Lealao is a big (6-5, 317lb) interior lineman, who is equally comfortable as a 3-tech or lining up over the nose. The thing that intrigues me most about Lealao is his speed off the ball; given his size, he is strikingly quick off the snap. Look, for instance, at the 2016 Florida game (Q4, 11:47 is a good example) where he often leaves his teammates in the dust. He also flashes some pass rush ability – I was struck by the quickness of his hands, when he was able to shed the center and effect the sack in the 2016 Missouri game (Q1, 1:21). His motor, however, is inconsistent and too often on tape I see him play far too high and lose leverage. There are definitely traits that suggest that Lealao could have an NFL future but, in the 2017 season, there needs to be a bit more consistency and productivity. Nevertheless, I have seen enough to suggest that an NFL D-Line coach could be genuinely intrigued by what Lealao has to offer – as such, I think he could be an appealing prospect, midway through day three.
Joseph is a 6-4, 300lb defensive lineman who most often played, in a rotation, as conventional nose tackle in 2016. He was asked, much of time, to read the center and absorb double teams which didn’t really play to his strengths; too often, he failed to get his hands inside the center and keep his feet moving. As a result, there were too many times when he struggled to anchor or to generate much power. There were, however, moments where you saw what he could do in a more attacking scheme; in the Michigan game, for instance, (1Q, 10:32), I really liked the way he used a quick shake of the hips to fool the center into thinking he was attacking the A gap between C and LG, before exploding to his right to force De’Veon Smith to fumble. Apparently, Rutgers will be using a more attacking defensive front this year, which may well suit Joseph more. He hustles to the football and has a good motor – even when Rutgers were being pounded, there was little discernible drop off in Joseph’s effort. Question marks about his hand placement and ability to maintain leverage mean that I don’t quite have a draftable grade on Joseph at this point in time, but he is a player who may benefit, in 2017, from a scheme change that enables him to demonstrate more of his potential.
Senat is a short, squat, intense DT who lines up mostly as a 3-tech at USF. His power is obvious when he plays low to the ground; he can anchor really well against the run and uses his upper body strength to shed blocks and make plays. The caveat here, though, is “when he plays low to the ground”. Too often, I saw Senat neutralise his natural ability by rising up too far out of his stance and allowing the guard an easy route into his chest. He also needs to work on his explosiveness out of his stance – he is not the quickest off the ball. There are times when he can get skinny – if that’s not an absurd paradox for a 310lb DT – though a gap and disrupt a play and I like his ability to move smoothly down the line without moving backwards. As a pass rusher, however, he offers very little; he relies on a pretty limited bull rush and, as his stats of 1 sack in three years suggest, it seldom presents a guard or center with too much trouble. Senat will give you effort and tenacity against the run and is a very sound tackler for a defensive lineman. At the same time, however, he is not particularly impressive in terms of size and explosiveness and it is hard to see him being much more than a back-up in the NFL. I would see him as a Day 3 option.
There is nothing particularly fashionable about the way Lutulelei plays DT. You will never mistake him for an Aaron Donald or a Geno Atkins – he will never be a double digit sack guy. At the same time, though, there will always be a market for people who play DT the way Utah’s #93 does. Lutulelei consistently plugs gaps and eats up space and, for a team with athletic, playmaking LBs, that’s a very attractive skill-set. He is clearly very strong; it is almost comical how many times he seems to simply absorb double teams and it’s also worth pointing out that, in 2016, he was doing so with a shoulder injury. For a 6-2, 320 DT, he has an impressive array of successful pass rush moves; I have seen him use a swim, a rip and a bull rush with great effectiveness. He is not, however, a particularly impressive athlete, which means he will not always get home, despite his skill-set. Nevertheless, watching Lutulelei on tape, you are left with the impression that this is a player who will make a big impact on an NFL defensive line. Against the run, he can just bully guards and centers and can single-handedly ruin run plays. His relatively low ceiling as a pass rusher makes me reluctant to give him a first round grade but a lot of teams would, I suspect, be delighted to see him on the board somewhere in the second.
Gelen Robinson has excellent athletic bloodlines – he is the son of former NBA star Glenn Robinson, who himself excelled at Purdue. Gelen also has a strong wrestling background, which you can see in how he uses his hands and engages blockers. In 2016, he played as both an orthodox DE in a 4-3 and also as a five-tech DL. At 6-1, 280lb, he is a bit of a tweener, without quite enough size to hold up inside or the speed necessary to excel on the edge. He shows flashes against the run; he is a disciplined and physical defender with sound tackling technique. He also has a knack for the big play – see his interception return for a TD vs Eastern Kentucky and what proved to be a game-winning forced fumble in overtime vs Illinois. I don’t see much pass-rush potential, however; he has very limited repertoire of pass-rush moves and relies on his wrestling skills to throw off blockers. It doesn’t work with that much regularity in the Big 10 and I can’t see it being any more successful in the NFL. He lacks an explosive – or even vaguely quick – first step and he is not powerful enough to bull rush NFL defensive linemen. As such, it is hard to see where he would win in the NFL and, for this reason, I would see him primarily as an undrafted free agent.
The first thing you notice when you watch Payne is how explosive he is for a nose guard. His first step off the ball is really impressive and it’s one of the reasons that you so rarely see him going backwards – interior offensive linemen find themselves at an immediate disadvantage. He clearly understands his role in the defence and his gap integrity, particularly against mobile QBs, is impressive. He has very strong, violent hands, which enable him consistently to shed blocks and make plays on the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, he offers a little bit more than I expected for a nose guard, without ever suggesting that he could be dominant in this phase of the game; he’s a pretty good athlete, who can take advantage of some of the big, brawling but somewhat immobile interior linemen he encounters in the SEC. Payne has already put some excellent tape out there as a freshman and a sophomore and I’m looking forward to charting his progress as a junior. This could certainly be his last season in Tuscaloosa; he looks like a top 50 player at this point in time.
Hand was the crown jewel of the 2014 recruiting class, a 5* recruit who had schools across the country salivating over him. Going into his senior year at Alabama, however, it’s fair to say that the production has not matched the hype. His athleticism is easy to see on tape – he runs well and changes direction fluidly. Athleticism does not guarantee success on the defensive line, however, and it is also clear, going into his senior year, that Hand has a long way to go if he is to be a high draft pick. He has played both the 3 and the 5 technique at Alabama but, at 6-4, 280, he doesn’t have the size or strength to hold up inside and, as a 5 tech, he is pretty unsophisticated as a pass rusher; he’s not the quickest or most explosive, coming off the ball and he doesn’t seem to have too many arrows in his quiver as a pass rusher, relying primarily on a bull rush which I don’t think will cut it at the next level. I don’t see Hand as a prospect with much scheme versatility at the moment – he looks like an old-fashioned 4-3 DE to me – and he has a lot to do over the next year if he is going to develop into the first round cert that recruiting gurus predicted in 2014.