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NFL Draft 2015: Finding Playmaking Defensive Tackles For The Dallas Cowboys

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We review the college production of 28 defensive tackles available in the 2015 draft, and in addition to some of the better-known names, we unearth a couple of other prospects with intriguing college stats.

Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett (63)
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle Michael Bennett (63)
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we looked at the Production Ratio of defensive ends in this year's draft class. Today we switch our focus to defensive tackles.

We've established in previous years that the Production Ratio looks like a solid indicator for how good a college player could be at the NFL level. If you are unfamiliar with the Production Ratio, follow the link above and read up on it. Here's how it's calculated:

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

The resulting number tells you the frequency of splash plays (sacks or tackles for loss) a player recorded per game in the offensive backfield. As usual, we'll look at 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), though we'll focus on the latter for most of this post. For defensive tackles, a number above 1.0 for the last two years of college is usually indicative of a disruptive defensive tackle, a number above 1.5 generally denotes elite talent for a defensive tackle.

But before we look at the defensive tackles in the 2015 draft class, let's look at the standout defensive tackles (as measured by total sacks) from the past five draft classes and see what their college Production Ratios looked like.


NFL College Production Production Ratio
Round (Pick) Player Team POS Career Sacks Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
Class of 2010
1 (2) Ndamukong Suh DET DT 36 24 50.5 53 1.41 2.07
4 (120) Geno Atkins CIN DT 32 10.5 33.5 50 0.88 0.81
1 (3) Gerald McCoy TB DT 27 14.5 33 40 1.19 1.44
Class of 2011
1 (3) Marcell Dareus
BUF DT 28.5 11 20 33 0.94 1.24
1 (30) Muhammad Wilkerson
NYJ DT 24.5 17 26 36 1.19 1.58
3 (77) Jurell Casey TEN DET 21 8 22 38 0.79 1.35
Class of 2012
4 (132)
Mike Daniels
GB DT 14 13.5 26.5 47 0.85 1.35
1 (12) Fletcher Cox
PHI DT 12.5 7.5 23.5 36 0.86 1.15
1 (14) Michael Brockers
STL DT 11.5 2 11 27 0.48 0.48
Class of 2013
1 (13) Sheldon Richardson
NYJ DT 11.5 6 18.5 24 1.02 1.02
6 (198) Chris Jones
NE DT 9 28 46.5 50 1.49 2.16
Class of 2014
1 (13) Aaron Donald STL DT 9 29.5 66 51 1.87 2.54
2 (48) Timmy Jernigan BAL DT 4 8.5 25 40 0.84 0.93

For ten of the thirteen 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 most obvious exception, but nobody in 2010 had any notion of what Atkins would become in the NFL. Michael Brockers also has a low college score, but he was drafted more on his raw athletic potential than on his college production. Timmy Jernigan entered his final college season with just two career starts, so looking at a two-year number for a guy who was a one-year starter may not do him full justice.

It is worth noting that in all five years listed above, a player not drafted in the first round makes the list of the most disruptive defensive tackles. As a general rule, if you want a disruptive guy in the middle, chances are you'll have to get him in the first round. However, if we were to extend the table above, we'd find more players from later rounds, an indicator that it may be worth looking a bit closer at the college production of defensive tackle prospects, especially in the later rounds.

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.

2015 Defensive Tackle Prospects

The table below shows the current top-ranked defensive tackle prospects for the 2015 NFL draft. The table is sorted by their CBS Draft Ranking (Rank per January 21st), though you probably shouldn't attach too much weight to these early rankings. The table contains the top 28 DT prospects that were given a draftable grade by CBS. For your convenience, the table is sortable (just click on the blue column headers).

Player
College Stats
Production Ratio
Rank Player School POS Ht Wt Sacks TFL Games College Career Last two seasons
1 Leonard Williams Southern California DT 6-5 298 20 35.5 39 1.42 1.31
7 Danny Shelton Washington DT 6-2 332 11.5 24 53 0.67 1.15
20 Eddie Goldman Florida State DT 6-3 320 7 12 35 0.54 0.63
22 Malcom Brown Texas DT 6-4 320 8.5 25 39 0.86 1.21
29 Jordan Phillips Oklahoma DT 6-6 334 6.5 9 28 0.55 0.74
43 Michael Bennett Ohio State DT 6-2 288 15 31.5 49 0.95 1.41
61 Xavier Cooper Washington State DT 6-4 298 13 31.5 36 1.24 1.32
81 Carl Davis Iowa DT 6-5 315 4.5 14.5 44 0.43 0.63
105 Grady Jarrett Clemson DT 6-1 295 5.5 29 48 0.72 0.92
109 Gabe Wright Auburn DT 6-2 284 5 20.5 52 0.49 0.63
118 Ellis McCarthy UCLA DT 6-4 330 6 7 35 0.37 0.42
122 Joey Mbu Houston DT 6-3 312 4 10.5 50 0.29 0.42
133 Louis Trinca-Pasat Iowa DT 6-2 290 8.5 24.5 39 0.85 1.12
137 Kaleb Eulls Mississippi State DT 6-3 295 3 8.5 52 0.22 0.29
150 Christian Covington Rice DT 6-3 295 12.5 23 33 1.08 1.02
157 Marcus Hardison Arizona State DT 6-4 300 11 16 26 1.04 1.04
177 Xavier Williams Northern Iowa DT 6-3 309 14 29.5 41 1.06 1.58
191 Tyeler Davison Fresno State DT 6-2 309 12.5 27.5 53 0.75 1.07
205 James Castleman Oklahoma State DT 6-2 300 4.5 18 48 0.47 0.63
218 Derrick Lott Chattanooga DT 6-4 303 8 20 29 0.97 1.22
224 Chucky Hunter TCU DT 6-1 305 9.5 23.5 50 0.66 0.82
246 Leterrius Watson Central Michigan DT 6-5 321 6 18.5 39 0.63 0.64
254 Travis Raciti San Jose State DT 6-5 290 13.5 27 49 0.83 0.65
282 Darius Philon Arkansas DT 6-2 272 7.5 20.5 25 1.12 1.12
306 Warren Herring Wisconsin DT 6-2 294 5 10.5 44 0.35 0.55
323 Brandon Ivory Alabama DT 6-3 308 0.5 3 39 0.09 0.08
326 Darius Kilgo Maryland DT 6-2 310 6 20 43 0.60 0.71
340 Rakeem Nunez-Roches Southern Mississippi DT 6-2 305 4 22 30 0.87 1.35

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 we are looking for disruptive guys. Guys who can make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Guys who can collapse the pocket and rush the passer from the DT spot. Guys who use brute strength and explosion to overpower their opponents or guys who can use their quickness to get off the snap and squeeze through gaps. And the best indicator for all of that (before we have NFL Combine numbers) is their college production.

There are guys on this list who are better suited for the 1-technique position, others are better suited for the 3-technique spot. But there's no reason why the Cowboys shouldn't be able to generate pressure from both positions.

Leonard Williams (1.31 Production ratio in his last two college years) and Danny Shelton (1.15) are the consensus top DTs in this draft, and both are out of reach of the Cowboys' 27th pick. But that doesn't mean the Cowboys don't have options. Nobody in this year's draft class comes close to Aaron Donald's ratio (2.54), but Michael Bennett (1.41), Xavier Cooper (1.32), and Malcolm Brown (1.21) are interesting prospects that could be in range for the Cowboys.

When we looked at the production ratio for the defensive tackles in last year's draft class on January 9, 2014, Aaron Donald was still ranked 53rd on the CBSSports Big Board. Fellow first-round pick Dominique Easley was ranked 99th, while Stephon Tuitt (ranked 21st) and Ra'Shede Hageman (24th) eventually ended up as second-round picks. Which just goes to show that where a given player is ranked in January doesn't mean all that much once the draft rolls around.

If the Cowboys want to invest a high pick in their defensive line, they'll have enough targets to choose from, chief among them Michael Bennett, though by the time of the draft, he will likely have moved up the board quite a bit.

One thing to always keep in mind with these numbers is that they don't factor in the level of competition a player faced in college. Xavier Williams (Northern Iowa) and Derrick Lott (Chattanooga) both hail from small schools, so teams and their scouts will have to make the call as to whether their high production ratios have any chance of translating to the NFL level. As with all college stats, you'll probably have to factor in the fact that not every player will have played against SEC-level competition.

Ultimately, the Cowboys have to decide what type of players they want for their DT spots. If you want a big guy who can sit down on two offensive linemen, you can get a guy like that on the third day of the draft, or you can get a cheap, proven veteran in free agency to do just that job.

But if you're going to invest a high draft pick in a defensive tackle, you'd better make sure the guy you pick is going to be a difference maker. And the production ratio is one tool that may help narrow down that list of players to target.