NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Interior defenders

The Eagles are in the process of reloading on the defensive side of the ball. Philadelphia’s best players up front are also some of their oldest and a lot of resources in the 2022 NFL Draft could be used on refurbishing the defensive line. On the interior, the Eagles need an heir to Fletcher Cox’s legacy as a dominant defensive tackle. While hopes should be high for Milton Williams, there is a chance the team can dip into a wildly talented draft class for more difference makers. Here are the top six interior defenders in this year’s draft class.

PREVIOUS POSITION RANKINGS: Quarterback | Wide receiver | Running back | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line.

Jordan Davis, Georgia, 6’6”, 340 Pounds

What he does well: If you watched Georgia’s defense in 2021, the first thing you will notice is a giant in the middle of their defensive line raising hell for the offense. That is Jordan Davis. Davis is a generational athletic talent with a rare combination of size, movement skills, and strength. His talents were used at Georgia mostly to shut down the run and eat up space for his teammates. That he did, making UGA impossible to run up the middle on and drawing enough attention that his comrades on the defensive line always were singled up. Despite being massive, Davis is a rangy defender who has show impressive speed to chase down runs from the back side and impact outside zone plays. Once again, his role at Georgia had him operating in a phone booth, but he flashed the talent to be an even more dynamic defender.

Where he can improve: Much has been made about Davis’ “inability” to rush the passer. While Davis can certainly show more impact on passing downs, it has much less to do with ability and a lot more to do with projection in a different scheme. Davis’s responsibilities in the Georgia defense meant he was asked to be much more reactive than aggressive. The Bulldogs did not want the big man moving with a full head of steam upfield and potentially giving up inside zones. They wanted Davis taking up as much space as possible and allowing pressure to come from their speedy linebackers blitzing or their other defensive linemen. Davis has the ability to impact the game as a pass rusher and do it at a high level. It is just a question of how big the learning curve will be coming into a more aggressive scheme.

NFL Comparison: Haloti Ngata

Devonte Wyatt, Georgia, 6’2”, 304 Pounds

What he does well: Devonte Wyatt was a perfect running mate for Jordan Davis in the middle of the Georgia defense. Wyatt’s burst, excellent leverage and high motor made him hard to block one on one on passing downs.

Where he can improve: Wyatt rarely had to see double teams and struggled when he did. Wyatt’s motor is a great foundation for good play to come from, but he will need to improve at the point at the attack and anchor better against the run. Wyatt’s play style hinges so much on his first step and initiating contact with blockers. If he loses off the snap, he will lose the snap.

NFL Comparison: Maliek Collins

DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M, 6’4”, 290 Pounds

What he does well: DeMarvin Leal was highly productive as a pass rusher in 2021 due to his advanced technique, his high motor and great playing strength. DeMarvin Leal’s athletic profile had the Aggies using him on the edge and rushing from the interior. His quickness and strength was overwhelming for interior defenders and his physicality allowed him to win against college tackles.

Where he can improve: DeMarvin Leal right now is caught in-between positions. He lacks the bulk of prototypical defensive tackles and isn’t quite athletic enough to be a dynamic, full time end. He best projects as a defensive chess piece that can win head up on offensive tackles and slide inside on obvious passing downs. Poor athletic testing causes concern, but his disruption on tape should assuage fears he can’t be a difference maker.

NFL Comparison: Malik Jackson

Travis Jones, UConn, 6’4”, 325 Pounds

What he does well: Jones was by far the best athlete on the Connecticut football team and the coaches deployed him in every way possible to maximize his athletic ability. He has impressive movement for a bigger interior defender and flashes dominance rushing the passer. Against the run, his natural strength and long arms prevent him from getting bullied at the point of attack and he can plug up the entire interior.

Where he can improve: Jones’ usage also meant he was not able to master the skills at any given alignment and often relied on his athletic gifts to win on any given snap. His height works against him in terms of pad level and he can be quicker to react at the snap. Better coaching and a more defined role in the NFL will maximize Jones’ talent.

NFL Comparison: Muhammed Wilkerson

Perrion Winfrey, Oklahoma, 6’3” 290 Pounds

What he does well: Perrion Winfrey was an explosive, disruptive presence in the Oklahoma defense. He has the speed and burst to blow through blocks and the strength to anchor against them. His long arms allow him to dictate contact at the line of scrimmage and control opposing blockers.

Where he can improve: Winfrey’s frame suggests he has even more room to add size and strength, which is an exciting prospect. He could play with more aggression on snap to snap instead of allowing blockers to initiate contact with him. Winfrey did not show much range at Oklahoma and seems most comfortable playing in tight spaces.

NFL Comparison: Nick Fairley

Phidarian Mathis, Alabama, 6’4”, 310 Pounds

What he does well: Phidarian Mathis is a bully on the defensive line. His huge frame and long, strong arms get put to work on every snap. His effort, intensity and physicality make him a load to handle on any given snap. He is technically sound and very consistent. Mathis is a plus run defender whose motor creates opportunities for production on passing downs.

Where he can improve: Mathis has great size, but lacks the movement skills of a top end defender. He will thrive as a base end and interior defender, but is more of a great complementary piece in a defensive line than a lead difference maker.

NFL Comparison: DaQuan Jones