This is the sixth installment of a multi-part series previewing the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. The event will be broadcast over four days on the NFL Network, Thursday, March 3 through Sunday, March 6. Today, we’ll look at the interior defensive linemen.
Lions’ pre-free agency needs
An offseason priority a year ago, the Lions invested heavily in the position group, trading for accomplished veteran Michael Brockers and selecting Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill on the second day of the draft. And while the latter from that trio showed some promise, the rest of the Detroit’s defensive interior provided lackluster production, particularly when it came to rushing the passer.
Offering only $1 million in cap savings to part ways, the current expectation is Brockers will be back in 2022. At the very least, his value as a mentor helps make up for his disappointing performance. Meanwhile, McNeill and Onwuzurike will continue to be developed as the roster’s long-term future on the inside.
Two other young players, John Penisini and Jashon Cornell, also remain under contract, but with Nick Williams’ deal expiring and the team cutting the oft-injured Da’Shawn Hand late in the year, there’s room for upgrades.
Metrics to monitor
► 10-yard split, broad jump, bench press
Like offensive linemen, there’s not much value knowing if a defensive tackle can run a fast 40. The position is about strength at the point of attack, explosion at the line of scrimmage and closing burst to finish a play. The broad jump is the best drill to demonstrate a prospect’s ability to explode out of their stance, while the bench press can highlight having theupper body strength to match.
► Jordan Davis, Georgia
For any team desperate to solidify the interior of their line against the run, Davis can be the solution. The 6-foot-6, 340-pounder has the mass, length and ability to anchor to quickly become one of the league’s top nose tackles. Just don’t expect an every-down player. He averaged 27 snaps per game for the Bulldogs last season and offers almost nothing as a pass-rusher.
► DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Leal was getting some buzz as a top-10 pick early in the season and ended up posting some exciting production for an interior lineman in 2021, notching 58 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and 8.5 sacks. His ability to rush the passer is clearly a strength, with good initial burst and a quality set of pass rush moves to penetrate the pocket. At 290 pounds, he won’t be a fit for every scheme and he’ll have some issues as a run defender, especially when doubled.
► Devonte Wyatt, Georgia
The other half of Georgia’s interior tandem, Wyatt is significantly smaller than Davis as 6-foot-3, 307 pounds, but also offers the more well-rounded skill set. Explosive off the snap, he tallied nearly 30 pass-rush pressures on 263 opportunities to get after the quarterback in 2021.
► Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
Alabama has been churning out quality interior linemen for the past decade and Mathis is the latest in that line. At 6-foot-3, 313 pounds with an 84-inch wingspan, he has the size and skill set to line up in multiple alignments and fit most defensive schemes. He also took an exciting step forward as a pass-rusher his senior season. After tallying 1.5 sacks his first three seasons, he dropped the quarterback nine times in 2021.
Sleepers to watch
► Travis Jones, UConn
A Senior Bowl participant, offensive linemen at the event struggled with Jones’ length and power. The 6-foot-5, 333-pounder has the build of an NFL nose tackle, but unlike Davis, there’s more stamina and ability to affect the quarterback in Jones’ profile. He was on the field for more than 300 pass plays in 2021 and tallied 27 quarterback pressures and 4.5 sacks.
► Neil Farrell Jr., LSU
A late-blossoming nose tackle, Farrell should be a quality depth piece with the potential to develop into a starting-caliber option at the next level. The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder plays with good power, but also has a workable first step as a rusher, allowing him to pressure the pocket one out of every 10 snaps in passing situations.