In 2019, there were 11 defensive linemen taken in the first round. In 2020, there were 10 total taken in the first 2 rounds. In 2021, we expect this draft to have even less defensive lineman drafted in the first 2 rounds. That’s not to say there isn’t a lack of talent, just the majority of the defensive tackles are on the younger side and haven’t fully proved themselves specifically with defensive tackles this year.
#1: Christian Barmore – Alabama
Barmore enters this draft as the #1 ranked defensive tackle available. Despite this being a weaker class, Barmore should be a respectable opening day starter. Barmore is incredibly fast for a defensive lineman of his size and uses that to his advantage with his explosive 1-2 punch off the snap that allowed him to garner an impressive 6 sacks. Barmore will be a force to be reckoned with for opposing quarterbacks and can show why he is deserving of a 1st round pick.
#2: Daviyon Nixon – Iowa
The junior transfer came out of nowhere from very little playing time to being a star for the Hawkeyes defense. Nixon doesn’t have the experience that other candidates on this list may have, but he is an agile player that can get around most blocks with ease. He is a little bit on the smaller side but that hasn’t stopped him from adapting to make a play when needed. Nixon is one of the top interior lineman in this draft for a reason and he will look to continue to prove doubters wrong for overlooking him earlier in his playing career.
#3: Levi Onwuzurike – Washington
A 4-star recruit out of highschool, Onwuzurike became a 2019 Pac-12 all-first team member thanks to his physicality and power. He is able to get a step ahead from the competition early and just needs to work on maintaining his leg up. Despite opting out of the 2020 season, Onwuzurike’s impressive 2019 campaign puts him atop the defensive tackles in this draft class. If Onwuzurike played in 2020, we would expect him to continue to improve and be higher on this list, but with Barmore and Nixon showing promise, Onwuzurike fell to the #3 rank in this list. We expect him to be a starter off the bat for a team lucky enough to snag him late in the 1st round or early in the 2nd and be effective early on in his professional career even after sitting out for a year.
#4: Alim McNeill – NC State
A former linebacker turned into a defensive tackle, McNeill only has 3 years of experience at the position and is already one of the top defensive tackle prospects in this draft class. McNeill showed his playmaking abilities at his new position by being one of the best run-stuffers in all of college football. McNeill is a great bargain pick up with a very high ceiling and so much potential. If he can improve his pass rushing capabilities, he would make an excellent versatile player in the big leagues.
#5: Marvin Wilson – Florida State
Florida State has a reputation for providing superior defensive players in the NFL. Wilson might not live up to the reputation that other defensive stars have had before him, but he should be a quality starter with a pro-bowl upside with a few tweaks to his game. Wilson has the ideal frame for an interior lineman which makes it tough for any running backs to get through him. However, Wilson lacks speed to get to the quarterback and often will get beat if he is too far away. The good thing for Wilson is the aspects of his game that need improved are skill-based rather than size based which is something he could work on in the early stages of his career.