theScore’s 2017 draft prospect rankings are compiled by NFL editor Dan Wilkins. Check back every Monday and Friday leading up to draft week for a new positional breakdown of top talents and potential sleepers.
|2||Malik McDowell||Michigan State|
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Allen’s best attribute is his versatility. At a time where scheme fit has become an increasingly important consideration for teams and their front seven players, the ability to contribute in any system makes him all the more valuable. The Alabama standout should be a three-down player as part of any defense. Whether it’s as a 4-3 tackle who can play the strong-side edge passing situations, or as a two-gapping five-technique in a 3-4, Allen will make his money on the interior. A strong base and the ability to stack and shed allows him to be stout against the run, while his lateral quickness, hand usage, and a combination of pass-rush moves make him similarly effective in getting after the quarterback. Barring some overly concerning medical reviews on his shoulder issues, Allen should be locked in as an early first-round pick.
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The only thing holding McDowell back from the No. 1 spot on this list is consistency. In terms of pure upside, he’s right there alongside some of the top defensive players in this draft overall. The question will be whether teams believe they can get the most out of his talent. McDowell is a freak athlete who flashed the ability to dominate his opponents and single-handedly take over games at Michigan State. He’s explosive off the ball, takes on double teams in the running game, wins with both quickness and power as an interior pass-rusher, and can even kick outside and bend the edge. That’s virtually unheard of for a 6-foot-6, 295-pound lineman. Considering the rumblings about effort, among other things, the pre-draft interview process would have been vital for McDowell. His ceiling will be one of the NFL’s best five-techniques, but the apparent concerns could also make his floor lower than teams would like.
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Wormley was a base edge defender at Michigan, and he could conceivably continue to see occasional reps as a strong-side end were he to end up in a 4-3 defense. Whether it’s initially only on passing downs, or in a full-time role, though, his potential on the interior is what gives him the greatest upside looking ahead to the NFL. The explosiveness, lateral quickness, and overall athleticism he put on tape was confirmed with some sensational workout numbers. The most notable of which was a 7.08-second score in the 3-cone, a drill that directly correlates to change-of-direction ability. Wormley has the length to hold his own as a two-gapping five-technique, and that quickness would be a nightmare for guards when he’s lined up inside for pass-rushing situations.
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An explosive, up-field penetrator, Brantley is a perfect fit as a three-technique defensive tackle at the professional level. Along with the clear athletic upside, further development of his pass-rush moves could result in far more NFL production than the 5.5 sacks he posted across three seasons at Florida. The true value in Brantley’s game, however, is the potential for a well-balanced game that comes with his strength against the run. Whether it’s making splash plays after knifing into the backfield, or anchoring at the line of scrimmage and shedding to his block, Brantley will also be a problem for opposing offenses looking to attack his side on the ground. An every-down player of his caliber shouldn’t last long in the second round.
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Aside from the ability to push the pocket, forecasting any sort of consistent pass-rush from Tomlinson would involve a projection. But the rest of his game still has him more than worthy of a Day 2 pick. The less-heralded of Alabama’s top talents on the defensive front, Tomlinson is a dominant run defender who can excel in either a one- or two-gap system. He uses outstanding strength and technique to control his opponent at the line, can locate the ball, shed, and make a play on the runner. Devalued as premium run defenders may seem in today’s NFL, there’s a reason players like Damon Harrison and Brandon Williams are breaking the bank when they have the opportunity to hit free agency. That may be the kind of interior presence a team is getting with Tomlinson.
Best of the rest
|10||Jarron Jones||Notre Dame|
- Larry Ogunjobi is an underrated prospect due largely to the fact that he played at Charlotte in the Conference USA. But make no mistake, he’s ready to play in the NFL. Explosiveness off the ball, effective hand usage, and lateral quickness make him a disruptive force on the interior. The fact that he lined up primarily over the center goes a long way toward explaining his 5.5 sacks in two seasons. The more telling stat, looking ahead to his fit as a three-technique, is an impressive 29 tackles for loss.
- Another player with questions about consistency, and thus effort, is Montravius Adams. Teams will have to be confident that they can get the best out of him, but anything close to his senior season is easily worth a mid-round pick. Adams showed off his athleticism, power, and big-play potential during a 2016 campaign where he racked up a career-best four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
- Carlos Watkins will need to improve upon his strength at the point of attack if he’s expected to contribute on early downs, but that’s not entirely necessary to establish a key role. There’s still plenty of value in situational rushers on the interior, and the athletic Clemson standout can provide just that from the outset of his pro career. Watkins exploded for 10.5 sacks while helping the Tigers to a national championship as a senior.
Grover Stewart, Albany State
As is the case with any small-school player, Stewart will be facing a significant challenge in making the jump to NFL competition. He’s raw and will thus be considered a project, but the power and better-than-expected athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 347-pound frame certainly provide some upside. That’s what late Day 3 picks should be all about. The buzz created following his pro day workout can be taken as a sign that teams will be eager to see what they can make of him at the next level.
Darius Hamilton, Rutgers
Knee issues, the latest of which involving February procedures to repair torn patella tendons in both knees, will presumably force Hamilton into undrafted free-agent territory. The promise he showed early in his Rutgers career should still generate some interest when that time comes, though. Hamilton racked up 10.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss from 2013-14 before a knee injury sidelined him for nearly all of the 2015 campaign. He was unable to recapture his previous level of play upon returning to the field this past season, but he clearly wasn’t at full strength. A low-risk sign-and-stash move could pay off if Hamilton returns to 100 percent down the line.
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