Now that the 2017 NFL Draft has concluded, the analysis continues in projecting these prospects to the next level, especially during their rookie years. I’m building a series looking at the five biggest early impact contributors among each position group, including today’s focus on five interior defensive lineman that will make their marks quickly in the NFL, perhaps even in starting roles right away.
The players are listed in order from the most to least impactful rookies among each position group. It’s splitting hairs in some cases, but I figured it will give us another fun element to look back on when the season ends.
1. Jonathan Allen, DL, Washington Redskins
Entering the draft, perhaps no team in the league had deficiencies along their defensive line like Washington, and Jon Allen’s slide to no. 17 overall was the perfect remedy for their maladies. He gives them instant toughness and power up front in base and nickel situations, capable of playing the run at a high level due to leverage, technique and mental processing.
Allen’s hand usage as a pass rusher is second to none, making Allen an immediate three-down player with an NFL-ready skill set. The Alabama captain’s ceiling isn’t as high as many of his first round counterparts, but he’ll have a terrific early impact for Washington despite being easily the best player on their defensive line right now.
2. Dalvin Tomlinson, DL, New York Giants
Tomlinson is a plug-and-play starter who was drafted in the second round to offset the loss of Johnathan Hankins in free agency. He’ll give you a spirited effort and decent rush moves on passing downs, but I wouldn’t expect a massive impact there.
Where Tomlinson really wins is with strong hand work, block recognition and technique at the point of attack, stacking and shedding blocks to dominate his gap. He and Damon Harrison in the middle will be a brutal duo for offensive lines to handle in the run game, while both could alternate rotating out on occasion for interior rushers like Avery Moss or Jay Bromley.
3. Malik McDowell, DL, Seattle Seahawks
McDowell is easily the most talented interior defensive linemen in this class, but questions remain on how he’ll take to coaching and where he’ll insert into the Seattle lineup. However, Jarran Reed is currently under investigation for assaulting a woman, and Ahtyba Rubin won’t offer much on passing downs.
Obviously Michael Bennett will rush from the interior more often than not, but the Seahawks are thin along the interior defensive line if Reed is out of the picture, so McDowell could conceivably be the team’s starting 3 technique in base fronts.
McDowell’s explosiveness, length and versatility could make him a factor as a one-gap player from several different alignments, and I expect Kris Richard to get him on the field early and often this season.
4. Eddie Vanderdoes, DL, Oakland Raiders
Vanderdoes looked like he was returning to pre-knee injury form at the Senior Bowl and combine, and if that’s the case, the Raiders may have landed a steal in the third round.
Vanderdoes has impressive quickness and power, capable of playing both the 1 and 3 technique spots in a defensive front. He’ll likely get plenty of run at both spots in Oakland, taking over as the team’s starting 3 tech next to Justin Ellis in base looks, before sliding over on long and late downs as an interior rusher.
Vanderdoes may not be a complete three-down player right now, but all the ability and talent is there for him to be a stud if he continues to develop his rush moves and finish with more frequency. I think he’s a Week 1 starter in Oakland.
5. Jaleel Johnson, DL, Minnesota Vikings
With Sharrif Floyd’s playing career sadly in question due to injury, Johnson should step into the starting lineup immediately next to Linval Joseph. Joseph has played the 3 technique spot before, and Johnson can man either interior position, although he’l probably be a better option as a nose tackle.
A thickly built run stuffer with elite technique and mental processing, Johnson won’t offer a ton as a pass rusher, but he’s tough and physical, with the smarts to pick up Mike Zimmer’s defense quickly. He’ll play on early downs, while Tom Johnson and Will Sutton rotate in on long and late downs.