Bucs 2023 Draft Profile: DL Dante Stills
Welcome back for the latest in my ongoing series on possible defensive tackles for the Bucs in the 2023 NFL draft class. After initially looking back at linemen, head coach Todd Bowles has been involved in drafting since he first became defensive coordinator, I identified four players who best matched the physical profile Bowles has previously established. I have since profiled two of the four Mazi Smith of Michigan And Zacch Pickens from South Carolina. Today I will look at the third of those four in West Virginia’s Dante Stills.
Background by Dante Stills
Stills was originally a four-star recruit from Fairmont, West Virginia and West Virginia’s number one prospect after his senior year according to ESPN, Rivals and 247sports. He had 22 scholarship offers and visited Oklahoma before committing closer to home with West Virginia in 2018 as a 265-pound defensive tackle. Since then, Stills has taken significant action. Over the course of five seasons with the Mountaineers, Stills has appeared in 55 games and shot nearly 2,400 shots. And at 23 years old, you don’t have to worry about Stills being a raw prospect.
Stills ticks many of the production boxes you would want to see from a player who is a senior redshirt. He has a career-high 137 tackles, 53 tackles for loss and a career-high 24.5 sacks. And while 2022 wasn’t his best statistic season (that would be 2021 when he posted career highs in all three of the aforementioned stat categories at 36, 15, and seven, respectively), he still posted solid numbers in all three areas. All told, Stills finished his West Virginia career ranked fourth in program history in career sacks, just 1.5 shy of his father Gary, who played 10 years in the NFL.
Profile of Dante Stills
Looking at the parameters I set based on Bowles’ previous design choices for the defensive lineman. Stills gets eight of eleven stats. At six feet tall and arms nearly 32.5 inches, Stills has the height requirement based on the parameters I’ve identified. His 4.82 40-yard sprint time and 1.66 10-yard split show he has the short and long speed the Bucs are looking for.
And while his vertical jump was an inch less than the number I identified, his broad jump exceeded the threshold by a full eight inches. And of his agility times (short shuttle and 3 cones) both were faster than the parameters I estimated.
All in all, Stills’ RAS score of 8.56 is just over the 8.50 that shows he meets the athleticism that Bowles and the Bucs are looking for.
Although he made the cut in many of the measurable areas, he missed the mark in weight (286 pounds), bench press (only 20 reps), and the aforementioned vertical jump. While I think the bench press is the least correlated, the weight and vertical jump numbers are a bit of a concern as it relates to the likelihood of the Bucs selecting him. I’m especially not sure Stills can put on weight to get to 300 pounds without sacrificing a lot of athleticism that highlights his ability to win right now.
College tape by Dante Stills
It doesn’t take long while watching Stills to see how he wins. Relying on a quick first step and a high degree of agility for the inside of the line, Stills is a gap shooter through and through. This makes him ideal for third and long situations where he can pin his ears back and rely on his athleticism, combined with his relentless mentality to seek and destroy quarterbacks.
Stills excels at finding weaknesses in offensive line spacing and exploiting them by using high levels of body control and hip flexion to create favorable angles. He’s good at stunts and twists that give him extra chances to wreak havoc in the backfield.
What worries me about Stills stems from his lack of mass. He weighed 286 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine and I’d be surprised if he played at that weight in college. What’s more, like I said before, I don’t think he’ll ever be able to weigh up to 300 pounds.
Without that extra weight, I don’t think Stills can survive as a three-man lineman at the next level. He lacks the anchor and leg strength to hold on to the attack point in the run game. And while he’s had great success creating plays for losses (as evidenced by his lewd tackle for loss numbers), I don’t believe he’ll be able to slip blocks and shoot holes to find ball carriers in the backfield with somewhere near the same consistency at the NFL level.
And while Still’s arm length meets the criteria Bowles may be looking for, he’s still in the 22nd percentile for all defensive tackles. This means NFL guards and centers should be able to easily block Stills and I didn’t see him display a high level of stacking and throwing. All of this adds up to a limited rotating player best used in a long and late roll.
How Dante Stills can fit in with the Bucs
Last year, the Bucs struggled to create consistent pressure with their front four. While nose tackle Vita Vea was able to put pressure on more than 10% of his pass rushes, the balance of the Bucs inrushers (Logan Hall, Akiem Hicks, Will Gholston, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Deadrin Senat) combined only created 51 pressures . on over 1,100 pass rush snaps. That is a paltry pressure of only 4.5%.
If added to the D-line mix, Stills, even as a rotation specialist, should be able to add some juice to that number. During his last two seasons in West Virginia, Stills was able to press 59 on 678 pass rush snaps. If deployed correctly, he shouldn’t see much of that pace drop and could help create a nice change of pace.
With an internal line of defense lacking a wide range of Bucs fits at the top, Stills offers a potential Day 3 option if the team fails to capture one of its few top players. And while he shouldn’t be expected to be a long-term solution for the team, he could represent a highly coveted, highly defined skill set that could provide next-level value for the Bucs.
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