2019 Raiders Draft Prospect Profile
Name: Khalen Saunders
Position: Defensive Tackle
Weight: 315 pounds
School: Western Illinois University
Draft Projection: Day 2-3
In breaking down Saunders’ film, look for the varied tools in his repertoire. First, his bull rush starts with a quick rise from his stance. From there, Saunders uses heavy hands and leverage to drive the guard/center into the ball field. More importantly, he times the moment of disengagement well. Next, his push-pull appears fluid. That is to say, the move is not segmented and robotic. That would give the blocker time to adjust and react faster. While the Leathernecks used Saunders on the interior mostly, they would shift him outside and let him rush from a two-point stance. For a 300-pound defensive tackle, that is an uncommon event. Yet, considering Saunders’ athleticism, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
While his ability to get home makes him an attractive prospect, Saunders pays close attention to the run. After maneuvering the blocker away, he crushes the pocket, closes up the running lane, and collapses upon the running back. Additionally, on plays that flow wide, Saunders funnels down the line and will meet the back.
Throw the stopwatch away with Saunders on the 40. If you focus on his ability to close within 10 yards, you will observe a tackle that features burst and the ability to disrupt plays, whether between the tackles on the outside.
Saunders displays outstanding pop in his punch and ability to discard blockers. More importantly, his shows tremendous grip strength that helps him in making tackles. In addition, he will show the ability to resist being overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage. The lower body prevents guards from smothering Saunders.
While Saunders’ viral backflip exploits garnered attention, hip flexion and a limber torso affords him liberties with rush moves that many interior lineman do not enjoy. The fluidity adds a suddenness and depth to his rip move.
As mentioned, Saunders’ strength benefits him in stopping the ball. Whatever he grabs, he stops. Ballcarriers will struggle to get free. As a result, Saunders will rack up his share of TFL on Sundays. Not to mention, this will benefit the defense on short yardage, as Saunders will not give ground to any running back.
Granted, the Raiders addressed defensive tackle in 2018 by drafting PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst. Yet, adding Saunders gives Oakland another disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line. While the team will probably spend one of their first round picks on an edge rusher, Saunders presents an intriguing Day 2 or 3 option. With his strength and athleticism, he immediately improves the depth and talent of the Raiders.