In anticipation of the 2021 NFL Draft, the draft analysts at Pro Football Network have pooled our rankings to create our Top 300 Consensus Board. Using this board as our guide, here are our consensus top nine interior defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Top interior defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft | 9-6
The Pac-12 is heavily represented with four players occupying spots on our list of top nine interior defensive linemen in the class.
9. Marlon Tuipulotu, USC
The first interior defensive lineman on this list, Marlon Tuipulotu is a bit of a surprising ranking here at No. 9. The former Trojan enjoyed an impressive 2020 season in the limited Pac-12 schedule. He carried that success into a trip to Mobile for the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Tuipulotu is rated highly by the PFN analysts, ranging from 77 to 146 across the boards.
Pro Football Network’s Chief NFL Draft Analyst and NFL Insider Tony Pauline did an excellent job summarizing Tuipulotu’s game: “Three-year starter who missed most of his freshman season with a back injury. Possesses great first-step quickness, consistently gets leverage on opponents, and works his hands throughout the action. Athletic, rarely off his feet and fluid moving in any direction. Possesses a closing burst and shows the ability to make plays in space, even when dropped off the line. Plays with balance as well as body control.”
8. Osa Odighizuwa, UCLA
Next on this list of top interior defensive linemen for the 2021 NFL Draft, we’re reaching back into the Pac-12. Osa Odighizuwa is a fairly high prospect on the PFN boards, with a range of rankings from 79 to 151.
Pro Football Network Draft Analyst Ian Cummings wrote up Odighizuwa’s player profile. In it, Cummings described Odighizuwa as “an amped-up athlete with a lot of potential energy in his frame. His physical makeup gives him enticing potential as a pass rusher, while also providing utility as a run defender.” However, Cummings continued, “there are a few areas where Odighizuwa is currently lacking.” As such, Odighizuwa is a raw but enticing prospect in a rather weak interior defensive linemen 2021 draft class.
7. Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Tyler Shelvin is an absolute mammoth on the football field. Measuring in at his pro day at 6’2″ and 350 pounds, Shelvin is a massive force up the middle of the field. Appropriately, he commanded a rather high ranking on the PFN boards. Shelvin was the first 2021 interior defensive linemen to break into the top 70 of anybody’s rankings, and it’s easy to see why.
Shelvin’s build feeds itself into his ability to plug the middle of the defense. Shelvin has arguably the best anchor against double-teams in this class of interior defensive linemen. However, Shelvin doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. Unfortunately, Shelvin didn’t test well either. Shelvin posted a 0.98 RAS score. As a result of both of these downsides, it seems likely Shelvin will slip down draft boards, as much as we at PFN admire his game.
6. Tommy Togiai, Ohio State
Ohio State has been churning out talented interior defensive linemen for years now, and Tommy Togiai will join that list. Togiai will likely join recent Buckeyes like DaVon Hamilton, Dre’Mont Jones, Johnathan Hankins, and Adolphus Washington as Day 2 picks in the NFL Draft. He’s the first defensive lineman on this list who ranked inside the top 100 of every PFN analyst.
Tony Pauline described Togiai best as a “quick, explosive interior lineman who fires off the snap with a great first step and plays with excellent lean and proper pad level.” Togiai isn’t a perfect pass rusher, and as a result, isn’t as high as some others on this list. However, plenty of the PFN analysts are still big fans of Togiai’s game. I recently tweeted that Togiai is a player I would stand on the table for in this draft.
Top interior defensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft | 1-5
Christian Barmore headlines the class, but don’t sleep on the rest of the group.
5. Alim McNeill, NC State
Breaking into the top five interior defensive linemen in 2021, Alim McNeill steals the show on film. NC State has enjoyed a recent run of talented defensive linemen in recent years, and McNeill is no exception. The athletic marvel at nose tackle, McNeill is highly regarded by the PFN crew. In fact, Dalton Miller has him as his second-highest rated 2021 interior defensive lineman.
A combination of explosiveness and power, McNeill is a handful for guards and centers to deal with. McNeill flies off the snap and immediately uses that explosiveness to shrug off blocks and clog lanes. However, McNeill must continue to improve his repertoire of moves as a pass rusher. He only posted a single sack in 2020, giving many who grade on production pause despite his obvious traits.
4. Daviyon Nixon, Iowa
A JUCO transfer to Iowa, Daviyon Nixon enjoyed a breakout 2020 season as a full-time starter. Nixon won the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year award and was a finalist for the Outland Trophy. Nixon is in the top 100 on every PFN board and the top 60 on two of them.
Pauline described Nixon as an “athletic big man in the middle of the line who comes with upside as well as growth potential. Nixon is a scheme-versatile lineman who can be used in various systems and should eventually develop into a starter at the next level.” As Pauline alluded to, Nixon has some areas to continue to grow as a pass rusher and overall player, but his upside is tremendous.
3. Jay Tufele, USC
A 2020 opt-out, Tufele was a near-consensus top prospect in the preseason. Now, he’s seemingly slipped down in perception, despite not playing. However, he still ranked highly among the PFN analysts, with three top-55 rankings. I anchored Jay Tufele’s grades with a spot at 44th overall.
A powerful player with a constant motor, Tufele was a first-team All Pac-12 member in 2019. His chops as a pass rusher are impressive, and yet, Tufele can still grow. He was consistently disruptive off the snap and converted speed-to-power like a pro. Tufele’s public perception has fallen off, but expect Tufele to be a productive pro still.
2. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington
A Senior Bowl riser, Levi Onwuzurike is a bit polarizing. He’s the only other defensive tackle raised in that top conversation, but many analysts aren’t exactly gushing about his potential. That might just be a reflection of the overall perception of the top of this 2021 interior defensive linemen class, however. Onwuzurike is ranked amongst the top 50 players for each PFN analyst.
In his profile, PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings described Onwuzrike as such: “Levi Onwuzurike is an exciting talent on the defensive line” with “room for further polish.” Cummings cited Onwuzurike’s explosiveness, length, and overall athletic traits and described them as “devastating.” However, Onwuzurike’s tools needed to be ironed out and demonstrated on a more consistent basis.
1. Christian Barmore, Alabama
The consensus player at the top of the 2021 interior defensive linemen class, Christian Barmore seized upon the national spotlight in the 2020-2021 CFB Playoffs this season and used that to catapult his momentum into a likely first-round selection. Despite this, the PFN analysts are fairly skeptical of his overall talent. Barmore ranked in the top 30 prospects for just two of the analysts.
Barmore is a flashy pass rusher. The athleticism and traits just leap off the film — it was backed up by his 8.22 RAS score. The length and playmaking ability are easy to see, and his ceiling is the apex of this class. However, it was the more-flashy-than-consistent style of play that turned off the PFN crew. Barmore’s tantalizing pass-rush gifts were there, but he’s relatively inexperienced and didn’t use his tools consistently. Many of the PFN analysts were concerned about Barmore’s play against the run as well. On the other hand, Barmore is still just 21 years old and has only started six collegiate games. The upside is there.
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