Interior defenders are tough because everything points to weight being the most important factor when predicting NFL success… but then there’s Aaron Donald. Donald was small and light for someone at his position. Most people with that type of frame struggle in the NFL, but Donald is the outlier. As much as I would like to say that weight clearly doesn’t matter because of Donald’s success, it would probably be best to view Donald as a freak of nature/one-time occurrence, than to change the narrative entirely. In general, weight is the most important factor. The heavy dudes tend to throw offensive linemen around like it’s nothing. They also tend to do very well against the run. Vita Vea, Dontari Poe, D.J. Reader, Danny Shelton, and Linval Joseph are just a few of the names who weighed in at over 320 pounds at the combine and went on to dominate the NFL (although Reader’s stretch of elite play was short-lived).
Weight seems like such an arbitrary figure though. There has to be something else at play. For the defensive tackle position, the drill with the largest positive effect on outcome is the vertical jump. Poe, Reader, Joseph, Jonathan Allen, Sheldon Richardson, Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Robert Nkemdiche, Ndamukong Suh, Sheldon Rankins, and Javon Hargrave all posted verticals of 29 inches or better. Basically, if they’re heavy but still have good explosiveness in their legs, they have a better chance of being great in the NFL.
This year, the interior D-lineman that falls into these categories most would be…lo and behold, UGA’s Jordan Davis (341 pounds, 32 inch vertical). Aside from Davis though, the next best D-lineman based solely off their combine results would be Michigan’s Chris Hinton (305 pounds, 31.5 inch vertical). He’s not as heavy as I, or many NFL teams would like, but you can always put on weight. We see it happen all the time in the NFL. It’ll be difficult, but Hinton’s explosiveness should be enough for a few teams to want to take a flier on Hinton on Day 2 or early Day 3.