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Panthers Draft Preview: Defensive Tackles

By: Danny Guy (For the Mac Attack)
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[Ed note: With the rapid rise of former Mac Attack Intern turned NFL draft savant Josh "Casper" Norris, we're at it again. This time, former Mac Attack intern/draftnik Danny Guy will be covering the lead up to the NFL Draft for the show here on WFNZ.com, with a focus on the Panthers specific needs and breaking down the draft class by position. Have any questions, ask in the comments or interact with Danny on twitter: @danny_g13]

Grading the 2013 Draft: Defensive Tackles

With the release of Ron Edwards, and Dwan Edwards a free agent the defensive line has become a critical position of need.  Whether it’s a pass rushing Under Tackle, or a run stuffing Nose Tackle, the Panthers need to seriously look at both interior defensive line positions.  There’s still the possibility that the position will be addressed in free agency with a player like Charlotte native Chris Canty, but a team can always use fresh bodies in the trenches.

Sharrif Floyd – 6’3” 297 lbs – Florida – Projection: Top five selection - Perhaps the fastest riser in the Draft, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd has seen his stock soar up big boards since declaring in January.  Floyd’s monster combine performance only helped matters, escalating an initial second round grade into an almost certain top five pick.  Floyd is an impressive specimen at the Under Tackle position, who has not just the ideal size, but also the exceptional athleticism you look for in an interior pass rusher.

Strengths

  • Scheme Diverse: Lined up at every position on Florida’s D-line
  • Good Pass Rush Moves: Effective swim and bull rush
  • First Step: Explodes off snap
  • Double Teams: Commands/fights through to make plays
  • Pursuit: Excellent at chasing the ball carrier down due to great ability to close, and fluid lower body.

Weaknesses

  • Pad Level: At times gets too high, resulting in a loss of leverage
  • Technique: Still raw, relies on athleticism to win battles
  • Inexperience: Never played one position for an extended period of time

Star Lotulelei – 6’3” 311 lbs – Utah – Projection: Top 10-15 selection – One of the more interesting Draft stories to follow in the coming weeks will be that of Utah’s Star Lotulelei.  Once regarded as the top Defensive Tackle in the Draft, Lotulelei has seen his stock fall due to Floyd’s rise, and a poor medical examination that forced him out of the combine.  It wasn’t too long ago that Star Lotulelei was seen as a pipe dream for the Panthers, but now he may still be on the board.

Strengths

  • Anchor: Absolute space eater, commands regular double teams
  • Athletic: Nimble/quick for a player of his size
  • Scheme Diverse: Size/frame to play 4-3 Nose Tackle, or 3-4 End
  • First Step: Explosive off snap, gets into backfield with ease at times
  • Strength: Allows him to dictate where opposing lineman go
  • Pursuit: Good lateral pursuit, and sound tackler. Plays gaps well

Weaknesses

  • Inconsistent: Does not maintain level of play throughout games
  • Technique: Unrefined technique, relying on physical ability
  • Pass Rush: Does not have dominant pass rushing moves. More of a run stopper at the next level

While I don’t expect Lotulelei to be on the board when the Panthers pick comes up, the reward of what Lotulelei can be outweigh the risk of potential health concerns if he’s on the board at 14.  The only way I would pass him up, is if one of the elite Offensive Tackles were still on the board.

Sheldon Richardson – 6’3” – 294 lbs – Missouri – Projection: Top 20 selection - A prospect, who is very similar to Floyd, is Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson.  Richardson had a dominant year in 2012 resulting in a huge boost to his draft stock.  Much like Floyd, Richardson projects as an exceptional Under Tackle at the next level.

Strengths

  • First Step: Extremely quick. Shown ability to time the snap count
  • Motor: Unbelievably high motor, always fighting to make plays
  • Pursuit: Regularly makes tackles downfield.  Effective sideline to sideline
  • Hands: Uses his hands well to fight off blockers.
  • Dominance: At times, he looks like the most dominant player on the field, shedding blockers with ease.

Weaknesses

  • Technique: Unrefined, resorts to athleticism when it fails him
  • Pad Level: When staying low he’s a problem for even best blockers, but easily dealt with when he gets too high.
  • Plays from Behind: More at home pursuing screens/draws than rushing the passer.
  • Depth of Résumé: Like most players who have one huge season and leave for the Draft, there will be concerns about what motivates Richardson, as well as his ability to maintain a high level of production

Brandon Williams – 6’1” – 335 lbs – Missouri Southern State – Projection: Late second round, to early third round - One other early round prospect I’m intrigued by, is Missouri Southern State’s Brandon Williams.  Williams was a bit of an unknown until the Senior Bowl, where he stood out in practice and the game.  He followed that up with a solid combine performance and is now sitting in a very good spot Draft wise.

Strengths

  • Space Eater: Very good size for Nose Tackle position, despite a lean lower frame
  • Strength: Elite upper body strength allowing him to drive blockers back
  • Disruptive: Quick enough feet to get off the ball and into the backfield/disrupt plays.
  • Good Instincts: Recognizes deception plays well.
  • Reaction to the Pass: Doesn’t have the longest arms, but uses them well.  Plays passing lanes well, reacting to the quarterback and showing the ability to get his hands up and knock the ball down

Weaknesses

  • Trouble Getting Off Blocks: Shown tendency to stay blocked if initial rush fails
  • Pass Rush: Despite success in college, lacks quickness to do it regularly in the NFL
  • Athleticism: Lacks athleticism needed to sustain speed and chase ball carriers down

Potential Sleepers

Jordan Hill – 6’1” – 303 lbs – Penn State – Projection: Early to middle fourth round selection

Strengths

  • Quickness: Shows great quickness, sidesteps blockers well, and has a good explosion off the snap
  • Pad Level: Creates leverage by Maintaining a low pad level at most times
  • Reaction to the Pass: Plays passing lanes well for a primary run defender, gets his hands up to alter passes
  • Technique: Extremely sound technique, makes up for lack of strength and size
  • Every Down Player: Great stamina. Rarely left field/appeared too fatigued to make plays

Weaknesses

  • Strength:Just average, allows blockers to drive him off the ball.  Needs year in NFL weight room
  • Measurables: Does not possess ideal length and size for the position

Montori Hughes – 6’4” – 329 lbs – Tennessee-Martin – Projection: Late fourth to early fifth round selection

Strengths

  • Quickness: Very light on his feet for a player of his size.  Shows ability to explode off the snap
  • Closer: Good closing speed, shows ability to get to ball carrier and finish
  • Hands: Uses his large hands well to get off blockers
  • Competitor and Work Ethic: Vicious competitor, and has lived in the weight room since High School

Weaknesses

  • Pad Level: Has a tendency to get too high at times, struggling with leverage.
  • Fundamentals: Needs to improve fundamental technique to develop into the player he can be
  • Reaction Time: Needs to improve in the area of recognizing and reacting to a play
  • Motor: Plays hard when fresh, but shown a tendency to take plays off during long drives/late in games
  • Off the Field: Grades kept him from attending Tennessee straight out of High School, and he was dismissed from the team for off the field reasons.  Can he keep his head on straight?

Potential Bust

Johnathan Hankins – 6’3” 320 lbs – Ohio State - Projection: Late first round to early second round - With every Draft, there are players that you see and feel like they just aren’t going to be a fit for your team despite their high grade.  For me, that player is Johnathan Hankins.  For someone who is regarded as a late first to early second round pick, I see more questions than answers with Hankins which concerns me.

Strengths

  • Good Feet: Good footwork, showing the ability to get through gaps well
  • Run Defense: Good run defender, shows instinctive ability when chasing down ball carriers
  • Space Eater: Due to wide frame, very good at occupying blockers to free up Linebackers

Weaknesses

  • Leverage: Relies too much on overpowering opposition to win battles, neglects proper pad level and leverage at times.
  • Tools: Tendency to use his body to beat blocks forgetting about his arms, hands and legs
  • Fatigue: Wears down easily in games, takes plays off and easily dealt with at times
  • Injury Worry: Had difficulties shaking a knee sprain for two seasons, creating concerns about lingering effects.
  • Weight Concerns: Hankins carries some bad weight, will he be able to manage it at the next level?
  • Every Down Player: Because of the weight, and fatigue issues I have concerns as to whether Hankins can be a standout every down Nose Tackle in the NFL.

All in all, this is a very strong Defensive Tackle class.  The prospects mentioned above, among many others comprise one of the deeper classes in recent memory.  There are several potential impact players in the first two to three rounds, which should make many in Bank of America Stadium happy.  Chances are, at least one of the members of this 2013 class will be wearing a Panthers jersey next year, and whether it’s Richardson, Lotulelei, Hughes, or another player I didn’t mention here the Cats will be able to find help in the trenches if they so choose.  Overall I would say the Defensive Tackle class is one of the strongest positions in the entire Draft, and grade it at an A-.

Previously from Danny Guy:
NFL Combine Standouts: Panthers Edition

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