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Scouting the NFL Draft defensive linemen: Bosa leads promising crop

Chris Adamski
| Sunday, April 24, 2016, 8:21 p.m.

Every draft has positional strengths. Listen to any of the national draft experts, and it won't take long to identify what that is in 2016.

“This is the best interior defensive line I've seen maybe since I've started doing this,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.

“The list goes on and on with all these quality defensive tackles,” ESPN's Todd McShay said.

How long a list is it at the top of the draft? ESPN's Insider rankings, for example, rank 26 defensive linemen (including 15 tackles) among its top 93 players. That's 28 percent of the top players for positions that typically account for less than half that number of offensive and defensive man-snaps played per game.

Nfldraftscout.com projects seven to 13 defensive linemen will be taken in the first round, 16 to 18 in the first two rounds and 24 to 27 in the third round or later.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rates eight defensive linemen among his top 19 prospects and said, “I give 25 or 27 first- or second-round grades.”

“It's probably the best defensive line group I have ever seen in my nearly 40 years of doing this,” Kiper Jr. said.

The draft is so good at defensive line that it might hurt individual defensive linemen. Teams might wait to take one, figuring quality will be there later.

1. Joey Bosa

Ohio State, DE, 6-5, 269

Considered one of the safest picks in the draft, Bosa is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, who also were first-round picks. His body type is perfect for the pros, and he was productive and durable in college.

2. DeForest Buckner

Oregon, DE, 6-7, 291

Buckner arguably has more upside than Bosa, and he was more productive last season. Like Bosa, he has a reputation for playing with a “high motor.” Buckner fits best as an end in a 3-4 scheme.

3. Sheldon Rankins

Louisville, DT, 6-1, 299

Although Rankins is a bit undersized to play on the interior of an NFL defensive line, he's a powerful player prone for run-stuffing with deceptive quickness that suggests he can rush the passer. Explosive and versatile.

4. Shaq Lawson

Clemson, DE, 6-3, 269

Lawson almost can play any position in any style defense, from edge rusher in either a 3-4 or 4-3 to tackle. He had 12 12 sacks and 25 12 tackles for loss in helping Clemson to the national title game as a junior.

5. A'Shawn Robinson

Alabama, DT, 6-4, 307

A former five-star recruit who became a consensus All-American for the national champions, Robinson is a prototype in terms of size and skill. The run-stopping figures to come naturally, but will he become much of a pass-rusher?

6. Jarran Reed

Alabama, DT, 6-3, 307

ESPN Insider's profile for Reed gushes he is an “absolute beast versus the run. ... Simply put, he's the most dominant interior run stuffer in the 2016 class.” That has appeal, and even if the gaudy sack numbers aren't there, Reed has been disruptive on passing plays.

7. Noah Spence

Eastern Kentucky, DE, 6-2, 251

The red flag of being suspended by the Big Ten for repeated failed drug tests looms over a player who was dominant as a true sophomore for Ohio State in 2013. But on the field, he is a natural pass rusher.

8. Robert Nkemdiche

Mississippi, DT, 6-3, 294

Considered an NFL-caliber player from the time he was heavily recruited out of high school, Nkemdiche has faced questions about why he wasn't productive in college. Still, his talent alone is worthy of a top-five pick.

9. Kevin Dodd

Clemson, DE, 6-5, 277

Dodd zoomed up draft boards this past season, one he began with no college starting experience and one he ended with a sack in five consecutive games. He still is raw, but his ascension figures to continue.

10. Vernon Butler

Louisiana Tech, DT, 6-4, 323

Butler often draws comparisons to the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson. That's high praise, and it's also easy to see why. Butler turned heads at the Senior Bowl, alleviating any doubt about not playing at a big-time program.

Best fit for Steelers

Andrew Billings

Baylor, 6-1, 311

It's a testament to the depth of this group that Billings isn't on some top-10 lists because he is considered a first-round talent. Very strong with quick feet and surprising speed, Billings could replace Steve McLendon at tackle and also rotate in at end.

One to Watch

Austin Johnson

Penn State, 6-4, 314

Projected to edge end Carl Nassib as the first of three Penn State defensive linemen to be drafted, Johnson was durable, versatile and productive in college. He's viewed as a premier run-stopper.

Homegrown

Anthony Zettel

Penn State, 6-4, 277

Zettel added pounds and moved from end to tackle late in his college career. Although he lacks ideal size for an NFL defensive tackle or ideal length for an end, his playmaking resume and intangibles are enough that some team takes a chance on him.

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