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Ballard’s Potential Big Board: 5 Top NFL Draft DT Prospects for Colts

ACC Championship - Clemson v Pittsburgh Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The NFL Draft is just a week away, and the Indianapolis Colts are armed with both the 26th and 34th overall picks among their impressive arsenal.

With this year’s draft class being considered deep along the defensive line, the Colts could potentially capitalize along the interior with a number of intriguing high end prospects.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard has preached consistently winning in the trenches, and hitting another home run in the first or second round would go a long way toward achieving that goal defensively.

So without further ado, here are the Top 5 defensive tackles for the Colts to consider:

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

5. Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Ohio State

At 6’3”, 281 pounds, Jones had 43 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, an interception (for a touchdown), and a forced fumble in 14 games. Because of his play, the Buckeyes junior standout was named 1st-Team All-Big Ten in 2018.

Jones is the type of athletic, penetrating three-technique defensive tackle that could excel in Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus’ swarming scheme.

Jones has exceptional quickness and is fluid with his pass rushing moves, but at times, can get pushed around with too high of a pad level and a lack of overall strength.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Colts already have a great familiarity with Jones’ film though, having drafted his former Ohio State teammate Tyquan Lewis last year.

As far as fit, Jones is like a glove to the Colts, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ballard overdraft him a bit based on this skill-set which could be a match made in heaven—only we’re still in Indianapolis.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

4. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

The 6’4”, 342 pound defensive tackle had 36 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 13 games for the Tigers defense, as he was awarded First-Team All-ACC honors as a junior.

However, there might be some ‘buyer beware’ here, as he missed Clemson’s two playoff games because of a positive performance-enhancing drug test.

Lawrence is simply humongous, but he’s also blessed with surprising quickness and light feet for such a big man of his stature.

He has the sheer strength and ability to consistently command a double team and simply absorbs blocks at times—which would bode well for the Colts playmakers at linebacker such as Darius Leonard to be freed up.

That being said, some question whether he’s regressed since he was ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2016, and his average pass rush ability could limit him to more of a two-down run stuffer—which hurts his overall usefulness.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Mississippi State vs Iowa Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

3. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State

The 6’4”, 301 pound junior defensive tackle recorded 63 tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks in 13 games, as he was named a 2nd-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC member for Mississippi State.

Perhaps the most polarizing prospect on this list with potential character concerns, Simmons has elite level Top 15 level draft talent, but carries some red flag risk with his past.

He was arrested in March of 2016 for punching a woman, and while he never had any further incidents with the Bulldogs, any general manager will have to perform his due diligence to ensure he’s in fact matured from it.

The other issue with Simmons is that he tore his ACL during a February workout, so a team may have to wait on him until he’s fully recovered—whether it’s even 2020.

Still, the combination of speed, power, and explosiveness is quite tantalizing, and Simmons makes for one of the best athletes in this group. That being said, his instincts and awareness could use some improvement at the next level—which aren’t always easy fixes.

Is Chris Ballard feeling lucky and ready to roll the dice?

Vanderbilt v Notre Dame Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2. Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame

At 6’6”, 295 pounds, Tillery had 30 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks in 13 games for the Fighting Irish in 2018. As a result of his strong play, the senior defensive tackle earned AP 2nd-Team All-American honors.

Tillery is well built and has exceptional power for his longer frame, as he has the strength to simply bull rush or overpower opposing offensive lineman. He also has ‘sweet feet’ and impressive lateral quickness, but he could withstand to refine some of his technique—which limits him a bit in the running game.

It could mark a consecutive draft where the Colts selected a former Notre Dame star in the first round, but I’m guessing most fans of the Horseshoe wouldn’t complain.

Florida State v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

1. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

The 6’3”, 315 pound senior defensive tackle recorded 51 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 15 games—earning unanimous 1st Team All-American and ACC honors respectively.

Highly regarded for his character and work ethic, Wilkins is also the type of low pad level, strong, and disruptive defensive tackle that could simply thrive in the Colts defensive scheme.

He’s a very good, maybe not great athlete, but he’s the type of player that could be a solid Pro Bowler for the next decade along the Colts defensive line. In that regard, he’s really the type of prospect that a team drafts and doesn’t have to think twice about being a highly productive pro for a long, long time.

While his ceiling may not be as high as some of his defensive tackle counterparts here, his floor isn’t very far from the attic either. Careful, you might hit your head!

He’s at least an easy triple if this were a baseball at-bat and looks like one of the safer picks in this year’s draft.