As the NFL draft draws closer and closer here are some questions that are circulating that pertain to prospects and their draft stock as well as their potential and projected impacts at the next level.
How high could small school star defensive tackle Kalen Saunders get drafted?
While the stocky interior defensive lineman first got on the radars of a lot of scouts when a video of the 6-0 and 324-pound prospect out of Western Illinois went viral, his ability as a football player is much more impressive than his talents as an amateur gymnast. At six-feet flat, he is considered to be undersized for the position but his play and production on the field speaks more volumes towards his potential at the next level than any measurable could. In his senior season, Saunders racked up 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position.
He is extremely agile and nimble for a player of his size. He uses excellent first step quickness; a vicious slap and swim move and incredible strength and power at the point of attack to violently cast aside blockers and bring down quarterbacks as well as ball carriers. Saunders is relentless in his pursuit of the ball with a high motor that allows him to make plays in the backfield as well as downfield.
Since he hails from a smaller school that plays in the Missouri Valley Conference of the NCAA Division I subdivision, some scouts questioned the validity of his impressive production. That was until he was invited to Reese’s Senior Bowl where he dominated the week of practice leading up to the senior all-star game and carried that momentum into the game itself where he made one of the biggest plays of the game.
On the play, he used his patented slap and swim move to leave offensive guard Greg Gaines from the University of Washington on the turf and wrap up unsuspecting quarterback Will Grier from West Virginia and throw him down for a huge sack.
Saunders could wind up being the next Brandon Williams, who is just an inch taller than him and attended a small school as well in Missouri Southern but was taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft. Williams who also got on the radar of scouts after a video of the 330-pounder doing a walking handstand went viral back before social media grew into what it is today and has gone on to become arguably the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the league and made his first Pro Bowl in 2018 as a member of the league’s best overall defense.
Saunders is much lighter on his feet around the same weight than Williams and offers more as an interior pass rusher which has become a coveted commodity in today’s pass-happy league. He is projected to be a third or fourth round pick in this year’s draft but his ability to push and collapse the pocket up the middle could vault him into the late second. Wherever he goes after 32nd overall, he could be a potential steal because he possesses the skills to outshine some of the top-rated defensive tackles that will go in the first round.