NFL Draft 2013: Finding Playmaking 4-3 Defensive Tackles

Rob Carr

We look at the college production of the defensive tackle prospects in this year's draft class to try and find the players who could provide the biggest interior pass-rushing updgrade to the newly minted 4-3 Cowboys defense.

Earlier this week, we looked at the Production Ratio of 3-4 outside linebackers in this year's draft class and followed that up with a look at 3-4 defensive end prospects. One coaching change later we continue as if nothing happened and today we take a look at 4-3 defensive tackles. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow the links above and read up on the details. Here's how it's calculated:

PRODUCTION RATIO = (SACKS + TACKLES FOR LOSS) / NUMBER OF GAMES PLAYED

Before we move on to the 2013 draft class, and because the 4-3 defensive tackle is a new concept for us Cowboys fans, let's look at the standout defensive tackles (as measured by total sacks) of the last three drafts and see what their college Production Ratios looked like. The table below features two Production Ratios, one for the entire college career (an indicator of consistency) and one for the last two seasons of a player's college career (an indicator for potential).


NFL College Production Production Ratio
Round (Pick) Player Team POS Career Sacks Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
Class of 2010
4 (120) Geno Atkins CIN DT 23 10.5 33.5 50 0.88 0.81
1 (2) Ndamukong Suh DET DT 22 24 50.5 53 1.41 2.07
1 (10) Tyson Alualu JAC DT 9.5 16 25 40 1.03 1.35
Class of 2011
1 (3) Marcell Dareus
BUF DT 11 11 20 33 0.94 1.24
5 (142) Karl Klug
TEN DT 10.5 11.5 31 38 1.12 1.37
1 (30) Muhammad Wilkerson
NYJ DT 8 17 26 36 1.19 1.58
Class of 2012
2 (36) Derek Wolfe
DEN DT 6 18.5 37 44 1.26 1.62
1 (12) Fletcher Cox
PHI DT 5.5 7.5 23.5 36 0.86 1.15
2 (49) Kendall Reyes
SDG DT 5.5 11.5 32.5 50 0.88 1.22

For eight of the nine players selected here, the Production Ratio over their final two college years appears to have been a good indicator of future NFL success. Geno Atkins is the exception, and his stellar 2012 season (12.5 sacks) catapulted him up these ranks. It is also worth noting that only five of the nine players listed here are first-round picks, an indicator that it may be worth looking a bit closer at the college production of defensive tackle prospects, especially in later round prospects.

Again, the mandatory caveat: There are a multitude of factors that determine how well a prospect will do in the NFL. College production is just one of them, but at the very least, the correlation shown above is intriguing.

2013 Defensive tackle prospects

The table below shows the current top-ranked defensive linemen who could potentially play defensive end in a 3-4. The table is sorted by their CBS Draft Rankings (Rank per January 11th), though you probably shouldn't attach too much weight to these early rankings.


College Production Production Ratio
Rank Player School Ht Wt Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
9 Star Lotulelei Utah 6-3 320 7 21.5 38 0.75 1.02
13 Johnathan Hankins Ohio State 6-3 320 4 15.5 38 0.51 0.68
15 Sheldon Richardson Missouri 6-3 295 6 18.5 24 1.02 1.02
19 Jesse Williams Alabama 6-3 320 1.5 6.5 26 0.31 0.31
29 John Jenkins Georgia 6-3 358 4 8 27 0.44 0.44
39 Shariff Floyd Florida 6-3 303 4.5 26 37 0.82 1.00
45 Kawann Short Purdue 6-3 315 18 49.5 50 1.35 1.79
73 Sylvester Williams North Carolina 6-3 320 8.5 20.5 25 1.16 1.16
91 Akeem Spence Illinois 6-1 305 3.5 0 38 0.53 0.60
104 Bennie Logan LSU 6-3 295 5.5 12.5 30 0.60 0.65
124 Brandon Williams Missouri So. St. 6-2 328 27 52.5 42 1.89 2.45
134 Jordan Hill Penn State 6-1 296 9.5 19.5 46 0.63 0.98
147 Everett Dawkins Florida State 6-2 304 6 14 54 0.37 0.26
156 Kwame Geathers Georgia 6-6 355 1 6.5 34 0.22 0.23
172 Cory Grissom South Florida 6-2 316 5 16.5 43 0.50 0.71
182 Josh Boyd Mississippi State 6-3 300 8.5 18 51 0.52 0.63
197 Anthony McCloud Florida State 6-2 322 5 9 40 0.35 0.35
329 Abry Jones Georgia 6-3 308 5 13.5 46 0.40 0.57

Overall, compared to previous years, this year's defensive tackle class looks a little disappointing from a Production Ratio perspective.

We've already marveled at Kawann Short in the previous post on defensive ends, but he wasn't a perfect fit at 3-4 DE. For a 4-3 defense though, he's a great fit, and with the switch to the new scheme as well as question marks surrounding Jay Ratliff's potential and future, Kawann Short must be considered one of the top prospects for the Cowboys in the 2013 draft.

Brandon Williams out of Division II Missouri Southern is also an intriguing prospect who posted crazy numbers, but against second tier competition. As with all these ratios, you'll probably have to factor into that number the fact that not every player will have played against SEC-level competition. The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association is not the SEC, so it'll be worth keeping a close ye on Williams in whatever All-Star Bowl game he shows up for.

There are a couple of players at the top of the draft like Hankins, Williams and Jenkins who may be better suited for the 1-technique position that Ratliff is likely to occupy in the new 4-3 defense, others may be better suited for the 3-technique spot that will likely be played by Jason Hatcher.

There are probably many defensive tackles in this draft that can stop the run, take on double teams and have the anchor to hold their ground. But a quality defensive tackle needs to be able to collapse the pocket and rush the passer. They can do this with brute strength and explosion to overpower their opponents or they can do it using their quickness - both lateral and vertical - to get off the snap and squeeze through gaps. And the best indicator for that ability (before we have NFL Combine numbers) is their college production.

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