PewterReport.com analyzes the top players in the 2021 NFL Draft with its’ position previews. Taylor Jenkins previews the defensive tackle position with a comprehensive look at what the Bucs have and what they need at defensive tackle, while also providing a detailed list of this year’s top interior defensive linemen. In addition, Scott Reynolds offers up the team needs and the annual PewterReport.com Bucs’ Best Bets – the most likely defensive tackle for the Bucs to select in Rounds 1-3, and in Rounds 4-7.
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What The Bucs Have At Defensive Tackle
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A lot has been said about what the Bucs were able to do with their roster this offseason, as they brought back all 22 starters from their Super Bowl-winning 2020 team. But Tampa Bay was also able to retain quality depth, especially along their interior defensive line. With Vita Vea still on his rookie contract, the Bucs managed to get starting defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh back for 2021 on his third consecutive one-year deal.
Bucs DTs Vita Vea and Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Behind their two starters the Bucs were also able to bring back second-string nose tackle Steve McLendon and backup defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches. Vea, Suh, McLendon and Nunez-Roches join long-time Buc Will Gholston, veteran Jeremiah Ledbetter and 2020 sixth-round pick Khalil Davis to round out the same defensive line the team featured last season.
What The Bucs Need At Defensive Tackle
While the Bucs are in a solid situation at defensive tackle for 2021, they have a dire need for depth beyond next season. Vea will be playing on his fifth-year option and Nunez-Roches will be on the second year of a two-year extension in 2022, but some of the other pieces within the group may no longer be with the team at that point.
Suh, McLendon and Ledbetter will all be free agents next offseason, with Suh and McLendon turning 34 and 35 years old this upcoming season, respectively. The biggest need for Tampa Bay at the defensive tackle position is impact players for the future.
Barmore is the top defensive tackle in what is a weak class of interior defensive linemen. With that said, Barmore is a talented interior defender with position flexibility along the defensive line that will likely get him drafted in the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft. He’s got great size, long arms and quick, effective hand usage at the position. He’s also shown his ability to be a force from the inside when rushing the passer, but inconsistencies in his play and his ability to defend the run leave questions.
2. Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike – RS Senior – 6-3, 290, 4.86
Onwuzurike is another talented interior defender who has shown flashes, but is inconsistent. He’s got explosiveness, athleticism and the hand usage that make you believe in his ability to become a talented pass rusher, but he never took that dominant step at the college level before opting out of the 2020 season. Perhaps some of that is due to his deployment, playing nearly one third of his snaps at nose tackle, rather than the 3-technique he’ll be in the NFL.
Nixon has perhaps as high of a ceiling as any defensive tackle prospect heading into the 2021 draft, but some of his lows are extremely low. A JUCO transfer, Nixon notched three sacks in 2019 before eclipsing that mark with four sacks against Northwestern alone in 2020, finishing the year with seven sacks total. But while Nixon displayed himself as a talented pass rusher with good quickness and power at times, he may not be good enough in the run game to play all three downs early on in the NFL.
4. USC DT Jay Tufele – RS Junior – 6-3, 305, 5.00
Tufele has the explosiveness to project as a gap-shooting 3-technique in the NFL, but doesn’t necessarily have the next-level athletic profile that some of the other defensive tackles in the class have shown. And while his struggles in the run game limit his ability to be on the field for all three downs, he also never had more than three pressures in any individual game at the college level. On top of that, he opted out of the 2020 season so he hasn’t had a chance to show any growth since 2019, with the exception of underwhelming athletic testing this offseason.
5. N.C. State DT Alim McNeil – Junior – 6-2, 317, 4.96
McNeil is a big, run-stuffing nose tackle prospect and that is always a coveted role in the NFL. Add in his above-average athletic metrics and he could be a highly sought-after player when the draft rolls around. He excels at eating up blocks and double teams in the run game, earning a 92.1 run-stop grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite a quick first step, McNeil’s nearly exclusive alignment over center and lack of pass-rush moves hindered production on passing downs, finishing the 2020 season with no sacks after notching seven in 2019 and three in 2018. Add in the fact that he never played over 500 snaps in any season and there are definitely some unknowns in McNeil’s profile. But his play as a true nose tackle could fit the bill for a number of NFL teams.
Tuipulotu was largely overshadowed by his teammate Tufele along USC’s offensive line until the latter opted out for the 2020 season and Tuipulotu was able to make massive strides. His biggest improvements came in the form of his pass-rush moves and vastly improved hand usage, looking like a completely different player between the two seasons. Tuipulotu could be great value in the mid-rounds this year, potentially proving himself as a strong rotational interior defender who can be an impact player on all three downs, even if his ceiling may never reach an elite level in the NFL.
A former two-sport athlete, Williams has unreal athletic metrics at the position and the positional flexibility to be a solid pass rusher with a ton of upside from most alignments along the defensive line. He wreaked havoc over his past two seasons at Louisiana Tech, racking up 13 sacks and 33 hurries over 2019 and 2020 in Conference USA. He will be more of a project given his size (284 pounds), but in the right system he could be unleashed from the interior.
Another undersized interior defender, Odighizuwa has long arms, heavy hands, an extremely powerful lower body and plays larger than his weight would suggest. He’s got explosiveness that makes him effective in the run game, while he also showing improvements rushing the passer at UCLA. Add in his positional flexibility to align nearly anywhere along the defensive line, and he has the potential to become an impact player on all three downs at the NFL level.
9. Ohio State DT Tommy Togiai – Junior – 6-1 1/2, 296, 4.98
While he isn’t as small as the two previously mentioned interior defenders, Togiai is another sub-300 pound defensive tackle prospect. He’s a bit undersized, but his workout numbers were off the charts with an unofficial 4.97 40-yard dash and 40 reps on the bench press. He showed that he can potentially be disruptive as both a run defender and pass rusher from the 3-technique position, despite being knocked off of balance more than you’d like due to his size. Togiai simply needs more time to improve his game, as he never eclipsed 300 snaps in any season at Ohio State.
10. Texas A&M DT Bobby Brown – Junior – 6-4, 321, 5.00
Brown is the absolute definitive mold for what you want an interior defensive tackle to look like. He’s massive and had insane athletic testing this offseason, but unfortunately his technique just washes away all of his physical abilities at times. Brown is built like a nose tackle, but doesn’t hold gaps consistently there, and lacks the ability to rush the passer well enough for a 3-technique alignment. Consistent effort, staying within his assignment and the ability to win in more ways will be the goals for whatever team drafts Brown. But if they can find a way to help him put it all together, they may find themselves with a next-level prospect.
Shelvin is a pure A-gap defender through and through. With great size and strength, Shelvin is a guy that you can plug in on early downs to just eat up space and double teams, even if he never becomes a consistent impact player as a pass rusher. More than just with his size, Shelvin wins with technique in the run game. Despite opting out of the 2020 season he should have no problem finding a team that wants the skill set he brings to the interior.
12. Florida State DT Marvin Wilson – Senior – 6-4, 303, 5.08
FSU DT Marvin Wilson – Photo from FSU
Talk about a fall from grace. Wilson was a borderline first-round pick had he entered the draft last season, totaling five sacks in 2019 and three in 2018, but he returned to college for 2020 with the hopes of shooting up draft boards. That dominant play just never came. In fact, it was largely the opposite. Wilson was essentially a non-factor against the better lines he faced in 2020 and totaled just 10 pressures before a leg injury ended his season after just six games. He’s got good size, power, hands and natural pass rush ability, but where he goes in the draft will be dependent on how teams want to decipher his regression this past season.
Twyman was an interesting opt-out for the 2020 season. He projects as a 3-technique at the next level, but lacks some of the size, length and explosiveness that the position demands, despite some quality pass rush moves. He did have phenomenal production in his lone season as a starter in 2019, totaling 12 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks on 730 total snaps, but those sacks came amidst just 36 total pressures.
14. Arkansas DT Jonathan Marshall – 6-3, 310, 4.81
Marshall has great explosiveness for a 310-pound interior defender, but he spent just one of his four seasons at Arkansas as a full-time player. The tools are there to be a disruptive pass-rusher, with a powerful bull rush, strong hands and experience playing from over center to 3-technique, but his discipline, control and ability to stay at his peak throughout the entire game will need to improve in the NFL.
15. BYU Khyiris Tonga – Senior – 6-2, 325, 5.07
Tonga is a true nose tackle with more power than explosiveness in his arsenal. Tonga can align at the 0-technique position, win with a strong bull rush and he often needs more than one blocker to handle him on the interior. But he also had consistency issues which poses a problem given his level of competition. He found his way to two sacks in 2020 and has good range at the position, but he will need to become more consistent and improve at getting off of blocks, not just eating them up.
West Virginia DT Darius Stills – Photo by: USA Today
Stills’ best trait is his effort, going 100 percent all the time while playing on the interior as an undersized defensive lineman. He’s got good leverage and flexibility to turn corners, but his size simply puts him at a disadvantage far too often at the college level, and that issue will only be compounded in the NFL.
Graham has good length and size for the position and excelled at stacking opposing linemen in the run game at Texas, but that’s basically all you’re getting with Graham as the draft approaches. His frame, size and power allowed him to be an impactful player, but he’s far from polished as a pass rusher and still needs improvement at getting off of blocks. Graham’s experience and ability will likely find him work with a team, but he still has improvements that need to be made to his game.
Slaton is another player whose play regressed as his snap count increased throughout his college career. He managed to rack up seven run stops on 43 snaps as a freshman but earned his lowest overall PFF grade as a full-time starter in 2020. As far as his play goes however, he’s a big, powerful nose tackle who will be most effective on early downs plugging up the middle.
Bucs’ Best Bets: Defensive Tackle
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 1-3: Washington DT Levi Onwuzurike
Onwuzurike would be a reach at No. 32 unless the Bucs justify the selection with the fact that there are only a handful of quality defensive tackles in this year’s draft class. Trading back into the second round or selecting him at No. 64 would make more sense from a value standpoint. Tampa Bay likes Washington defensive linemen, evidenced by the selection of nose tackle Vita Vea in the first round in 2018 and the signing of undrafted free agent defensive tackle Benning Po’toae last year.
Onwuzurike has quick feet, a nice burst off the line of scrimmage and electric hands. Those physical tools help the 6-foot-3, 290-pound defender make plays in the backfield. Onwuzurike has experience playing up and down the in Jimmy Lake’s 3-4 hybrid scheme. He played out of position at nose tackle last year, which limited his pass rush production. Onwuzurike had just two sacks and only posted seven in three years at Washington. But he’s an ideal three-tech defensive tackle at the next level with good position versatility. Onwuzurike would be drafted to replace Ndamukong Suh in 2022.
Bucs’ Best Bet – Rounds 4-7: BYU DT Khyiris Tonga
BYU DT Khyiris Tonga – Photo by: USA Today
Bucs general manager Jason Licht has drafted three defensive tackles on Day 3 of the draft. All three have come in rounds 6-7, which is where Tonga will likely get drafted. The BYU product is a one-dimensional nose tackle, but he would be an ideal sub for Vea given his 6-foot-2, 325-pound frame. Tonga is primarily a run-stuffer (15 career tackles-for-loss) with limited pass rush ability, evidenced by his 7.5 career sacks. Although he doesn’t get to the quarterback too often, Tonga managed to break up 12 passes at the line of scrimmage in his Cougars career.
Tonga is a hard worker and was a team captain during his senior year. He’s incredibly strong with 35 reps on the bench press at his pro day and has good short-area quickness. Like most BYU players, Tonga is older due to his two-year religious mission. He’ll turn 25 in July. That likely means he’ll have a shorter NFL career, but he’s also mature, which has its benefit, too.