The thought on every West Virginia fan’s mind following the 2021 NFL draft was how on Earth did a team not draft Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and consensus All-American Darius Stills?
In an attempt to answer that question, I turned to Steelers Now draft analyst Nick Farabaugh, who liked Stills heading into the draft. Farabuagh ranked Stills 137th on his 300-player big board before the draft began and had him as the 11-best interior defensive line prospect.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
WVSN: “So obviously, the big thing with Darius is always his size. When you’re talking about an undersized defensive tackle and you say his strength is maxed out, does that limit his projectability?”
Nick Farabaugh: “It limits him in a way because the more that teams are drafting d-linemen, the more they want them to move up and down the line. … The further you move inside, the inherent more double teams you face. You’re not going to have as much projectability if you can’t withstand those double teams on the interior. Darius Stills is interesting in this way because he’s, for his size, essentially maxed out. You can be smaller, we’ve seen smaller DTs come into the league and be pretty good, but Stills looks like he’s maxed out at this point. He’s very strong, he’s got a good frame, robust overall, the strength is fine for his size, but the issue is, he doesn’t have the lower-body mass to anchor down against those double teams. So it certainly restricts him from going further inside. … He might be a passing down-only type of guy but again, there’s those inherent weaknesses that hurt him and are probably why he went undrafted. Now, I would have drafted him but I think that’s exactly what the NFL was thinking.”
WVSN: “As you mentioned, there are undersized defensive tackles in the league. There’s only one Aaron Donald, but even guys like Pona Ford, Grady Jarrett, what’s different about them than Darius?”
NF: “The thing about guys like Aaron Donald, Grady Jarret and Pona Ford and those types that are different than Darius Stills is, it’s their frame and how they’re built. A lot of their mass is in the lower half of their body. Darius is interesting because he’s a little bit more top-heavy. He’s got great upper-body strength but I think he’s maxed out in the lower half. It’s just a weird type of frame that he has. … A lot of those guys have tree trunk legs, they’re built very thickly there and I think Darius doesn’t have those.
“Another thing is, Stills kind of lacks balance. That’s something that all of those undersized DTs have. He’s kind of in the dirt a little too much, he trips over his feet at times…I think he’s a good player and I think he’s a guy that can stick in the NFL, I just don’t know how his projectability against the run is.
“I think he has the ability to potentially stick as a pretty solid pass rush rotational guy, I just don’t know what he’s going to do against the run when he’s asked to face those double teams on the interior when he has to face teams that are more gap-oriented. Against a zone-heavy team, I think he can be great because he has that quickness to really penetrate into the backfield and use that explosiveness to get under those pads…I think there’s a place for him in the NFL, I just don’t think he’s for everyone.”
WVSN: “You mention his pass-rushing, I never noticed that he had a real dominant move. It always seemed like he was good at getting around guys and not really moving them out of the way. Does not having one dominant move hurt him going into the league?”
NF: “Yes, I think this is something that he needs to work on. I think he relied more on that athleticism, his quickness, his twitchiness off the line. I think that’s something he relied on more than actual technique. … He’s flashed moves before, he’s flashed cross-cops, he’s flashed a nice rip move, he has a chop-swim move he busts out sometimes.
”That’s probably more of a pass-rush plan thing where he has to work out the details in the film room prior to the week and then figure out what he’s got to do. He needs to have one move that he really can anchor down on and trust. That’s something you kind of have to look at for him. Again, I think his hands, when he needs to use them, I think he has an idea of what to do with them and I think he’s active with his hands. … Another thing that does hold him back is, while he has the pass rush upside, he doesn’t have the pass rush polish just yet that you would look for him to get on the field right away.”
WVSN: “You tweeted about Steelers draft pick Isaiahh Loudermilk that the Steelers liked him because it was easy to envision him in their scheme. West Virginia runs a very uncommon scheme, especially up front, does that hurt Stills insofar that it’s hard for teams to watch what West Virginia does and say ‘we don’t do any of that, how would he fit into our scheme?’ Or even just that he would have to learn a whole new scheme?”
NF: “He would have to learn a lot. With Loudermilk, they ran a provisional 3-4 pro scheme that the Steelers run. Now West Virginia runs a very different type of scheme. … I think when you look at Stills, especially in the fronts that they ran at West Virginia, they didn’t switch up as many fronts. In the NFL, there are going to be odd fronts, even fronts, Bear fronts, Okie fronts, all these different types of fronts and West Virginia didn’t dip into the pool with all these different types of fronts. So the thing with Darius is, he’s going to have to learn how to play when he’s not going to be moving into the interior as a zero-tech. I think he’s going to have to learn how to do all these varied alignments in order to stick.
“At West Virginia, they didn’t do a ton of the same stuff that they do in the NFL, Darius didn’t see a ton of work as a looper to the outer half of the line. That’s something that he’s going to have to learn. It’s going to be a transition for him but I think he’s a guy that, clearly, has shown the acumen to improve so I think he could stick.”
WVSN: “We’re focusing on why he wasn’t drafted, he was still a consensus All-American and you mentioned that you would have drafted him. When you watched his tape, what did you like about Darius?”
NF: “This was not a bad interior line class and I thought Darius stood out in a way where we saw traits with upside as a pass rusher. I really thought that he had a good natural pad level, I thought he had great natural explosiveness, great quickness, he could really move laterally especially well, he’s flexible. He was an inconsistent gap penetrator but I thought he had the ability to do that and I thought he flashed those cohesive moves.
“He has a toolbox where he has these different types of moves, he just never put them into action into a cohesive plan, but his flashes were really impressive. I would have taken him on day three, probably in round six, maybe as early as round five. I think that Darius Stills is a pretty solid football player when you look at the traits and I think when you bet on traits, usually you can be rewarded. I think that’s the thing you really needed to look at with him. I was surprised he wasn’t drafted because he had traits but I think teams were really worried about the scheme fit and how he would fit. … I think he has significant upside despite the lack of length, despite the size, despite the lower body frame.”
WVSN: “How do you think he fits with the Raiders, because I feel like it seems like a good fit. Especially with what [Jon] Gruden does on their defensive line.”
NF: “The fit with the Raiders is interesting because this is a team that, first of all, doesn’t have a lot of depth so I like his chances to stick. But also, what the Raiders do a lot is slant their d-linemen. They’re slanting towards the play-side and it allows their d-tackles to use their explosiveness and quickness and a lot of their d-linemen play from that three-tech spot, which is where I think Darius is going to stick at because he can use his explosiveness and, when he’s slanting, he can use his quickness to penetrate inside. I really like his fit there because I think Gruden’s scheme takes advantage of defensive linemen who are explosive, who are quick.”