2016 NFL Draft Preview: Five Intriguing Defensive Linemen

The next article in our series leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft

The Kansas City Chiefs had five players accumulate at least 180 snaps along the defensive line last season.

The combination of Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, Jaye Howard, Mike DeVito and Nick Williams provided a stout set of players in the trenches.

Last season, this group was the best in the NFL in short-yardage situations, allowing first downs just 44.4 percent of the time on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 attempts. The NFL average was 66.6 percent.

It's important to note that as we near the beginning of offseason workouts, one of those players is not on the roster. DeVito, who is currently a free agent, played 291 snaps for the Chiefs last season.

Whether or not those snaps are gobbled up by David King or Rakeem Nunez-Roches—two young and talented developing players—or that DeVito ultimately returns, still remains to be seen.

In any case, general manager John Dorsey said back at the NFL Scouting Combine that this upcoming draft is loaded with talent along the defensive line. So whether that means there's going to be an early run on that talent in the first round, or just that you can grab quality depth later in the draft, the talent to make a difference in the trenches in this draft is there.

As we continue our series previewing five prospects at every position, let's talk about five intriguing defensive lineman available in this draft.

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Here's a look at five intriguing defensive line prospects for the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft.

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1. Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler

Butler was one of the stars of the Senior Bowl back in January.

The 6-foot-4, 323-pound playmaker was a first-team All-Conference USA defensive lineman after finishing his senior season with 10 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 8 quarterback hurries.

He's been linked to the Chiefs in many mock drafts over the past few weeks, and he's reportedly visiting with the team sometime before the draft.

Here's what NFL.com's Lance Zierlein had to say about Butler:

"Athletic interior lineman with long arms and outstanding athleticism that allows him to work on offensive linemen with a combination of power and quickness. Butler has a raw but diverse skillset as a pass rusher that should excite NFL evaluators who see the potential of what he can be with more coaching and experience. With his effort and defensive ball awareness, his ceiling appears to be high with a chance to become a high-­level starter for an odd or even front defense."

2. Louisville's Sheldon Rankins

Rankins, much like Butler, was a star at the Senior Bowl, where much of the buzz surrounding this group of defensive linemen really picked up steam.

At just 6 feet 1, the knock on the 299-pound Rankins will continue to be his height, but that didn't slow him down from being a force that couldn't be blocked for the Cardinals defense last season. He finished the season with 13 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.

Rankins is NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah's No. 26 prospect right now on his latest top 50 list.

Here's what Zierlein had to say about Rankins:

"Everything about Rankins game screams winning football player. He has been extremely productive as a bull­rusher and edge rusher and he can hold the point of attack or play in gaps. Rankins is a ball of power with rare foot quickness, a great motor and outstanding feel for his position. With so many teams playing in sub­packages now, I would expect both 4-­3 and 3-­4 teams to consider him for an interior spot despite his shorter stature. Thanks to Rankins' ability to disrupt, I think he has a great shot at getting starter's snaps early on, but don't be shocked to see him fall a little in the draft due to his smaller stature."

3. Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche

Nkemdiche is one of the most intriguing players in this draft because he's been one of the top talents around since originally signing with Ole Miss as one of the top recruits in the nation. That said, the top-end production you'd expect from a player with his combination of size, strength and speed wasn't always there.

He had a breakout performance against eventual national champion Alabama, but over the course of his junior season last year, he managed just 7 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. That's not what you'd expect from a player with as much fanfare as the 6-foot-3, 294-pound athlete has had in his three collegiate seasons.

Nkemdiche is Jeremiah's No. 19 prospect available in the upcoming draft.

Here's what Zierlein had to say about Nkemdiche:

"Considered the top­-rated prospect in the nation when he signed with Ole Miss, the 3-­technique tackle is considered one of the key cogs in turning around the Ole Miss program. His talent and frame are worthy of an early selection, but his lack of high-­end production and character concerns could cause him to slide. With that said, he has the talent to be an impact starter in the league."

4. South Carolina State's Javon Hargrave

Coming from a smaller school, the thing that NFL decision-makers, including Dorsey, will always say is that they must dominate their competition, which is exactly what Hargrave did throughout his career at the FCS school of South Carolina State.

He was a two-time first-team All-American who had 45.5 tackles for loss, including 29.5 sacks, over the past two seasons.

At 6 feet 1, 309 pounds, Hargrave couldn't be blocked at that level.

Hargrave was a late add to the Senior Bowl after being the most dominant player on the field during the Shrine Bowl practices the week prior.

Here's what Zierlein had to say about Hargrave:

"Raw, but athletic one­-gap penetrator who dominated his level of competition with effort and quickness. Credited with 16 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses, Hargrave has the ability to play on the other side of the ball, but the jump in talent and size could be challenging for him. Hargrave is better than a project," but he will require patience and much more coaching to realize his potential."

5. Alabama's Jarran Reed

The hard thing for draft evaluators to try and determine with Reed, much like all Alabama players, is how much their success is derived from the fact that they're surrounded by NFL talent everywhere on that defense.

But in looking at Reed, it's not hard to figure out what makes him such a dominant player.

The 6-foot-3, 307-pound run-stuffer can't be moved in the trenches. Even with a modest 4.5 tackles for loss and just 1 sack, Reed is still Jeremiah's No. 13 overall prospect in this draft.

He's also been linked to the Chiefs in many mock drafts.

Here's what Zierlein had to say about Reed:

"Reed is an elite run defender with the lower body strength to command his gap, but the instincts and timing to be productive as a tackler rather than just a space ­eater. Reed?s lack of pass rushing ability creates a potential glass­ ceiling on his draft stock; however, teams looking for a battle-­tested run ­stuffer will find an instant upgrade who should be able to come in and start immediately if needed."

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