This is the tandem piece to the offensive rankings, which can be found here. One quick update to those offensive ratings: I saw more of Western Kentucky OT Forrest Lamp and he slides in at No. 2 on the tackle rankings. Glad he’s healthy.
Note that I need to see a player at least twice in the final season before ranking him, so some players might still be in those unwatched cracks. I will update after the Senior Bowl, then again after the Combine.
Interior Defensive Lineman
1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama
2. Vita Vea, Washington
3. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
4. Caleb Brantley, Florida
5. Lowell Lotulelei, Utah
6. Demarcus Walker, Florida State
7. Elijah Qualls, Washington
8. Chris Wormley, Michigan
9. Ryan Glasgow, Michigan
10. Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
10a. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
Notes: I include Allen here because I think his NFL future is as a 4i or 5T in the NFL, which is the edge of where I define interior. He’s as exciting and dynamic of a prospect as Ndamukong Suh, though different enough skill wise that I wouldn’t use Suh as a comparison. He is a legit top 3 overall talent.
Vea has outstanding movement skills for a man of his size. Washington kept him fresh in a rotation and that cut back on his productivity, but Vea is an effective, technically savvy disruptor.
Lotulelei is the top natural nose tackle, though he is capable of making plays behind the line. Great eyes inside.
Wormley is streaky but when he’s on his game he’s very talented. He can play on the edge as a base 4-3 DE too. Fellow Wolverine Glasgow is one of the most improved players in college football in 2016, and has enough athleticism to keep climbing.
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
2. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
3. Taco Charlton, Michigan
4. Tim Williams, Alabama
5. Solomon Thomas, Stanford
6. Ryan Anderson, Alabama
7. Charles Harris, Missouri
8. Carl Lawson, Auburn
9. Jordan Willis, Kansas State
10. Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M
10a. Harold Landry, Boston College
Notes: Garrett is as good of a prospect as former No. 1 overall Jadeveon Clowney. He played thru an ankle injury in 2016, which slowed down his productivity. His natural bend, quickness, strength and length are outstanding.
Barnett proved the preseason chatter about lack of athleticism was nonsense. He has the best shoulder dip around the edge in class and improved at flattening to the QB.
Charlton is a 4-3 DE who can play on either side. He uses his length very well to keep blockers at bay, and he finishes with more power than anyone else here.
Anderson can also play off the ball, and that versatility could help or hurt him come draft time; he’s got tweener tendencies, albeit in a very explosive athletic frame. Will be a boom/bust prospect. Teammate Williams showed more progress in aspects beyond simply rushing the passer and has the athletic traits to be a major impact NFL defender.
Willis emerged as a consistently productive playmaker for the Wildcats. He’s an ideal No. 2 rusher opposite a top-shelf No. 1, an underrated need for many NFL teams.
1. Reuben Foster, Alabama
2. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
3. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
4. Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
5. Jarrad Davis, Florida
6. Anthony Walker, Northwestern
7. Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
8. Haason Reddick, Temple
9. Vince Beigel, Wisconsin
10. Kenneth Olugbode, Colorado
10a. Carroll Phillips, Illinois
Notes: I’ll lead this off by stating this is the defensive positional grouping I’ve studied the least in depth so far. Most of these players are evaluated from game impressions and not more detailed breakdowns, so these rankings are subject to more future change than any other.
Foster looks like an instant impact starter as a 4-3 Mike or 3-4 ILB who never has to leave the field. He’s not as powerful as predecessor Reggie Ragland but has more fluid athleticism and more natural coverage ability.
Cunningham is incredibly smart and reacts quickly. His athletic ceiling doesn’t appear as high as some others here but his incredibly high floor is reassuring.
Haynes reminds me of Jamie Collins, in part because is miscast in college as a defensive lineman despite being more athletically suited to play off the ball. I like him in the role Minnesota uses Anthony Barr.
Phillips doesn’t get as much attention as Illini teammate Hardy Nickerson but he has more of an NFL body and is a better finisher. He’s a player who should rise after Shrine Game week.
If you want to consider Jabrill Peppers as a linebacker, he would rank 5th or 6th on this list. His lack of size (he’s likely to measure 5119/212) will be more of an issue in the NFL.
1. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
2. Quincy Wilson, Florida
3. Sidney Jones, Washington
4. Desmond King, Iowa
5. Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson
6. Jourdan Lewis, Michigan
7. Teez Tabor, Florida
8. Kevin King, Washington
9. Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
10. Gareon Conley, Ohio State
10a. Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
10b. Damontae Kazee, San Diego State
Notes: There is very little separation between 1 thru 4, and then again very little differentiation between 5 thru 9; if you want to argue any ordination between those groupings I would have no issue.
There is also stylistic difference where I would prefer some players to one team over another. Scheme matters. As an example, a team playing more base Cover 2 or 3 will like Jones more than a press-man scheme, where Tankersley or King are better fits.
This is also the slowest overall group of corners in recent memory, especially at the top. Only Humphrey and maybe Tabor show better than 4.5 speed on the field. Factor that in when looking at team needs as well; a team desiring speed outside is not going to like this class as much as a team looking for physicality.
Lewis was the best collegiate corner but his size (I’ve met him and estimate him at 5095/180) will create some difficulty in the NFL. His strong tackling helps mitigate and is why I’ll be higher on him than most evaluators.
Awuzie is such a solid all-around prospect but doesn’t have the sizzle of most above him. He’s an ideal No. 2 corner who can play in any scheme and also be an asset on special teams.
1. Jamal Adams, LSU
2. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
3. Marcus Williams, Utah
4. Josh Evans, Texas A&M
5. Montae Nicholson, Michigan State
6. Tedric Thompson, Colorado
7. Marcus Maye, Florida
8. Nathan Gerry, Nebraska
9. Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
10. Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Notes: Top heavy class that is much better on the strong safety front than the more traditional centerfielder free safety.
Adams can play either spot and make a major impact in both run and pass defense. He’s a definite top 10 overall player for me.
Peppers fits best in the hybrid S/LB role and playing closer to the line. His closing speed and power are rare for either position, though he’s not as instinctive or fluid in space as Adams or others.
Nicholson and Gerry are also hybrid safety/LB candidates. I’m much higher than most on Nicholson, who often was torn between responsibilities on Michigan State’s defense. Gerry is a converted linebacker who should make an ideal third safety in that increasingly en vogue personnel package.
Maye and Jackson are both injured. Maye could rise quite a bit if he tests well and shows a higher athletic ceiling. Jackson gets bonus points for his special teams work but often looks like a slow corner playing safety more than a natural safety with cover skills.