the rush into the face of the quarterback. His 15.5 tackles for loss are a large reason why Mississippi State ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense. There are character concerns that could hurt his stock. Don’t be surprised if a team snags him with a top-15 pick.
Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State
A malleable lineman who works best inside, Jones ranked second on the Buckeyes in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2018. Like Simmons, Jones is a proven technician with his hands. He’s long and athletic, able to chase down quarterbacks as they escape the pocket. Simmons struggled with consistent production at times, but his talent and athleticism will cause a team to draft him in the first round.