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2020 NFL Draft Preview: Defensive tackle sleepers and Broncos fits

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The Broncos defense is going to be one of the best in the league in 2020. Vic Fangio knows how to pressure opposing quarterbacks, and the best teams are able to get that pressure with just four defenders going after the passer. To do that, a team must have a strong defensive line to hold up against the run and featuring a player or two who can also make quarterbacks uncomfortable.

This draft class is top-heavy at the defensive tackle position. There are some elite-level players, but only a few. Then, there is a severe drop off to the next group of players.

These top-end defensive tackles are more than just run-stuffers. They are players who can be truly dominant on all three downs. The others in this class may just be two-down players who can stop the run and take up space. However, there are some names to know of players later on in this draft who could possibly develop into quality three-down players.

In this article, I will look at the market for the position. I’ll also write about sleepers at the defensive tackle position and some players who could fit what the Broncos need in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Market Watch

My No. 2 player in this draft class is Derrick Brown, the defensive tackle from Auburn. Brown has rare traits at 326 pounds and can move like a much smaller man. When the ball is snapped, Brown has the quickness to throw off any blocker’s plan of attack. He is a penetrating and disruptive force who can make quarterbacks uncomfortable right from the start of the play. Brown does not waste time or motion to get into the backfield when attacking the passer.

He is a strong run-defender who is difficult to move off the point of attack. Brown does a good job of latching onto his offensive lineman and getting rid of him by shedding him quickly. He is a sound tackler, only missing five tackles total in four years at Auburn. Brown can be plugged in as an instant starter at the pro level and has Pro Bowl upside as a rookie.

I watched Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) dominate for a few days of practice at the Reese’s Senior Bowl earlier this year. Kinlaw has cat-like quickness when the ball is snapped. His power is instant, and he can use a bull rush or push/pull on a blocker to get around him or get through him in the blink of an eye. I watched Kinlaw dominate one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl against some of the best tackle prospects in this year’s class, like Josh Jones (Houston).

Kinlaw’s film is inconsistent in terms of production and technique. He’s far from a finished product and needs to learn counter moves instead of just rushing in wildly. Kinlaw also needs to play with better leverage as a run-defender. His upside and physical traits are going to be tempting for teams to take and that’s why he should be a top-12 pick.

Jordan Elliott (Missouri) is likely going to be a late first-round pick in the draft. With the whirlwind of talent available at other positions, there is a chance he falls to day two of the draft. But there is no doubt that Elliott has first-round tools. Watching Elliott is fun because he has a non-stop motor and does not quit throughout the game. Elliott is consistent when he plays and he is technically sound.

I like his length for the position, and his wingspan allows him to make up ground and get the quarterback faster from the inside. His hand-fighting technique is the best in this class and that helps him stack and shed to get to the ball-carrier. Elliott doesn’t have the sack production of others at the position but he’s an all-around prospect with an incredible work ethic.

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Sleepers

Ross Blacklock from TCU is not a sleeper, but he’s a second-round pick who would be well worth picking up for any team out there. I call him the “king of stunts” in this year’s class because there isn’t a stunt or twist move that he doesn’t like. Blacklock is an incredible athlete who plays with a high motor and does not give up on a play even if it goes away from him. He is an agile player with sideline-to-sideline ability to be a disruptive player on every down. He is going in the second round because of medical history, including an Achilles’ injury that caused him to miss all of the 2018 season.

Carlos Davis from Nebraska is a late-round sleeper with an athletic profile teams will love. He finished his career with Nebraska by compiling 6.0 sacks in 2019. That part of his game is a work in progress, but teams are going to love the way he fires off the ball quickly. He has inconsistent leverage in run defense and will be an older rookie (24) in 2020, but Davis is worth taking a look at even if he falls out of the draft and to the ranks of the college free agents.

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Broncos Fits

Leki Fotu (Utah) is a player who would fit nicely into what the Broncos want to do on defense, and the team could get him in the mid rounds of the draft. If you want to know how to stuff the run, just turn on the tape of Fotu. At 330 pounds, Fotu is tough to move and knows how to use leverage to win against the run. Not only is he tough to move, but Fotu is a line-of-scrimmage mover who can disrupt rushing lanes with a great instinct to find the ball. His first step is a blur and he uses his big hands and strong arms to control his man, shed his man and engulf the ball-carrier. Fotu is not much of a pass-rusher but more of a two-down player who can be dominant as a starter.

Raequan Williams (Michigan State) is another player the Broncos could be considering in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft, and he may be a fallback option if Fotu is off the board. Williams might be best suited to play a two-gap 3-4 defensive end, but he can play inside at tackle, too. He sheds his man quickly and wastes little time getting to the ball.