JACKSONVILLE – Defensive linemen can be found in this draft.
Listening to draft analysts, they will tell you that's true about any position in any draft – no matter the perception of a position in a particular year.
The key is finding the right player, one who will develop. And to hear analysts tell it, that absolutely will be necessary in the 2021 NFL Draft when it comes to finding a front-line defensive tackle in what is widely considered a weaker-than-usual draft at the position.
"It's probably one of the worst defensive tackle groups that we've had in the last decade," NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "It's just not very good. I think there's a good chance we don't see a defensive tackle go in the first round. So, it's not a great year for defensive tackle."
Perhaps the top defensive interior lineman in the '21 draft is Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore, who is projected by some as a Round 1 selection but whose collegiate inconsistency has some projecting him in Round 2. Levi Onwuzurike of Washington is projected by some as a late first-round selection, but he is more often projected in Round 2. Daviyon Nixon of Iowa also is considered an early Day 2 selection by many analysts.
"It's not great," NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks said of the defensive-tackle class. "You don't have many marquee names. It's really a grab bag in terms of who's on the inside. Barmore will be on top of the group. There are guys who are really good in their own right. There are really good players who can come in and start and maybe become better than you can expect. But you don't see any five-star players there."
HANDICAPPING THE JAGUARS
This has been an intriguing position for the Jaguars throughout this offseason and it remains a focus for Jaguars observers entering the draft. Improving the defensive line, and the run defense, was the top priority for Head Coach Urban Meyer and General Manager Trent Baalke entering the 2021 NFL League Year; the team addressed the area with players such as nose tackle Malcom Brown and linemen Roy Robertson-Harris and Jihad Ward. But the team also lost free-agent acquisition Tyson Alualu when the veteran opted to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Meyer said his expectation is the line will be among the top 25 percent of the NFL next season. Do the decision-makers believe they still need a young player or two at the position to reach that level? Can they find such a player in what many consider a weak area in this year's draft? Those questions could shape how the Jaguars approach the position early in the draft.
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
Christian Barmore, Alabama; Levi Onwuzurike, Washington.
BROOKS BREAKS DOWN THE CLASS
The 2021 defensive tackle class lacks depth, but there are plenty of intriguing options throughout the draft. Barmore is the headliner as a big, athletic interior rusher with A-plus pass-rush skills and a disruptive game. Onwuzurike is a disruptive playmaker with Mr. Miyagi-like hand skills and outstanding first-step quickness. As a high-energy player with athleticism and polish, he could outshine his counterparts at the position. UCLA's Osa Odighizuwa, Nixon, and Tufele are flashers with the potential to evolve into impact defenders in the right system. Florida State's Marvin Wilson is a talented interior defender with boom-or-bust potential as a top pick.
Alim McNeill, North Carolina State. It is rare for a defensive tackle to have previous experience at linebacker and running back, but McNeill is a 300-plus-pound freak athlete with heavy hands and ballerina-like feet. McNeill specializes in clogging lanes at the point of attack but flashes some pass-rushing skills as a heavyweight pocket pusher. McNeill's stout play at the line will disrupt running games and make him a hot commodity within league circles.
Barmore. The 6-feet-5, 310-pounder is disruptive at the line of scrimmage as an interior defender with active hands and a power-based game that puts blockers on their heels. Barmore's combination of strength and explosiveness enables him to single-handedly take over games when he brings his A-game. If he revs up the motor, there are few blockers with the capacity to neutralize him at the point of attack and that's a downright scary thought for opposing coaches.
POSITION RANKING: Nine of 10.
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN IN ROUND 1
So-so, with the major question in this year's draft being whether a defensive lineman worthy of the selection is available at No. 25 overall in Round 1.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ON THE JAGUARS ROSTER
Malcom Brown, Dawuane Smoot, Adam Gotsis, Jihad Ward, Doug Costin, Daniel Ekuale, Taven Bryan, DaVon Hamilton, Roy Robertson-Harris, Daniel Ross.