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2016 NFL Draft: Is D-Line a Possibility for Arizona?

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Last week I looked at Ryan Kelly as a possibility...what about on the other side of the ball? In a draft class with lots of talent along the defensive line, could the Cardinals add to their arsenal in Round 1?

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Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

So in continuing to look at what the Cardinals might do in the draft, let's take a look at a few defensive line prospects the Cardinals could draft in round 1...

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville
Height: 6-1. Weight: 304. Arm: 32.34. Hand: 9.38.
40 Time: 5.03.
Projected Round (2016): 1


"At the Combine, Rankins had a fast 40 time and did well in the field drills. It served to confirm his first-round projections...He flashed as a good interior pass-rusher in college, and he showed off that ability by excelling the in one-on-ones. Rankins has natural pad level with a burst to fire his gap before offensive linemen are ready. With his body type, he can be tough to get a hold of for blockers.

However, sources say that Rankins didn't play as dominant in his game tape. Still, Rankins was an impressive defender for Louisville in 2015, totaling 58 tackles with 13 for a loss and six sacks. In 2014, he was even better when he had Lorenzo Mauldin on the edge drawing attention. As a junior, Rankins totaled nine sacks, 54 tackles and 14.5 tackles for a loss. Rankins could be a speedy three-technique for the NFL."

Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama  
Height: 6-3. Weight: 311. Arm: 32. Hand 10.76. 
40 Time: 5.21. 
Projected Round (2016): 1


"Reed had a solid combine workout. His 40 time wasn't special, but he did well in the field drills. In 2015, Reed totaled 53 tackles with 4.5 for a loss, one sack and two passes batted. He is a good run stuffer, but doesn't offer a lot in the pass rush. Reed does have the speed and athleticism to develop more pass-rushing skills as a professional though."

Robert Nkemdiche, DT/DE, Ole Miss  
Height: 6-3. Weight: 294. Arm: 33.88. 
40 Time: 4.87. 
Projected Round (2016): 1-2.


"At the combine, Nkemdiche interview poorly with teams, and it served to confirm the major off-the-field concerns with him. On the field, Nkemdiche had a good workout as expected. 

Nkemdiche recorded 29 tackles, seven for a loss and three sacks in 2015. Nkemdiche has a tremendous skill set with the speed and agility of a linebacker. For the NFL, there is no doubt that he has the skill set to be a disruptive presence at the point of attack. However, Nkemdiche struggles to finish plays after breaking into the backfield. He lacks pass-rushing moves and has poor awareness. Thus, Nkemdiche underachieved in production. 

Sources say that Nkemdiche isn't a natural pass-rusher, and his lack of sacks in his career illustrates that..."

Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
Height: 6-3. Weight: 323. Arm: 34.13. Hand: 9.75.
40 Time: 5.33.
Projected Round (2016): 1-2.


"Butler had a solid workout at the combine. His 40 time didn't impress, but he had a respectable showing in the field work.

Sources say that Butler has graded out as a high second-rounder. They like his skill set and think he has a ton of upside, but he needs development with a lot to learn. There aren't 32 players graded as first-round picks, so Butler still has a shot at going late in the first round.

Butler has risen up the pre-draft rankings and used the Senior Bowl to solidify his early round status...

In 2015, Butler totaled 50 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. As a junior, he totaled 55 tackles with 13 for a loss and one sack. Butler has versatile size for 4-3 scheme and could fit as a nose tackle or three-technique."

Jonathan Bullard, DT/DE, Florida
Height: 6-3. Weight: 285. Arm: 33.63.
40 Time: 4.93.
Projected Round (2016): 1-2.


"If Bullard were bigger, he could be a pick in the top half of the first round. However, Bullard is a tweener tackle/end, and that hurts his draft stock. He had a strong workout at the combine where he showed his good speed and athleticism.

Bullard played really well for Florida in 2015, making 66 tackles with 17.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks and two passes batted. He was one of the SEC's best run defenders on the defensive line and demonstrated the ability to rush well from the inside. For the NFL, Bullard would be best in a 4-3 defense as a defensive end in running situations who moves inside in the sub package."

Kenny Clark, NT, UCLA
Height: 6-2. Weight: 314. Arm: 32.13.
40 Time: 5.06.
Projected Round (2016): 1-2.


"While other players got more attention, Clark had an excellent combine workout. He ran faster than expected in the 40 and was superb in the field drills. He showed quick feet, good balance, agility, and an ability to bend. Clark definitely helped his first-round hopes at the combine.

In 2015, Clark notched 75 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks and five passes batted. He was an impactful defender at the point of attack and was very good at stuffing runs. In terms of pass rush, Clark is decent, but many teams will probably pull him in passing situations. He created a nice buzz with his play during the 2015 season."

Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor
Height: 6-0. Weight: 311. Arm: 33.
40 Time: 5.06.
Projected Round (2016): 2-3.


While he's known as a star weight lifter, Billings had a quality, but not eye-popping, total on the bench press at the combine of 31 reps. He did better than expected in the field drills though, including a nice 40. His weigh-in had him two inches shorter than his previously listed numbers though.

In 2015, Billings totaled 39 tackles, 14 for a loss and 5.5 sacks. He is a rare interior defensive lineman with a special combination of massive power at the point of attack and a burst to get after the quarterback. Many big tackles like Billings are stationary, but he has displayed the speed to close and make tackles outside of his gap.

Now these are the thoughts of I trust among the bigger sites (I could spend all day reading from about 100 sites...). I know and have more street cred, but in my opinion they don't do a good job of looking at previous draft trends and fitting prospects with a team. As a side note, CBS had similar rankings (though Billings is higher), and NFL has similar rankings as well, and includes Hassan Ridgeway from Texas as a borderline round 1 guy (same grade as Billings actually).

The big question with this group of guys is who will be taken before Arizona picks. I didn't include A'Shawn Robinson or DeForest Buckner because I assume they will already be off the board. It's likely that Reed will too, but I've seen a few mocks where he isn't, so I decided to throw him in there. Ideally, Rankins will still be on the board. He seems very athletic and reminds me a little bit of Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams. But he too will likely be gone. That leaves Billings, Clark, Butler, Bullard, and Nkemdiche.

Personally, I think one of the three of Billings, Clark, or Butler make some sense, although whether they would play 5-technique or nose tackle I'm not enough of an expert on. I have seen Bullard mocked to us frequently--he is interesting from a run defense standpoint and is very athletic, though not as imposing as Calais Campbell (but who is?). Butler impressed at the Senior Bowl, and according to Todd McShay on the most recent First Draft podcast, Andrew Billings's game against West Virginia is among the most impressive he has seen as far as a single game tape (he only mentioned Jalen Ramsey as the other who had a great single game tape). As for Clark, he is an underclassman, which is intriguing. I think Round 1 might be too early (I could be wrong). And with Nkemdiche, we all know what he has the capability to do. But he didn't really show it on (or off) the field. He reminds me of Jadaveon Clowney. Granted, Clowney has the pressure of being taken first overall, but Arizona's first pick this year will be important. Like a lot of these guys, consistency is a the question.

If I had to pick one in the first round, I would go with Butler. He is very athletic for his size, and compares him to Muhammed Wilkerson, who plays 3-4 DE. I think the Cardinals are content at nose tackle unless maybe A'Shawn Robinson or Jarran Reed falls to them.

What do you guys think? Should Arizona go with a DE or even a NT with their first pick?