From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling Alabama DT DJ Dale.
#94 DJ Dale, DT, Alabama – 6030, 300LBS
Senior Bowl Invite
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|DJ Dale||6’3, 300lb||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Solid burst off the line of scrimmage
— Quick hands at the point of attack to compensate for his lack of arm length
— Has solid body control and keeps a low pad level in the run game
— Will transition to a calculated rush move to shed the block
— Has a variety of pass rush moves with varying effectiveness: rip, swim and pull
— Has adequate athletic ability to execute a designed stunt to free up other pass rushers
— Intelligent player, puts his eyes on the football quickly
— Consistently gets his hands up in throwing lanes, even if it doesn’t result in batted or tipped balls
— Lacks the ideal length or strength to be an NFL nose tackle
— Overly susceptible to being washed out on zone runs
— Neutralized by double-team blocks
— Lacks recovery strength to overcome a slow get-off
— More of a pocket pusher than a real interior pass-rushing threat
— Pad level raises too quickly in the pass game, leaving him to chop around at the line of scrimmage
— No useful bull rush
— Missed at least one game each season due to injury
— From Birmingham, Alabama
— DOB: Oct. 30, 2000 – 22 years old
— Four-star prospect out of high school
— Earned the starting nose tackle position as a true freshman in 2019
— Played in 39 career games at Alabama across four years
— Career Stats: 73 total tackles, 10.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, three pass deflections, three fumble recoveries
It’s not often the Alabama Crimson Tide spits out three interior defensive linemen into a single NFL Draft class and none of them are very highly touted. Byron Young may likely get the most attention, while Justin Eboigbe’s size profile will intrigue others. Still, DJ Dale, after being a four-year starter for Alabama, stands as the least flashy option among the trio.
It should just naturally come with the territory of being a nose tackle that inherently gets fewer stats. Unfortunately for Dale, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Before I dive too deeply into what holds the Birmingham native back, there are still plenty of positives about Dale that should lead to him hearing his name called during the 2023 NFL Draft.
First and foremost, he’s an intelligent and disciplined player. Not surprising of a guy with as much playing experience as he has under a Nick Saban-led defense.
Dale is undersized to a degree, though most of it is apparent with his arms. Oftentimes, if the offensive lineman gets both hands on him, it’s a tough get-off for the 22-year-old. However, he makes up for it on occasion by one-arming the blocker and putting his eyes in the backfield. Other times he gets hands-on first and is able to control the blocker to eventually shed and pursue the football.
See here against the LSU Tigers – Dale stacks the tackle and puts his eyes in the backfield, sees through the traffic and sheds with a pull move to help clean up the run play for a short gain.
See here again against the Arkansas Razorbacks – Dale stacks up and, while he does get his body in too closely to the blocker, keeps his eyes on the quarterback and sheds quickly to wrap up KJ Jefferson before he crosses the line of scrimmage.
While both of these are solid plays for Dale, the second example begins to show why he isn’t the best run-stuffing option on the interior. Dale lacks the arm length to keep blockers at bay, limiting him from having any semblance of an initial punch. To compound upon that, he lacks the functional strength to bench press the blocker away from him if he doesn’t get hands-on first or see an opportunity to free one hand.
Again against Arkansas in the redzone – Dale is backed off the line, but the center bursts off the snap and jolts Dale, driving him back. Dale isn’t fully expected to make the play on the QB here, but he has to be able to at least recover and cross this blocker’s face, and he can’t.
This second example sees much of the same against LSU – Dale is beaten off the line and driven back a couple of yards before attempting to rip through the block long after the play is away from him. If Dale could win the get-off or rip through to his gap at the snap, recognizing the guard’s intentions, this could be a TFL or at least a disrupted play. Instead, it’s a big gain for the Tigers’ offense.
Playing at nose tackle, or even at 1-technique, Dale is expected to combat his fair share of double teams. For Dale, these are the biggest examples of why he’ll struggle at the next level if he remains at nose tackle without significant improvement to his strength.
He saw a few against Arkansas, and none of them went well. Here are two examples that see him instantly get washed out of the play by the Razorback offensive line.
Because Dale does usually have a solid get-off, you’d hope to see him get skinny in these instances and try to split the blockers, but it’s not something that popped up in the games I watched, all of which took advantage of this at some point in the contest.
Moving to the passing game, this is where Dale does show some intrigue, though his stats aren’t lying with just 5.5 sacks over four years. He’s not an interior threat, however, he is a suitable pocket pusher on early passing downs. With good coverage, he can transition to a second move, as he does in both of these clips against LSU and Tennessee.
Staying with the Tennessee game, and while this isn’t a sack for Dale, it does show some of his deceptive athleticism and how he can be successful in his pass rush. It’s a quick play design from Tennessee’s offense, but still, Dale gets off the line quickly and displays one of the few successful bull rushes I saw out of him, rips under the center and gets in Hooker’s face just as he winds to throw.
Dale moves rather quickly on passing downs and is even a formidable option to use in stunts to free up more talented rushers. In this example against Tennessee, Dale and the mike backer are on the stunt, and Dale quickly wraps around and gets a late push into the face of the quarterback before getting his hands up. Again, he doesn’t make a play, but he did his job well.
Where Dale does fall short in this regard is not being able to draw enough attention if he stunts to the outside. He ran several stunts against the Vols with all-world EDGE backer Will Anderson sending Dale to the outside and Anderson inside. On these plays, the guard would often stay home and prevent Anderson from doing much more than spying the quarterback. On top of that, while Dale will fight on the outside, his skill set makes it incredibly difficult for him to win or collapse the pocket at all.
While Dale does have a rip, swim and pull move in his pass-rushing arsenal, he often waits until very late in his rush to employ them, leading with a very ineffective bull rush. Still, Dale keeps his eyes on the quarterback and does his best to get his hands up when he knows he won’t be creating much pressure.
What teams know they’ll get out of DJ Dale is the same thing they’ll get out of any defensive prospect from Alabama – a hard worker that possesses a high football IQ. These are things Dale displays with regularity on tape. Unfortunately, he played his entire career as a base nose tackle and in sub packages was usually at a 1 or 2 technique and while he was a successful and important piece for the Crimson Tide, it’s tough to see him being the same for an NFL squad in a similar situation.
Similarly to fellow Bama alumn and former Pittsburgh Steeler Isaiah Buggs, Dale’s size lends him to being a better pass rusher than a run stuffer in a 3-4 scheme but, unlike Buggs, Dale has very little show for it coming out of college. Buggs couldn’t cut it as the Steelers’ base nose tackle when injuries provided the opportunity, and despite being more versatile across the line at Alabama, he wasn’t cut out to sub for Cam Heyward over the guards and tackle either. I gather the same would go for DJ Dale.
Whatever team decides to take a flyer on Dale will have to take the time to figure out where he fits in their scheme. That’s a tough sell, even for a Day 3 guy. It’s not out of the question for the Steelers to spend a late pick on Dale, but don’t expect him to push Montravious Adams or even overtake an Isaiah Loudermilk on the depth chart in camp if he lands in Pittsburgh.
Projection: Late Day 3
Depot Grade: 6.5 – End of Roster/Practice Squad (Round 6-7)
Games Watched: Arkansas ‘22, Tennessee ‘22, LSU ‘22