The offensive side of the ball can be found here.
This grouping includes players who project best as 3-4 defensive ends.
1. Vita Vea, Washington
2. Maurice Hurst, Michigan
3. Harrison Phillips, Stanford
4. Tim Settle, Virginia Tech
5. DaRon Payne, Alabama
6. DaShawn Hand, Alabama
7. B.J. Hill, North Carolina State
8. Derrick Nnadi, Florida State
9. Taven Bryan, Florida
10. Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State
If you want pass-rushing oomph from the inside, this is a very strong class. Vea is a freakish athlete for his size; he’ll run faster and move quicker at 340-ish pounds than some linebackers. If he can hone some pass rush moves, Vea can be a star. Hurst is a more refined pass rusher who is great on stunts and shooting the B-gap, though he’s undersized (280) to play inside versus the run and should be a 5-tech. Phillips racked up over 100 tackles in ’17 and doesn’t stay blocked.
The Alabama duo are lumped together but that’s not intentional. Hand is optimally an attacking 5T. Payne can take over games inside (see the title game vs. Clemson in ’17) but also gets nullified at times. Bryan is lightning quick and disruptive but doesn’t finish plays. Shepherd could wind up being the best here if he adjusts to the jump in competition.
Two guys who didn’t make the cut but deserve mention as players I like: Ferris State’s Zach Sieler (a 5T) and North Carolina State’s Kentavious Street, who lacks an obvious NFL position but is nonetheless a player I want on my team.
Edges are defensive ends in a 4-3 and outside linebackers in a 3-4. While they are certainly not interchangeable positions, they are more alike than lumping those 3-4 OLBs with the linebackers. It’s not an optimal grouping but it’s better than the alternatives.
1. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
2. Harold Landry, Boston College
3. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
4. Hercules Mata’Afa, Washington State
5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
6. Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio
7. Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
8. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
9. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
10. Rasheem Green, USC
11. Ola Adeniyi, Toledo
12. Uchenna Nwosu, USC
13. Chad Thomas, Miami FL
14. Arden Key, LSU
15. Josh Sweat, Florida State
Chubb is the best defensive player in this draft, a well-rounded force who has All-Pro potential. He isn’t quite what Myles Garrett was last year but he is close enough to merit top-5 draft status.
Landry struggled in ’17 with injuries and that waters down his stock. I saw him in person in 2016 and thought I was watching a slightly bigger Robert Mathis. Too many are too low on him.
Edmunds is a fantastic athletic prospect and is just 19. He might be better playing off-ball LB as he develops. There is more bust factor here than some will be comfortable with, in part because of his precociousness. The same is true with Davenport, who athletically resembles Jadeveon Clowney but couldn’t win a single rep during Senior Bowl practices.
I’m not as high as most on Okoronkwo, who is small and uncreative on film as a pass rusher. He might be better-served playing off-ball where his strong tackling and field vision are better fits. Key fell off as he gained weight and questions about his motor came unprompted from scouts who’ve been thru Baton Rouge. Rasheem Green could blossom into something much higher than I have him here.
If you’re looking for sleepers, Central Michigan’s Joe Ostman and SMU’s Justin Lawler are the next two guys. If Ostman were 6-4 and 265 he’d be no worse than fifth on this list.
1. Roquan Smith, Georgia
2. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
4. Josey Jewell, Iowa
5. Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
6. Jerome Baker, Ohio State
7. Micah Kiser, Virginia
8. Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
9. Jason Cabinda, Penn State
10. Chris Worley, Ohio State
11. Fred Warner, BYU
12. Shaquem Griffin, UCF
13. Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
14. Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
15. Malik Jefferson, Texas
Smith is an amazing tackler with unlimited range and awesome power behind his pads. He could lead the league in tackles at some point and isn’t shabby in coverage either. Evans has similar range at more size but isn’t quite the tackler or the anticipator. He compares favorably to ’17 Lions first-round pick Jarrad Davis. Vander Esch needs positional discipline but has very solid upside, though he is not a pass rusher like some will advertise.
The cluster of Kiser, DeLuca, Cabinda and Worley is essentially interchangeable in my rankings and will be more scheme- and team-related. They’re all quality ILB/SLB prospects with higher floors than ceilings. Jewell fits in that category, too.
Griffin is a fascinating prospect as he only has one hand. I do think he can play as a nickel OLB but where he will thrive is special teams. Cichy would be higher if I trusted his health, and durability concerns are why South Carolina’s Skai Moore misses the list. Malik Jefferson might be the best athlete at the Combine but history has proven that LB is the worst position on the field for guys who are better athletes than football players.
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
2. Jaire Alexander, Louisville
3. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
4. Josh Jackson, Iowa
5. Carlton Davis, Auburn
6. Mike Hughes, UCF
7. Donte Jackson, LSU
8. Denzel Ward, Ohio State
9. Isaac Yiadom, Boston College
10. M.J. Stewart, North Carolina
11. Duke Dawson, Florida
12. Quenton Meeks, Stanford
13. Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
14. Anthony Averett, Alabama
15. Darius Phillips, Western Michigan
16. Avonte Maddox, Pittsburgh
17. Kameron Kelly, San Diego State
18. Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee
19. Tony Brown, Alabama
20. Michael Joseph, Dubuque
I went to 20 here because the relative depth of this CB class is outstanding. Fitzpatrick is the clear No. 1 and grades out just below the similarly versatile Jalen Ramsey. I like Fitzpatrick as the outside CB matching up with the other team’s No. 1.
Alexander has durability concerns and will bite on fakes but is an explosive playmaker and brings the swagger quotient, a quality I value in a corner. He nudges above the next grouping, where my No. 3 and No. 8 could change tomorrow and will vary based on team fit. All are ready to start as rookies. Ward has the highest ceiling of that group but also by far the lowest floor. If Carlton Davis learns not to hold receivers at the release point he’s going to be great. Not good, great.
Of the later guys, I took a real shine to Avonte Maddox at the Shrine Game. He reminds me a lot of Briean Boddy-Calhoun, a feisty slot corner whom I also liked a lot more than most. “Boddy Count” is now one of the best nickel CBs in the NFL and I can see Maddox being there too. I love Darius Phillips as a return man but he must play in off/zone at CB. Don’t believe anyone who tells you he’s soft against the run, as someone who has seen him in person 7 times. There’s a difference between being “soft” and just not being technically adept.
1. Derwin James, Florida State
2. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest
3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
4. Marcus Allen, Penn State
5. Justin Reid, Stanford
6. Quin Blanding, Virginia
7. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern
8. Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech
9. Armani Watts, Texas A&M
10. Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin
11. Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh
12. DeShon Elliott, Texas
13. Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette
14. Trayvon Henderson, Hawaii
15. Cole Reyes, North Dakota
This is the defensive group I’ve studied the least, and that should help explain omissions like Kyzir White and Siran Neal. I just haven’t seen enough of either to have a strong feel yet.
James stands way ahead of the pack here. He’s a top 10 overall talent on my board and has star potential. By comparison, Bates is currently my No. 88 overall player…and I appear to be more bullish on him than most. Allen and Blanding are both players I liked more entering ’17 than I do after watching their final seasons; both were preseason top 50 talents and that potential is absolutely still present, somewhere. Henderson and Reyes can both surprise and make these lower rankings look bad in a couple of years.