College Football Recruiting DT Rankings 2015: Top 10 After The Opening
When it's time to set the tone on defense, coaches must be able to rely on a strong and steady presence up front. Defensive tackles who win battles consistently command attention and create increased opportunities for their supporting cast.
The 2015 recruiting class includes several standout linemen who leave offensive coordinators searching for answers, wreaking havoc in the trenches at all times. It's rare to locate a young player who combines massive size, coordination and quickness, which is why the elite members of this group have warranted scholarship offers throughout their high school careers.
The future interior disrupters of college football have put their talents on display during high school competition and football showcases, including The Opening, an invite-only event held in July at Nike's world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
After examining game tape and watching many of the top performers compete with their peers at The Opening, here's our assessment of America's 10 best defensive tackles.
This article is part of Bleacher Report's CFB 200 Recruiting Rankings Series. The overall rankings are based on the 247Sports composite system, which takes into account every recruiting service's rankings. The positional rankings also correspond with those composite scores. Stay tuned over the next two weeks as we take an in-depth look at college football's stars of tomorrow.
10. Christian Wilkins, Suffield Academy (Suffield, Connecticut)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Ohio State (47 percent); Penn State (47 percent); Notre Dame (5 percent)
Christian Wilkins can be overlooked at times while discussing the top-tier collection of 2015 defensive linemen. Perhaps it's his competition (which doesn't exactly overwhelm on tape) or the fact he's from an infertile region of the recruiting landscape.
Whatever the reason, we can dispel those concerns. Wilkins would flourish in any football setting this country can offer him at the high school level.
The 6'4", 290-pounder is freakishly athletic and can really move. He is clocked at 4.80 seconds in the 40-yard dash, a time which appears legitimate based on game film.
Wilkins, who collected 57 tackles and seven sacks as a junior, tracks down plays from the backside and can actually hunt down ball-carriers along the perimeter. His penchant for covering the run throughout the front line provides evidence of unique versatility and creates potential for him to line up at multiple positions.
He doesn't hesitate off the snap and seems like a very heady player. Wilkins appears to use pre-snap reads to determine his initial approach, flashing awareness that few high school linemen exhibit.
His arsenal includes an effective swim move, which should aid any development as a pass-rusher. He fires off the ball with low pad level, presenting a small target (well, as small as a target can be when you're 6'4").
Wilkins maintains excellent knee bend through the point of attack and shuffles as he surveys the backfield. Given his athleticism, he could be a candidate to play at the 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme, though his best fit is probably further inside as a part of a four-man front.
9. Jacob Daniel, Clovis North High School (Clovis, California)
Committed to: USC
Jacob Daniel could quickly provide a new dynamic up front for a Trojans squad looking to fill holes across the lineup after crippling scholarship sanctions. The 6'4", 310-pound prospect already plays with a college-ready stature and typically takes snaps at nose tackle in high school.
There's plenty of evidence to suggest he can slide outside to take over duties at the 3-technique, though elements of his game require refinement. His most notable improvements can come at the point of attack, where Daniel can develop into a more impactful defender by maintaining better hip level and bend.
He presents an expansive target area at times which collegiate offensive linemen will regularly exploit. His stance appears to be polished, as Daniel keeps his back straight and fires up with strong hands that hit their target with precision.
There's significant room for growth as a pass-rusher, and he's already active in that regard. Daniel disengages from blocks with a swift swim move and keeps his shoulders square while surging through seams in the line.
He's comfortable beyond the box, exhibiting above-average mobility that allows him to chase down ball-carriers along the edge. Daniel is likely destined to play inside but shows promise as a prospect who can line up at 5-technique when the defense uses a size-heavy package up front.
8. Tim Settle, Stonewall Jackson High School (Manassas, Virginia)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Clemson (28 percent); Alabama (23 percent); Virginia (15 percent); Tennessee (15 percent)
Tim Settle is put together well from a physical standpoint and isn't nearly as lumbering with his movements as you'd expect from a 6'2", 339-pound athlete. That weight is equally distributed and creates a powerful base.
He uses this foundation to fortify his upper-body efforts, which create a substantial push off the snap. Settle is an intelligent defender who keeps his vision in traffic and maintains his bearings when an offense throws misdirection plays at him.
He tallied 92 tackles and four sacks in 2013.
Desired lateral footwork is in place, another facet of tight technique that suggests Settle could contribute early in college. He is tenacious in pursuit and maintains an adequate pad level that allows him to explode through ball-carriers unfortunate enough to come across his path.
His hips are powerful, supporting a large frame, and he rolls through them while applying jolting blows at the point of attack. Coaching and physical toning will allow him to continue an impressive progression in the coming years.
He has the chance to be a premier run defender in short-yardage situations and possesses the versatility to contribute as a three-down lineman.
7. Breiden Fehoko, Farrington High School (Honolulu, Hawaii)
Committed to: Texas Tech
Breiden Fehoko was a man on a mission at The Opening, setting the tone early. Following his first few reps of drills, during which he beat offensive linemen who are committed to Alabama and Notre Dame, Fehoko flashed some swagger.
"You can't block me!" he yelled.
It's easy to image that is something the 6'3", 290-pound playmaker shouts frequently at Farrington High School, where he accumulated staggering statistics as a junior. Fehoko compiled 103 tackles and 24.5 sacks in 2013, demonstrating a well-rounded skill set that has commanded dozens of scholarship offers.
Though there are times Fehoko appears slightly stiff, his elite strength guides the way in his pursuit of plays. His 42 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press were more than any other competitor in Oregon. That power was displayed throughout on-field action, as Fehoko charged out of his stance with a devastating punch and pounded the offensive interior.
Fehoko clubs opponents out of the way and uses a bull rush to drive his man deep into the backfield before disengaging. There were certainly questions about the level of competition he faces in Hawaii, but he dispelled any concerns about his abilities with a strong effort in Beaverton.
"I wanted to come here and represent the island, show everybody what kind of football we play," Fehoko said at The Opening. "People can underrate us sometimes, so I felt like I had a chance to prove them wrong. It was great competing against the best in the country and representing Texas Tech too."
6. Shy Tuttle, North Davidson High School (Lexington, North Carolina)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: North Carolina (59 percent); Tennessee (32 percent); Clemson 8 percent)
The nephew of former Clemson star wide receiver Perry Tuttle certainly received his share of athleticism through family bloodlines. In fact, Shy Tuttle could practically be called downright nimble—relatively speaking—for a 6'3", 315-pound prospect.
He works along the line with suddenness, displaying quick feet and burst that allows him to blow up offensive backfields. Tuttle takes on opponents with power initially but sneaks in subtle moves to gain daylight.
A productive player throughout high school, he's compiled 244 tackles through three seasons. Tuttle enjoyed a breakout campaign as a sophomore, setting career highs with 97 tackles and 18 sacks.
His pass-rushing skills are certainly above-average and could borderline on elite if he develops a more consistent get-off. Even when he doesn't bring the quarterback to the ground, Tuttle is a threat to derail the passing play because of his long reach.
He batted down five throws during each of the past two seasons and effectively interrupts the passer's window of vision downfield. Tuttle is able to shed blockers consistently and bursts abruptly to track down opponents attempting to escape the backfield.
His hands work well to create separation, including a devastating chop that really wears down offensive linemen over the course of four quarters.
5. Daron Payne, Shades Valley High School (Birmingham, Alabama)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Alabama (96 percent); Auburn (4 percent)
Daron Payne may experience some growing pains upon his transition to the college game, but there's no denying his raw potential, particularly in the power department. He practically bench-presses opponents upon contact and discards offensive linemen early in the play.
His athleticism, while already above-average, will blossom once he gets into better physical shape during collegiate development. Payne must redefine his frame, which is just a bit too bulky at this point (6'2", 348 lbs) and inhibits lateral movement.
That said, there's a lot to like about his ability to anchor a defensive front at nose tackle.
Payne stands strong against double-teams, clogging the rushing lane and allowing teammates to take advantage. Linebackers will greatly benefit from his presence, particularly on blitz attempts.
Though he doesn't exhibit sideline-to-sideline range, Payne has excellent closing speed upon lining up a hit. Powerful legs drive through lead blockers and continue churning as he brings down the ball-carrier.
His stance is due for an overhaul because the one he uses leaves him upright too often. Payne can become a smaller target by correcting this and keeping lower pad level.
He projects as a difficult matchup at the next level once he irons out technique and gains more flexibility. Payne will play the run with strong effect but doesn't appear poised to become a consistent pass-rushing threat.
Payne picked up three sacks last season and totaled 65 tackles.
4. Rasheem Green, Junipero Serra High School (Gardena, California)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: USC (100 percent)
Rasheem Green garnered plenty of attention for a breakout season, manning the front line of a talent-laden defense at Los Angeles-area power Junipero Serra. He posted career highs in every category, breaking through as a premier prospect with 57 tackles and 14 sacks.
He tallied 26 tackles for loss, operating out of the 3-4 defensive end position. Green projects as a dominant 3-technique in a four-man front, arguably the best fit for that role out of everyone on this list.
Standing at 6'5", 275 pounds, his frame leaves plenty of room for extra padding. He flashes hip flexibility and speed (clocked at 4.80 in the 40-yard dash) that's extremely uncommon to find in a tall defensive lineman.
"I can use my quickness to make plays," Green said in Oregon. "Especially if I see that an offensive lineman is having trouble keeping up with me."
He made some elite blockers look foolish at times during drills at The Opening, flashing impressive finesse moves that complement his strength. Green gives opponents fits with excellent agility as he navigates his way along the line of scrimmage, showing enough body control to maintain balance while being bumped around en route to the backfield.
His length isn't ideal along the edge but will serve him well when he slides inside. Green gives maximum effort and really motors once the quarterback is caught in his crosshairs.
He'll provide a valuable push in pass rush as an interior penetrator who can use crafty moves to reach his target.
3. Daylon Mack, Gladewater High School (Gladewater, Texas)
Committed to: Texas A&M
Watch one of Daylon Mack's high school games, and you'll quickly discover what makes him one of the most unique recruits in the 2015 class. Just look for a 6'1", 330-pound running back rumbling downfield with a full head of steam.
Yes, you read that correctly: When the 5-star defensive tackle isn't wreaking havoc in the trenches, you can find him taking handoffs. He registered multiple 100-yard rushing games as a junior, serving as a battering ram near the goal line.
Mack actually mentioned the possibility of continuing to play on both sides of the ball in college.
"Texas A&M talked to me a little about still playing some running back," he said at The Opening. "I'd love it."
That storyline aside, Aggies fans should simply be excited about what Mack means for the defense. Given his role as a rusher, it should be no surprise that he's one of the quickest interior defensive linemen we've seen in recent years.
Though Mack's size would suggest a role at nose tackle, there's more 3-technique to his game. He's a penetrating force who splits double-teams, fills gaps and fights his way into the backfield with a dominant bull rush and lateral agility.
Mack is a relentless worker, making life uncomfortable for opponents from the moment he fires off the ball. Though he doesn't yet implement an array of finesse moves, his speed and power punish offensive linemen and leave skill players searching for space.
He throttles foes at the point of attack, exerting plenty of force into his punch. This tenacity also shows up in his tackling reel and contributed to eight forced fumbles as a junior.
Unlike other defensive tackles, you'll see Mack chase down ball-carriers from the backside and pursue toward the sidelines. He isn't willing to give up the fight once the action gets past him; that's the competitive streak you love to see from a young leader.
Mack made 97 tackles in 2013, including 36 that resulted in lost yardage. He added six sacks.
"I'm ready to take another step this season," Mack said. "It's my last year of high school, and I want to make the most of it for me and my teammates. Then it's all about preparing for Texas A&M."
2. Kahlil McKenzie, Clayton Valley Charter High School (Concord, California)
Committed to: Tennessee
You'll be hard-pressed to find a player who has done more to help his stock then Kahlil McKenzie. The 6'4", 341-pound disrupter dismantled premier opponents in Oregon, validating his status as a 5-star and causing some to wonder whether he belongs atop the rankings.
He secured a team-high 12 sacks at California powerhouse De La Salle last fall, totaling 74 tackles. McKenzie transferred to Clayton Valley for his senior campaign.
Though his measurables might suggest he's simply a space-eater, McKenzie is far more dynamic. Athleticism already shines as a strong attribute for a player who will only get into better physical shape in college.
He provides an anchor at the heart of a defensive front and can make a multidimensional impact as run-stuffer and pass-rusher. This makes McKenzie a scheme-diverse defender who can line up anywhere from the 0-technique to the 5-technique and contribute.
"I'm versatile at the defensive tackle position," McKenzie said in Oregon. "I can get to the quarterback, take on double-teams and stop the run. It's important to be able to do all those things in order to be successful at the next level."
He follows his father, Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, to Tennessee. The Volunteers will welcome an immediate-impact athlete who can quickly change the complexion of the defense by adding some serious bite in the middle.
McKenzie is far more impressive in north-south situations than when called upon to make plays laterally. Increased agility will come with weight training in college, but he'll always be a stout downhill defender.
1. Trent Thompson, Westover High School (Albany, Georgia)
247Sports Crystal Ball Prediction: Georgia (100 percent)
Trent Thompson relinquished his No. 1 overall spot in 247Sports' composite rankings when the list was updated in mid-July, supplanted by Virginia defensive end Josh Sweat. However, it's important to note a key factor in the developments leading up to the change.
Sweat dominated at The Opening; Thompson didn't attend.
With that said, they're both incredible prospects and could end up playing together in college at Georgia.
Thompson, a 6'4", 292-pound playmaker, accounted for 83 tackles and 12 sacks as a junior. He dominated in the offensive backfield, increasing his sack total by seven from 2012.
Despite being a bit young for his class, Thompson appears to be among the most polished prospects to come along at the position this decade. The scary part for opponents is he has plenty of room to grow from a physical and technical standpoint.
His explosiveness isn't typically found along the front line, as it's usually reserved for an elite downhill linebacker. Thompson takes on interior offensive linemen with quick initial steps they're simply not used to dealing with in high school.
He makes quick work of double-teams, splitting them immediately with an outstanding surge before using his physicality to disengage. What happens next sets him apart from other elite defensive tackle recruits.
Thompson shoots into the backfield, meeting the running back or quarterback with extraordinary momentum that he quickly builds. He corrals ball-carriers with a wide wingspan and finishes the play by slamming them to the ground.
Though he doesn't yet implement many pass-rushing moves, Thompson is able to penetrate the pocket with consistency. His opening punch blows opponents off the ball, and then he's just one lateral move away from harassing the quarterback.
Thompson takes care of tackling in a violent manner, but there's nothing malicious about his style of play.
All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report national recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit information and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.