NFL Draft Yearbook 2019 – Scouting Report – Defensive Tackle Khalen Saunders – Western Illinois

NFL Draft Yearbook 2019 – Scouting Report
Defensive Tackle Khalen Saunders – Western Illinois

   Frank Coyle/ Head scout

   Here is our scouting report on our highest rated small college prospect, DT Khalen Saunders of Western Illinois. He is a prospect we have scouted since his sophomore season when he flashed impact from the inside. He is a three down defender who has the burst to rush the passer and can win with both speed and power. At the Senior Bowl in January, he performed well vs the top talent once again assembled at the premier All-Star event. He followed the Senior Bowl fine performance with another impressive showing at the NFL Combine.  

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Scouting Report – Defensive Tackle

Khalen Saunders #99   6-1        325       Western Illinois – Sp. 5.0         
    Player Comparison: Brandon Mebane                    Rating 82
Explosive mobile interior senior has been a disruptive force at the FCS level over his three starting seasons. Three-time MVFC honors with his final season as the DPY honors. His talent did not go unnoticed and earned invitations to both the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. A prospect that I have scouted extensively since early in his junior season. Dominant tackle in the MVFC which has produced many NFL players. Excellent athlete with natural power and fine short area quickness.  Quick penetrator excelled despite double team blocks regularly. Thick low based defender brings a well-rounded skill set and NFL ability to the table. Legitimate NFL starter in a zero or one-technique role with development. Despite his short arms, he has strong quick hands to explode through gaps and get into the backfield consistently. Finishes with strong tackling, including on the perimeter. Uses his lack of ideal height to his advantage with natural leverage to get under blockers, penetrate and separate. Shows very good initial quickness to threaten gaps and use his powerful punch to jolt blockers. Able to use his strong hands to counter and push off big blockers with his initial thrust. As a pass rusher, he wins on his initial charge and totaled 18 career sacks with 14 over his final two seasons. At times, gets wired to blockers when his initial burst is contained and he can struggle to get sacks late in the down. Displays fine flexibility and the ability to stay low, use leverage and strike and move an opponent off the line. Understands hand usage and capable of controlling an opponent when he uses sound inside placement. Very light on his feet and is able to adjust and redirect to finish. At the Senior Bowl, he performed very well including doing back flips a la JPP. Sure wrap up tackler and capable of exploding to the ball with the range to make plays outside the box. After extensive playing time and facing much double blocking, he has developed sound instincts and awareness for draws, misdirection and screens. Good sense of timing to peel off blockers to get to the ball. Relies on his initial quickness and natural leverage to defeat blocks. Works hard to rush the passer, but needs additional moves. Best suited to play nose tackle in the zero or one-technique role. As a senior, he started 11 games and had 72 tackles with 13 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR, 5 QB hurries and 6.5 sacks. Earned 1st team FCS All-American honors. As a junior, he started 12 games and registered 57 tackles along with 12 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 FF and 1 FR, earning first team MVFC honors. Over his career, he totaled 204 tackles, 34.5 TFLs, 4 FF, 3 FR and 18 sacks. Rare production for a nose tackle. At the NFL Combine, he came in under 6’1”, 324 lbs. with 32 1/4” arms and 9 1/8” hands. He ran a 5.01 time and did 27 reps. Added a 30.5” VL, 8’5” BJ, 4.62 shuttle and 7.57 three cone. Similar to Brandon Mebane in size, AA and quickness to also play tackle in a 4-3 scheme. Contributes early in a line rotation and can a key factor as a situational tackle. Early rotational tackle presents a fine change of pace for starters. Good early 3rd day selection with upside to surprise and be a quality starter in time. Top 100 prospect here and may be drafted in the 3rd round. One of the emerging defenders in this entire draft with a huge ceiling to start and provide an athletic anchor in the middle.
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round