2018 NFL Draft: Cat-like big man Vea tops DT class

2018 NFL Draft: Cat-like big man Vea tops DT class
By Reuters

17/04/2018 at 17:08Updated 17/04/2018 at 17:11


Vita Vea


6-4, 347, 40 time: 5.10

Projection: First Round


At 270 pounds in high school, Vea was an impressive defensive lineman,
recording 89 tackles as a senior at Milpitas High School in California.
However, it was when he took snaps at running back that he really got to show
off his light feet, averaging 12.3 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns
in 2012.

Vea committed to Washington, but was forced to grayshirt due to academic
issues, which was followed by a redshirt in 2014. He was a part-time starter
the next two seasons before becoming the lead singer of the Huskies' defense
in 2017. Although the stat sheet (5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks) doesn't
reflect it, Vea went through dominant stretches his junior season, which
earned him the 2017 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy.


Vea is one of the few defensive linemen capable of stacking and splitting
double-teams on one snap, followed by his ability to chase down ballcarriers
near the sideline on the next snap. He is built like a refrigerator with the
upper body power to grapple and dispose of bodies in his way. However, his
game lacks polish with the effort and technique running hot-and-cold
throughout the course of a game.

Players the size of Vea aren't supposed to be able to move like he does. And
players that move like Vea aren't supposed to be as strong as he is.
Basically, Vea is rare. There aren't many humans on the planet with his
size/athleticism/strength profile. However, those raw traits don't always
equal football production and that is the question with Vea: as talented as he
is, can he use those traits in unison to be a consistent disruptor in the NFL?
If a team believes the answer is ‘yes' then Vea is a lock top-half of round
one draft pick.

2. Da'Ron Payne


6-2 1/2, 311, 40 time: 4.95

Projection: First Round


As a freshman in high school, Payne weighed 300 pounds and could dunk a
basketball. He grew into a 350-pound five-star recruit as a senior and
steadily cut weight without losing strength at Alabama.

After a year as a true freshman backup, Payne started 29 games from 2016-17,
collecting 89 tackles (4.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks and six passes defensed over
that span. He dominated in the 2018 College Football Playoff, including an
interception and receiving touchdown in a span of eight plays in the Sugar

He stood out at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.95-second 40-yard dash at
311 pounds.


Don't let the modest production mislead the evaluation of Payne, who
progressed during his three years into a highly disruptive player who should
only get better. Asked primarily to eat blocks, he anchored against double
teams and squelched opposing run games with discipline. He's extremely well
built and country strong but carries his weight well with nimble movement for
his size.

The biggest question is whether Payne can rush the passer at the next level.
He's explosive enough to do so but didn't penetrate often in college, showing
a limited array of pass-rush moves and hand techniques. He also plays a bit
too high off the snap, undermining his burst and ending some rushes early.

Payne should be a stud run defender from Day 1, but whichever team bites in
Round 1 will need him to affect quarterbacks. Despite minimal results, he
flashes in this regard, and with his developmental arrow pointing up, he
should be a better rusher as a pro.

3. Taven Bryan


6-5, 291, 40 time: 4.98

Projection: First Round


SEC programs rarely spend time recruiting in Wyoming, but Bryan - or "Wyoming
Wildman" as his Gator teammates call him - had the raw talent in high school
to attract teams like Florida to the rural plains of Casper, Wyoming. The son
of a Navy SEAL, Bryan was a standout offensive tackle and defensive tackle at
Natrona County, leading the team to consecutive state championships as a
junior and senior.

The Gators lured him to Gainesville, where he redshirted and spent the next
two seasons as a reserve. Taking over for Caleb Brantley, Bryan impressed with
37 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks as a first-year starter in
2017, drawing enough attention from NFL scouts that he left college early for
the pros.


The Florida roster is full of top-tier athletes, but at 291 pounds, Bryan
might have been the most impressive athlete in that locker room. He plays
loose, with the lower-body explosion to surge off the ball and penetrate gaps.
Bryan, who grew up working with his father's construction business, has
skilled hands to snatch blockers at the point of attack, disposing of them
when he uses proper push-pull technique.

While the highlights make you sit up in your seat, Bryan is also undeveloped
in areas, most notably his subpar mechanics, relying on his natural gifts to
get the job done. And while he loves to shoot gaps, he tends to do so at the
expense of the run game, leaving gaping holes for runners to advance to the
second level. Production isn't always not an accurate indicator of on-field
traits, but with Bryan, his 10.5 career tackles for loss illustrates that
while supremely talented, he is also still developing. Nonetheless, teams want
to work with his traits, possibly as early as the top 25.

4. Maurice Hurst, Jr.


6-2, 280, 40 time: 4.97 (Pro Day)

Projection: First-Second Round


The son of former New England Patriots cornerback Maurice Hurst Sr., the
younger Hurst was one of the most celebrated recruits to come out of
powerhouse Xaverian Brothers (Westwood, Mass.) High School in years, twice
earning all-state honors and ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the state.

Recognized for his powerful ability on the interior defensive line, Hurst also
lined up in the backfield as both a fullback and tailback and committed to
Michigan over Boston College and many others.

Hurst had only four career starts before earning first-team All-Big Ten honors
as well as the team's Bo Schembechler MVP and Defensive Player of the Year
awards in 2017. He left Ann Arbor with some impressive production despite the
limited amount of playing time, recording 13.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss
in 46 appearances of which only 17 were starts.

Hurst wasn't cleared to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine after a heart
condition was discovered during the medical evaluation. He was cleared for
Michigan's pro day one month later and his reported 4.97-second 40 and 31-inch
vertical would have placed him in the upper echelon of defensive tackles at
the combine.


Hurst has long been an alluring prospect for the remarkable amount of
athleticism crammed into his wide-bodied frame, and it showed through in 2017
when he was used primarily as a nose tackle in defensive guru Don Brown's
blitz-happy scheme, but also moved up and down the line.

His first-step explosiveness has shown throughout his career, whether it's
shooting through gaps or bulling his way to leveraging an oncoming blocker.
But he could stand to be more disciplined off the ball, sometimes overrunning
the play or selling out too much.

How much the heart condition discovery effects his stock on draft day remains
to be seen, but on intangibles and physical ability alone Hurst is a bona fide
first-round talent who plays bigger than his 6-foot-2 frame might suggest.

5. Harrison Phillips


6-3, 307, 40 time: 5.21

Projection: First-Second Round


For most defensive fronts, the nose tackle role is designed to occupy blocks
and clog interior gaps. This is a high-impact, but low-production position.

Phillips didn't receive that memo, because in his final season at Stanford, he
was a high-impact, high-production zero technique, leading the Cardinal with
103 tackles, 17.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Phillips has a track record
of overachieving in anything he does. As a high school wrestler, he went 31-0
and was the 2013 Junior National Heavyweight champion. Graduated from Stanford
early with two degrees -- sociology and science, technology and society.


Anchoring the middle of Stanford's three-man front, Phillips holds his ground
at the point of attack, using long arms and strong hands to lock out and
control blocks. He is quick to read the backfield action to track the run,
work off contact and pursue the ballcarrier. When he reads pass, Phillips
doesn't waste time in hand fights but uses a bull rush to squeeze quarterbacks
to move their feet.

Phillips shows various grappling techniques from his wrestling background, but
tends to let his pads rise at contact, negating leverage and power. Strengths
far out-weigh the weaknesses in his game. Relentless effort to beat blockers
to the spot or crash the intended path of ballcarriers. Whether in a 4-3 or
3-4 scheme, Phillips will be a welcomed addition for any NFL front.

6. Nathan Shepherd

Fort Hays State

6-4, 315, 40 time: 5.09

Projection: Second Round


The journey from high school to the NFL's doorstep is different for each
prospect, and no other prospect this year has taken a path quite as lengthy as
Shepherd's. After playing linebacker in high school in Ontario, he spent two
seasons at Division-II Simon Fraser before leaving due to financial issues.
After two years away from the game working odd jobs, Shepherd looked to return
to football, moving south to Kansas and signing with Fort Hays State as a
defensive lineman.

Once a 205-pound linebacker, he is now a 315-pound defensive tackle. Shepherd
started 36 games the past three seasons and was probably the best player on
the field in all 36 contests, dominating the Division II level and drawing NFL


Shepherd looks like he was built with a NFL starter kit with his wide,
filled-out frame. He plays with power in his hands to shock and displace
blockers, working off contact to force his way to the ball. Shepherd uses his
active upper body to unglue from blockers, and then shows off his loose
athleticism either infiltrating the pocket or chasing down ballcarriers from

There is always a concern for lower-level players as they face a substantial
jump in competition, but Shepherd was arguably the best defensive lineman in
attendance at the Senior Bowl. He was near unblockable in his one day of
practice (before breaking a bone in his left hand) and was one of the few who
got the best of UTEP's Will Hernandez in one-on-one drills. Shepherd has a
realistic chance of crashing the top 50 picks.

7.Tim Settle

Virginia Tech

6-2 3/4, 329, 40 time: 5.37

Projection: Second Round


A four-star defensive tackle and rated a top-10 prospect in Virginia, Settle
stayed in-state and redshirted in 2015 with the Hokies.

He played in all 14 games as a reserve in 2016, picking up 17 tackles (7.0 for
loss) and a blocked kick. As a full-time starter in 2017, he racked up 36
tackles (12.5 for loss) and 4.0 sacks, along with another blocked kick.

Settle was the third-heaviest player at the NFL Scouting Combine (329 pounds).


Incredibly nimble for his size, Settle has drawn comparisons to Vince Wilfork.
He worked diligently to cut weight and improve his conditioning, and it paid
off with a breakout 2017 campaign. He bursts hard off the line and shows
power, quickness and athleticism while routinely working to the ball, even on
perimeter runs. His instincts have improved with experience, and he shows the
ability to penetrate for tackles for loss and push the pocket as a rusher even
when he can't get the sack.

Settle isn't a finished product. With just two years playing and one year
starting in college, he lacks refinement in technique and hand usage. While he
makes splash plays, he also gets a bit out of control and loses his gap too
often, playing high at times and getting steered by blockers. Despite his
diligence, his weight could require monitoring throughout his career.

Settle's size, athleticism and 2017 tape are enticing, and he still has
unfulfilled upside. Weight control and consistent development -- particularly
as a pass-rusher -- will determine his ceiling.

8. Derrick Nnadi

Florida State

6-1, 317, 40 time: 5.38

Projection: Third Round


A son of Nigerian immigrants, Nnadi was a four-star high school recruit and
one of the top defensive tackles in the nation, picking Florida State over
Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Penn State.

He played in nine games as a true freshman reserve before starting 37 of his
final 39 games, racking up a total of 90 tackles (20.5 for loss) and 9.5 sacks
while earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2016.

He accepted a Senior Bowl invitation but did not participate due to an
unspecified injury. One of the heaviest players at the NFL Scouting Combine,
he wasn't expected to impress in Indy, but he disappointed in the bench press
(25 reps, tied 19th among D-linemen).


Nnadi is a hair undersized (6-1, 317 pounds) for an NFL nose tackle, but he
sports an ideal build with an extremely thick and powerful lower half. An
animal in the weight room, he shows his strength by anchoring against double
teams and shocking single blockers with heavy hands. He maintains steady
technique and discipline, staying low and fighting to keep his gap. He also
shows above average recognition and great effort, leading to rare production
for his position.

Without elite length (33 ½-inch arms), Nnadi can be enveloped on occasion,
and he also lacks great upside. His athleticism is just OK for his size,
limiting his range in the run game, and while he got after quarterbacks in
college, he may not be a dynamic rusher at the next level.

Nnadi should become a great, steady run defender, but questions about
pass-rush upside limit his ceiling.

9. B.J. Hill

NC State

6-3 1/4, 311, 40 time: 4.99

Projection: Third Round


A former high school defensive end and fullback, Hill joined the Wolfpack as a
three-star recruit and excelled as a true freshman, tallying 40 tackles (7.5
for loss) and 5 sacks in 12 games (five starts).

His most productive campaign came as a sophomore (10 TFLs, 3.5 sacks), but
he started all 39 games from 2015-17, collecting 147 tackles (19.0 for loss),
7.5 sacks and nine passes defensed in that span.

He impressed at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, tying for third
among D-linemen on the bench (35 reps) and running a 4.99-second 40-yard dash
at 315 pounds. Likewise, his 20-yard shuttle (4.53) and especially his 3-cone
drill (7.28 seconds, tied fifth among D-linemen) were excellent.


Hill steadily bulked up during college to play the nose on a very talented
D-line. His powerful top half and big hands help him fight through blockers
and shed to make plays in the hole. He shows great recognition, diagnosing
plays quickly and finding the ball. He also maintains great effort despite
logging far more snaps than most big men, and flashes pass-rush upside.

Hill must improve his lower-body strength and play lower; double-team blocks
displace him too regularly, and he might only fit one-gap schemes due to
limited length (32 ¼-inch arms). His tendency to raise his pad-level off the
snap also stymies his pass rush, and he didn't threaten quarterbacks often
despite single-blocking opportunities.

Hill is a solid run defender and flashes the movement skills to bother QBs,
but he needs significant work to get there.

10. Deadrin Senat

South Florida

6-0, 314, 40 time: 5.16

Projection: Third-Fourth Round


Senat didn't play football until high school and became a three-star recruit,
initially committing to Florida State before opting for South Florida. He
redshirted in 2013 before starting two of 12 games in 2014, making 18 tackles.

He went on to start 34 of 37 games from 2015-17, collecting 161 tackles (23.0
for loss) and 7.0 sacks in that span, including 10.5 TFLs and 6.0 sacks as a
senior, earning first-team All-AAC honors.

After excelling at the East-West Shrine game, he received a late Senior Bowl
invitation but declined. He tied for third among D-linemen at the NFL Scouting
Combine with 35 bench-press reps.


Senat closed his USF career with a bang, racking up 40 tackles (9.5 for loss)
and 6.0 sacks in his final five games. With a thick, squatty build, he
optimizes his shorter stature (6-0) by playing low to maintain great leverage.
He has heavy hands and shows the lower-body power to anchor against double
teams. He also moves well for his size, chasing perimeter runs with great
effort despite logging a ton of snaps.

Size remains a limitation as Senat's lack of length (31 5/8-inch arms) allows
defenders into his chest too often. Bigger blockers can overwhelm him at times
and he struggles to shed to find the ball in the hole. He also lacks the burst
to be a penetrator or a threatening pass-rusher, limiting his upside.

With technique and effort, Senat maximizes less-than-ideal tools to be
disruptive, but he's probably not dynamic enough to be more than a clogger at
the next level.

1 RJ McIntosh

Miami (Fla.)

6-4 1/2, 286, 40 time: N/A - groin

Projection: Third-Fourth Round


A defensive end and short-yardage quarterback in high school, McIntosh has two
impressive brothers: a Notre Dame wideout and a top 2019 running back recruit.
Richard Jr. ("RJ") joined Miami as a three-star prospect and played sparingly
as a true freshman while transitioning to defensive tackle.

RJ took over in 2016 and started his final 26 games for the Hurricanes,
finishing with 99 tackles (22.0 for loss), five sacks and nine passes defensed
(including seven as a junior) from 2016-17.

He did not work out at the NFL Scouting Combine or his pro day due to a groin


Though not super productive, McIntosh is toolsy. Huge (6-4 ½, 286 pounds)
with a wingspan approaching seven feet (82 3/4 inches), he has room for more
weight but moves fluidly for his size. He uses sudden feet and athleticism to
disrupt behind the line, flashing arm-overs and spin moves. He has a knack for
swatting passes and gives great effort on and off the field, having added 50
healthy pounds during college.

McIntosh needs plenty of polish, however. While not weak, he lacks the play
strength to consistently hold up in the run game, which is exacerbated by his
tendency to raise his pads later in the down. As a pass-rusher, he shows more
potential than production, rarely threatening quarterbacks and lacking an
array of moves or a measured plan.

In need of seasoning, McIntosh probably came out too soon and likely won't
contribute early. However, he has the talent to be disruptive as a 3-4 end,
4-3 3-technique or 4-3 strong-side end, with significant interior pass-rush

12. Trenton Thompson


6-2 5/8, 288, 40 time: 5.06

Projection: Fourth Round


A five-star high school defensive tackle and the top-rated recruit in the
state of Georgia, Thompson chose the Bulldogs over Auburn and made six starts
(in 12 games) as a true freshman, picking up 25 tackles (2.5 for loss) and 0.5

He broke out as a sophomore with 56 tackles (9.5 for loss) and 5.0 sacks in
just seven starts (13 games) before battling injuries as a junior, finishing
with 38 tackles (3.5 for loss) and no sacks in 2017.

He showed explosion at the NFL Scouting Combine, finishing third in the
vertical jump (32.5 inches) and tying for fifth in the broad jump (111 inches)
among defenders over 285 pounds.


Thompson combines above-average tools with a great motor. Though not
particularly tall (6-2 5/8), he has long arms (34 inches) and huge hands (10
5/8 inches), with impressive athleticism and lateral quickness for his size.
He stays low and plays hard, relentlessly pursuing the ball from a variety of
positions and alignments. He also shows sufficient strength in his upper body
and his base.

Thompson didn't translate potential into production, with injuries a major
factor. He fought through pain as a junior but played just 35 percent of
Georgia's defensive snaps and was clearly limited. Despite flashes, he rarely
manhandles or controls blockers, and poor body control leaves him on the
ground too often. He also has a bad tendency to be slow off the snap.

If developed and healthy, Thompson could become a disruptive starter, but
medical check-ups will be crucial and his floor is lower than comparable

13. Folorunso Fatukasi


6-3 3/4, 318, 40 time: 5.29

Projection: Fourth Round


Fatukasi, better known as "Foley," slipped under the recruiting radar after
missing his junior year of high school due to injury and picked Connecticut
over Buffalo.

He redshirted in 2013 and was a reserve in 2014 before breaking out with 50
tackles (8.0 for loss), 7.0 sacks and four forced fumbles in just eight starts
in 2015. He started all 24 games from 2016-17, totaling 88 tackles (10.5 for
loss) and 6.5 sacks in that span.

He turned heads at the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Scouting Combine,
showing power (33 bench-press reps, fifth among D-linemen) and explosion.
Among players over 315 pounds, he ranked first in the 3-cone drill (7.44
seconds) and short shuttle (4.53 seconds) and second in the vertical (30
inches) and broad (112 inches) jumps.


Though his production waned after 2015, Fatukasi remained very disruptive on
tape. Thick and muscular, he uses long arms (34 1/8 inches) and big, heavy
hands (10 1/8 inches) to control and discard blockers. He flashes double-team
anchoring power and can push the pocket. He also shows great vision and
instincts as plays unfold and checks most intangible boxes (effort,
versatility, smarts, durability).

Fatukasi needs more polish to be a consistent force. His pads often get too
high, creating issues in the run game, and he relies mostly on power instead
of technique as a rusher, which won't be enough at the next level. Despite
good burst, he's a bit stiff laterally with so-so body control, limiting his

Scheme-versatile and gifted, Fatukasi could appeal to many teams as a moldable
future starter with some pass-rush upside.

14. Hercules Mata'afa

Defensive Line, Washington State

6-2 1/4, 254, 40 time: 4.76

Projection: Fifth Round


A three-star defensive end recruit out of Maui, Mata'afa also starred in
wrestling. He chose Washington State over Oregon State and redshirted in 2014
before totaling 32 tackles (10 for loss) and 7.0 sacks as a reserve in 2015.

He moved to defensive tackle as a full-time starter in 2016, finishing with 47
tackles (13.5 for loss) and 5.0 sacks. He earned consensus All-American honors
as a junior with 22.5 TFLs and 10.5 sacks.

He showed off power at the NFL Scouting Combine, tying for fifth in the bench
press (26 reps) among defenders under 260 pounds.


Mata'afa is a thrill to watch. He explodes out of his stance and lives in
opponents' backfields while red-lining his motor like his life depends on it.
With initial burst and lateral quickness, he often beats blockers immediately
for sacks and TFLs. He's durable (never missed a game), tough as nails and
lined up all over the line, also showing some comfort dropping.

Mata'afa is far too much of a liability against the run to stay at defensive
tackle. At 6-2 1/4 and 254 pounds with short arms (31 ½ inches), he has
little room for more weight. Double teams wash him away, and single blocks
often control him. He also shows no run discipline, abandoning his gap to seek
splash plays, and gets by more on effort than technique as a rusher. His
traits are much closer to average when compared to edge defenders.

With no natural NFL position, Mata'afa must move outside and get stronger to
play full-time. Still, he should be a sub-package interior rusher early, with
major upside if his technique develops.

15. Kendrick Norton

Miami (Fla.)

6-2, 312, 40 time: 5.25

Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round


Son of former NFL linebacker and Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken
Norton Jr., Kendrick was a three-star high school recruit. He backed off a
verbal commitment to Florida State and picked Miami over Alabama, Florida and

He played in 12 games as a true freshman reserve, collecting 19 tackles (5
for loss) and 0 sack. He broke out in 2016 with 39 tackles (10.0 for loss)
and 2.0 sacks in 13 starts, then added 26 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 2.0 sacks
as a junior.

He tied for seventh among D-linemen at the NFL Scouting Combine with 30
bench-press reps.


With NFL bloodlines, Norton brings ideal size (6-2, 312 pounds) and length (33
¾-inch arms) to the position, translating his mass into a strong anchor that
clogs running lanes. His hands are big (10 ¾ inches) and powerful, conveying
a heavy punch to shock blockers. He also plays with great effort and a mean
temperament and held up impressively against top guard prospect Quenton

However, Norton undermines his strength too often by playing high, and he can
be washed out of the hole by double teams at times. He carries some bad weight
and lacks dynamic burst or lateral quickness, limiting his range and
opportunities to create negative plays. He also winds up on the ground a bit
too often and only occasionally flashes as a pass-rusher.

Without great athleticism, Norton's ceiling is likely as a two-down run
stuffer, but he could play early if he lowers his pad level and strengthens
his base.

16. Justin Jones

NC State

6-2 1/2, 309, 40 time: 5.09

Projection: Fifth-Sixth Round


A four-star recruit, Jones joined high school teammate Bradley Chubb (top-five
2018 DE prospect) by committing to the Wolfpack.

He had nine tackles in 10 games as a true freshman reserve before improving to
29 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 2.0 sacks in 13 games (three starts) as a
sophomore. He started all 26 games as a junior and senior, totaling 77 tackles
(15.0 for loss) and 5.5 sacks in that span.

He impressed at the Senior Bowl -- named top defensive lineman of the week by
director Phil Savage -- and stood out at the NFL Scouting Combine, tying for
the fourth-fastest 40-yard dash (5.09 seconds) of any defender over 300


Jones is smaller (6-2 ½, 309 pounds) than fellow Wolfpack defensive tackle
B.J. Hill, but he's strong for his size and carries little bad weight. He
plays low and delivers power with his first step, while showing the
willingness and discipline to take on double teams and anchor. Though he
rotated out some in college, he plays with great effort. He also looked
surprisingly dynamic against quality competition at the Senior Bowl.

Jones is not explosive on tape, showing limited twitch and rarely creating
negative plays. He's disjointed as a rusher, lacking a clear plan and
struggling to redirect laterally or counter. He is also late off the snap at
times and lets blockers into his chest relatively often despite decent length
(33 ½-inch arms, 81-inch wingspan).

His performance in Mobile was promising, but Jones doesn't stand out in any
one area, and a lack of size and athleticism limits his upside.

17. Poona Ford


5-11, 309, 40 time: 5.09

Projection: Sixth-Seventh Round


Few around the Texas football facility know Kaylon Ford. But Poona? Everyone
knows the jovial big man who transforms into a backfield monster on the field.
Ford, who was given the Poona nickname by his grandmother, was a middle
linebacker in high school before he out-grew the position and moved to
defensive line.

He initially committed to Louisville before following Charlie Strong to
Austin. Ford was part of the Texas defensive line rotation his first three
seasons and was barely a blip on the NFL radar entering his senior season.
However, he was a difference-maker in 2017 as the nose tackle in the
Longhorns' odd front, racking up 34 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 5
sacks. For his effort, Ford was named Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and
First Team All-Big 12.


There aren't many defensive tackles under 6-feet tall in the NFL, but Ford
will be one of the few. While he doesn't have ideal height, it does help to
create natural leverage, playing low to the ground to get underneath blockers
to win the point of attack. Although he managed only 4.0 sacks in college,
Ford uses his strong hands and body control to pry through gaps, flashing pass
rush potential with his lower-body quickness.

He might not have a dominant characteristic, but Ford shows the ability to
defeat blockers in different ways and will be viewed as a nose tackle by some
schemes and a three-technique by others. A surprising NFL Scouting Combine
snub, Ford has a great chance to be the first non-invite drafted in the 2018

18. Bilal Nichols


6-4, 306, 40 time: 4.96

Projection: Sixth-Seventh Round


A lightly-recruited player out of Hodgson Vo-Tech (Newark, Del.) High School,
Nichols was a two-sport star who dominated on both sides of the ball, leading
the Golden Eagles to a state title in his senior season of 2013. Nichols led
the team with 10 sacks that season as a defensive end, but also made
All-State as a tight end with seven touchdown catches. With no FBS offers,
Nichols chose nearby Delaware over the likes of several other FCS powers along
the Eastern seaboard.

Nichols kicked inside to defensive tackle upon his arrival at Delaware and
appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman, then made his first start as a
sophomore in 2015 and earned third-team All-CAA honors. He assumed a full-time
starter role at defensive tackle his final two seasons and earned two more
all-conference honors, including First Team as a nose tackle in 2017 when he
recorded 56 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and five passes defended.

Nichols had an impressive showing at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis,
when he recorded a 4.96-second 40-yard dash that registered as the fastest
such time among prospects over 300 pounds. His 29 reps of 225 pounds on the
bench press was also the best by a non-FBS defensive lineman, and ninth-best
overall among defensive linemen.


Among interior defensive line prospects, Nichols is a mound of clay, with room
to add muscle mass, low body fat and the requisite length seen in a prototype
NFL defensive tackle.

Over his decorated career in Newark, Nichols flashed natural ability as a
traditional two-gapper, with the power and anchor to fill holes and create a
mess at the point of attack. But his technique is raw, and he could stand to
develop as a better finisher.

After going from an off-the-line edge prospect as a high schooler to a "piano
player" able to move across the interior gaps in college, Nichols' versatility
should be an attractive late-round candidate for NFL teams. While his
performance in Indianapolis was shortened due to a hamstring injury, he did
enough to provide additional intrigue.

19. P.J. Hall

Sam Houston State

6-0, 308, 40 time: 4.68-4.83 (Pro Day)

Projection: Seventh Round/Free Agent


Lightly recruited out of Seguin (Texas) High School, Hall was a busy body
during his time with the Matadors, lettering in powerlifting and track and
field in addition to his duties as both a defensive end and running back on
the gridiron. Hall earned first-team All-District as a senior at Seguin after
recording 71 tackles and 6.0 sacks to go with 604 rushing yards and nine TDs
on offense.

With little attention from FBS colleges, Hall brought his undersized frame to
Sam Houston State. After redshirting in 2013, he went on to become one of the
most accomplished defensive linemen in FCS history, earning All-American and
Southland Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors and four first-team
all-conference nods.

Hall lined up primarily at defensive end at Sam Houston State, but switched to
nose tackle as a senior and posted similarly outstanding production. He is the
program's career leader in sacks (42) and blocked kicks on special teams (14,
second-most in FCS history), and totaled 406 negative yards in his 86 total
tackles for loss.


Hall was a Scouting Combine snub, but has seen sudden interest from a handful
of NFL teams after an eye-opening pro day that included a 38-inch vertical, 36
reps at 225 pounds on the bench press and a 40-yard dash that was unofficially
timed as low as 4.68 second.

Those impressive numbers were evident on his game tape from Sam Houston. Hall
consistently disrupted gaps with explosive first-step quickness out of his
stance, able to maintain balance with his low center of gravity, and able to
generate plenty of power through his lower half. Hall also put on 30 pounds of
muscle between his junior and senior years, and did so without compromising

At the NFL level, Hall is going to need to be more consistent against the run
and creating a more violent punch. But with unparalleled production for a
distinguished FCS program and some intriguing intangibles, Hall could wind up
being a late-round steal for someone under the right tutelage.

20. John Atkins


6-2 7/8, 321, 40 time: 5.38

Projection: Seventh Round/Free Agent


As a three-start recruit out of Thomson, Ga., Atkins was a renaissance man for
his high school. In addition to his prowess on both sides of the line in
football, he was also a standout in basketball, shot put, and even as a
goalkeeper in soccer. Atkins committed to the hometown Georgia Bulldogs over
dozens of other offers, but first had to spend a post-graduate year at
Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy after failing to qualify academically for the
Class of 2012.

After redshirting in 2013, Atkins made three starts over the next two seasons
before becoming a full-time starter at the nose guard in Kirby Smart's 3-4
scheme, as a junior in 2016. Over his final two seasons, Atkins recorded 60
tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and three passes defended, but he left Athens
having never recorded a sack in his college career.


Atkins' lack of production at Georgia will raise an eyebrow, but that may be
more of a function of his role than an indictment of his skill set. Atkins was
a classic two-gapper for Smart, staying his lane and using his body to both
plug holes and free up space for the Bulldogs' great linebackers.

There were times his raw power was unleashed in the middle, using his stout
lower half to establish leverage and attacking the point with vigor. As a pass
rusher, Atkins' impact is mostly minimal, lacking enough burst out of his
stance to push the pocket.

In terms of strength, Atkins' impressive frame might be misleading. His motor
isn't in question, though, and he takes pride in doing the dirty work that
doesn't often show up on the stat sheet. Atkins most likely projects as a
rotational space-eater at the next level.

--Field Level Media