Ranking the Top Defensive Tackle Recruits in the 2011 Class
Along with being arguably the most important player in a great run defense, a defensive tackle must possess a multitude of abilities: a good burst off the line of scrimmage, quick feet, good hands, the ability to diagnose and react to the play, and the strength to interfere with it.
No wonder top defensive tackles are some of the most coveted recruits in the country—and why many of 2011's have already found their likely destinations come Signing Day 2011.
While for some, video might have been hard to come by, I've ranked who I think are the top 10 defensive tackles in the 2011 recruiting class. See if what you've seen and heard agrees with my assessments.
No. 10: Mustafa Jalil (Cal)
The Bears reached down to San Diego and picked up 6'4", 300-lb defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who kept Cal's 2010 recruiting momentum going by switching his verbal from San Diego State in April.
Jalil is drawing raves as San Diego's top prospect, but I wasn't as impressed with the brief film I watched as I was with the other defensive line prospects.
Jalil's "burst" is more like a slow burn. He comes out of his stance slowly and can get stood up if he plays too highly. He has the strength to combat and beat back high school O-lines, but at the next level he'll need to work on getting his feet in position.
He's a few inches above the ideal height. That could hurt him if he doesn't back up the size with weight.
I'm going to trust the recruitniks that the potential is there, but I think he's slated for a move away from the interior line and towards a weakside end.
No. 9: Kevin McReynolds
Kevin McReynolds out of Washington D.C.'s Saint John's High School is a 6'2", 280-lb tackle who was listed in the ThaRinger's watchlist among the top 50.
Scout likes him as their 16th-best defensive tackle, and includes an interview where McReynolds claims to be able to bench 405 pounds.
ESPN has a video of him running the 40, and also lists other measurables.
So, can he tackle? Ohio State and USC seem to think so. They're after him hard, so hard that some recruiting outlets mistakenly reported that McReynolds committed to Ohio State after their spring game this past weekend.
Without film and knowing only physical measurables, we'll have to take those offers as a sign of elite play. Ohio State especially is frugal with its scholarship offers. I expect McReynolds to make good on his proximity to the Buckeyes in the fall, barring a big push from the Trojans.
No. 8: Kris Harley (Virginia Tech)
Kris Harley's commitment to Virginia Tech in early April surprised a lot of recruitniks, many of whom expected a longer wait for the Indianapolis native to drop.
Harley was garnering national attention from USC to Nebraska to Oklahoma and was close to landing an offer from Notre Dame and Ohio State before he committed.
The 6'1", 265-lb defensive tackle led Warren Central to a state title as a junior, recording 91 tackles and five sacks.
He's another undersized tackle, but an article from VirginiaTechFan posted a short while after his commitment was optimistic that the Hokies would be able to adjust their defensive schemes to fit his strengths.
With one of the finest defensive coaching staffs in the country mentoring him, I could see Harley being one of the most decorated tackles in the class once he puts on the necessary weight.
No. 7: Gabe Wright
Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Florida State, and Clemson are in the mix to land Carver High School prospect Gabe Wright, one of the top players from a deep class in the state of Georgia for 2011.
Wright, shown here working on his footwork, boasts elite size (6'3", 276 lbs) and measurables, but draws criticism for his pad level. He wants to play like a defensive end lined up on the interior, which is an easy way for a player of his size to get blown off the line play after play.
Great burst off the line of scrimmage will mask some technique deficiencies, which he will need to refine before squaring off against the rough-and-tumble offensive lines in the SEC. But he could have the highest upside of any three-tech tackle in the class.
Hopefully, he is able to synthesize all facets of the game into a complete attack. A big part of that will be in choosing which of those five schools do it best.
No. 6: Antwaun Woods (USC)
Antwaun Woods kicked off USC's 2011 recruiting class by committing on National Signing Day 2010.
He's shorter (6'0", maybe 6'1") than most elite tackles, and, consequently, doesn't hold up as well at the point of attack if he plays too high. But he has terrific vision and the speed to chase down running backs and quarterbacks if he comes free in the backfield.
I'm curious to see how Ed Orgeron deploys him on USC's D-line. He has hands, spin moves, quick feet, and athleticism, and also plays offensive line for his high school team. I think he'll play defensive end or five-tech tackle, but a move to interior offensive line is possible.
No. 5: Quincy Russell
Quincy Russell is the Texas recruit who committed to the Longhorns for 24 hours before deciding he wasn't 100 percent sold, which is how Mack Brown prefers his commits to be. With such an emphasis on certainty, one wonders if Brown orders his steak well-done.
I thought Russell was Longhorn-bound despite the decommitment—he wants to play close to his mother, who is on dialysis, and the Austin campus is only an hour away. But it appears now he'll take his time before making a decision, and in the meantime, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State have made moves.
Russell led his team in tackles for two straight seasons and was named to the Lone Star State's top 100 players, coming in at No. 20.
He looks more like a nose guard than fellow tackle and Texas commit Desmond Jackson, so if he commits to the Longhorns, I could see a position switch in the cards for one of them.
Whatever team lands him is getting a player with terrific athleticism and strength who needs refinement on his technique.
Watch for a late push from Nebraska—they got him on campus for their spring game and he came back raving, and we all know about the heights they reached with Ndamukong Suh.
No. 4: Anthony Johnson (LSU)
Johnson is an easy candidate for five stars after dominating Scout's Nike Camp as a sophomore going against junior linemen.
At 6'3", 300 lbs, he has elite size for a one-tech tackle, and adds to that outrageous strength and blue-chip athleticism.
He was committed to Tennessee but followed RB coach Frank Wilson to LSU, which is closer to his hometown.
He'll have to learn to hit lower and try to eat up blocks rather than just charging like a defensive end and ending up out of position, but his hands, his feet, and his size make him truly elite.
Let's hope LSU can marry his innate talents with challenging coaching. He's the kind of prospect LSU has failed to develop of late, a player with a very high ceiling, and consequently, a very low floor.
No. 3: Desmond Jackson (Texas)
Houston, Texas prospect Desmond Jackson's only drawback is elite height. At 6'1", 273 lbs, he has the body of a short, slightly overweight strongside end.
But it's the size of the fight in the dog, and Jackson has plenty of fight.
His burst off the line is jaw-droppingly effective. He gets underneath the offensive lineman's shoulder pads and shows the strength to blast him into the backfield.
Most of the plays on ESPN's film of him show how he disrupts blocking assignments like a true nose guard, gobbling up single- and double-teams and forcing running backs to cut back against the grain.
Johnson jumped on the Longhorns shortly after they offered.
In their scheme, which relies so much on blitzing around the tackles and putting interior linemen in one-on-one situations, I could see him being really disruptive up the middle. Even without elite height, Jackson's vertical, his footwork, and his inside moves are something special to watch.
No. 2: Viliami Moala
Moala is the other great true nose guard prospect on this list.
At 6'3", 326 lbs, Moala has the athleticism to play interior guard (as he is in the picture) but shows his true strength taking on double teams and stuffing the point of attack. He posted a whopping 104 tackles and 12 sacks as a junior.
A terrific ESPN article on Moala's successful high school program also makes mention of his motor and the edge he plays with on the field. He's one of the players that can channel his anger and his frustration in the game—and lose it all once it's over.
He received his USC offer a short while ago and is expected to verbal to the Trojans—possibly soon, since he recently attended one of their five-star camps. Cal may have been able to cash in on Moala's desire to remain closer to home (he's a Sacramento native), but they just landed a similar nose tackle prospect in Mustafa Jalil.
Under Ed Orgeron, I think Moala could anchor another epic USC defensive line, and position himself to be a top-five draft pick in a few years.
I couldn't find a highlight video of him, but you can watch highlights from Grant High School's championship game here. Watch for No. 50 making plays on the offensive and defensive lines.
No. 1: Tim Jernigan
Athlon Sports called Jernigan a contender not just for five stars, but for the top ranking in the country in their assessment of 2011's best defensive tackles.
His quick moves off the ball helped him post a stunning 130 tackle, 12 sack season as a junior last fall. Your best linebacker's best year approaches that kind of production; for a defensive tackle to do it at the college level would be historic.
At 275 pounds, he's playing a little under-sized right now. He could be like 2010's Jordan Hicks, a player with obvious ball skills who requires a year of adding good weight before he can be the most effective nose guard he can be.
As far as a commitment goes, it might come down to an in-state battle for Jernigan, who has visited Florida and Florida State on and off throughout the year.
Michigan, Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee are trying to get him on an official—and might be successful—but it will be hard to pull him away from the gravity of the now-epic defensive recruiting momentum the two Florida programs concocted last year.