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NFL Draft Notebook: Defensive Tackle

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The 2021 NFL Draft is coming, and the Buffalo Bills will be looking to add pieces that can push them over the top in the 2021 season. Each week, I will break down a different defensive position group, with some players that the Bills should target in the draft, and why they would be a potential fit. Today, let’s examine the defensive tackle position.

Defensive tackle is one of the most important positions in today’s NFL. The game is evolving, but one thing that’s never changed is that football games are won at the line of scrimmage. The Super Bowl was a great reminder that a dominant defensive line is still one of the most important weapons an NFL team can have. Defensive tackles that provide some pass-rush ability are in high demand, and the Bills should be looking to upgrade their pass rush up the middle. 

This defensive tackle draft class isn’t especially deep, and the guys at the top aren’t quite to the Aaron Donald/Ndamukong Suh level. Still, as in every draft, there are some talented guys to be had.

Here are three defensive tackles the Bills should consider:

Daviyon Nixon, Iowa (6’3″, 305 lbs.)

Nixon likely won’t be the first defensive tackle taken, but I believe he’s the best DT in this class. The former Community College lineman transferred to Iowa where he played two seasons. In 2020, Nixon was an All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He tied for the league lead in sacks…as a defensive tackle. Impressive. 

Nixon is strong against the run and holds up well at the point of attack. He’s quick and explosive off the ball, and he lives in his opponent’s backfields. He should be a three-down defender in the NFL because of his ability to play both the run and the pass. He’s consistent, explosive, and athletic. To get a sense of the athlete Nixon is, watch this pick-six against Penn State. After making a great defensive play, he outruns the Nittany Lions team to the end zone. A 300 lb. man isn’t supposed to move like this. 

Nixon should be available at #30. If the Bills decide to trade down to a team looking to get back into the first round, they may even be able land Nixon in the first part of the second round. He’s being projected in the middle of the second round right now, but if he explodes at the combine (which is a serious possibility), he will shoot up the draft boards. 

Christian Barmore, Alabama (6’5″, 310 lbs.)

Barmore is most likely going to be the first defensive tackle taken in the 2021 draft. He’s a big, penetrating, extremely talented pass-rushing tackle. Barmore absolutely destroyed the Ohio State Buckeyes star-studded offensive line in the national championship game. He was a one-man wrecking crew up front all night. 

Barmore will almost certainly be a first-round pick, and he might not last to the Bills at #30. There’s a long way to go, though, and after pro days and the Combine (if there is one), it’s possible Barmore drops. The knock against him is his consistency and work ethic. He has a tendency to take plays off. When he’s locked in, as he was against Ohio State, there isn’t a more disruptive force in college football. I still prefer Nixon over Barmore just slightly because of Nixon’s consistency and motor, but if Barmore is available at #30, the Bills had better think long and hard before passing on a talent of his caliber. 

Levi Onwuzurike, Washington (6’3″, 293 lbs.)

Onwuzurike is a guy that I expect to rise up boards as the draft gets closer. He sat out the 2020 season after an All-Pac 12 performance in 2019. As with many prospects who sat out this past season, they were forgotten a bit and saw their draft stock slip. Then Onwuzurike showed up in the Senior Bowl and was dominant in the practices leading up to the game. The buzz is alive and well with him again. 

He’s a bit undersized for a 3-tech, but he offsets it with a quick first step and good initial burst. He’s still developing as a player, but his skill set is enticing. He’s athletic and moves extremely well for a big man. In addition to his athleticism, he’s also very long and rangy and looks more like a defensive end than a tackle. I expect Onwuzurike’s physical gifts will be on full display leading up to the draft and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him end up in the back half of the first round. My gut tells me he’ll end up a late first or early second-round pick, which puts him right in Buffalo’s range. If you’re looking for a solid player that needs some polish but has great physical tools, Onwuzurike just might be your guy.

Here’s some highlights from his 2019 season. It doesn’t take long to see his athleticism jump off the screen. 

The Hidden Gem:

Jerome Johnson, Indiana (6’3″, 305 lbs.)

If you’re looking for a guy that the Bills could pick on Day 3, look no further than Jerome Johnson from Indiana. The Mississippi native has a great story. He had no Division I offers until Indiana defensive coordinator, Tom Allen, happened upon him while recruiting some other players in the area. Allen had previously worked for Ole Miss and connections in Johnson’s hometown. Later in 2016, Allen would take over for Kevin Wilson as Indiana’s head coach. The little known recruit that no one wanted grew into an All-Big Ten first-team selection this past season.

Johnson was one of the better defensive linemen in the Big Ten this past season. He played a great game against Ohio State’s strong offensive line. Johnson is a guy who plays with a good motor and holds his ground well. He’s strong against the run and isn’t easily moved. He’s not a dominant pass rusher, but he did record four sacks in 10 games in 2020. Johnson looks like a prospect that you could probably get in the fifth round but could end up a starter at defensive tackle in a couple of years.

What do you think, #BillsMafia? What defensive tackles would you like to see the Bills target in the 2021 NFL Draft? Please comment and share your thoughts.

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