Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (October 30, 2015)

Vernon Butler – © USA TODAY Sports Images

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New York Giants 2016 NFL Draft Preview: Defensive Tackles

by Contributor Sy’56

*These rankings and grades are based somewhat on NYG schemes and perspective.


NYG found at real fast how thin they were at DT last year when Johnathan Hankins went down with a with a pectoral injury in early November. They finished 24th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game and it wasn’t only because teams ran on them a lot carry-wise. They were also last in the league against the pass. This group has really struggled to both hold the point of attack and rush the passer. Cullen Jenkins registered 3 sacks but he was a hybrid and won’t be back. Markus Kuhn recorded 0.5 sack and has since signed with NE. Nikita Whitlock had 1 sack and will be on the roster bubble if he doesn’t make it as the team’s fullback. All that means it is possible none of the returning DTs registered a single sack combined in 2015. The signing of Damon Harrison is a huge help, but that is just a start. Once again, this group is one injury away from contending with the league’s worst interior defensive linemen group.


1 – DEFOREST BUCKNER – 6’7/291 – OREGON: 87

Fourth year senior and three year starter. 2015 Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year. First Team All American. Elite frame with functional strength and movement. Very bendy for a player his size. Plays a low pad level game with active hands and quick feet. Versatile threat that can pose as a matchup problem across the line. Developed skill set after he engages with the blocker. Shows range as he attacks the action across the line. Lacks the power from his legs to consistently hold ground against double teams. Can be beat by straight ahead power blockers.

*A few months ago I said if there was any shot to get this kid on NYG’s roster they had to take it (unless Jack or Ramsey was there too). After the grading process was completed, I can say I still feel the same way. I think Buckner is a game changer for any defense he plays for. He is a nightmare for opposing offensive lines to try and match up. He has the traits and skills to be a dominant interior pass rusher but also proved for three years in a row that he can be big time presence against the run. We are talking about a rare tool set here. He may not be the best assignment-based defender and the scheme up front may need to be tweaked a little, but this is potentially a rare prospect.

Upside Pro Comparison: Calais Campbell/ARI


Fourth year senior. All Conference USA performer in 2015. Butler has all the ability to go with a tenacious style of play to be a dominating force in the NFL. He has easy and natural size and power with surprising ability to move. Butler can pursue hard laterally and make plays away from the line of scrimmage, but also will control the inside gaps with his overwhelming power presence. Butler can get consistent movement on interior blockers and he knows how to finish. His upside is as high as any defensive tackle in this class. He fits in to multiple schemes as a starter right away.

*I have Butler higher than anyone I see out there and I am fine with that. I’ve seen this kid so much and I can’t deter myself from considering him an immediate starter and every down threat. At the Senior Bowl people were in awe when seeing hiw easy it was for him to pursue to the sideline at his size. And that isn’t even his greatest strength. Butler can overwhelm a blocker at the point of attack, he doesn’t get pushed back, and he has NFL-caliber technique when it comes to getting off linemen. His crafty and talented, always hustling. Butler is a much better pass rusher than you probably think too. If NYG could somehow get him in round 2… about value. NYG fans, I think this kid’s FLOOR is Linval Joseph.

Upside Pro Comparison: Marcell Dareus/BUF

3 – JARRAN REED – 6’3/307 – ALABAMA: 82

Fourth year senior that spent two years at Alabama after two seasons in Junior College. Led the Alabama defensive line in tackles in both of his seasons with the Crimson Tide. Reed is a violent run defender that consistently wins off the snap with is strong upper body and flexible lower half. He is a gritty, blue collar type that may lack standout physical attributes but can make an impact in the right role. Reed is a fit for any kind of scheme because of his versatile skill set. He is very well developed player from both a physical and mechanical perspective. His attributes are NFL ready right now.

*Another day one starter here that can factor on every down. Reed is really big and really active. He isn’t guy that will just stay home and eat up space. If he is single teamed he will get free and pursue hard. Reed stole the show at the Senior Bowl, as some told me he was the best OL/DL there by a good margin. I think he is one of the safest prospects in the draft. He may not offer top tier pass rush but he is serviceable enough there for sure.

Upside Pro Comparison: Star Lotulelei/CAR


Fourth year senior. Broke out in his first year as a starter in 2014 with 8 sacks and 13.5 TFL. Added another 6 sacks and 12 TFL in 2015. Compact, hard to touch bull that can consistently win off the snap with his first step and ability to change his path right at the last second. Crafty and advanced hand work. Very far along technique wise. Smart player that will diagnose right away and alter his body position in a way that makes it almost impossible for a blocker to lock on. Quickness, power, and functional strength. Smaller than most prospects at the position with a maxed out frame. Won’t hold ground against double teams. May not be an every down threat.

*Because of the emergence of Aaron Donald, Rankins has become a favorite for a lot of people. Nobody liked Donald as much as I did in 2014 and Rankins does have some similarities, but I don’t think he is quite on that level. Rankins is tough to touch, let alone block. But he didn’t live in the backfield like Donald did in college. But enough with the negatives, I really think Rankins can be a good player. He shows such quick feet and easy change of direction and combining that with the low center of gravity makes him a nightmare for big, tired blockers. He may not be the every down threat but at the very least I think he can be a very good pass rush presence.

Upside Pro Comparison: Mike Daniels/GB

5 – KENNY CLARK – 6’3/314 – UCLA: 81

Junior entry. First Team all Pac 12. Very productive and active interior defender that shows the ability to beat blockers in a variety of ways. Clark shows an elite combination of power and quickness. He has some freakish type traits and shows the potential to be an all around playmaker. His ability to bend, punch, shed and finish is sought after by every scheme in the league. He can fit in multiple roles. Clark showed inconsistencies and may have had a conditioning issue. He did not always play to his talent level, so there may need to be some additional background checking here. At his best, Clark is a dominant defender. However he showed on several occasions to be a guy that completely disappears. Risky, high ceiling/low floor player.

*If you caught Clark on the right week, you would have walked away with the notion that he was the top DT in the class. He shows those kind of flashes. He can be very stout and powerful with a first step quick enough to blow by blockers before that look up. He might be the best bull rusher in the class. There is some well developed technique and awareness here as well. Clark really is a complete package player but you just wish he was a little more consistent. I’d take a chance on him for sure.

Upside Pro Comparison: Ahtyba Rubin/SEA

6 – JONATHAN BULLARD – 6’4/285 – FLORIDA: 80

Fourth year senior that came to Florida with big expectations. Has been back and forth between defensive end and tackle, finoishing his career as a 3rd Team All American and 1st Team all SEC. Has tree trunk legs with long arms, big heavy hands. Does a nice job of anticipating and reacting to the snap, firing out nice and low. Wins the leverage battle consistently. More stout than you think even though that isn’t his game. May be too much of a tweener for some schemes but has the potential to be a matchup nightmare.

*You can call Bullard a DE or DT and I wouldn’t argue against you. I graded him out at both spots and he received very similar grades, which is actually kind of rare. Bullard can be a very good player in the right role but at the same time, he could be a weak link in the wrong one. He isn’t a universal defender. So if you draft this guy you have to have a specific plan for him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Cory Redding/ARI

7 – ANDREW BILLINGS – 6’0/311 – BAYLOR: 78

Junior entry. 2015 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Record setting weightlifter with rare strength and power. There are strong players, then there is Billings. Billings has elite, and more importantly functional, power in the trenches that shows up on a weekly basis. He can be a rock in the middle of any defense. He has shown playmaking ability in addition, as he is not just a stay at home space eater. Billings has an interesting tool set and uses his natural leverage advantage as an extra weapon. His low center of gravity and quick strength can give him a constant initial advantage at the point of attack. He can fit in to any scheme because of his versatility and rare combination of tools and skills.

*If I am a 3-4 team looking for a fresh NT, Billings may be a top 25 overall player on my board. Within the NYG scheme, he can still be a dangerous player but not nearly as effective. At his worst, Billings could be a run stuffer that keeps the LBs clean and running free. At his best, Billings can be a first and second down threat that will make plenty of plays inside the tackle box. I’m not sure I see the pass rush potential though.

Upside Pro Comparison: Steve McClendon/NYJ

8 – ROBERT NKEMDICHE – 6’3/294 – OLE MISS: 78

Junior entry. Two time Second Team All American. Was the number one high school recruit in 2013. Incredibly versatile athlete that rushed and received touchdowns for the Rebels in 2015. Nkemdiche was moved all over the defense because of his rare tool set. He can exploit any kind of blocker’s weaknesses because of his rare combination of power, size, and quickness. Nkemdiche can fit in to any scheme. His pop at the point of attack can control the blocker and his phone-booth athleticism can be hard for an opponent to control. Talent wise Nkemdiche is as good as it gets. He was suspended at the end of his 2015 season for marijuana possession and has some other off-field concerns that need extra investigating. He has elite talent but the questions off the field are something to note.

*There may not be a prospect that has been talked about more than Nkemdiche. I still think there is an outside shot this kid pops in to the top 15 overall. If he was completely clean off the field, he’d be in there for sure. His talent is undeniable and when it really turns it on, he can’t be stopped by anyone and I mean it. There is tremendous risk associated with him and that well documented. More than anything, people I know say he is simply “weird”. Like he is just in a different world. I keep hearing this guy is seriously messed up. But drug wise he has been relatively clean. If you want to kill him for pot, then you are gonna have to kill Bosa too. You can’t pick and choose there. From what I do know about this kid, I downgraded him a little (not a crazy amount) because of off field issues but he is still a top 50 player at worst. Again if he is there in round 2, he has to be talked about. Round 3, might as well go for it.

Upside Pro Comparison: Darnell Dockett/UFA

9 – ASHAWN ROBINSON – 6’4/307 – ALABAMA: 76

Junior entry. Consensus All American. An immediate contributor to any scheme, Robinson has shown NFL-ready ability for a couple years now. His size and power will make him a weapon against the run right away. Robinson shows the ability to anchor himself in to the ground against single and double teams alike. He can be a guy does the dirty work to keep linebackers clean and roaming. Besides that, Robinson has always been an inconsistent playmaker. His effort after engagement is very hot and cold. He has a high floor because he will always be a power presence inside, but his upside beyond that is very questionable.

*Robinson receives some extra love and attention because of the program he went to and his “look”, in addition to the fact he was top tier HS recruit. If Bama’ supporters are being honest, they will tell you his career was on the disappointing side. There are tools to be worked with however and he has the physical presence to factor in to a lineup right away. He can eat space and hold his ground. In addition he will occasionally show the ability to make plays far away from the point of attack. At his size it makes you think there is a lot of upside here.

Upside Pro Comparison: Arthur Jones/IND

10 – DJ READER – 6’3/327 – CLEMSON: 76

Fourth year senior that was in and out of the starting lineup until being a full time starter in 2015. Also lettered in baseball for the Tigers. An absolute bully inside with the strength and presence to hold his ground against anyone. Will make a lot of plays within the inside gaps, finishes hard and violent. Will show the ability to bull rush consistently. Good presser with tremendous use of leverage and lower body pop. May be limited when it comes to his versatility and capability of different roles. Lacks the true pass rush skill set and tires easily. First and second down run plug type.

*This kid has some rare ability. Some see him as a late rounder that only fits in to the 3-4 NT role, but he is someone I would take a chance on day 2. He has all the the size and strength you want, nobody can question that. But Reader was a power hitting right fielder for the Tigers that also threw 90+ when on the mound. I think there is some freak in him that goes unnoticed. Reader could be a terror in the league and I think his upside rivals a lot of guys ahead of him on this list.

Upside Pro Comparison: Vince Wilfork/HOU


Junior entry. Came out of high school as one of the top recruits in the nation. Jones never quite showed every down type dominance but he has the potential to be a dominant run defender in the NFL. His natural tools are there and his surprising jump off the snap and easy knee bend make him a very tough guy to move. He is a dirty work type player that will keep linebackers clean and own the inside gaps. Jones showed versatility as well, playing outside in some 3-4 looks. His ability is there. The hope with him will be that he develops the skills and finer aspects of the position in time. High ceiling player.

*Another high ceiling, big framed player that could handle the physical side of the game right away. Jones is a maddening prospect because he has stretches where he looks like a legit top 20 overall guy. Big, physical, athletic. Then he takes a few series’ off and will get pushed back 4-5 yards on straight ahead running plays. Jones isn’t the cleanest guy off the field either. If a team is confident they can keep him on the right track, he’s worth going after on day 2.

Upside Pro Comparison: Desmond Bryant/CLE


Fifth year senior and three year starter. Ended up 1st Team All ACC in 2015. Very low to the ground, well-built fire hydrant with tremendous lower body strength. Quick enough feet to get off his blocks and keep himself free. Strong enough to anchor himself in to the ground against the double team. Has plus athletic ability for the position but will fight an uphill battle in the NFL. Lacks the natural size and girth. Doesn’t explode off the snap and does most of his work after initial engagement. Can be overwhelmed. Not a fit for everyone, needs a specific role.

*I have a very high grade on Wujciak compared to what is out there. He lacks true talent and size, this it will be an uphill fight for him. But when you watch Kyle Williams from BUF, I can see how Wujciak could make it in the league. The more you watch, the more you appreciate what he can do inside the trenches. He is a blue collar guy that can surprise you with his down to down consistency. Limited upside, sure. But I think you can trust a guy like this.

Upside Pro Comparison: Kyle Williams/BUF

13 – MATT IOANNIDIS – 6’3/299 – TEMPLE: 75

Three year starter that was the unquestioned leader of the Temple defensive line. Wore a single digit number, reserved for the toughest guys on the team according to coaches. Ioannidis is a blue collar defender that works best against the run. He lacks the ideal length but his staying power and ability to keep linebackers clean are traits always in demand. He’s a guy that you won’t hear much about but he can contribute as a quality backup. He shows some scheme versatility as well, as 3-4 teams looking for an can like him.

*The question here is does Ioannidis fit in to the 4-3 scheme? It can be questioned. I don’t think this kid’s frame is maxed out at all. He has room for growth. Ioannidis is another guy you have to watch over and over again to truly appreciate what he can do. He is a vey consistent, steady presence inside that will eventually make his way to the ball. He can be an active guy that is best suited for that #3 DT role.

Upside Pro Comparison: Tom Johnson/MIN

14 – MALIEK COLLINS – 6’2/311 – NEBRASKA: 74

Junior entry. Team captain with consistent intangibles and approach. Speed rusher with the ability to wreck havoc at the point of attack. Needs technique work awareness improvement after the snap. Collins has the speed and explosion to cause problems inside but his ineffectiveness against his toughest competition stand out on tape. He needs to learn how to depend on his head as much as he can depend on his legs. Success in the NFL trenches has a lot more to do with speed off the snap.

*A lot of people like this guy as one of the top pass rushers up the middle in the draft. He can definitely get out of his stance well and make the blocker adjust. He has the talent to be a factor on passing downs for sure. He really disappears though and I think he could disappoint you if you are coming in with high expectations. I am comfortable with this kid on the bench while you try to develop his technique as a pass rusher, but I wouldn’t want to bank on him.

Upside Pro Comparison: Nick Fairley/NO


Fourth year senior and three year starter. Made a couple All American teams in 2015. Started off at DE but was moved inside in 2014 which was a smart decision. Has the frame you want to work with and showed flashes of being a dominant inside defender. Very heavy hands and easy flexibility in his lower half. Controls single blockers and can get off his man to make plays within the tackle box. Struggles against the double team though. Needs more consistent technique and awareness. Lacks the NFL-ready mechanics. Has some off field issues that likely hampered his progression.

*Washington has the look of a guy that can really play. If you catch him on the right week he looks like a first rounder. Very strong and powerful. When he gets a clean look at a ball carrier he can obliterate them. Washington isn’t a very good dirty work kind of guy though. He seems uninterested at times when it comes to mechanics and anchoring himself against double teams. He has the upside of a good pass rusher if he can clean his technique up. Washington was also suspended for his last game for being arrested and had a couple of other minor issues with discipline at OSU. Upside is there.

Upside Pro Comparison: Al Woods/TEN

THE REST (16-25)

16 – ADAM GOTSIS – 6’4/287 – GEORGIA TECH: 74
17 – JOEL HEATH – 6’5/293 – MICHIGAN STATE: 72
18 – ANTHONY ZETTEL – 6’4/277 – PENN STATE: 72
19 – SHELDON DAY – 6’2/293 – NOTRE DAME: 72
21 – ANTWAUN WOODS – 6’0/318 – USC: 71
22 – WILLIE HENRY – 6’3/303 – MICHIGAN: 71
23 – ANTHONY JOHNSON: 6’4/313 – PENN STATE: 71
25 – DARIUS LATHAM – 6’4/311 – INDIANA: 69


The closer we get to the draft, the more I think there is going to be urgency in that war room to bring in a pass rusher. One could say the DE group is good enough in that department, although I wouldn’t fully agree. But I don’t think anyone can make the argument that this DT group is gonna get to the passer a lot. While it may not be priority A for this scheme, it is still obvious this group needs another guy inside that can get the job done. Harrison and Hankins are a solid 1-2 punch. Bromley has had a couple nice plays over his two years and he looks like he’s gotten stronger and more powerful. But there is so much talent in the Draft group, it’s hard to pass on them especially considering there will be big values available days 2 and 3. You can have the approach of trying to bring in a potentially “special” talent in Butler, Clark, Rankins, even Nkemdiche. Or look to add another “serviceable”, rotational type in the later rounds like anyone of the guys ranked from 10+. I think this is a high priority position for the draft and fortunately its probably the deepest group of the class.