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DT Christian Barmore Is NFL Draft's Best Bet to Be Overdrafted

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 16, 2021

Alabama defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) works against Florida during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

Defensive tackle Christian Barmore is less than two weeks away from hearing his name called in the NFL draft much sooner than expected. 

Generally speaking, the reigning College Football Playoff National Championship Game Defensive MVP is viewed as the top defensive tackle prospect. However, he's often projected as a late first-round option once all of the quarterbacks, top offensive tackles, multiple offensive weapons and even a few other defensive prospects are off the board. 

To be fair, the idea of a single homogenous draft board dictating where a player will or will not be drafted is folly. Every single team board is different, and everyone around the league is trying to figure out what others are doing. 

"And you try to kind of get a feel for how the board is going to go around the league, kind of work through all the scenarios with potential trades," Broncos president of football operations John Elway told ESPN's Jeff Legwold. "Just make sure you're ready to adjust and move and feel good as an organization about your evaluations. And in the back of your mind you kind of know there is no predicting what everybody is going to dothe curveball is coming."

In this particular case, Barmore could be the living embodiment of a first-round curveball. Apparently, he's really well liked among league circles and could become the second or third defender drafted, according to ESPN's Matt Miller

A confluence of factors plays a role in Barmore's perceived ascension. 

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Barmore is legitimately talented with play-disrupting potential. Secondly, public opinion doesn't always reflect how boards are stacked around the league. Finally, the defensive tackle class is among the weakest position groups in this year's class, and demand will drive up the value of its top options. 

The last time anyone saw Barmore fully padded, he terrorized opponents during the College Football Playoff. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Ohio State Buckeyes—both of whom feature future NFL interior blockers—simply couldn't handle Barmore. 

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Barmore's performance during the College Football Playoff was reminiscent of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald at the collegiate level. Some may view the previous statement as hyperbole, but Barmore absolutely dominated in the trenches with a 91.3 pass-rushing grade, 12 total pressures and 10 defensive stops in the postseason, per Pro Football Focus

The difference between those all-time collegiate greats and Barmore is the latter didn't perform in that same manner for the entire season or throughout his career. But that kind of potential has always been present. 

Barmore entered the 2020 campaign as one of the most intriguing prospects because the 6'4", 310-pounder defender presented 1) prototypical size, 2) the necessary athleticism to consistently win along the interior and 3) an aptitude for rushing the passer. He hadn't even been a full-time starter for the Alabama Crimson Tide yet projected as a potential first-round pick purely on those three traits. 

Unfortunately, the 21-year-old's first season as a full-time starter didn't begin like many expected. Barmore started slowly and didn't really emerge until well into his redshirt sophomore campaign because of a knee injury he suffered during fall camp. 

"I think when you have an injury like this, sometimes the more you do it creates a little soreness," Alabama head coach Nick Saban told reporters in September. "Then you have to back off a little bit, then you can do a little bit more the next day."

As the season ensued, the first-team All-SEC performer progressed nicely and eventually looked like the dominant force many initially expected. Even not at full strength, Barmore continued to perform at a relatively high level with 65 total quarterback pressures over the last two seasons and a 91.5 pass-rushing grade in 2020, per PFF. Both numbers ranked first among defensive tackles. 

At his very best, Barmore becomes an American kaiju terrorizing smaller people. He easily overwhelmed offensive linemen at the point of attack, shed blocks and shot gaps. The hope is what an entire nation saw on the biggest stage is the player he regularly becomes at the professional level. 

Upside of this magnitude will always hold value. As such, the idea that Barmore's projection held steady as a late first-round talent doesn't make much sense. 

Every team's draft board is different. Those specific rankings take into account organizational philosophies, positional preferences, fit, needs and extenuating information, like medical and off-field evaluations. Here's a little secret: NFL draft boards don't have 32 first-round prospects. The number is always smaller since certain prospects aren't viewed as the right addition in specific situations. 

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Some may not even have Barmore as the top interior defender. A team could like the way Iowa's Daviyon Nixon or Washington's Levi Onwuzurike play as one-gap options. They may be better fits for certain systems. 

Also, concerns may arise regarding Barmore's consistency and lack of full-time experience. But he's definitely a legit first-round talent. 

This year's class could be very different based on how the defensive options are viewed. No defender is expected to hear his name called among the first five picks. The Detroit Lions are the first real landing spot at pick No. 7. They could pass, though. Maybe the first defensive player doesn't come off the board until the 10th selection, which would become the latest pick ever for that side of the ball. 

No clear-cut elite defensive talent demands a pick any higher in the process. Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons are the favorites. Still, Barmore could very well end up in that position. 

Big bodies will almost certainly be pushed up the board on both sides of the ball. The difference between offensive and defensive tackle is the former grouping is loaded with starting possibilities ranging deep into the event's second day. The latter lacks any depth. 

Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

If a team is looking at multiple positions with the defensive interior counted among them, it is more likely to pull the trigger early for Barmore and address the other spots later rather than hoping a quality defensive tackle will be available in the second or third rounds. 

The Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders select between the 10th and 17th overall picks with needs up front. Barmore can become the anchor in the middle of those defenses. 

Quarterbacks are often viewed as the hardest position to fill in all of sports. The difficulty level of properly filling that spot often becomes a humbling experience for many franchises. Yet there are only so many people on the planet with the size, athleticism and ability to rush the passer along the defensive interior like Barmore.

Because of the defensive tackle's uniqueness coupled with his immense potential, his emergence as one of the top two or three incoming defenders shouldn't come as a surprise. Neither should the possibility of him becoming an early first-round choice even if it doesn't represent his true overall value to some.

     

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.