Previewing the 2019 NFL Combine: Studs, starters & sleepers at Defensive Tackle

Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (92) smiles prior to the game against the Clemson Tigers during the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is now less than two weeks away and is taking a daily look at the top prospects at each position to help get you up to speed quickly.

Each day, a different position will be profiled and given a grade with three individual players featured:

· A First Round Prototype

· Second Day (Future) Starter

· Third Day Sleeper

Senior Analysts Rob Rang and Ric Serritella have nearly 40 years of combined experience professionally evaluating prospects for the NFL and after a year spent visiting campuses, watching tape, attending games, all-star practices and Combine training facilities, they have not surprisingly developed some favorites in this talented 2019 draft class.

Hundreds of their scouting reports are being printed for Lindy’s NFL Draft magazine right now (RESERVE YOUR COPY HERE) with a snapshot of each position and some of their favorite players to watch available complimentary of below.


Given their incredible size and power, perhaps it is appropriate that defensive tackles are the strongest position in the 2019 NFL draft, offering rare top-end talent, plenty of middle round sleepers who will “surprise” to become NFL starters and even some intriguing late projects.

Entering the 2018 season, Houston’s Ed Oliver was the big name but his stock has slid for some amid questions of just how “big” he really is (expect something close to 6-2, 275 pounds) and how “big” of a deal to make his well-documented sideline spat with his then-head coach Major Applewhite.

Meanwhile, an even bigger star was emerging in Tuscaloosa, where Quinnen Williams simply became the best player in college football, flashing the combination of raw power, athleticism and still-untapped potential that could make him the No. 1 overall pick.

Of course, if size is what NFL clubs are looking for, this position group has loads of options, including massive Clemson run-stuffer Dexter Lawrence and Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, whose height and wingspan might just make him the most imposing player in the 2019 NFL draft. Teams needing a run-stuffing force could find bargains on Day Three with Florida State’s Demarcus Christmas, Washington’s Greg Gaines or Texas A&M’s Daylon Mack.

Perhaps the most fun element of this year’s defensive tackle class is the number of legitimate sleeper candidates. Teams willing to roll the dice on gifted prospects who perhaps need a little fine-tuning could be handsomely rewarded with a gamble on UCF’s Trysten Hill, Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders or even former top recruit Byron Cowart, who to the dismay of some Auburn fans, resurrected his career at Maryland and likely will hear his name called in the NFL draft.

Grade: A

A First Round Prototype: Quinnen Williams, Alabama

With all due respect to quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray (among others), Williams was the best player in college football in 2018. Teams will have to weigh the fact that he enjoyed just one dominant season before making the jump to the NFL but Williams' combination of size, quickness and power suggest he is on his way towards future Pro Bowls rather than proving a fluke. There are few interior defensive linemen who dominated the competition as consistently and completely as Williams in 2018. Former No. 2 overall pick (2010) and five-time Pro Bowler Ndamukong Suh is perhaps the best “recent” example of a player who simply toyed with opponents in the same fashion as Williams in 2018, perhaps why he’s held fast to the No. 1 overall pick in my updated mock draft.

Second Day (Future) Starter: Trysten Hill, Central Florida

Boasting a combination of leverage and explosiveness that reminds me of a young Jurrell Casey at Southern California, Hill has been grossly underrated in some scouting circles but don’t expect that to last much longer. Hill's untraditional build and fall from grace at UCF contributed to his largely being overshadowed in this year's spectacular defensive line class but his talent is obvious once you watch the tape. Explosiveness like Hill's won't go unnoticed by scouts, however, with a Day Two pick possible (and perhaps likely) if he can convince teams that he possesses the maturity to take full advantage of his talent.

Third Day Sleeper: Dontavius Russell, Auburn

Sleeper doesn’t necessarily mean small school or anonymous players. While overshadowed by splashier talents, Russell proved to be Mr. Reliable at Auburn, starting 49 of a possible 52 games over his career and even opting to compete at the Senior Bowl. He isn't going to wow anyone with his agility as a pass rusher - recording just six sacks over his career - but he's a steady run-stuffing presence whose size and strength will appeal to 4-3 and 3-4 disciples, alike and I love his effort in lateral and downfield pursuit. Pro-ready out of the box, Russell should be able to mix into the rotation as a rookie. Better yet, given all of the talent on the defensive line in this draft, his blue collar (rather than blue chip) game likely will have him still on the board well into Day Three, making Russell a potentially terrific value.