Packers 2016 Draft: Ranking the top-25 defensive linemen

Boston College Eagles quarterback Jeff Smith (5) scrambles away from Louisville Cardinals defensive end Sheldon Rankins (98).
Boston College Eagles quarterback Jeff Smith (5) scrambles away from Louisville Cardinals defensive end Sheldon Rankins (98). /
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Oregon Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44). Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Oregon Ducks defensive lineman DeForest Buckner (44). Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Tier 1: First-Round Consideration

1. DeForest Buckner, Oregon (6-7, 291, 5.05)
Buckner may be the only top-five talent in this draft class getting very little media attention. A big part of this is he’s a non-controversial prospect who may be the closest thing to a sure thing at the defensive line position. Buckner is the ideal five-technique defensive end both in build and athletically speaking, but he can also kick inside as a three-tech defensive tackle in a 4-3 front or play either defensive end and excel as an edge rusher. The Calais Campbell comparisons aren’t far off. (Projection: Top-Five)

2. Andrew Billings, Baylor (6-1, 311, 5.05)
Projections for Billings have been all over the map—some even placing him well into the second round. However, I see a powerful nose tackle who is an immovable space eater in the middle of the tackle box. He also possesses the downfield explosiveness to get into the backfield and break up running plays or push the pocket as an interior pass rusher. Some will try to minimize him to just a two-down run stopper in the NFL, but in my opinion, he’s a complete interior defensive lineman with underrated pass rushing ability. (Projection: Round 1)

3. Jarran Reed, Alabama (6-3, 307, 5.21)
Reed may not be the most explosive or athletically gifted defensive lineman in this year’s class, but he may very well be the most consistent. Reed was a dominant run defender in one of the most talented front sevens in college football. His ability to hold the point of attack and two-gap make him a great fit for 3-4 teams looking for a big-bodied defender to control the line of scrimmage. The hustle and work ethic he brings to the game will quickly endear him to coaches, teammates, and fans. (Projection: Round 1)

4. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville (6-1, 299, 5.03)
Rankins may be the top interior pass rusher in this year’s group. He’s very explosive off the line of scrimmage, and he battles nearly every snap. His best fit at the next level is as a three-technique defensive tackle, but he could also function at end in a 3-4 front. Even though the Aaron Donald comparisons are a bit rich for my blood, Rankins is still a very disruptive interior defensive lineman with quick-twitch athleticism. I just wish he was more disciplined and consistent against the run. (Projection: Round 1)

5. Kenny Clark, UCLA (6-3, 314, 5.06)
I seem to be higher on Clark than most, but even though he’s become a bit of a forgotten man in draft media, on tape I still see the first-round talent many lauded during the college season. In 2015, with several key starters lost to injury on the Bruins defense, Clark stepped up his game and developed into a true impact player and leader in UCLA’s front seven, playing over 80% of the team’s defensive snaps. Clark can play either nose or five-tech defensive end in a 3-4 front, but given his athleticism and ability to create pressure, he could also play role as an interior rusher in the Packers nickel look. He’s one of the few true three-down defensive lineman in this draft class. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)

6. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama (6-4, 307, 5.20)
Robinson is an explosive athlete and a player with tremendous upside at the position. At times, he flashes dominant play at the line of scrimmage, but his effort isn’t consistently there. A team that likes Robinson’s raw talent could take him as early as the middle of the first round, but on film, I still see a guy who is primarily a two-down run stopper at the next level. Robinson is a bit of a boom-or-bust pick for me, which I don’t feel comfortable with in the first round, especially one who doesn’t show a lot of ability to rush the passer. However, he’s still an interesting prospect as a potential 3-4 defensive end. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)

7. Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech (6-4, 323, 5.33)
Butler is another early-round defensive lineman who can play either nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4 front. With a towering frame, Butler can take on double teams, hold the point of attack, and control the line of scrimmage. He also has good lateral movement and athleticism for a defensive lineman, and this combined with his ability to create pressure as a pass rusher make his best fit as a five-technique defensive end in the NFL. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)

8. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (6-3, 294, 4.87)
Once considered a top-five overall talent, Nkemdiche’s draft stock has plummeted over the past few months. On film, he still has plenty of “wow” plays that make him an enticing prospect. However, off-the-field concerns from falling out of a hotel window at a party to throwing his teammate under the bus during team interviews at the combine, plenty of red flags are attached to his name. Not to mention many question his effort, work ethic, and passion for the game. Despite the physical ability, Nkemdiche is too much of a risk to go in the first round. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)

Next: Tier 2: Early-Round DLs