Hold Up: This Interior DL Class Ain't What We Thought

Contrary to popular belief, the 2019 NFL Draft interior defensive line class is not the generational class we once thought it was.

Breathe. I'm not done yet, but you need to process that part.

Ok, here we go.

Is it a good class? Sure, as are the vast majority of interior defensive line classes these days. Few position groups are more loaded across college football, and the NFL is currently excelling at developing defensive tackles of all types, using them in the roles that best fit their skill sets.

But during college football season, this class was hyped as an epic group, one of the best we've seen in years at the position. I wasn't on board to that extent, but I did believe the class held a ton of promise with nine interior defensive linemen on my preseason top 50 big board.

Since then, a lot has changed. Potential first round picks Raekwon Davis and Derrick Brown went back to school, probably the two most surprising collegiate returnees. Rashard Lawrence, a likely top 75 pick, also opted to return to LSU for his senior season, while Javon Kinlaw heel-turned back to South Carolina in hopes of getting a Round 1 review from the advisory board.

Four players who would likely have been top 100 picks dropping out of the class hurt considerably, but the group still looked talented at the top. However, recent media reports suggest the NFL is concerned about Ed Oliver's size for an interior defensive lineman, which could cause his stock to fall further than anyone had originally anticipated.

For me, the problems with Oliver's game extend beyond his size. He is basically a freelancing powerhouse/freak athlete for Houston, rarely taking the time to process blocks or put his gifts to use in a structured plan of attack as a pass rusher. He's an absurd athlete with awesome talent, but if he didn't have the high school recruiting hype that he did, I doubt we'd be talking about him in the conversation at no. 1.

I'd argue Jeffery Simmons, not Oliver, is the second best interior defensive lineman in the class, but an off-field assault from before Simmons was in college will keep him out of the Combine in a few weeks. That omission from workouts won't hurt Simmons' stock, but the video of his past incident might if teams are worried about the bad PR. For what it is worth, Mississippi State coaches rave about Simmons as a person and leader, indicating he's been a model citizen during his time at Starkville.

Let's say Quinnen Williams is obviously a Round 1 lock, then what? I don't think there is any guarantee another interior defensive lineman goes top ten. In fact, I'd bet against it right now. That's already a ways off from the generational class we once heralded before things settled into focus at the declaration deadline.

Names like Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Dre'Mont Jones will come up as Round 1 possibilities, and perhaps in the eyes of the NFL they are. I'd be understanding of Wilkins in the top 32 picks, but he graded out as an early second round value for me. Jones is an exciting talent who has serious point-of-attack concerns, while Lawrence doesn't provide anything as a 3-down player. You should only be taking 3-down defensive linemen in Round 1.

My board has five interior defensive linemen with Round 1-2 grades, defined as follows:

Elite (multiple All-Pro): Quinnen Williams

First round (high-level starter): Jeffery Simmons

Early Day 2 (quality starter): Ed Oliver, Christian Wilkins

Mid Day 2 (solid starter): Dre'Mont Jones

Everyone else - Lawrence, Gerald Willis, Isaiah Buggs, Daylon Mack, Renell Wren, Kingsley Keke - while good players, didn't finish above a third round grade for me. The only big name interior defensive lineman I still have to evaluate is Jerry Tillery, although Khalen Saunders and Daniel Wise also intrigue me.

Provided none of those three grade out in the top two rounds, a position group that once had nine players in my top 50 will now have maybe five, and that's only if Jones tests at an elite level (he should impress). Of those five, just two will be Round 1 players, although Oliver and Wilkins will probably both finish in my top 32 considering I'll probably only have 15-18 first round grades.

Don't get me wrong, you can still find quality help on the interior defensive line in the mid-rounds, but if the position is of primary importance on your team's list of needs, targeting one early is probably a good strategy. Other positional classes have passed up the interior defensive line group in terms of high-end talent, and if you want a true difference maker at the position, you won't have much luck finding one outside of the first 32 picks.

Written By:

Jon Ledyard

Chief Operating Officer

COO & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked on NFL Draft podcast. Passion for all things Pittsburgh.

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