Sleeper Alert: Mid-Round Defensive Tackles You Want

Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks ago I wrote how the interior defensive line class isn't as talent-laden at the top as we thought it would be heading into draft season, but the depth of the class keeps looking better with every player I study. Perhaps no position in the NFL is as loaded as interior defensive line, but I still believe a large number of 2019 prospects will forge their way into a rotation even as rookies.

Two of those players aren't getting much buzz right now, one due to the obscurity of his team, the other due to his lack of major production.

Arkansas' Armon Watts did almost nothing for his first three years as a Razorback, posting just seven tackles and barely seeing the field. That all changed in 2019, when he broke out for 49 tackles, 8.5 TFL, seven sacks and three forced fumbles for a woeful 2-10 Arkansas squad.

Winning wasn't the problem for Trysten Hill over at UCF, getting on the field was. After starting the first 26 games of his career, the junior came off the bench in all but one contest last season as part of a heavy rotation for the Knights. Hill still posted career highs in TFL (10.5), sacks (3) and tackles (36). Nothing crazy, but highly impactful considering his role at times.

Watts is the higher-ranked player of the two in my mind, but Hill has more upside. The Razorbacks senior showed a shockingly consistent pass rush plan with deadly hand usage, something that typically takes collegiate interior defensive linemen years to develop, if they ever do it at all.

Watts isn't explosive, which is where he and Hill vary dramatically, but he has sudden hands and isn't a bad mover once he gets going. If he can improve the timing of his first step, he's got decent quickness and the ability to really test offensive linemen on their edge.

Long arms, bull rushes, swims and clubs are frequent on his tape. Watts doesn't settle for rushing straight down the middle on every rep, working to the guard or center's outside shoulder to at least compress the edges of the pocket. He's a savvy rusher who plays with a veteran-like presence on passing downs despite being a first-year starter.

Hill doesn't have the same ability as a rusher, but don't blame his natural talent. He's not as big or long as Watts, but he's ultra-explosive with a relentless motor. Hill will chase down every play, every time he's on the field, even if it looks like he barely has a prayer of getting there.

Hill has a bull-in-a-china shop playing style, which can lead to some recklessness in all phases, occasionally ending with him on the ground. But when his pad level and technique are right, he has the burst and power to blow back opponents and create havoc in opposing backfields.

Hill's peak plays are something else, showing the ability to bull back blockers or beat them through gaps with quickness and agility. He has much more of a backfield presence against the run than Watts, who is more of a point of attack run defender, which in the eyes of some teams will be more valuable despite Hill's lack of pass rush refinement.

So what is the downside with these two? Well, as I mentioned Watts isn't super athletic or explosive, and he won't make many plays outside of his gap. Hill doesn't have the polish or consistency of Watts, nor did he face the same quality of competition. Both kind of broke out in their final seasons, but Hill had good tape before this year, where Watts just came out of nowhere, so teams are still catching up.

In this defensive tackle class, I would expect both to be around in Round 4. If your team is entering day three with a need at defensive tackle, these are the two guys I would target. Both make plays behind the line of scrimmage in different ways, and while they may never be all-around dominant players or lock starters, they can add impactful rotational work to your defense right away.

Written By:

Jon Ledyard

Former Senior NFL Draft Analyst