Philadelphia Eagles Draft: Interior Defensive Line Positional Preview

Mar 5, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive lineman Jaleel Johnson goes through workout drills during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

There’s been some free agent turnover on the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line. How might they address the trenches in the Draft? We’ve got an idea or two.

The NFL Draft is rapidly approaching and Apr. 27 will be here in the blink of an eye. Between now and then, teams will be finalizing their draft boards: ranking players based on talent, production, potential, intangibles, scheme fit, etc.

Over the coming weeks, we will be doing the same thing.

Each week leading up to the draft, Michael Coggin and I will rank the prospects of a certain position based on fit for the Eagles. We will discuss and debate the players before finalizing the order; in the same way, the Eagles personnel department is currently doing. By the time April rolls around, we will have scheme-specific rankings for each position, which will provide some clarity on the Philadelphia Eagles Big Board as a whole.

Thus far, we have covered the following position groups:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Tackles

Interior Offensive Line

EDGE Defenders

This week, we’ll kick inside and discuss the big uglies in the middle of the defensive line.

Mike’s Rankings

  1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama
  2. Caleb Brantley, Florida
  3. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
  4. Montravius Adams, Auburn
  5. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
  6. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
  7. Carlos Watkins, Clemson
  8. Davon Godchaux, LSU
  9. Elijah Qualls, Washington
  10. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

Ben’s Rankings

  1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama
  2. Caleb Brantley, Florida
  3. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
  4. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
  5. Montravius Adams, Auburn
  6. Davon Godchaux, LSU
  7. Carlos Watkins, Clemson
  8. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
  9. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
  10. Larry Ogunjobi, UNC-Charlotte

The Discussion

BS: Wow. A whole lot of similarity in these rankings. We’re either both pretty smart or both pretty stupid.

Let’s kick things off with Jonathan Allen, simply because he’s been sliding down some boards recently. I know we talked about him a bit before the post got rolling, and we saw a couple of different things. I thought he was supremely explosive off the line–quick to diagnose and attack. What did you find in his film?

Philadelphia Eagles
Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) celebrates a defensive stop during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game against the Florida Gators at Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Florida 54-16. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

MC: Yeah…I’m gonna hope we just both happen to be highly intelligent individuals when it comes to evaluating interior DL talent. Jonathan Allen, as we discussed in our Combine coverage, has apparently seen his stock drop. Between the Combine performance and medical concerns over his arthritic shoulders, he should absolutely be available at 14th overall.

As for what I saw, I saw a lot of what you did but one thing bothered me. Allen is always the last guy out of his stance off the snap. Admittedly, this is akin to passing on Kate Upton because of a freckle. But it was something I noticed, nonetheless. Is he just deliberate to not draw a flag? Is he slow to recognize the snap?

Ultimately, it didn’t seem to matter because his innate speed-see-strike abilities are exceptional. He’s fast, sees the play, and strikes his point of attack. More importantly, you almost never have to take him off the field. His versatility inside & out matches his technical proficiency. He possesses many polished moves to get off blocks and penetrate. I was amazed by the number of tackles down the field he is in on. It speaks to his attitude and heart for the game. Lining him up next to Fletcher Cox would be, in a word, devastating to opposing offenses. So, really, who cares about the freckle?

It would seem we both like Jaleel Johnson more than most guys involved in Twitter scouting. Similarly, we both dislike his Big 10 colleague in Malik McDowell. One thing my dad always said was this: “I’ll tolerate a lot of things, but not living up to your potential is inexcusable.” It was in my mind when I watched McDowell’s tape…and I mean that in a bad way. Tell me what separates these two for you.

BS: Two really interesting studies, and two guys in whom the Eagles will definitely have interest. I’m pumped.

Let’s assume, even though DT is still a need that could be addressed in late free agency, that Beau Allen starts as the primary NT. He played well in Bennie Logan’s absence last season and particularly excelled against the run. That’s perfect because Jaleel Johnson is a dog of a pass-rusher. (MC interjection: a million times yes to everything you said in this paragraph)

With a quick first step, nice length, and a mean motor, I love the idea of Johnson rushing next to Cox on 3rd down. Who do you double-team? Cause I can promise you, the other guy’s gonna beat his 1-on-1 pretty quick. Both Cox and Johnson have the lateral quickness and understanding of offensive line angles to create a truly devastating interior pass-rush.

Now, because he’s such a liability in the run game (he simply lacks the functional strength to anchor) and is limited to a 1-gap scheme, Johnson will drop down or off more than a few boards. This is great news for Philly. While I have him at a solid Round 2 grade, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him slide into the 3rd, and if he gets down that far, the Eagles should bite.

Philadelphia Eagles
Dec 31, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jake Coker (14) is pressured by Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) in the third quarter in the 2015 CFP semifinal at the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports /

I absolutely agree with you on McDowell–much like Connor Cook from East Lansing last season, the locker room wasn’t a big fan of McDowell, and I’m not sure I want him on my football team. I do think the veteran leadership of Long, Graham, and Cox would do him well in Philly. But the last message I want to communicate to my team is “Hey if you’re talented, we’ll pretty much overlook anything.”

So his on the field product has YUGE ups and downs, no question. But the ups are simply intoxicating. Michigan State moved him all around the line–he’d probably get reps at DE for Philly on early downs, kicking further inside on pass reps. The fit definitely isn’t as snug as it was with Johnson–partially leading to the hit in the rankings–but man he’d be a dangerous weapon opposite, Graham.

He flashes quick, powerful hands; an insanely explosive first step; decent bend; a bull-rush, speed-to-power, and counter moves; a huge play radius; a play-making hunger–but all when he feels like it. It’s incredibly frustrating, and I don’t think I or the Eagles would touch him before the third round.

Another high-variance product–Jarron Jones. You’re significantly higher on him than I am, but I do think he has some NT skills that could fit in this defense. What makes you so bullish on him?

MC: One thing I love about Jones that no one discusses. He was on offensive tackle coming out of high school (Aquinas Institute; Rochester, NY). It wasn’t until he got to South Bend that he switched to the defensive side of the ball. He understands OL play and it shows on his tape, as he shoots gaps and penetrates with precision. Aggressive with his hands and never stood up in one-on-one situations, he’s the guy that is going to make the QB get off his spot from middle-gap penetration. For those paying attention, this is really the best kind of pressure to force bad throws & decisions out of an opposing QB.

The only problem with Jones’ tape is that there just isn’t enough of it. He lost his last three games, though one was a bowl game, because of a Lisfranc injury in 2014. His 2015 campaign never got off the tracks because of a third-degree MCL tear in his right knee. Lower body injuries (Sixers fans, you listening?) are concerning for men of Jones’ size. A third degree is a total separation of the MCL from the knee and can predispose to future joint instability. Obviously, the medicals need to check out for Jones to be a legitimate prospect on any franchise’s board. The tape that does exist, specifically against Miami last season, is impressive.

Speaking of impressive tape, tell me about Davon Godchaux (LSU). I watched his tape and just didn’t see him dominate anyone at the collegiate level. I thought he manned his gaps and “did his job” admirably. There’s something to be said for that, to be sure. I just never saw him outclassing anyone like I would like to see from NFL prospects. What has you slightly higher on him?

BS: Godchaux’s another really interesting case (man, I feel like all of these defensive linemen are). In 2015, when he was asked to play 1-gap like he would in Philly’s scheme, he was deadly. He has really nice explosiveness off the line, excellent lateral quickness, and some solid fire in his hands. His recognition skills are decent, he can clearly time a snap count pretty well, and he flashes solid technique.

Really, if you like Jaleel Johnson in the 2nd, I have to imagine you’d like Godchaux in the 3rd. They have similar size and win in similar ways.

Philadelphia Eagles
Oct 10, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Perry Orth (10) throws as LSU Tigers defensive tackle Davon Godchaux (57) pressures during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

However, even though Johnson himself does lack some polish, Godchaux falls significantly in that regard. He’s overaggressive and undisciplined, especially in his run fits, which makes him a big 3-down liability. His pass rush has energy but lacks intentionality. Coaches laud his work ethic, and the upside is certainly there, but he isn’t a Year-1 starter by any means. I’m willing to gamble on his ceiling as a Fletcher Cox backup, but no earlier than R3.

Let’s wrap with the same exercise we did for Interior Offensive Line a few weeks ago: Give me your projected 2-deep for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line, and I’ll do the same.

MC: Great idea because there’s a lot of uncertainty now given the transition this unit is currently going through. I’m actually gonna go a little deeper than just two rounds (Bonus Coverage: “Pardon our Progress” edition!).

This is a tough assignment though because I firmly believe they want to improve the D-line at 14th overall. I could see them going Jonathan Allen or Charles Harris or Derek Barnett based on who is available. According to reports, the team is looking to extend Beau Allen in the near future. This could indicate the FO would prefer an EDGE over a DL, all other considerations being equal. So I’ll offer you this. One projection based on what they have…and one based on what I think they want:

RDE: Curry, Long, Means/Smith/McCalister
DT: Cox, Vaeao
NT: Allen, Shittu
LDE: Graham, Means/Smith/McCalister

RDE: Best EDGE available, Curry/Long
DT: Cox, Vaeao
NT: Allen, Shittu
LDE: Graham, Means/Smith/McCalister

On obvious passing downs, the newly acquired rookie would kick inside to round out a unit with some nice speed to the point of contact. Side note: man it is really hard not to look at what is above and dream about what the unit could be with a guy like Jonathan Allen…but I’m not playing favorites or anything.

BS: Here’s what I see moving forward:

RDE: Curry, Long
DT: Cox, Vaeao
NT: Allen, Late-Round Rookie (Dalvin Tomlinson is a name on which to keep an eye)
LDE: Graham, Mid-Round Rookie (Bring me Tarell Basham, Howie)

The Big Board

  1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama
  2. Caleb Brantley, Florida
  3. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa
  4. Montravius Adams, Auburn
  5. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
  6. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
  7. Carlos Watkins, Clemson
  8. Davon Godchaux, LSU
  9. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
  10. Elijah Qualls, Washington
  11. Larry Ogunjobi, UNC-Charlotte

Next: NFL Draft Chalk Talk With Mel Kiper Jr. Takeaways

Writer’s note: These are our joined interior defensive lineman rankings for the Philadelphia Eagles. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter what you think, and be sure to keep an eye out next week for our linebacker rankings!