Falcons: Early-round interior defensive line draft targets

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Following the decision to let Vic Beasley walk in free agency, the Falcons have a gaping hole on the edge, with Takkarist McKinley being their only reliable option under contract, and we are still waiting for his breakout campaign. Atlanta needs to draft at least one, if not multiple players, that can rush on the outside. Harrison Coburn broke down some of those options earlier this week. But the Falcons also need help on the interior to pair with Grady Jarrett. Tyeler Davidson and Jack Crawford are set to become free agents, and there is a potential for an elite duo on the defensive line if they spend an early-round pick on a defensive tackle, which would make life easier for the pass rushers outside as well.

Derrick Brown

When talking about the best interior defensive lineman in the draft, it’s hard to skip over Derrick Brown. The 6’5″, 320-pound Sugar Hill, Georgia, native would be an ideal fit next to Grady Jarrett. He’s about as strong of a prospect as you’ll see coming out of college and has the quickness with his feet and hands to match. Because of his strength, Brown is nearly impossible to move in the middle and constantly playing in the opponents’ backfield. He tallied 151 tackles in his final three years at Auburn with 31.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, two forced fumbles, and seven passes defended. The Falcons may be too far back to land him at 16th overall, but Thomas Dimitroff hasn’t been afraid to trade up in the past, and Brown should be near the top of their radar.

Javon Kinlaw

One thing that might prevent Atlanta from trading up for a guy like Brown is there might be a player equally as good available without having to give up assets. I’m talking about Javon Kinlaw out of South Carolina. Kinlaw is a physical specimen, standing at 6’5″, 315 pounds and is only scratching the surface of his potential, yet he still finished as one of PFF’s best pass rushers from the defensive tackle spot in 2019. With more coaching, he could become a player that racks up double-digit sacks in a single season, as he had six in 12 games last year for the Gamecocks. Kinlaw isn’t quite as powerful as Brown at this point and is much easier to block, but if you favor Kinlaw, it’s because his potential is through the roofs. He also possesses the type of versatility to play on the inside or the outside. Either way, the Falcons could not go wrong with the first two players on this list.

Raekwon Davis

Davis looked like he was poised to become the next great interior defensive lineman to come out of Alabama. He has all the physical traits you could desire — a strong 6’7″, 310-pound frame with the athleticism to match — but he regressed significantly year-to-year in college. As a sophomore, Davis was a force, racking up 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss but only had 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks his junior season and 3.0 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks as a senior. Because of that, he’s no longer considered a first-round talent by most. He’s the kind of prospect that a team could take a chance on early in the second round because of his build and potential, but I could also see him sliding into the third round or even further.

Ross Blacklock

The first player on this list not from the SEC, Blacklock impressed in 2019 following an Achilles injury that cost him the entire 2018 season. He has pretty good size at 6’4″, 305 pounds with good technique, particularly against the run. Blacklock also had 5.5 sacks combined in his freshman and junior years (his only two seasons playing). He needs to work on disengaging blockers when rushing the passer, but he is a handful to move. The Falcons could do a lot worse than adding Blacklock to their defensive line rotation.

Marlon Davidson

Davidson played on the outside most of his senior year at Auburn, but I think he’s best fit to move inside as he transitions to the NFL. At defensive tackle, Davidson will have an athletic advantage and has plenty of size and strength to hold his own in the middle. He showed up to the Senior Bowl weighing nearly 300 pounds. Either way, that type of versatility should be viewed as a plus to all teams. Davidson’s probably a second-round pick, but it might take a little before he makes an impact, given he will be adjusting to a different role than he played at Auburn. However, his upside at 3-tech is through the roof.

Justin Madubuike

Madukuike, out of Texas A&M, might not have the coveted length that most of the other prospects on this list possess. He’s 6’3″, 305 pounds, which can cause him to lose leverage against longer offensive lineman — the type of competition he will be up against at the next level. With that being said, it didn’t stop him from being a force for the Aggies, racking up 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss combined between his sophomore and junior seasons. Whatever Madubuike’s frame lacks, he makes up for with natural athleticism, explosiveness, and fluid hand movement. He could be ready to start as a rookie, and the Falcons might be able to snag him in the second or maybe even the third round.

Jordan Elliott

Elliott transferred from Texas to the University of Missouri for his sophomore and junior seasons. Looking purely at the stat sheet, there’s nothing eye-popping. He only had 16.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in two years at Mizzou, but Pro Football Focus doesn’t make their grades based off the box score, and they have Elliot going much higher than most:

Elliott is one of the prospects that we’ve been banging the table for here at PFF for quite some time. The reason is fairly obvious: no defensive tackle graded higher in the FBS last season. Also, no defensive tackle graded higher in SEC play last season. Considering the top-four on our defensive tackle rankings all come from the SEC, that’s no small feat. Elliott finished with grades of 91.1 in both run defense and as a pass-rusher.

PFF has Elliot ranked as the 21st overall prospect in this year’s draft, while some have him going as late as the fourth or fifth round, so who knows how long he will be available, but he could end up being a diamond in the rough. Despite the lack of stats, Elliot has the ideal size for the position and is extremely strong at the point of attack, making him difficult to move. He’s 315 pounds of athleticism, much like Javon Kinlaw, but scouts are going to have to decide if he was more of a one-year wonder or a player that is only beginning to figure out his game.

 

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