While viewing Big 12 football, a defensive lineman’s durability and conditioning becomes apparent more than any other trait on the field. Defensive lineman who get worn down and take snaps off is easy to spot, and is more prone to happen in a conference peppered with up-tempo spread offenses.
The second thing that will always stick out is a defensive lineman creating consistent interior pressure. In a conference that is nearly void at tight end, offenses will regularly depend strictly on its five offensive lineman in pass protection. Those defensive lineman who can penetrate and collapse the pocket is noticeable because of how well that opens up blitzing lanes for linebackers.
1. Daniel Wise, Kansas (6’3, 290)
Daniel Wise is built like the ideal interior penetrator for a Big 12 defense. Wise does a great job of firing out of his stance low and playing with consistent leverage, replacing his hands and staying underneath the offensive lineman’s pads. His active hands and bend allow him to be the most notable interior pass rush presence in the conference.
Wise could improve as a run defender, too often looking to stalemate at the line of scrimmage rather than fighting pressure with pressure. He can lack the necessary counters to shed blocks and the strength to be effective with power moves.
Wise has an NFL-frame for the next level and has the tools to suggest he could become a Day 2 selection with a strong senior season.
2. Charles Omenihu, Texas (6’6, 275)
Charles Omenihu may have one of the most impressive, imposing builds in the entire draft class. What is even more impressive is the flexibility he still possesses in his tall frame. Omenihu does an excellent job of utilizing the length he’s been blessed with, keeping offensive lineman at bay and shedding blocks with proper technique and leverage. Omenihu uses his block shedding ability to be an effective run defender, and does a nice job generating interior pressure on passing plays with an NFL-caliber swim move.
Omenihu has a well-rounded game, but he still has minor flaws that need cleaning up to elevate his status as a prospect. He consistently will give half a yard at the line of scrimmage in order to use his length and shed blocks. The issue here is that this widens the gaps to either side of him, and Omenihu can occasionally struggle to read the play and close them. When Omenihu is invited into a gap, he does a poor job of fighting pressure with pressure, rather being more likely to take the path of least resistance.
Defensive lineman with Omenihu’s frame that are more than capable utilizing their length don’t come around often. Because of this, his slight limitations and lack of awareness could be overlooked by an NFL team who bets on his ceiling and takes him in the middle rounds.
3. Ira Lewis, Baylor (6’3, 295)
Ira Lewis may be the most relentless, durable defensive tackle in the conference, and that results in a player with solid production as a pass rusher. His high motor and solid initial burst make him a solid one gap penetrator, and his versatility allows him to align in a variety of different techniques. Lewis has active hands and sheds blocks well in close quarters, allowing him to plug gaps well against running plays.
The main area in which Lewis can improve is the strength and balance in his lower half. Lewis lacks the sturdy anchor that could prevent him from getting knocked off balance or fully utilizing his leverage. Lewis is a raw tackler, sometimes getting lost and unable to process when a shifty runner gets into his kitchen.
Lewis easily has enough tools as a high motor pass rusher to suggest a draftable grade, but becoming more well-rounded as a run defender could improve his ceiling.
4. Ray Lima, Iowa State (6’3, 302)
The first thing that sticks out with Ray Lima is that he plays the game with outstanding leverage. Lima is consistently able to bend at his hips, arch his back and play underneath the offensive lineman’s pads. He holds his ground well, and has solid length with active hands.
Lima does an excellent job and defeating reach blocks right away with his first step. When Lima is able to consistently shoot and replace his hands, his leverage and block shedding comes easy and he has flashes of a dominant run defender.
Lima struggles as a pass rusher, seemingly unsure about when to get after the quarterback and lacking any sense of counters. His pass rushes can stall almost immediately, and he gets too easily worn down late into drives or games.
If Lima is to find a role at the next level, it will be as a situational run defender. He has the strength and leverage to be a plus defender against the run, but lacks enough pop as a pass rusher to make any impact at the next level.
5. Broderick Washington, Texas Tech (6’3, 305)
Broderick Washington has a thick, compact frame that he utilizes in his block shedding. Washington is able to use his leverage to hold his ground in the hole, fight pressure with pressure, and knock offensive lineman off balance with violent hands. He’s effective at making plays on the against the run in space, able to turn his body and swallow up smaller, shiftier running backs.
Despite being an effective tackler, much of his production comes behind the line of scrimmage as Washington is more likely to give a half-yard to a yard against the run. Washington doesn’t offer up much as a pass rusher, instead being slow to read and react and generate any interior presence.
Much like Ray Lima, if Washington is to find a role at the next level it will be as a situational run defender, who can plug gaps and make plays against opposing running backs.