Now that we have gotten past that 1st (and 2nd) wave of free agency I figured it was time to get back into the film study on the upcoming prospects for this year’s draft.

What better way to start than what I think is one of the Saints biggest needs – defensive tackle. The unsung job of the big dawgs in the interior of any defensive line is crucial for all the other parts of the defense to mesh.

Okay time to get started and since the Saints are the Louisiana/Gulf Coast’s team we might as well start with a young man who was born in Mississippi and when to college in Louisiana – Vernon Butler.

Digging for gold 2016 draft defensive tackles

Vernon Butler

Vernon Butler School: Louisiana Tech
Exp: Senior
Weight: 323 lbs
Height: 6-4
40 time: 5.33
225 bench: 26 reps
Hometown: Summit, Miss

During Butler’s tenure at Louisiana Tech the senior defensive tackle would rack up 170 total tackles (87 solo) on his way to earning 1st team All-Conference USA honors in 2015.

While over his career at Louisiana Tech he would only record five sacks it’s Butler’s ability to create an inside push that first caught my eye. Although Butler is not the quickest man, that doesn’t take away on how athletic he is – in that 2 to 3 second range, he’s as explosive as they come.

Another thing I like about him is his use of his arms and hands, he has good technique when creating space shedding a lineman and when he has his pad level correct, he’s hard to stop. The problem is, at times he will lapse on his technique and play too upright and that’s when he can be moved out of his lane.

You can tell he has good lower body strength on how when he gets leverage and gets those legs moving, he will push the lineman into the quarterback’s comfort zone and get him off his spot.

Although mainly used as a defensive tackle at times he will line up at the nose and on occasion, defensive end. Most draft boards have Butler going from late 1st round to late 2nd round, if he’s still there when the Saints are on the clock in the second round, he would definitely be worth pulling the trigger on.

Below is a clip of Butler getting an offensive lineman on his heels – although the QB made a great throw it was a good example of Butler getting that interior push that I always talk about.

Vernon Butler
Sheldon Rankins

Sheldon RankinsCollege: Louisville
Exp: Senior
Weight: 299 lbs
Height: 6-1
40 time: 5.03
225 bench: 28 reps
Hometown: Covington, GA

When the Saints go on the clock with the 12th overall pick Sheldon Rankins is a name the black and gold faithful should keep an eye on.

If the Saints are going to go with a four man front and I think they will, Rankins will fit in perfectly as a three technique defensive tackle – something I thought Akiem Hicks had a great shot of doing but just couldn’t put it together in his time here.

Louisville used Rankins mainly in the interior but at times in 2015 they did put him out wide at defensive end. This young man is strong and explosive, very rarely do you see him pushed backwards. Rankins has good upper body and hand technique combined with a powerful lower body.

When Rankins gets it going he is a handful as evident in all the double teams he draws and when he is not double teamed he often gets chipped. Although not the biggest defensive tackle he plays with good pad level and leverage.

One of the things that caught my eye on his tape was how football smart this guy is, his instinct to get to the quarterback or ball carrier is second to none and when he gets free, he explodes to the ball.

If the Saints pull the trigger on Rankins at number twelve you will not hear any complaints from me, in fact I will probable crack open a cold one to celebrate – below is an example of his explosiveness off the ball.

Sheldon Rankins
Andrew Billings

Andrew BillingsCollege: Baylor
Exp: Junior
Weight: 311 lbs
Height: 6-1
40 time: 5.05
225 bench: 31
Hometown: Waco, TX

If I had one word to describe Andrew Billings it would be – Strong. Which probably should not come as a surprise seeing as he broke the Texas power lifting record in high school.

As you probably noticed when I first put on the tape I like to see what instantly catches my eye from a player and then I work down from there, with Billings it’s how relentless this young man is – he doesn’t stop. Even late in games when he’s fighting through heavy legs and may be slowing down a bit, he is still giving it his all – I like this trait a lot for big men in the trenches, it’s a true sign of mental toughness plus Billings has a bit of a nasty streak – he loves to throw opposing players around.

Now with all this said, Billings is a bit raw with his technique. In college Billings may be able to get away with relying a lot on his superior upper body strength, were as in the pros a savvy offensive lineman will gain leverage and be able to disrupt him out of his lane. That’s not to say Billings doesn’t play with good pad level and use leverage – he does but at times gets away from it and can play a bit out of control but that’s where good coaching comes into play – teach him to harness his natural strengths into more sound technique.

Another thing that I like about Billings is his explosiveness and quickness getting to the ball carrier or quarterback – he move really well for a big man. Combine that with his penchant to knock players out-of-the-way with brute strength gives this young prospect a very bright future in the NFL – below is an example of that explosiveness.

Billings

Robert Nkemdiche

Robert NkemdicheCollege: Ole Miss
Exp: Junior
Weight: 294 lbs
Height: 6-3
40 time: 4.87
225 bench: 28 reps
Hometown: Loganville, GA

Just out of curiosity this is one player I will keep an eye on come draft day. Nkemdiche’s off field issues have been well documented with his fall from an Atlanta hotel window and subsequent charge of drug possession (synthetic marijuana)

There’s no doubt Nkemdiche’s draft stock took a hit but how much is the great unknown.

Last year Randy Gregory was once a top 15 prospect but slid out of the 1st round (2nd round, 60th overall) the Cowboys took a chance on him and what does he do? fails a drug test and is suspended for the first four games for this upcoming season.

I know these are two completely different players but I used Gregory as an example because of the obvious risk – reward. GM’s across the league have already put a red flag on his scouting report but some team will take a chance on him, he’s too much of an athletic freak not to.

There’s no doubting Nkemdiche is a great athlete, it’s one the 1st things that pop out to you – he’s very explosive off the line. His first step to the gap is one of his biggest strong points plus while watching him you can also see he maintains good pad level and is very good at wrapping up the ball carrier. He also has a very good spin move and uses his arms and hands well.

The problem I have with him is some plays he gets too out of position, losing leverage and is pushed out of the play. While watching him at times it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much and then boom! the explosive play happens out of the blue.

I would like to see Nkemdiche put on a few pounds and work on his lower body strength but I’m sure NFL trainers will have a handle on this. Below is a clip of the explosiveness I mentioned above.

Robert N

With the news today that the Saints have signed DT Nick Fairley to a one year deal does not lessen the need for the Saints draft a defensive tackle, it just gives them more options.

This is a deep, deep draft for defensive tackle and I only touched on a few in this article but I fully expect the Saints to draft one, the question remains, how high are they willing to go?

I can’t wait until they are on the clock.