2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Defensive Tackles)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the first in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 project players at each position.

Part 1: Defensive Tackles.

Overview: While this year’s defensive tackle class may not be as deep as other positions, it still offers teams some solid options. Aaron Donald, Timmy Jernigan, Ra’Shede Hageman, Louis Nix III lead the way as potential first-round selections. The fast-rising Donald continues to climb draft boards with his impressive postseason. Like Donald, Jernigan is another three-technique option. The athletic Hageman is a player who can line up anywhere along the line, while Nix III, when healthy, is the classic run-stuffing nose tackle who can anchor a defense when healthy.

Outside of these four potential first-rounders, there are plenty of other who will be drafted in rounds two and beyond such as Kelcy Quarles, Dominique Easley, DaQuan Jones, and Will Sutton. Also, be sure to keep an eye on Ivy League star Caraun Reid. The breakdown:

1. Aaron Donald, 6-0 3/4, 285 lbs., Pittsburgh

Donald capped off his senior season by collecting the Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, and Outland awards while being named a unanimous All-American. Donald continued to impress in the offseason, rising up draft boards with impressive Senior Bowl and Combine performances. 

Strengths:  Often compares to Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Comes off the snap quickly and is an excellent finisher. Has very good upper body strength which is complemented by quick hands and smarts. Height gives him a leverage advantage.

Weaknesses: Lack of height. Can overrun a play with his aggressiveness.  

Projection: Most likely a mid-first rounder

2. Timmy Jernigan, 6-1 5/8, 299 lbs., Florida State

After starting only two games in 2012, Jernigan moved into the Seminoles' starting lineup in 2013. He finished his first full season as a starter by being named second-team All-American.

Strengths: Played defensive end as well as tackle. Strong against the run. Possesses good hands, feet and leverage. Has good inside quickness. Will only be 21 as a rookie.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal height. Could be quicker off the snap and does not change direction easily. Needs to improve stamina.

Projection: Likely a late first-rounder.

3. Ra’Shede Hageman, 6-5 7/8, 310 lbs., Minnesota

Hageman was third-team Associated Press All-American in 2013 in addition to being a first-team All-Big Ten team member.

Strengths: Has freakish athleticism with minimal body fat. Has good speed. Disrupts passing lanes with length.

Weaknesses: At times lacks a motor. Needs to improve upon counter moves and reduce exposing self. Had some off-the-field issues earlier in career. Has been labeled as a boom or bust pick.

Projection: Late first round

4. Louis Nix III, 6-2 3/8, 331 lbs., Notre Dame

Nix missed five games in 2013 due to a torn left meniscus. Still earned first-team All-Independent for third consecutive season. Opted to forego final year of eligibility.

Strengths: Moves very well for size. Often double-teamed. Quick off the snap and the ability to blow up plays and stuff the run. High-character player. Has been compared to Green Bay Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji.

Weaknesses: Needs to improve stamina, hand use and leverage. Coming off knee surgery.

Projection: Latter portion of first round.

5. Kelcy Quarles, 6-3 3/4, 297 lbs., South Carolina

Quarles earned second-team Associated Press All-American honors in 2013 as well as being named first-team All-SEC. Led the Gamecocks with 9.5 sacks last season (3rd in SEC).

Strengths: Can collapse a pocket. Has strong hands and a motor. Is a strong tackler. Can play end or tackle. High upside.

Weaknesses: Lacks top-end quickness. Could improve endurance and hand use. Single-blocked due Jadeveon Clowney drawing double teams.

Projection: Second or third round.

Others to Watch:  Dominque Easley, Florida; Ego Ferguson, LSU; Anthony Johnson, LSU; DaQuan Jones, Penn State; Will Sutton, Arizona State

Small School Sleeper:  Caraun Reid, Princeton

Next up: Defensive Ends

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.