Will the DTs in the 2020 NFL Draft get more playing time than the 2019 class?

NFL Draft News
2020 NFL Draft DT Class

McTelvin Agim may have an uphill climb if last year’s defensive tackle rookie class is any indication.

The 6-foot-3, 309-pound Arkansas senior recently made Pro Football Focus’ list of the 10 biggest sleepers in the 2020 NFL draft, checking in at No. 7.

From PFF:

“Productive and athletic, Agim has flown surprisingly under the radar in this defensive tackle class. He earned the ninth-highest pass-rushing grade of any Power-5 defensive tackle this past season (81.5), was the highest-graded defensive tackle in the one-on-ones at the Shrine Game practices and was the third-highest graded defensive tackle at the Senior Bowl one-on-ones the very next week. Oh, and then he went to the Combine where he put up a sub-5.0 40 at 309 pounds. That’s a solid all-around profile.”

Players like Agim, Broderick Washington of Texas Tech and Benito Jones of Mississippi hope to prove 2019 was an outlier for defensive tackles, as few drafted after the first round contributed as rookies.

A look back at the ’19 DTs

How did the 2019 DT class fare? First, the good:

  • 21 DTs drafted, including six in the first round;
  • All six DTs drafted in the first round started multiple games and had reasonable to above-average seasons.
  • The two DTs drafted in the third round had their moments. Dre’Mont Jones of Ohio State, who was drafted by Denver in the third round with the No. 71 overall pick, started one game but had 14 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and even had an interception in limited playing time. Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois, who was drafted by Kansas City, started four games, picking up 22 tackles and 1 sack.

Next, the bad:

  • Only three DTs drafted outside the first round had one or more starts. They combined for a total of seven starts.
  • Teams got little to no production from DTs drafted on Day 3. Some of the highlights include Rennell Wren of Arizona State (two starts, 8 tackles), who was drafted by Cincinnati with the No. 125 overall pick (fourth round); Kingsley Keke of Texas A&M (10 tackles, appeared in 14 games), who was drafted by Green Bay with the No. 150 overall pick (fifth round); and Armon Watts of Arkansas (7 tackles, 1.5 sacks), who was drafted by Minnesota with the No. 190 overall pick (sixth round).

And the ugly:

  • Only one DT, the New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence (Clemson, no. 17 overall pick), started all 16 games.
  • Lawrence was one of three DTs to play in every game. The other two were Ed Oliver of Houston, the No. 9 pick by Buffalo, and Christian Wilkins of Clemson, the No. 13 pick by Miami.
  • Trysten Hill of UCF, the only DT drafted in the second round (No. 58 overall), had five tackles in the seven games he appeared in for Dallas with no starts. Hill finished with 121 total defensive snaps, according to Football Outsiders, good for 11 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. By comparison, Watts, the sixth-rounder out of Arkansas, also had 121 total defensive snaps, which was good for 10.9 percent of Minnesota’s defensive snaps.

DTs’ contributions aren’t found in stats

To be fair, any of the DTs from last year could turn into significant contributors or even Pro Bowlers. Furthermore, DTs rarely pick up a lot of tackles or sacks, as their main jobs are to eat up space and command double teams.

In other words, you’re not going to find defensive tackles atop any team’s most-tackles list.

That’s why it’s hard to truly quantify the 2019 DT class, other than to say few teams found rookie starters outside the first round.

Draft analysts think Agim, though, has a chance to at least contribute as a rookie in a DT class that includes top prospects Derrick Brown of Auburn and Javon Kinlaw of South Carolina.

The tier-two DTs include Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore, Auburn’s Marlon Davis, Missouri’s Jordan Elliott, Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike, TCU’s Ross Blacklock and Alabama’s Raekwon Davis. All are likely Day 2 prospects, although a few could sneak into the first.

So Agim finds himself among a group of DTs that include Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton, Utah’s Leki Fotu and LSU’s Rashard Lawrence, to name a few.

Will any of those tier-2 or tier-3 players appear in all 16 games? Will more than one of them start every game? Not all of those aforementioned DTs will be drafted by Day 2 – will any of the Day 3 defensive tackles contribute?

Players like Agim hopes that answer is a resounding “yes.”


Jake Rigdon (jake@sydwriting.com) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.

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