DT Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois

6’0” – 324 lbs. – 5.01
Redshirted, then played heavily in thirteen games the following season, posting 27-4.5-2.5 for the Leathernecks. Stepped into the starting lineup the following year, posting 48-5.0-1.5, then enjoyed two productive campaigns to conclude his career (57-12.0-7.5 and 72-13.0-6.5). Thick, compact defensive tackle with excellent bulk but just adequate height and length (32.25” arms). Tended to line up in either the A-gap as the team’s left defensive tackle, or as a zero technique over the center in each of the games reviewed; projects as a pro nose tackle in either type of defensive front. Does a good job of two-gapping in the run game, which was his primary responsibility in school. Demonstrates solid instincts/recognition skills to flow toward the ball in the run game, gets good extension with his arms to keep opposing blockers at bay, and does a good job of holding the point of attack as he flows toward the ballcarrier. Has strength in his hands to shed blocks at the appropriate time in order to make tackles. Not the fastest player, but exhibits a good motor to pursue the play horizontally, although his overall range is still limited. Wasn’t asked to shoot gaps too often in the run game, but flashed the ability to disrupt attempts with his overhead swim move. More likely to dig in at the line of scrimmage than to reset it with his bull-rush. Stayed on the field for passing downs in college and uses a pretty diverse approach as a pass-rusher, mixing in different moves rather than relying on a strict bull-rush approach. Doesn’t really have the first step to threaten gaps after the ball is snapped, instead relying on those moves or his ability to find an open lane to the passer. Appears to lack the type of closing burst to finish his rushes at the pro level, which may limit him to creating pressure rather than picking up sacks. Consequently, might end up as more of a rotational run-stuffer type than an every-down option. A prospect whose raw bulk, strength, and ability to hold the point as a two-gapper should earn him interest even in a class which features plenty of intriguing defensive line talent, he will look to follow in the footsteps of recent small-school nose tackles such as Javon Hargrave, a 2016 third-round pick.

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