2015 NFL Draft: Intriguing Defensive Linemen to Watch

The 2015 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 30 in Chicago, Illinois.

2015 NFL Draft Schedule

Date

Round(s)

Time

Thursday, April 30

1

7pm CT

Friday, May 1

2-3

6pm CT

Saturday, May 2

4-7

11am CT

As we get closer to the draft, we will take a look at a few players available in each positional group throughout this series.

Here is a roundup of some interesting defensive linemen.

USC's Leonard Williams

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Williams is the top-rated defensive tackle in this draft.

He's projected by most as a top-five pick after showing an elite combination of size and athleticism during his time at USC. He's 6-foot-5, 302 pounds and finished last season with 80 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one interception and forced three fumbles.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Williams:

"Enormously powerful defensive lineman. Has the look and feel of the biggest, strongest kid on the playground but hasn't figured out how to unlock his natural gifts and consistently dominate the rest of the kids on the playground just yet. Williams can play in an odd or even front, and is able to hold the point as a two-gapper or disrupt upfield. With coaching and more experience, Williams should be able to match the athleticism with the power and become a consistent Pro Bowler with a ceiling that goes even higher than that."

Washington's Danny Shelton

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Last January, Shelton was named the most outstanding player at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. He proved to be the best player on a field full of outstanding players that week. 

His combination of size and speed had some making the comparison to the Kansas City Chiefs' Dontari Poe, and people believe he's a day one starter. Last season at Washington, Shelton had 93 tackles with 16 tackles for loss. He was also the first Academic All-American for Washington since 1991.

He's projected to go in the upper-half of the first round and is Charles Davis of NFL Network's No. 2 rated defensive tackle behind Williams.

But Shelton's journey to the NFL goes way beyond football.

On May 1, 2011, Shelton, his two brothers a cousin and another friend were involved in a fight that left his older brother Shennon, dead. Robert Mays of Grantland.com details the whole story.

Shelton overcame that tragedy and has put himself in a position to be one of the first names called when the 2015 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 30 in Chicago, Illinois.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Shelton:

"With his thick frame and powerful upper body, Shelton has moments where he can dominate at the point of attack. He was forced to chase sideline to sideline due to the nature of Pac-12 offenses, but when he faced downhill competition like Stanford, he stepped up. Shelton is an above-average interior pass rusher for a man his size, thanks to his surprising athleticism. He is a fit in a two-gap scheme and could benefit from playing fewer snaps than he was forced to play at Washington. He has an All-Pro ceiling, but must show a greater consistency of effort."

Texas' Malcom Brown

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In 2014, Brown (6'2", 319 pounds) was a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, which is given to college football's most outstanding defensive player.

He finished last season at Texas with 72 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and eight quarterback pressures.

Every NFL.com analyst currently has Brown going in the first round of the upcoming draft.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Brown:

"Penetrating big man who took a huge step forward as an NFL prospect in 2014. Brown has hand quickness and uses hands like an NFL starter. His instincts and feel off the snap help him to get into the backfield quickly. Some personnel men believe Brown can play multiple spots along the line in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, which could put him in play for a high number of teams."

Small School Standout – North Dakota State's Kyle Emanuel

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At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Emmanuel needed to impress NFL personnel evaluators maybe a little more than others coming from a smaller school.

Because of his size, Emmanuel might be best suited to move to linebacker in the NFL compared to defensive end, where he played in college. But his 19.5 sacks last season as a senior was enough to take notice, and it earned him the Buck Buchanan award, which is given to the FCS's top defensive player.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Emanuel:

"Small-school prospects often come with inflated statistics, but Emanuel's tape shows a combination of motor and skill that should be respected inside NFL buildings once he's studied closely. Emanuel has the leverage and hips to get under tackles and turn the corner, but his explosion off the snap will be tested. With his foot quickness and surprising lateral agility, there might be defensive coordinators willing to give him a shot as a 4-3 SAM linebacker."

Local Connection – Missouri's Shane Ray

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A versatile athlete that boasts a résumé of production, former Missouri standout defensive end Shane Ray found himself moving all around the Tigers defense last season.

The versatility Ray displayed is one of the reasons he's projected by most as a first-round pick, and some even believe he could go as high as the top 10.

Ray was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 after picking up 14.5 sacks as a junior last season, which set a new record at Mizzou and was third-best nationally. He also finished the season with 22.5 tackles for loss, which was also third best in the nation.

Bleacher Report studios did a short documentary on Ray's childhood and journey to the NFL, which was anything but traditional.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had this to say about Ray:

"It's hard to find many play weaknesses for Ray, but his lack of overall length is one area that some teams have concerns about. He pursues the quarterback and the ball like it's his last snap. An alpha male packaged in an explosive frame, Ray has the traits and skills to be a dominant pass rusher and potential Pro Bowler. He also has the athleticism and strength to play in any defensive front."

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Take a look at some of the more intriguing 2015 DL prospects.

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