The defensive tackle position was once heralded to be a strength of the Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The Panthers, smartly, allowed Star Lotulelei to walk in free agency. They attempted to replace Star by signing Dontari Poe. Poe massively disappointed the expectations placed upon him. He was one of the worst run defenders in the NFL and he only generated 13 total pressures.
In addition, Kawaan Short didn’t have the sort of all pro campaign many expected. He finished with 34 total pressures on the season, which ranks No. 27 among interior defenders. Given his contract and age, his future as a top tier defensive tackle has to be questioned. Vernon Butler has not lived up to his draft position. The only positive from the position group was Kyle Love. Love is 33 years old and relying on aging talents is one of the reasons Carolina’s defense struggled.
On the whole though, winning at the line of scrimmage is important for any defense to be successful. The lack of production from this position group in 2018 was one of the primary culprits for Carolina’s poor defense. They have to find better talent to control the line of scrimmage in 2019.
A prospect who seems to have helped himself this week during Senior Bowl practices is Arizona State defensive tackle Renell Wren.
ASU DT Renell Wren vs. NCST OC Garrett Bradbury— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) January 23, 2019
Wren’s sheer force from his bull rush is too much for Bradbury to get inside hand placement. pic.twitter.com/ZRrkWcN9vx
Renell Wren is a machine. His first steps on the interior plus his swim can be dynamite pic.twitter.com/OOf6ok0qvG— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) January 22, 2019
In both of these clips, Wren displays power and speed. It should be mentioned that this drill heavily favors the defensive tackle, but that functional strength and first step quickness is eye gushing for any evaluator. I noticed these same qualities on film too.
Wren’s game film
Wren did not have elite production at ASU, but it’s important to understand the role he was playing for their front. He was asked to occupy multiple blockers as a 1-technique (lined up in front of the center). As the practice clips show, he is at his best when he can rush up field and attack 1-gap.
Wren’s first step on this play demonstrates his ability to create havoc on the interior. It’s not just limited to him timing the snap count either, he has the athleticism to slip through reach blocks.
This is where his first step and athleticism show up in concert. He is the first to move, but then takes a step laterally before moving up field to bring down the ball carrier.
Wren receives plenty of attention by offenses due to his role as a gap occupier. He is still able to leverage his first step to create disruption in the backfield. He won’t get credit for this play on the stat sheet, but he was primarily responsible for affecting the run.
Wren also displays ideal power from his lower body. He’s able to demolish the center on this play thanks to his get off, hand placement, and power generated from his lower body.
The issue with Wren, however, are his counter moves as a pass rusher. These two plays illustrate the problem when he doesn’t have a plan. The offensive lineman is able to control him, but Wren is also not able to disengage. He has the requisite length, but he has to learn how to utilize it better to affect the quarterback more consistently.
The clips coming out of Mobile provide some optimism that if Wren is employed as a 1-gap penetrator, then his skill set can translate.
Fit with Carolina
I understand that it is easy to mock the Panthers for drafting a defensive tackle because Dave Gettleman was so infatuated with it, but they have to improve the position. As of now, Wren is an ideal Day Two target for Carolina. The linebackers have a much tougher job when the defensive line isn’t functioning, which it wasn’t for the 2018 season. Wren has the size, athleticism, and high ceiling target that could help the Panthers defense for the short and long term.