NFL Draft Top 5 Prospects by Position – Defense
600 ESPN El Paso’s coverage of the 2018 NFL Draft continues as we take a look at the top five rated defensive prospects at each position.
There could be as many as six defensive linemen selected in the first round led by N.C. State’s Bradley Chubb, the top-rated defensive player on my board. For the second year in a row there is some true talent in the defensive backfield and it would not surprise me to see as many as seven defensive backs selected on day one. There are two game changers at linebacker with some interesting prospects behind them.
Sorry, I don’t rate kickers and punters.
Let’s take a look ay my top defensive prospects at each position along with some sleepers to keep your eyes on.
Defensive Tackle – Vita Vea is a true wide-body. The Washington product is a force against the run and has enough strength to collapse the pocket. He is still a bit raw but his upside is huge. I’m a big Da’Ron Payne fan! He is a great combination of speed and power and maybe the best run-stuffer at d-tackle. He was at his best in the national championship and has pro bowl potential. Taven Bryan at this point is more of a workout warrior but his upside should be too much to pass up on day one. Harrison Phillips may not be as physically gifted as the others in the top five but he works his butt off and is a steady playmaker. Maurice Hurst had an EKG performed at the combine that brought up concerns regarding his heart. His doctors say he checks out and is good to continue his playing career. On the field Hurst has been a disruptive force who may be a steal late in the first round or early second round.
- Vita Vea, Washington
- Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
- Taven Bryan, Florida
- Harrison Phillips, Stanford
- Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Sleeper: Poona Ford, Texas - Undersized and undervalued, Ford has never physically been what you’d envision from a defensive tackle. The gap-penetrator earned defensive lineman of the year honors in the Big 12 and could be effective in a 4-3 scheme in the NFL.
Defensive End - Bradley Chubb is one of my top three players in the draft. While not as physically gifted as last year’s number one pick, Myles Garrett, Chubb still brings tons of athletic talent to the field but more importantly, a ton of production. He has pro bowl written all over him. Marcus Davenport looks the part; he tested out extremely well at the combine and has improved the more he plays. He is still a gamble and will have to have the right coaching to reach his true potential. Lorenzo Carter is another developmental prospect who checks off all of the physical qualifications. He's long, has great speed and may end up as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Rasheem Green is young and talented but needs to become stronger at the point of attack. He has been productive the past two years but may only be a situational pass rusher in his first couple of seasons. He could be best suited at the five technique. Sam Hubbard is your classic overachiever who does more with less athletically. He won’t wow you but will find a way to make plays.
- Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
- Marcus Davenport, UTSA
- Lorenzo Carter, Georgia – DE/OLB
- Rasheem Green, USC
- Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
Sleeper: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers - If given a chance to be a third down pass rush specialist, Turay could make a name for himself early on. He is a great chase player who may be better suited to play outside in a 3-4 scheme.
Linebackers - I’ve got a man crush on Roquan Smith. He played inside at Georgia but will be all-pro on the outside in the NFL. He is a relentless pursuer with great instincts, does well in coverage and is the type of leader teams seek out on defense. Tremaine Edmunds is just a shade behind Smith. He is a monster who packs a wallop and has the athletic talent to play any linebacker position in the pros. He’s not as instinctual as Smith but adds another dimension as a solid pass rusher. Rashaan Evans made the most of his opportunity this year. A sideline-to-sideline player, Evans fits inside in any scheme and played his best on the biggest stage. After a stellar junior season, Harold Landry surprised many by coming back for his senior year. While the decision may have hurt his draft stock he is still a first round talent who should make his mark early as a pass rusher. Leighton Vander Esch is a great combination of athletic talent and length. A former walk-on, Vander Esch produced at a high level as a first year starter. He projects inside at middle linebacker and could be special in a year or two.
- Roquan Smith, Georgia
- Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
- Rashaan Evans, Alabama
- Harold Landry, Boston College - OLB/DE
- Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
Sleeper: Shaquem Griffin, UCF - Come on, like I was going to pick anyone else. Griffin is blazing fast and could end up playing strong safety at the next level a la Darren Woodson. I’m not worried about his physical limitations as his production has always been at an all conference level.
Cornerback - Denzel Ward is another product from the cornerback factory at Ohio State. Ward has fluid hips, elite footwork but does not have the size of last years first round pick Marshon Lattimore. He may be better suited inside at the nickel position. Mike Hughes also lacks elite height but has not had any problems matching up against taller receivers. Physical in coverage, Hughes adds another dimension to his game as a return man. Josh Jackson made the most of his one-year as a starter intercepting eight passes. He mirrors well and can play both off and in press coverage. Jackson was hurt by a poor performance at the combine. Jaire Alexander has elite speed, displays solid instincts and does a good job of staying on a receivers hip. His one knock may be durability. Isaiah Oliver has the combination of size, speed and arm length that teams covet. He reacts well to passes in front of him and has a solid jam off the line of scrimmage.
- Denzel Ward, Ohio State
- Mike Hughes, UCF
- Josh Jackson, Iowa
- Jaire Alexander, Louisville
- Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Sleeper: Dane Cruikshank, Arizona - Cruikshank is a physical presence at corner and has played as a nickel linebacker in college. He is better in man coverage and has the size/speed teams covet at corner but lacks top awareness skills.
Safety - This year’s safety class is a good one and is led by two stellar performers in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derwin James. Fitzpatrick has been a playmaker since the day he arrived at Alabama. An intense competitor, his versatility and athletic ability will allow defensive coordinators to use him as a do-all safety and even as a slot corner. James is an elite talent whose best days are ahead of him. A game changer at safety, he is not afraid to set the tone physically and can be used effectively in coverage and as a blitzer. Justin Reid really became a ball-hawk this past season intercepting five passes as he showed great awareness in a zone scheme. He has the talent to be an all-pro free safety and just needs to improve his tackling consistency. Ronnie Harrison has all of the physical traits you look for in a safety but will need a solid support system around him to bring out his best. He is a willing run defender and a solid zone defender. Marcus Allen is a physical run defender who loves to set the tone on defense. He is limited in coverage but is a willing tackler you’ll want playing for you up along the line of scrimmage.
- Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
- Derwin James, Florida State
- Justin Reid, Stanford
- Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
- Marcus Allen, Penn State
Sleeper: Troy Apke, Penn State - Apke opened a lot of eyes with an outstanding performance at the combine. He has elite speed and is athletic enough to be a starter at safety in the NFL. He will need time to develop as he lacks starting experience. A size/speed prospect who could pay off big.