Finally, after watching lots and lots of tape to analyze the players, I finished my list of the top ten guys for each position with the defensive prospects. Once again, this is not just a ranking of how good these players are right now, but who they can become. Here is my list of the top ten offensive guys.
Let’s get right into it:
4-3 Defensive Ends / 3-4 Outside Linebackers:
- Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
- Vic Beasley, Clemson
- Randy Gregory, Nebraska
- Shane Ray, Missouri
- Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
- Eli Harold, Virginia
- Owamagbe Odhigizuwa, UCLA
- Nate Orchard, Utah
- Hao’uli Kikaha, Washington
- Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
Right there: Danielle Hunter (LSU), Trey Flowers (Arkansas)
Florida moved Fowler all over the field during his college career, which makes him a versatile defender. He can stop the run, drop back in coverage and most of all put his hand in the dirt and get after the passer. I really like his length, strong arms and pursuit. Because he has played at so many spots for the Gators he is still raw with his pass rush techniques, but he has great potential and could become a perennial Pro Bowl with good coaching.
Beasley was the unquestioned Combine hero. He showed up at excellent weight but still looked as explosive, quick and fast as he did at Clemson. I think the added pounds will serve him well against the run and his freakish athleticism leading to off-the-charts potential will make a team go after him very early. His biggest area of improvement will be his ability to set a physical edge, but he gets off the ball so fast.
Gregory has a long frame (6’5’’) as he has played standing up and with his hand on the ground. He is tougher against the run than you’d expect for a guy weighing in at 235 pounds, but he’ll need to add thickness to his body. He tends to overthink plays which leads to stutter-stepping instead of attacking the offensive backfield, but he’s an explosive player who doesn’t give up and can still improve a lot in his technique.
Ray is an explosive athlete with serious speed to run by tackles and has a demeanor that nobody can keep him from getting to the ball carrier. He has great reaction and then change-of-direction quickness. He wasn’t able to perform at the Combine and couldn’t impress at his pro day as he didn’t run as fast as expected and neither showed that he can stand up and play linebacker. What I’ve seen has me thinking he’s a better fit at D-end. He also needs to work on the variety of pass rush moves he uses.
Bud Dupree is a tremendous athlete who continues to intrigue scouts. He has shown he can do pretty much everything, but hasn’t proven to be great at anything quite yet. He has some very good tape and production at Kentucky, but hasn’t lived up to his potential at this point. He has the size (6’4’’, 270 pounds) and strength to control the point of attack combined with outstanding traits.
Virginia’s Eli Harold is another player whose stock is on the rise. He has something all elite pass rushers seem to have – that first step. After exploding from the line of scrimmage he has the ability to torque his body to keep offensive tackles from getting their hands on him and looks to make the distance to the quarterback as short as possible as he bends the corner with a great angle. His long, muscular arms help him to keep blockers from getting into his body and driving him on run plays. He will need to improve his coverage skills and capability to finish plays.
You will learn how to pronounce the former UCLA defensive end, but for now let’s just call him Owa. His body is absolutely ripped and he is very strong at the point of attack. He has violent, active hands and a relentless, no-stop approach when getting off the ball with a low pad level. His production as a pass rusher has been limited, mainly because of the lack of counter moves he has in his arsenal, but I think he does a much better job then he gets credit for plus he is tremendous run stopper.
After setting a school record for most sacks in a season (18.5) at Utah, a lot of people aren’t sure if they should take it as a sign of things to come or if Orchard only had one good year. I see a lot of potential in this kid. He gets off the ball quickly, bends around the edge naturally and is still mastering his craft. He turns his hips with ease in pass coverage and never quits on plays. At the Senior Bowl he looked much more powerful than I thought he would and should become better against the run if he hits the gym.
Kikaha is a pass rush specialist who can rush from every position. He combines a crazy motor with athleticism and a variety of moves. He has a judo and wrestling background, so this explains why he’s so active and good with his hands. Two ACL surgeries and inconsistent play against the run hurt his draft stock, but he is the top pass rusher in the draft and has the tools to get better at setting the edge as he has shown flashes of being able to jack up blockers.
Mauldin is a tough football player who understands and loves the game. He has a great swim move but also makes offensive tackles play when they overplay it as he slants inside to get to the passer. I love how he finds the ball and chases it with fire. He plays too upright and doesn’t bend the corner very well, but should continue to build on a productive collegiate career.
Hunter has an elite combination of size, athleticism and explosiveness combined with a great motor. He hasn’t shown he’s a natural pass rusher as he only collected 1.5 sacks last year, but he has tremendous potential. I like how he gets his hands up in the passing lanes, but I hate how he often throws his body into blockers. He will go as far as he takes coaching.
Flowers doesn’t have great length or athleticism, but his motor is ridiculous and he wins with technique. He already uses the stab move effectively, but will need to work on his pass rush moves much like he did from 2013 to 2014 as he managed to finish his way to the quarterback instead of stopping at the top of his rush. In the run game he looks for the ball carrier and then effectively sheds the blocker to bring the guy down.
Interior Defensive Linemen:
- Leonard Williams, USC
- Danny Shelton, Washington
- Malcom Brown, Texas
- Arik Armstead, Oregon
- Eddie Goldman, Florida State
- Carl Davis, Iowa
- Grady Jarrett, Clemson
- Michael Bennett, Ohio State
- Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
- Henry Anderson, Stanford
Right there: Preston Smith (Mississippi State)
Williams to me is the number one overall player in this year’s draft. He has some special talents and things you just can’t teach. He is quick, seems to always be the most powerful player on the field and can play every position on the defensive line. He has the ability to overpower his blockers and fights his way to the passer as he’s almost unblockable one-on-one. The crazy thing about it is that he’s not even close to the player he can be some day.
The dancing bear as Mike Mayock likes to call him is a 340 pound monster who’s even stronger than his weight indicates. He’s an immovable object in the run game who draws double-teams on a play-to-play basis and still holds his ground. If blocked one-on-one he often drives offensive linemen into the backfield and takes the ball carrier with him on his way. He may be a one-trick pony in the pass rush, but he has proven to be able to bull rush blockers by will and then throw them out of the way to take down the passer. He also has that good old Reggie White hump move.
Brown is great penetrator who almost can’t be stopped if he can swipe the offensive lineman’s arms out of the way. He has improved his hand and feet quickness immensely and consistently wins when he’s not double teamed. I don’t understand why he’s sometimes referred to as a low-effort guy. To all those who think so – just watch how hard he played in the fourth quarter against BYU last year when they were down 34-7. I think he can play multiple positions on any defensive front.
When I look at Armstead I’m thinking about how raw this kid still is. He has elite size and strength, but doesn’t use his hands well and often plays too upright. He also doesn’t get off the snap fast enough, but he improved from his junior to senior year tremendously. He certainly is a project, but it should pay off big-time at some point.
Goldman is an outstanding run defender as he extends his arms and doesn’t let the blocker get into him. He plays with a low pad level, a lot of power at the point of attack and the ability to shed blockers and bring down ball carriers. His limited arsenal of pass rush moves make me wonder if he’ll be able to produce on all three downs as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but he has some violent hands and shows flashes of being able to contribute more on passing downs.
Davis looks like the prototype defensive tackle in the NFL (6’5’’, 320 pounds and long). He’s stout against the run, has gotten much better with his hands and does a great job extending his arms and shedding the blockers. He showed flashes of his ability to penetrate on tape, but didn’t do so consistently enough at Iowa. At the Senior Bowl he looked much more impressive as a complete player (since he’s often criticized for being not enough of a pass rush threat) and was named the most outstanding practice player. If he manages to plays at the level he’s capable of consistently he can become a dominant player at the next level.
Jarrett is an underrated player from a great defense. When I watch his tape I instantly think of Aaron Donald. They both are undersized, get quick penetration and their motors never stop. People who say they’re too small to dominate at the line seem to not understand how important leverage is. And those two are unbelievable at it. I really can’t tell why Jarrett hasn’t collected more sacks during his collegiate career.
The Buckeyes’ D-tackle Bennett is a tough guy for being just below 300 pounds. He explodes out of his stance and then uses his longs arm to get the offensive lineman out of his way. He has strong, active hands and is a technique specimen. He wins more of his battles against smaller guards, but he usually dominates one-on-one. To be a more complete pass rusher he will need to develop a counter move.
Phillips’ wide shoulders, massive body and supreme athleticism intrigue scouts. I don’t like that he doesn’t play one shoulder, stays engaged with blockers and tends to play with a high pad level, but he has all the tools to someday be a Pro Bowl guy with the god given talents he has, if he decides to work on his game and give 100% on every play.
Anderson uses quickness and length to win. To be honest – when I watch his tape, he reminds me a lot of J.J. Watt. I’m not saying he’s anywhere close to the best defensive player in the world, but they share some traits like their body type, effort and intelligence which often shows when they get their hands up in the passing lanes. He’s certainly not as powerful as Watt, but I think he’s kind of falling under the radar.
I project Smith to be a 3-4 defensive end, although he played most of his snaps on the tackle’s outside shoulder. I think he’s strong enough to do so, plays with a low pad level and uses his long arms very well. He’s a little slow on getting off the ball and shedding blockers, but he can be a matchup nightmare rushing from over the center and all various positions on passing downs.
- Eric Kendricks, UCLA
- Paul Dawson, TCU
- Denzel Perryman, Miami
- Stephone Anthony, Clemson
- Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
- Taiwan Jones, Michigan State
- Jeff Luc, Cincinnati
- Ramik Wilson, Georgia
- Trey DePriest, Alabama
- Bryce Hager, Baylor
When I turn on the film on Eric Kendricks I see a pure football player. He plays downhill, chases down ball carriers, can cover backs and tight-ends one-on-one, has a high football IQ and plays with a lot of passion. He’s not quite the athlete his brother Mychal is, but he has outstanding instincts and will probably be a perennial Pro Bowler.
Dawson is an absolute ball magnet who always attacks and never gives up on plays. He put up bad numbers at the Combine, but if you watch his tape you don’t question his game speed. He gambles a lot, but it pays off most of the time although he occasionally overruns plays and misses tackles. Offensive linemen seem to not be able to control him at the second level as he slips blocks and doesn’t stay engaged long with them. He excels in pass coverage where he can react quickly in zone schemes and mirrors backs and tight-ends sideline to sideline. Character issues may hurt his draft stock though.
Perryman looks like another great Miami linebacker who makes a ton of tackles and gets there with some thump, In fact people often say you can really hear it when he collides with ball carriers or blockers. Much like a couple of other player at his position coming from the U he’s a little undersized (5’11’’), but because of that he always plays low. He’s not as quick at changing directions and won’t be able to play the game’s top tight ends one-on-one. What he certainly will bring to your team is toughness.
Anthony to me is the definition of a downhill linebacker. His attacking style reminds me a lot of Daryl Washington. Therefore he’s a frequent visitor in the offensive backfields, but sometimes overruns plays and opens up backside running lanes. He’s an excellent blitzer on passing downs and has the ability to play man on good athletes and then makes great plays on the ball. He needs to improve his technique when taking on blockers as far as extending his arms and keeping the blocker away from his body but has the looks of a prototype mike-linebacker. If you want to know how good this guy can be just watch his game against Florida State. He was unreal.
McKinney is a huge guy who comes down on people and really brings the pain. He chases the ball and does a good job wrapping up on his tackles. He meets blockers with power, but gets caught up with them too much instead of shedding them. He doesn’t have quite the instincts or agility of the guys mentioned above, but he is one big presence in the middle of a defense.
Jones has outstanding size, power, toughness, durability and leadership qualities. He’s most comfortable in the middle of the field but will not give up on plays going away from him and is a great wrap-up tackler. He makes guards pay for coming at him. His lack of ability to contribute in pass coverage hurts his value, but he is an excellent inside blitzer and could make an impact that way on third downs.
I was so impressed by how Luc dominated in one-on-one coverage drills at the Senior Bowl that I had to give the tape a better look. This is a 260 pound monster which makes big guys look very small. He has strong hands to never let ball carriers get away and knock a lot of balls loose. He’s not great at dropping into space, but blockers fear him on inside blitzes (6.5 sacks in 2014). His tackle numbers often were unreal.
Wilson was a productive inside linebacker for the Bulldogs with 243 tackles in the last two years at Georgia which leads all SEC players over that span. I like his athleticism, natural skills to change direction and pursuit. I do think though that he needs to play with more physicality especially when offensive linemen come down on him as he often tries to go around them and then struggles to disengage. He can mirror ball carriers from sideline to sideline and will be suited best in a defense where he can play free, but will need to learn better anticipation skills in zone coverage.
DePriest is a big, thick middle linebacker who loves and looks for contact. He often jacks up offensive linemen and fullbacks coming at him and slides along the O-line very well. He doesn’t like playing in space or in man coverage that much, but he’s an imposing presence in the middle of the field who can knock balls loose from receivers and make them regret coming near him.
Hager is an extremely strong guy who moves well laterally and consistently pushes the pile or throws blockers to the ground. He can sometimes be a little late reacting which I think comes from overthinking plays instead of trusting his eyes, but I love how he chases ball carriers all over the field. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy you want to take on blockers all the time, but he will do a lot of good things for you if you give him a chance to play free. The former running back has good range and is a great overall pass defender.
- Trae Waynes, Michigan State
- Marcus Peters, Washington
- Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
- Jalen Collins, LSU
- Byron Jones, UConn
- P.J. Williams, Florida State
- Steven Nelson, Oregon State
- Alex Carter, Stanford
- DJoun Smith, Florida Atlantic
- Kevin White, TCU
Right there: Eric Rowe (Utah), Senquez Golson (Ole Miss)
Wildcard: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
I think this year’s class of cornerbacks has a couple of players in the later rounds that could make an early impact, but at the top there’s no question to me that Waynes is the number one guy. He’s a long, tough bump-and-run corner with outstanding speed (4.31 in the 40) to run with everybody as well as to recover on routes and has great ball skills to make plays when the ball gets there. He also follows the play and drills ball carriers. He may need a little time to adapt to how referees call contact down the field, but he plays with a ton of confidence, trusts his technique and takes on the challenge of playing the opponent’s number one receiver all game long.
I love the aggressive style Peters play with. He often explodes into receivers off the line in man coverage and comes down to make a play on the ball or lay the wood on pass catchers, although sometimes he lets his guy get away or arrives too soon with the ball still in the air. He competes hard and unlike most guys he wins on the majority of 50-50-balls. When he makes a play he gets really fired up, but tends to show too much emotion. You can tell he has the talents to be a special player, but his on the field-maturity and clashes with the coaching staff offer questions.
Johnson is a guy that moves naturally on the field, especially in one-on-one coverage and has the speed to make up ground quickly. He has the ability to mirror moves but sometimes gets burned because he gambles on routes. He can play press and off man coverage to either disrupt receivers at the beginning of their routes or break on balls. He obviously wants to make plays in run support and does a lot when he’s clean, but struggles to fight through blocks because of his thin frame. Being an outstanding special teamer boosts his stock.
Collins combines excellent length, quickness and speed. He doesn’t shy away from tackling, but will need to continue learning the proper techniques of the position. He doesn’t allow a lot of separation and knocks the ball away with his long arms in trail positions. He’s a project and his failed drug test is a concern, but he has all the physical traits to become an elite corner at the next level.
We all know what an explosive athlete Byron Jones is. If any of you don’t – he broke the broad jump record at the Combine by 8 inches (12’3’’ total), had a vertical of 44.5 inches and was a top performer in all other drills he participated in. But let’s talk about what he does on the football field. He has remarkable intelligence and instincts to make plays and the ball skills to finish them. He was moved from free safety to corner this year, so he had some problems keeping his feet under him when being line up one-on-one and reacting to breaks. I could easily see him move back to safety if he adds some weight.
Williams has the looks of a prototype bump-and-run corner who plays his best against top receivers. He does a good job waiting to open his hips and then stays engaged with his opponents. I love how he fights through blocks, delivers big hits and often tries to knock the ball away from whoever carries it. When the ball is in the air he has the instincts to make a play on it. His aggressiveness when trying to jump on routes has hurt him on a couple of occasions though and his arrest for DUI really hurt his draft stock.
Nelson does a good job jamming receivers off the line, stays close to them and then has an outstanding ability to get his hand in between the receiver’s gloves to knock balls away. He works hard against the run getting away from blocks and wrapping up properly. He excels at deep balls thrown his way and is great in off coverage reacting on breaks and making plays on the ball. He doesn’t have the desired size and must improve on not grabbing receivers in man coverage, but I love his competitive nature.
Smith is a quick athlete who always has his feet and body under control. He can cover any route and play sticky coverage, but scouts question his ability to stay with the faster receivers in the league because of his lack of top-end speed. I actually think he can play against anybody because of his competitiveness combined with the ability to locate the ball and make plays on it.
When I watched White dominate in one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl practices he looked a lot better than what I saw in the games, so I went back to the tape. He reminds me so much of his former teammate Jason Verrett who’s now with the Chargers. They both lack size but make up for it with great confidence, competitiveness and scrappy style of play. White completely shut the guy who is number two on my list of the top receivers in the draft and shares the same name.
Rowe moved to cornerback after playing his previous three seasons at free safety. I like how he disrupts receivers off the line and attacks against the run. Because he hasn’t played a lot at the position he’s limited in man coverage, biting on double moves and lacking the great speed to recover when beaten or stay with fast receivers on deep routes. The thing I think he’s oustanding at is trusting in himself and not panicing when the ball is thrown his way. He won’t fit every scheme, but I like him in a Tampa 2 or some kind of zone coverage concepts where he sees what’s happening in front of him.
Golson is a guy I’m much higher on than the majority on scouts. He’s an athletic, twitchy guy that plays with a ton of confidence and fire. He thinks fast and attacks the ball in the air, leading to 10 interceptions in 2014. He’s a small guy who doesn’t always rely on his technique, but he is one of my favorite players in the draft because he’s not afraid to give up his body in run support and is extremely competitive.
Ekpre-Olomu would certainly be near the top of this list if not for the severe knee injury he suffered before the Rose Bowl. He’s only 5’9’’ and will probably be suited best to play the nickel, but he competes hard, has great quickness and instincts. He often plays with unorthodox technique, but he has been a turnover machine for the Ducks during his tenure. His health will be the only thing that matters from now on for teams to really buy into him.
- Landon Collins, Alabama
- Shaq Thompson, Washington
- Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio)
- Jaquiski Tartt, Samford
- Anthony Harris, Virginia
- Damarious Randall, Arizona State
- Derron Smith, Fresno State
- Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
- Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
- James Sample, Louisville
Right there: Imbraheim Campbell (Northwestern),Gerrod Holliman (Louisville)
If there’s one position in the draft where everybody should agree on the number one prospect it is Landon Collins at safety. I love his downhill style of play, the intimidation factor and fact he’s a sure tackler nevertheless. He is an outstanding run defender, but has allowed a couple of plays via the pass. That’s why I think it would be perfect to play him at strong safety and have him attack and then move in as a nickel linebacker on third downs (much like the Cardinals used Deone Bucannon last year). Collins will energize a defense and give them a tough, intelligent competitor.
Thompson is a very interesting prospect. He played linebacker and running back at Washington, but a lot of people project him at safety. I do so too because of his natural ability to open and flick his hips, outstanding range and change of direction skills. I also don’t think he’s big enough to play linebacker on base downs if he can’t play free. When you draft this guy you get a tough, hard-working, intelligent and instinctive player who is always around the ball and has a flair for the big play (four defensive touchdowns and three forced fumbles – constantly tries to rip the ball free).
The former point guard Rollins used his background of making a ton of steals on the court right away on the football field as he intercepted seven passes and deflected another 16 while earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in his only season as a football player at Miami of Ohio. He has unbelievable ball skills, reflexes, foot quickness, hip fluidity and much better understanding of technique than you’d expect. He fights threw blocks and hits forcefully. His inexperience at the game probably will lead to him sitting on the bench a little as he will need to continue to work on his technique, but he has all the tools to be an outstanding player, most of all his ability to learn.
Tartt is another guy I’m very high on. He has outstanding size, athleticism and speed combined with fierce competitiveness. He was often used in a high safety role, but is much better and more comfortable reading and attacking the backfield. He has great eyes, diagnoses and breaks up plays quickly to make the offense feel his present. With all the traits combined I think he will be a physical tone-setter who can upgrade a defense big-time.
Harris is a fast, long safety with great anticipation and trust in his instincts. He’s not very big and should add some weight, but even though he doesn’t bang into ball carriers he gets a head on the ball most of the time and then doesn’t let the guy carrying it get away. He reads the run quickly and doesn’t shy away from getting into the action. What separates him from a lot of other guys at his position are his exceptional ball skills and soft hands, which have led to 10 interceptions in the last two years.
Randall is a speedy, tough and aggressive safety who plays much bigger than his below 200 pounds indicate and can change directions in a heartbeat. He takes good angles on ball carriers and never gives up on plays. He often times baites quarterbacks into bad throws and then intercepts the ball with great hands. He tries to make offensive players pay when they come near him, but sometimes only gets them by the ankles. I think he’s the best man coverage safety in the draft who could also contribute as a nickelback at times.
Smith is a very intelligent and instinctive player who knows where the receivers are but still always keeps an eye on the quarterback. He often comes down with interception on jump balls as a combination of great vision, range, leaping ability and ball skills. When he has the ball in his hands he knows what to do with it. He’s a little undersized and often takes bad angles on ball carriers, but is impressive in covering the deep middle or over slot receiver and is willing to come up against the run.
Carter is certainly one of the best zone coverage players in the entire draft. He does a great job disrupting receivers in press but then can drop back from that spot quickly and either makes plays on the ball or comes down with force in the running game. He’s a sure tackler, but he fails to stay on receivers who are able to come out breaks quickly. He’s best at letting the play develop in front of him. That’s why I project him to safety.
Prewitt has great understanding of route concepts and the game in general. He flies down against the run but knows when to hit the brakes and square up to bring ball carriers down, even though I think he leaves his feet too often when he tries to tackle. He has the body type of a box-safety, but doesn’t play like it. He was the emotional leader of the top-ranked Landshark defense.
Drummond is a long, fluid free safety with outstanding ball skills. Because of his play in coverage he could become a great centerfielder, but he’ll need to work on becoming a more reliable tackler in space. He can recover from reacting late because of his closing speed and was the vocal team leader on a top Michigan State defense.
Sample has the looks and numbers of a prototype strong safety. He uses his size and strength well to fight through blocks, comes downhill quickly and always pursues the ball. He is willing to leave his responsibilities in zone coverage to make plays outside of his area. While often being overshadowed by his teammate Holliman, Sample led the team in tackles (74) and recorded four interceptions in his only season playing football for the Cardinals. Because of his lack of experience he still needs to work on his instincts in coverage and tackling form, but he has the traits to become a very good player.
Campbell is a tough, downhill, in-the-box safety who still needs to work on his play and reads in coverage. He was a respected leader for Northwestern during his four years as a starter. I really like his man-coverage skills against tight-ends and running backs plus his secure tackling combined with his ability to force fumbles. The team that decides to take him might limit him to work on specific matchups and play him on special teams to let him involve into a complete safety, but I think he could turn into that soon.
Holliman is an absolute ball hawk, as he tied an FBS all-time record with 14 interceptions in a season last year. He moves naturally on the field due to his fluid hips and can make plays on the ball with great body control. He’s more of a hitter than a tackler as he doesn’t wrap up most of the time. What makes me drop him out of my top ten safety prospects is the fact he doesn’t give 100% percent on every play and lacks the competitive fire necessary in the NFL.
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