When we talk about defensive tackles, our minds tend to go directly to Los Angeles Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald. There is a reason for that. He is incredibly dominant, but you knew that already. We think about his speed off the ball and how he attacks opposing offensive linemen. Now, while there may not be a Donald-type player coming up in the 2021 NFL Draft, there is a player at West Virginia who might start giving you some flashes, both in terms of his speed and his size. That is West Virginia defensive tackle, Darius Stills.
Stills isn’t the biggest defensive tackle in the country, listed at just 282 pounds. But the way he plays at his size does tend to remind you a small bit about the former Pitt defensive tackle, who fell to the 13th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. So what is it about Stills that means that we should be keeping an excited eye on his draft stock for 2021 in this upcoming season? Let’s take a look at the Mountaineer.
Stills and his background
Stills has some NFL pedigree in his blood. His father, Gary, who also attended West Virginia, played nine years in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, and St. Louis Rams. Stills came to Morgantown in 2017 after a high school career in Fairmont that saw him reach first-team All-State twice. He was also selected to the USA Today All-West Virginia team on two separate occasions.
He was mostly used as a depth piece in his freshman year in college but did play a part in nine games. He saw more playing time in 2018, playing in 12 games, recording 12 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for a loss.
However, 2019 was Stills’ breakout season at West Virginia. He once again played in 12 games, starting in 11 of them. The majority of the time he lined up as a nose tackle, though he did get moved around the defensive line frequently. 2019 saw Stills lead the team with 14.5 tackles for a loss and tie for the team lead with seven sacks as he seemed to constantly be in the opposing backfield.
What does Stills excel at?
Let’s start with his speed and his get-off. Stills is incredibly fast off the line of scrimmage. Once the ball is snapped, he explodes out of his stance and into the offensive lineman. He also possesses good lateral agility when West Virginia asks him to stunt on the line. He is then quick with his hands, meaning he is able to get his hands inside his opponent and take control of the battle.
He has an array of moves when rushing the passer, including a very strong rip move to get through the offensive line. If that doesn’t work, Stills has shown a good ability to spin away from the offensive lineman in another attempt to get into the backfield. Therefore, Stills is not a one-trick pony, and his multiple ways to attack and get to the quarterback should serve him well in his quest to succeed at the next level.
Stills is also getting the advantage of being able to show that he is capable of being moved around on the defensive line. He’ll line up over the center one play and shade the tackle the next, and can play pretty much anywhere from the 0-tech to the 5-tech. When you watch the tape, you get the feeling he’ll make a nice 3-tech or even 1-tech with his speed, despite his lack of size, at the next level.
What are his weaknesses?
Overall, Stills needs to become more consistent against the run. He needs to demonstrate a better ability to shed his blockers, especially as he starts seeing more double teams. Given his success in 2019, that is something that should only increase next season as a senior and one of the strongest pieces of the West Virginia defense. Therefore, he will get a perfect opportunity to show scouts that he can make an impact even when opposing offenses are attempting to neutralize him on the play.
Stills is definitely quick off the snap, but he needs to be careful not to let his speed mean that he over-penetrates past the line of scrimmage and past the ball-carrier, taking himself out of the play.
As Stills rolls through his final college season, another thing to watch for is whether we see him stay on the field more often. West Virginia rotated defensive linemen quite often last season and there were a few series of plays without Stills involved. However, that did keep him fresh as the game wore on and kept his speed alive, but to maybe a concern for teams if he has not regularly played a large number of snaps in college.
Stills is, without question, a talent on the rise entering the 2020 season. He will make for an athletic defensive tackle at the next level. If he can take that next step in his overall profile, he has a great chance to hear his name called in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Even if the 2020 college season is somehow shut down, his tape shows enough promise that he is absolutely worth a second-round pick, which is where he is tending to show up in early 2021 mock drafts. He’s certainly up against some good competition at the position, including Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, LSU’s Tyler Shelvin, and USC’s Jay Tufele. However, there’s no questioning Stills’ talent or his potential to be right up there with the top of the group once we really get into the next draft cycle.