We’ve officially analyzed every offensive position in the 2020 NFL draft class, so now, it’s time to shift our attention to the defense. Since we recently looked at the top interior offensive linemen in this year’s draft, it makes sense to look at the prospects that they’ll be facing off against at the next level. It’s hard to find a elite pass rushing interior defensive linemen, but interior pressure can be very difficult to contain, to the point that teams will always be looking for pass rushing defensive linemen. Luckily for those teams, after gather as much information as possible, I’ve concluded that there are at least two top-ten caliber players, while there another two first-round caliber prospects on top of that. Suffice to say, this is a very strong draft class, so without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at the interior defensive linemen prospects in the 2020 NFL draft!
#1: Derrick Brown, Auburn
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 318 lbs
Pro Comparison: Fletcher Cox
Best Fits: CAR, ARI, JAX
Overall Grade: 92.15 (Top Five)
Where do we start with Auburn’s Derrick Brown? His power is absolutely incredible, as he has a stout anchor and super strong hands, which allows him to blow through guards like they’re rag dolls. Therefore, he’s physically dominant against the run, and will be a tackle for loss machine, as he complements his brute strength with a excellent motor. More importantly though, he should have plenty of success as interior pass rusher with his well-developed bull rush, and his grip strength allows him to blow through double teams. Don’t sleep on his agility though, as he’s able to track down ball carriers with superb lateral quickness, and has the type of explosiveness that he’ll need to consistently pressure the quarterback. In other words, it’s clear that Brown is the rare package as an interior defensive linemen; it’s no surprise he’s had back-to-back 90-grade seasons at Auburn, per Pro Football Focus.
It’s hard to find a real weakness with Brown, but if there’s anything to nitpick about, it’s that he’s not the most consistent player. He occasionally loses balance or sees his motor wear down, and though he’s an excellent pass rusher, I’m sure he’s quite a game-changing “A”-grade type of player in that regard.
With his combination of size, power, and quickness, Derrick Brown is an elite run defender, but more importantly, has all the tools to be an excellent pass-rusher. He’s super technically sound, and should immediately be one of the better interior defensive linemen in the NFL, and draws plenty of similarities to Fletcher Cox and Gerald McCoy with his very balanced skillset. He’ll fall outside of the top five due to the likely run on quarterbacks and offensive tackles, but whether it’s the Panthers, Cardinals, Jaguars, Browns, or some other team, he should immediately wreck havoc on opposing offenses.
#2: Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Height: 6’6″ Weight: 302 lbs
Pro Comparison: Chris Jones
Best Fits: IND, TB, JAX
Overall Grade: 91.15 (Top Ten)
Derrick Brown may be the most polished interior defensive lineman prospect in this draft, but if you’re drafting someone on pure upside, Javon Kinlaw’s potential is through the roof. With his explosiveness, length, and upper-body power, he has all the tools to be a high-end pass rusher, and will have some highlight-reel plays that are super fun to watch. There are times where he’ll be simply unstoppable with his power and quickness, and for the most part, his lateral agility is impressive. Per Pro Football Focus, he’s also earned pass-rushing grades of 88.7 and 90.7 over the past two seasons, which further cements his stance as the top pass-rushing prospect on this list.
While Kinlaw’s flashes of excellence are super enticing, he’s not the most consistent player. That speaks to some of the technical refinement he’ll need at the next level, since he doesn’t have wide range of pass-rushing moves, and for the most part, he’s still learning how to best use his length. You’d also like for him to play at a lower pad level, as that would allow him to gain more leverage and be stronger against double teams.
Javon Kinlaw isn’t the most refined player in terms of his processing skills and technique, but he has all the necessary traits to be a dominant interior pass rusher in the NFL. His frame and style are strikingly similar to Chris Jones, whose been a menace on the Chiefs defensive line and is about to paid handsomely, which speaks well to Kinlaw’s future outlook. Honestly, if any team were to have Kinlaw higher on their draft board than Brown based on his sheer upside, I wouldn’t be shocked; he’s a top-ten caliber prospect who’ll likely fall and be a major steal around the 13th or 14th pick range.
#3: Jordan Elliot, Missouri
Year: RS Junior
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 315 lbs
Pro Comparison: Kawann Short
Best Fits: DAL, MIN, JAX
Overall Grade: 89.125 (1st)
Believe it or not, but Jordan Elliot, not Brown or Kinlaw, was Pro Football Focus’ highest graded college interior defender this past season. That comes from his length and athleticism, as he’s able to win in a variety of ways. With a strong first step and a good overall burst, he can move quickly past slower guards, but when he needs to, he also is able to win with power based on his strong drive and push as a penetrator. For the most part, he’s knows how to his his tools to his advantage, and has a good rush plan to attack different interior offensive linemen. Needless to say, it’s likely that his pass-rushing success carries over to the NFL.
Elliot doesn’t have the long track record of success that Brown and Kinlaw have, and for the most part, he’s more of a rotational pass-rusher at the moment. He’ll struggle initially on early downs, as his run defense suffers with his ability to read plays, and he does tend to play out of control. Plus, although he’s got all the tools to succeed, he’s not a “freak” in the way that Brown or Kinlaw are.
Jordan Elliot isn’t garnering much buzz right now as a first-round pick, but in my eyes, he’s possibly a fringe top-ten pick, and certainly is worth a selection in the first round. He dominated in the toughest conference in college football, and since most of his concerns come as a run defender, I’m don’t see any major flaw to his game. Even if he’s just a rotational pass rusher at the beginning, that’s still very valuable, and if he slips to the second round of the draft, he could wind up being the steal of the draft.
#4: Ross Blacklock, TCU
Year: RS Junior
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 305 lbs
Pro Comparison: Gerald McCoy
Best Fits: MIN, SEA, DAL
Overall Grade: 87.2 (1st)
Since they utilize so many stunts on their defensive line, TCU doesn’t exactly help evaluators properly scout their defensive linemen. However, despite that, Ross Blacklock has proven himself to be worthy a first-round pick. He’s probably the best overall athlete of these group of players, as his lateral agility is incredible, which allows him to be effective in run defense. Meanwhile, he’s got a good feel on how to use his hands, and has the bend and flexibility to be a versatile piece on a defensive line.
Because of TCU’s defensive scheme, Blacklock is still a work in progress, and isn’t as developed as you’d hope for. He’s another player who plays at an inconsistent pad level, which hurts him leverage, especially since his lower-body strength is close to average. He’ll need to work on his mechanics, as well as his ability to read offenses, so he may not be an instant contributor, and isn’t a standout player as either a pass rusher or run defender at the moment.
Ross Blacklock is the type of rare athlete that should become a quality interior defensive linemen in the NFL, and simply just needs to be further developed. He isn’t a player that will “wow” in any other way other than his pure quickness, but all of his weaknesses are very coachable, so in the right situation, he should thrive. He’s definitely a step down from the other first-round prospects on this list, but fits well with a lot of different teams picking at the back-end of the first round, whether it’s the Vikings, Seahawks, Cowboys, Ravens, or any other team looking for some help on the interior defensive lineman.
#5: Marlon Davidson, Auburn
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 297 lbs
Pro Comparison: Breeland Speaks
Best Fits: MIA, SEA, NE
Overall Grade: 84 (2nd)
At 278 pounds, Marlon Davidson was a tweener in a college, but after adding mass, he should now be a full-time interior defensive lineman. In that role, he’s a much better fit, as he has the inside quickness you’re looking for, with a very strong first step. He couldn’t win as an edge rusher, but as an interior rusher, his hand usage and power will allow him to thrive as a pass rusher; you also have to appreciate the versatility he’ll be able to bring.
On the interior, Davidson’s pass-rushing skillset will be much better, but he’ll also be a liability early on versus the run. His footwork and balance isn’t where you’d like it be, and at times, bigger guards will be able to have their way with him. He also was mostly an edge rusher in college, so his move to the inside is a complete projection, even if he was excellent at the Senior Bowl.
With a versatile skillset and a great pass-rushing skillset on the interior, Marlon Davidson figures to be a future rotational interior rusher, with the potential to become more than that with more development as a run defender. Even then, him simply being a rotational pass rusher is worth an early second-round pick, and he can fit in a variety of roles. I’d love for him to take on the Trey Flowers role for the Patriots, or a team that runs that style of defense, but he’d also work as a bigger edge rusher in a Seattle-style scheme, or as a straight-up third-down interior rusher for any other defense. In other words, he’ll fit in any type of defense, which is exactly illustrates the versatility that should make him a coveted prospect.
#6: Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 301 lbs
Pro Comparison: Quinton Jefferson
Best Fits: JAX, SEA, SF
Overall Grade: 82.7 (Late 3rd)
With great pass-rushing and run-defense grades over the past couple of seasons, Neville Gallimore has had the type of college production that should entice evaluators, especially since he’s progressed in every year. That may have to do with him losing weight this past offseason, as he’s now more scheme versatile, and has plenty of athleticism. His sideline to sideline range is extremely impressive, which will allow him to thrive in space versus the run, while he offers plenty of upside as a pass-rusher with his physical traits. His motor also always runs hot, so although he only played 504 snaps this past season, he should be able to handle a large workload at the next level.
While Gallimore has the athleticism needed to be an above-average pass rusher, he hasn’t quite put it together yet, as he doesn’t execute his rush moves the way they’re supposed to be executed. He also hasn’t shown the ability to win with counter moves, and for all the athleticism he has, his lack of power could hurt him. Essentially, he remains very much a work in progress
Neville Gallimore should a fine pass rusher and run defender, especially with his exceptional athleticism. However, he doesn’t have the power or technique to make an instant contributor, and when it’s all said and done, he may be best served as a bigger edge for a Seattle cover-three type of scheme. Hence, the comparison to Seahawks’ versatile defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson; Seattle, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Atlanta, or the Chargers would all be sensible landing spots in that regard.
#7: Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
Year: RS Junior
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 300 lbs
Pro Comparison: Corey Liuget
Best Fits: IND, BUF, DAL
Overall Grade: 82.4 (Late 3rd)
With natural explosiveness, Justin Madubuike is the type of high-upside prospect that certain teams will covet. His size, length, and athleticism will allow him to fit into any defensive scheme, and his hands are also very strong. Add that to his elite contact balance, and he has the tools to be an impact pass rusher, while he’s also able to make plays in run defense.
As mentioned, Madubuike has plenty of elite traits, but he certainly hasn’t yet put it together. He was superbly inconsistent throughout his college career, and for something with as strong of hands as he has, you’d expect him to play with better leverage and be more powerful. Some of those issues can be coached up, but at the same time, his high-end may not be enough for teams to want to risk taking him too early in the draft.
Based off his ability to fit into any sort of defensive scheme, based on his length, hand usage, and athleticism, Justin Madubuike is an intriguing late day-two prospect. At the same time, he’s very inconsistent at the moment, especially as a pass rusher, so he won’t be able to contribute right away. Nevertheless, if you develop that pass-rushing ability, he’s proven to be adequate enough in run defense to be a three-down starter, so in the end, a third-round pick seems like a very reasonable price for his services.
#8: Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Height: 6’7″ Weight: 309 lbs
Pro Comparison: Brent Urban
Best Fits: BAL, JAX, SF
Overall Grade: 81.45 (Early 4th)
When you’re 6’7″ and have as much brute strength as Raekwon Davis has, you’re going to capture the attention of front offices, especially when you come from an elite program such as Alabama. He uses his length and power to be an absolute menace versus the run, especially with how forceful he is with his hands. He’s a super violent finisher with tremendous block shedding ability, and definitely has enough athleticism on the interior defensive line.
Despite Davis’ elite tools, he hasn’t developed at all as a pass rusher; his grades from Pro Football Focus have mostly stagnated. Being an elite run defender is great, but if you can’t rush the passer, it’s difficult to be a valuable player in today’s NFL. Therefore, any team who drafts Davis needs to figure out why he didn’t develop as a pass-rusher in college- he had all the tools and was an a prestigious football school, so what went wrong?
Raekwon Davis’ power and length is extremely intriguing, but this isn’t 1990- you have to rush the passer to make an impact in today’s game. I still think he could improve his pass-rushing skillset enough to be a starter in the NFL, but instead, I think there’s a better way for him to fit in. He may not be the quality of player that Calais Campbell or Arik Armstead are, but both of them have similar length and run defense, and may not be on their respective teams next offseason. Therefore, he fits as that big edge rusher type on a Seattle-style defense, though similarly to his pro comparison in Brent Urban, his power would also be utilized on the Ravens defensive line. I’d personally opt not to take him on either of the first two days on the draft, but for any of those teams mentioned, he certainly can provide solid value at the beginning of day three.
#9: Davin Hamilton, Ohio State
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 327 lbs
Pro Comparison: Dalvin Tomlinson
Best Fits: DEN, ARI, JAX
Overall Grade: 80.8 (Late 4th/Early 5th)
With extremely impressive physicality and excellent upper-body strength, Davon Hamilton is an elite run defender, and should fit nicely as a nose tackle at the next level. He shed run-blocks easily, as his power is simply too much for smaller guards, so he’s often able to win the leverage battle. For his size, he also surprises with his athleticism, as he has a solid first-step, and is actually able to change directions well.
Hamilton’s athleticism and power means that there’s a chance he can grow as a pass rusher, but nevertheless, he’s very underdeveloped in that regarded. He only played 354 snaps last season, per Pro Football Focus, so he hasn’t had the exposure that he needs. If all he’s bringing to the table is his run defense, then he won’t be a very valuable player.
Davon Hamilton will undoubtedly thrive as a run defender in the NFL, but if any team needs a run-stuffing nose tackle, they can find an undrafted free agent who can fill in. Any team looking at the Ohio State product will be betting that he can develop as a pass rusher with more experience, which isn’t unreasonable, given his athleticism and strength. He’s in a very similar boat to Davis, though he doesn’t have the length or standout tools that the Alabama product has; a late fourth-round pick or early fifth-round pick is a good spot for him in the draft.
#10: Robert Windsor, Penn State
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 285 lbs
Pro Comparison: Dre’Mont Jones
Best Fits: LAC, ATL, BUF
Overall Grade: 80 (Late 4th/Early 5th)
With his all-around pass-rushing skillset, Robert Windsor appears to have a place in the NFL as a third-down interior rusher. He’s able to utilize several different rush moves, and throughout his college career, he noticeably got better. He also plays with the type of effort that scouts are looking for, which can only help him stick at the next level.
Windsor is a very interesting projection to the next level. If he’s on the edge, he doesn’t have the athleticism necessary, but on the interior, he doesn’t have the strength needed to play on early downs. After all, he appears to be an absolute liability versus the run, as he’s pretty lean, and simply gets bullied at the line of scrimmage. He’s also on the older side at 23-years-old, so he’s not the type of player that you can draft and stash as he adds mass.
As either a third-down rusher on the interior or a bigger edge type, Robert Windsor’s ability to rush the passer will give him a role in the NFL. Since he simply can’t play on early downs, and is a tweener, he’s the type of prospect that you wait to draft until sometime on day three, but nevertheless, he could be a surprise contributor if utilized properly.
Here are the other players that were considered for this list, ranked with their overall grade:
11) Leki Fotu, Utah (78.2, Early 6th)
12) Rashard Lawrence, LSU (78.15, Early 6th)
13) Josiah Coatney, Ole Miss (77.5, 6th)
14) Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina (75.25, 7th)
15) Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA (75.05, 7th)
16) James Lynch, Baylor (72.95, UDFA)
17) Raequan Williams, Michigan State (72.8, UDFA)
18) Larrell Murchison, NC State (71.2, UDFA)
This is definitely more of a top-heavy interior defensive line class, but that definitely shouldn’t be seen as a negative. Brown and Kinlaw could become absolute dominant presences on the interior, and perhaps Elliot can follow suit. Meanwhile, Blacklock makes it four first-round caliber prospects, while Davidson, Gallimore, Davis, and Madubuike all have the type of schematic versatility that will entice front offices. The Colts, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Jaguars, Vikings, Broncos, Bills, Dolphins and Seahawks all could use an interior rusher, and simply put, they’ll be in position to get one if they play the draft right.