June 24, 2021

Hub Arkush’s 2021 NFL draft positional preview: Interior defensive line

Over the past five seasons, defensive tackles have become significantly less valued in the NFL draft.

The outlier was 2019, when Quinnen Williams (No. 3 overall), Ed Oliver (9), Christian Wilkins (13), Dexter Lawrence (17), Jeffery Simmons (19) and Jerry Tillery (28) all went in the first round.

In 2016, there were four in the first round but only two in the top 28 picks. It was one first-rounder and two of the top 54 in 2017. There were three first-rounders in 2018, but the fourth didn’t go until the 57th pick. And there were two first-rounders and only four of the top 55 last year.

This year’s draft is likely to be more of the same. It wouldn’t be stunning if no more than four defensive tackles total go in the first three rounds.


1. Christian Barmore, Alabama (6–4, 310, Redshirt Sophomore)

Barmore showed signs of being a game wrecker in 2020 with 9½ tackles for loss and a team-leading eight sacks from the tackle position, and he was the defensive MVP of the national championship game. He plays with great explosion and initial quickness, and his hands and punch are to be feared. Barmore easily is the cream of this year’s crop.


2. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6-3, 290, Redshirt Senior)

He’s an excellent football player and could sneak into the back of the first round, but he’ll need to add at least 15 pounds or more in the weight room to hold his own at the next level. Onwuzurike opted out of the 2020 season but showed tremendous initial explosion and upper body power when on the field. A high Day 2 developmental project with a very high ceiling.

3. Tyler Shelvin, LSU (6-2, 350, Redshirt Junior)

Another 2020 opt out, he is absolutely massive and controlling his weight can be a problem, but he is a hard worker, plays with tremendous power and could develop into a two-gap stud. Even if weight and conditioning remain an issue, he could make a living at the next level just playing in goal-line and short-yardage situations.

4. Bobby Brown, Texas A&M (6-4, 321, Junior)

Brown has the size and athleticism to play either tackle spot in 30 or 40 fronts, although he would be limited as a three technique. And technique is where he’ll need the most work, but you can’t coach 6-4, 320. He can be a two-gapper but as of yet hasn’t been overly impressive pushing the pocket.

5. Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech (6-3, 284, Redshirt Junior)

A tough guy who plays with excellent strength and power, but his lack of bulk and mass make him hard to project for Sundays. He’ll battle you all day long, but without adding some bulk, he will get swallowed up by top NFL O-linemen.

6. Alim McNeill, North Carolina St. (6-2, 317, Junior)

McNeill is actually a good athlete for a big man, but he lacks any truly special traits and occasionally struggles to keep blockers off him. He looks like he could become a very good third or fourth tackle in a rotation for a 4-3 base scheme.


7. Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh (6-2, 301, Redshirt Junior)

Smaller than you’d like inside. He impressed at Pitt collapsing the pocket more than stuffing the run. Twyman plays with strength and power, but he needs to add at least 10 to 12 pounds in the weight room to envision him making an impact in the NFL.

8. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa (6-3, 313, Redshirt Junior)

Nixon looks like a kid who can rely on his base with a great anchor and lower body power, but he needs some time in the weight room to get stronger on top. As a penetrator and disruptor – ideally a three technique at the next level – he has some traits you really like, but he needs to become a more consistent finisher.

9. Jay Tufele, USC (6-2, 305, Redshirt Junior)

Another slightly undersized 4-3 three technique, this kid’s motor is nonstop, but he may not be as instinctive as you’d like.

10. Marvin Wilson, Florida St. (6-4, 303, Senior)

He was better as a junior than a senior, but if he adds 10 to 15 pounds of good weight and becomes more of a pass rusher than just a pocket collapser, he could be a late-round steal.

11. Marlon Tuipulotu, USC (6-2, 307, Redshirt Junior)

Like so many of this year’s group, he’s a little smaller than you’d like, but he’s a three-year starter for the Trojans who could make a living as some team’s third or fourth tackle.

12. Khyiris Tonga, BYU (6-2, 325, Senior)

Natural two-gappers who can anchor themselves on the nose have a place in the NFL these days.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media