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Pre-combine NFL Draft rankings: Defensive tackles

Prior to the NFL Combine, we rank the best interior defensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Arkansas Razorbacks v Georgia Bulldogs Photo by Steven Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The NFL Scouting Combine begins on March 1 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs could be looking for more contributors on the interior of the defensive line — so let’s take a look at the best ones we currently see.

1. Devonte Wyatt | Georgia | 6 feet 3 | 315 pounds

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 10 CFP National Championship Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wyatt has the explosiveness and burst off the snap to be consistently disruptive, while also having the mass to hold up fairly well when he’s being double-teamed is or working against the run. For his size, his lateral-movement skills are rare. Despite only totaling 2.5 sacks in 2021, his tools allowed him to be named a second-team All-American.

He may also have taken advantage of how much talent existed on the Bulldogs’ defensive line — opposing offenses had to account for multiple players — but Wyatt’s dominance was equivalent with any of his teammates. At the next level, he should be an immediate force on both running and passing downs.

2. Jordan Davis | Georgia | 6 feet 6 | 340 pounds

Missouri Tigers v Georgia Bulldogs Photo by Steven Limentani/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In 2021, Davis blew onto the scene as one of college football’s most difficult defensive linemen to block. His sheer size made it impossible to block him with a single player — and plans to double-teams him tended to be more hopeful than successful; he was constantly in the backfield. Even though he played fewer snaps than Georgia’s other two featured linemen, he led the team in run stops and logged five tackles for loss on the season.

Unfortunately, his size may contribute to becoming fatigued more quickly — and that shows up in his pass rushing. Too many times during 2021’s third-down snaps, he lacked explosiveness and burst — making him a non-factor. This was especially true when he was winded from first and second down.

This is why Davis didn’t make my top spot — but I don’t hesitate to say that on early NFL downs, he will persistently disrupt; he’ll definitely be a first-round pick.

3. Perrion Winfrey | Oklahoma | 6 feet 4 | 292 pounds

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Texas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s NFL, you want a defensive lineman who shows juice as a pass rusher, penetrating the line of scrimmage multiple times in every game. That’s why I’m high on Winfrey.

At the top of his highlight reel, he has exciting snaps where he flies off the line of scrimmage and through a gap before anyone on the offense can do anything about it. Winfrey’s lengthy frame and generally-large physique allow him to reach and grab ball carriers and quarterbacks enough to at least slow them down — if not completely corral them. As a pass rusher, he shows great effort, noticeably working until the play is completely over.

Still, Winfrey is an inconsistent player — which leads to some lows in his highlight reel. He can be pushed around inside — and can sometimes play with too much leverage. But his explosiveness is too much to ignore; in pass protection, the NFL’s interior offensive linemen will immediately find Winfrey to be a handful.

4. Travis Jones | UConn | 6 feet 5 | 333 pounds

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As important as it is for NFL defenses to have penetrating defensive linemen on the inside, they also need gap-plugging players who can feel like a boulder when blockers are trying to move them. That’s what Jones represents.

He has the size and technique to be a reliable option on early downs. While he’s absurdly large, he shows great fundamentals while engaging blocks and understanding how to leverage himself based on the play direction. He’s also powerful — and he can use that strength to blow blockers backward with bull rushes.

At UConn, he may not have faced the best competition — but against Clemson in 2021 (and again at the Senior Bowl), he turned in impressive performances. For any team seeking a starting nose tackle (or 1-tech) for the next four seasons, selecting Jones in the first two rounds is a pretty safe bet.

5. DeMarvin Leal | Texas A&M | 6 feet 4 | 290 pounds

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Arkansas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Leal was a five-star recruit coming out of high school — so for years, he has been a player NFL Draft fans have wanted to discuss. There’s plenty to talk about.

In his college career, Leal started as a defensive end — but he has often been moved around, playing situationally from the interior. His size suggests that at the next level, he’ll need to be an interior player — but to do that, he’ll need to put on even more weight.

In college, he was never a dominant force from the inside; even as a very sound player with impressive technique that led to successful plays, he could too often be overpowered. From the edge, he appeared very stout — but overall, he lacked the burst or explosion we see in some of these other prospects.

Still, Leal has a foundation to build upon — but he’ll need to add weight to hold up on the interior. In the NFL, he may end up being a big, solid defensive end — rather than a disruptive inside player.