The 2021 NFL Draft‘s defensive tackle group was viewed as relatively weak throughout the offseason, and the early selections reinforced that sentiment. Nevertheless, in the middle and later rounds, the position group produced a strong turnout. Which defensive tackles were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft? Who went where, and how does the class compare overall to years past? Let’s take a look.
Which defensive tackles were drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Who was the first defensive tackle off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Christian Barmore, Alabama | Round 2, Pick 38 | New England Patriots
Christian Barmore was one of the most popular players to be the first interior pass rusher selected. Yet, few mock drafts had him slipping out of Round 1 entirely. Rumors surrounding Barmore’s character might have helped fuel his fall. Regardless, he didn’t drop far past the Round 1 boundary, as the Patriots scooped him up with their second pick.
As long as Barmore can take to Bill Belichick’s coaching, he has tons of potential. He produced at a torrid rate down the stretch in 2020 for the Crimson Tide. By the end of the season, he racked up 8 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles to his name. With top-notch size and explosiveness, Barmore has the skill set necessary to impact the Patriots’ line.
Levi Onwuzurike, Washington | Round 2, Pick 41 | Detroit Lions
Just three picks after Barmore went off the board as the first defensive tackle, the Detroit Lions drafted Levi Onwuzurike. The optics surrounding Onwuzurike and Barmore were quite different. While Barmore’s 2020 play boosted his stock immensely, Onwuzurike opted out in 2020, and that decision clouded his profile. Nonetheless, most mocks had him listed on Day 2, and that’s where he went.
From a talent perspective, it’s easy to see why Onwuzurike was selected so highly despite his decision to opt out. At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, he’s a naturally well-leveraged lineman with impressive proportional length. He also has exceptional athleticism and flexibility, which shows up on pass-rush reps and in run defense. Boasting a 4.88 40-yard dash and a 30-inch vertical, Onwuzurike has exciting upside.
Alim McNeill, NC State | Round 3, Pick 72 | Detroit Lions
The Lions doubled up on Day 2, and in doing so, massively strengthened the interior of their defensive front. Onwuzurike was already a strong pick in Round 2, but Alim McNeill almost provides even better value in Round 3. McNeill was a top producer for several seasons in college, and he also has the athletic profile to match.
Over three years with NC State, McNeill logged 10 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, 5 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles. Standing at around 6-foot-2, 317 pounds, he’s a stout defensive tackle prospect with great natural leverage. Additionally, McNeill is an exceptional physical talent who could rotate in to play nose tackle in hybrid fronts. He put up a five-second 40-yard dash with a 1.68 10-yard split and a 30-inch vertical at his pro day.
Milton Williams, Louisiana Tech | Round 3, Pick 73 | Philadelphia Eagles
This pick is all upside, but it’s okay because there’s a lot of it. Milton Williams was one of the biggest risers of the pre-draft process. He generated the production to warrant consideration in college. However, it wasn’t until Williams’ pro day results started making the rounds that he started to gain steam as an NFL Draft prospect.
Williams logged a Relative Athletic Score of 9.94 as a defensive tackle. Among other numbers, Williams put up a 4.68 40-yard dash, a 1.65 10-yard split, a 38.5-inch vertical, a 121-inch broad jump, a 6.96 three-cone, and 34 bench reps. The only physical knock against him was his size. Standing at 6-foot-3, 284 pounds, he’s not quite as big as the traditional tackle. Still, his explosive athletic profile affords him plenty of promise in that role.
Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA | Round 3, Pick 75 | Dallas Cowboys
This might be considered a slight reach, but Osa Odighizuwa was worthy of consideration here. Odighizuwa has the testing numbers and the production, and he also showed impressive flashes at the Senior Bowl. He’ll need some time to put it all together, but he can be a valuable addition for a Cowboys’ defense that needs more talent up front.
Over four years with the UCLA Bruins, Odighizuwa amassed 11.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss. His final season saw him earn a career-high 4 sacks in just seven games. The Pac-12 product is trending up, and he owns the athletic profile to suggest high growth potential. Odighizuwa stands at around 6-foot-2, 282 pounds, but with a 31.5-inch vertical and a 120-inch broad jump, he can be incredibly explosive and disruptive.
Jay Tufele, USC | Round 4, Pick 106 | Jacksonville Jaguars
Some defensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft were impacted differently by their decision to opt-out of the 2020 season. Onwuzurike’s stock didn’t suffer much, but Jay Tufele — once considered a safe Day 2 pick — fell out of the first three rounds entirely. However, he didn’t last long beyond that, as the Jaguars drafted him with the first selection in Round 4.
Even despite his draft-day slide, Tufele has intriguing potential for the Jaguars. Like many of his fellow 2020 prospects, Tufele fits the mold of the stout, leveraged defensive lineman.
He measures in around 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, and offers a solid 5.02 40-yard dash with a 1.75 10-yard split. He also recorded a 30-inch vertical jump and 30 bench reps. As of now, Tufele isn’t elite in any one area, but he can be a well-rounded player for a Jacksonville squad in need of competence in the trenches.
Defensive tackles selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Rounds 4 & 5
7) Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M | R4-P117 | Los Angeles Rams
8) Tyler Shelvin, LSU | R4-P122 | Cincinnati Bengals
9) Tommy Togiai, Ohio State | R4-P132 | Cleveland Browns
10) Ta’Quon Graham, Texas | R5-P148 | Atlanta Falcons
11) Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin | R5-P156 | Pittsburgh Steelers
12) Daviyon Nixon, Iowa | R5-158 | Carolina Panthers
13) Tedarrell Slaton, Florida | R5-P173 | Green Bay Packers
The group of defensive tackles selected in Rounds 4 and 5 encapsulates the rest of the top 10 at the position and several players beyond that. There’s a fairly clear gap in talent between the top 10 and the rest.
Bobby Brown III and Tommy Togiai were both potential Day 2 prospects, and Ta’Quon Graham has some of the highest upside in the class with his length and explosiveness. Moreover, Tyler Shelvin profiles well as a strong run defender.
After the top 10, Daviyon Nixon stands out as a name to watch, having gone to the Panthers in Round 5. Nixon was considered a Day 2 prospect at one point, but he slipped through the cracks on draft day. He’s well-sized, with solid initial burst. Beyond Nixon, Tedarrell Slaton projects to be a sturdy nose in the Packers’ 3-4 defense. Meanwhile, Loudermilk, felt like a reach for the Steelers, with his limited athletic upside.
Defensive tackles selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Rounds 6 & 7
14) Marlon Tuipulotu, USC | R6-P189 | Philadelphia Eagles
15) Quinton Bohanna, Kentucky | R6-P192 | Dallas Cowboys
16) Roy Lopez, Arizona | R6-P195 | Houston Texans
17) Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh | R6-P199 | Minnesota Vikings
18) Jonathan Marshall, Arkansas | R6-P207 | New York Jets
19) Phil Hoskins, Kentucky | R7-P232 | Carolina Panthers
20) Khyiris Tonga, BYU | R7-P250 | Chicago Bears
A fascinating mix of players comprises the Round 6 and Round 7 selections at defensive tackle. In this group, you have players once mentioned as potential top-100 picks, such as Tuipulotu, Marshall, and Twyman, in the same batch as relatively unknown prospects like Lopez and Hoskins.
For most of these players, there’s a reason they fell this far, but Tuipulotu stands out as the prime value deal. The USC product tested with good athleticism and turned heads at the Senior Bowl with his pace of play.
Jonathan Marshall is a close second in terms of value. The Arkansas alumnus tested as the most athletic defensive tackle in the 2021 NFL Draft, with a 4.88 40-yard dash, a 1.67 10-yard split, a 32-inch vertical, a 114-inch broad jump, and 36 bench reps at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds. Twyman also bears noting, but the Pittsburgh defensive tackle’s slide was more expected after his opt-out and poor testing.
Players like Tonga, Hoskins, and Lopez round out the group. Lopez and Hoskins have intriguing athletic upside, while Tonga has the size to take on double teams and hold strong in run defense. There’s also Bohanna, but he plays as a space-eater primarily and doesn’t have much pass-rushing upside.
How many defensive tackles were drafted in 2021?
Overall, 20 defensive tackles were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft, although some edge rushers — like Payton Turner and Cam Sample — project to have interior flexibility. Interestingly enough, none of the defensive tackles heard their names called on Day 1. That’s a far cry from 2020 when two franchises chose the position within the top 14 picks. It also marks the first time no interior defensive lineman was selected in Round 1 since 2017.
Nevertheless, the 2021 draft class produced a solid amount of interior line talent, especially considering the absence of Round 1 relevance. Once Barmore got the ball rolling as the sixth pick in Round 2, five defensive tackles went off the board on Day 2.
Furthermore, on Day 3, 15 defensive tackles went throughout the final four rounds. All told, the 20 defensive tackles produced in 2021 matched the 20 in the previous draft. Even so, we’ll have to wait a couple of years before it becomes clear which class is better.
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