2021 NFL Draft Top 15 IDL Rankings | Texans Thoughts

Draft szn is in full force and it's time to evaluate 200+ prospects, fall in obsessive love with 50, and have my favorite team draft zero of them! The 2021 NFL Draft is one full of questions for the Houston Texans - Will star Quarterback Deshaun Watson actually be traded? Should you hop on the Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance or Mac Jones hype train? Is it even worth watching and researching first and second round prospects?

While I can't answer any of those questions with 100% certainty, I will be evaluating and exhausting all our potential options during this draft - from Alabama to Wisconsin-Whitewater, so stay tuned for rankings, scouting reports and film breakdowns to help you keep up with what will hands down be the craziest and most unpredictable draft yet.

I've started my full evaluations on prospects, with the Interior Defensive Lineman (IDL) position group. The draft should always be about best player available but it's hard not to want to fill obvious and drastic holes on your team. IDL is currently the Texans biggest need in my opinion, getting a player to improve our 29th ranked run defense DVOA and to start at 1-tech defensive tackle in Lovie Smith's 4-3 is paramount to making the whole system work. So, while this IDL class isn't very strong at the top, there are a lot of mid-round options that I think would be perfect for us. Let's begin at the top and work our way down.

Levi has a chance to be a game changing defensive tackle, with the highest ceiling of anyone at his position this year. At 6'3, 290lbs, his combination of size, length, explosiveness, agility and hand usage is devastating. He plays the run well, stacking and shedding with his vine-like arms. Levi also shows devastating flashes in the pass game, with a mean bull-rush. Washington often played him at NT, but I think his best projection in the NFL would be at 3-tech in an attacking 4-3 defense, which allows him to feast on 1-on-1 blocks. I think he has easy Pro-Bowl potential and three-down value very early into his career.

Film Grade: 88/100, Projected Round: Early 2nd.

The majority of analysts have Alabama's Christian Barmore as the top or second best in the class, but I think Nixon is the superior player. He has a great blend of athleticism and technique which allows him to excel in the run and pass game. Agility, explosiveness and hand usage are his best traits, and ones that are rare to find in a college IDL. His 2020 season helped prove he's ready to perform at the next level, racking up 5.5 sacks and 13.5 TFLs. He played from 1-tech to 3-tech for Iowa and I think his athleticism would be best suited for 3-tech. Nixon also has Pro-Bowl potential and will be a strong run defender early, with a high ceiling in terms of making an impact on the passing game. Nixon shares the same film grade as Levi, and despite being a year younger, I have him a spot lower because of Levi's advantageous size and length.

Film Grade: 88/100, Projected Round: Early 2nd.

Nope, still not Barmore. Togiai is yet another IDL who brings a well-rounded game that I think can translate to early success in the NFL. He has arguably the best get-off of any IDL this year, which gives him an instant advantage. He's a strong run defender, who played a lot of NT/1-tech for the Buckeyes, combining quickness and power while stacking and shedding blocks. Togiai also showed he can get after the QB, with 3 sacks in 7 games in 2020. He has a powerful bull-rush to collapse the pocket, and has had some success at 3-tech as well. Finally, he is a high motor and effort player, with great play recognition and instincts for the position. I'm not sure he could be a multi-Pro Bowler like Daviyon and Levi, but he will be a very high-level starter for near a decade.

Film Grade: 85.5/100, Projected Round: Late 2nd, Early 3rd

Finally, we find yet another successful Alabama IDL to follow in the footsteps of Quinnen Williams, Da'ron Payne, and Jonathan Allen to name a few. Barmore's flashes are extremely fun, and his sky-high potential is what earns him this still pretty high ranking. He projects best as a 3-tech who can feast on 1-on-1 blocks and maximize his athletic gifts. I certainly see the upside with Barmore, but I don't love his game.

He often plays with poor technique, whether it's high pad level, poor punch timing or a lack of connecting his hands to his feet. He also doesn't look as athletic on tape as he's made out to be. He has solid get-off, but lacks that great bend that turns pressures into sacks. He isn't very agile or mobile, and lacks the desired arm length as well. Finally, while he improved over the 2020 season, he's still a very raw player to be considering drafting in the early second round (where many have him projected), developing a go-to pass rush moves and at least one counter off of that will be key for him. I think he can be a solid starter for years, but will take some time to get there, and will need superior coaching. I've graded his film performance lower than Togiai, but have his projection higher because of his overall ceiling.

Film Grade: 85/100, Projected Round: Late 2nd

The first of what will end up being many of "my guys", Osa is one of the most exciting and polarizing prospects in this class. He stands at 6'2, 280, but has an absurd 7'0 wingspan, with 34" arms. Osa uses these long arms like jousting poles, keeping offensive linemen off him and attacking when he sees fit. He pairs that length with elite get-off, quickly firing into offensive linemen's chest and gaining low leverage. He is an extremely strong run defender at the POA and will not give up an inch of ground. He is also exciting in the pass game, as he has a dangerous bull rush and very quick hands. He is an extremely high ceiling player who has experience at every position along the DL from NT to 3-4 OLB. I think he's best as a 3T at first, but can be moved around as a versatile weapon. With the right team and DC, Pro Bowls can definitely be in Osa's future.

Film Grade: 85/100, Projected Round: Mid 3rd

Marlon is a fun, high motor, high effort player with great athletic traits. He is a very mobile IDL, with solid technique and can fit any defensive system. He can play 1-tech and occasionally 3-tech in an attacking 4-3. Or he can play some NT or DE in a gap control 3-4. Marlon stacks and sheds blocks violently, with powerful hands and a strong, wide base. He shows exciting flashes of rushing the QB with a signature push-pull move that gives offensive linemen fits. I think he will be a dependable and underrated starter for near a decade.

Film Grade: 84.5/100, Projected Round: Mid 3rd

Shelvin is the toughest defender to move in the entire class. A mountain of a man at 6'3, 346lbs he plays even bigger. He has a wide and thick frame that looks like two refrigerators, and I imagine he's as tough to move as them. A prototypical NT in a 3-4, Shelvin eats double teams for breakfast, singling out one offensive lineman and just dominating that block, even occasionally shedding and making the tackle on a RB. He offers next to nothing in the pass game, although has the potential for a nasty bull-rush. I wonder how he looks now that he's slimmed down (opted out of 2020) and if he could play 1-tech in a 4-3 defense. Either way, Shelvin will quickly become a top run defender and anchor for an NFL defense.

Film Grade: 84/100, Projected Round: Late 3rd, Early 4th

Tonga seems to be flying under the radar because when was the last good BYU defensive lineman? Well, don't scout the helmet, scout the player, and Tonga brings an exciting mix of athleticism and technique. He has great get-off and quick hands to stack and shed in the run game. Plus, he shows a good bull-rush, arm-over and club-rip moves to get after the QB. Tonga played NT for BYU and at 6'2, 325lbs, I think he can play 1-tech in a 4-3 as well, as he looks to have the athleticism necessary. After a strong pro day where he benched 35 reps of 225lbs, Tonga is checking off all the boxes. I think he can become an instant contributor in a rotation, and eventually start after a year or two.

Film Grade: 84/100, Projected Round: Mid 4th

Ignore the ridiculous Aaron Donald comparisons, Twyman isn't the athlete that Donald is in terms of agility. But, he has one of the highest ceilings for a DT this year. He possesses a lightning quick first step and ninja-like hands. He excels in the passing game, using a two handed swipe move going to his left, to wreck havoc. I also liked his run defense reps versus 1-on-1 blocks, playing with good pad level and stack/shed technique. He's raw, and needs to be much more consistent, but the NFL is prioritizing interior pass rushers more and more, and Twyman is the guy I'm betting on to succeed.

Film Grade: 83.5/100, Projected Round: Late 3rd, Early 4th

Tufele is exciting and maddening at the same time. During one drive he'll look like a potential All-Pro, then he'll disappear until the end of the game. He's a good athlete for the position and has quick, violent hands, he just doesn't always harness all of his traits and turn it into production. Tufele needs some work, but the makings of an athletic, three down 3-tech in a 4-3 are all there. Just give him some time.

Film Grade: 83/100, Projected Round: Mid/Late 3rd

Slaton is my 2nd "my guy" at IDL because of the rarity he is. A NT who's best trait right now is getting after the QB. He has a devastating bull-rush, and even good arm-over, push-pull and chop moves. His size is tremendous at 6'5, 345lbs, and he is powerful from his hands to his feet. He controls the POA versus 1-on-1 blocks, using his long arms to keep offensive linemen at bay. Surprisingly, he actually has some inconsistencies in the run game, particularly versus double teams, where he gets turned sideways too often. A smart coach can fix some of his fundamentals, and you could be looking at a three down NT/1T for a long time.

Film Grade: 83/100, Projected Round: Mid 4th

Wilson is one of the toughest evaluations this year. In 2018 and 2019 he showed dominance in the run and pass game, racking up 8.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs. He was immovable in the middle of a shitty Seminoles defense and made his teammates' jobs easier, despite a lack of capitalization. He was projected to be a bonafide first round pick and even potential top-10. Then, he returned for his senior year and was hampered with multiple injuries in 2020. He didn't look like the same dominant force. Medicals will be huge for Wilson, as someone who has had 3 season ending knee injuries and a season ending hand injury, Wilson's draft stock has taken a nosedive, but could be the steal of the draft if his health works out.

Film Grade: 82.5/100, Projected Round: Late 4th

Stills' athleticism will garner interest from aggressive 4-3 defenses. He has good explosiveness and great bend which allows him to penetrate gaps with ease and get towards the ball carrier. He also has a short, squatty frame which yields him a natural leverage advantage that aids him in the run game. Stills is very raw, and lacks the desired length for the position. I think he can become a great rotational interior pass rusher.

Film Grade: 81.5/100, Projected Round: Mid 5th

McNeil is another polarizing player in this class as it seems like analysts either love or hate him. Personally, I'm not that high on his game. He played NT for NC State and doesn't seem to have the mobility/agility for any other position. However, he lacks some length and bulk to his frame that you would hope to get from a plodding NT. I don't like how he takes on double teams and can disappear from the game for long stretches. Now, he does play with good pad level, quick hands and can control 1-on-1 blocks, but I just can't see him being an effective starter for a long period of time. He could be good in a depth role, however.

Film Grade: 78.5/100, Projected Round: Mid/Late 5th

Although he's last on these rankings, it isn't a big slight towards Jones, he's more talented than a lot of DTs in this class, but he just isn't ready yet, in my opinion. He boasts great size at 6'4 and has slimmed down to 310lbs. How he looks at this new weight will make or break his evaluation. During the season, at a listed 345lbs, Jones looked too slow and plodding. He was difficult to move off the LOS, but couldn't make an impact on the play, especially when teams ran outside zone. He needs to become better with his hands, that are powerful, but just not nuanced enough yet. There's a player in Jones, he just needs time and the right coach to bring it out of him.

Film Grade: 78.5/100, Projected Round: Early/Mid 6th

Just missed the cut: Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M, Milton Williams Louisiana Tech, LaBryan Ray, Alabama

Concluding Thoughts

I wouldn't say this is a particularly strong IDL class, but there are many targets in the Texans range that fit exactly what we need from the position. Tommy Togiai or Marlon Tuipulotu would be good picks in the 3rd. Marvin Wilson or Tyler Shelvin would bring the run stuffing we need and Jalen Twyman or Tedarrell Slaton would bring some nice pass rushing potential. My gem, Osa Odighizuwa, would be the ultimate high upside guy I think Nick Casserole should go after. This is a fun class, with something for every style of defense, I hope the Texans address the position wisely.

Next up: Defensive end/Edge players