Back on the edge with this version of my positional rankings. Today I want to take a look at the defensive side of the ball, since I talked about the top offensive tackles a couple of days ago. I categorize 4-3 defensive ends, 3-4 outside linebackers and sub-package pass-rushers as edge defenders.
This class has one headliner, who has a good chance of being the first defender off the board, and four more prospects, who could hear their names called on day one of the draft. All in all, I see a dozen players at the position selected within the first three rounds.
1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
This is the best defensive lineman coming out of N.C. State since Mario Williams and the closest thing to him since then. Much like the former number one overall pick, Chubb is a prototype 4-3 defensive end with good thickness throughout his frame. Football runs in his family, as his father and brother were star linebackers in college and his second cousin being fellow draftee and UGA running back Nick Chubb. However, Bradley is looking the best of the bunch.
Chubb can hold his ground in the run game, knife through the O-line or even contribute in coverage, picking up guys out of the backfield. As a pass-rusher, he displays excellent bend around the edge with his inside arm turned towards the ground, almost being able to grab some of those rubber pellets on his way. Yet, he’s most effective when using his power to bull-rush tackles. The Wolfpack D-end dominated Vandy’s left tackle Will Holden in 2016, who I thought was a top ten tackle prospect in a weak 2017 draft class, as a technically sound four-year starter in the SEC. Chubb already strings his hands together extremely well on club-and-rip or -swim moves. When he rips through, the blocker can’t unlock his hips, because of how Chubb places his arm under his opponent’s shoulder. The N.C. State edge rusher keeps his arms working when trying to get around the corner and even when he’s past the arc or has to run is wider, he will get free eventually and redirect to the passer. He also has some short-area quickness to stay with quarterbacks, trying to shake him in the pocket.
The 6’4’’ edge rusher bench-presses the guy across from him in the run game and is always ready to release and chase down the ball-carrier. The violence in his hands is unmatched by anybody in this draft class. When he comes in from behind, he has a nice punch, to knock the ball loose. Versus South Carolina on the first defensive snaps for the Wolfpack, the Gamecocks ran a counter play with the back-side guard asked to kick out Chubb, but the defensive end was in the backfield so fast, the blocker didn’t even get to put a hand on him and Chubb made the tackles for minus three yards. He has the power to just throw offensive tackles to the turf with a thrust from the inside arm, when his opponents get off balance.
The 270-pounder put up a ridiculous 44 tackles for loss over the last two seasons and smacks some running backs out of the backfield, when he is tasked to cover the flats or stay with him. In addition to that, he has a feel for blockers oversetting him in either the passing or running game, leading to him slipping that guy or using a counter move to take advantage of that. He uses a two-point stance on a large majority of snaps. Moreover, he is dangerous on inside slants and stunts, where he dips his outside shoulder and reduces the area for blockers to engage against.
His biggest area, he needs to improve on, is the fact he doesn’t always have a plan when getting after the passer and becomes more of a reactive rusher. He also isn’t the smoothest athlete and will probably be limited to going forward in his pro career, which he is at his best anyway.
Chubb displayed unbelievable motor and passion every single time I watched him. Coaches say he does everything at 100 mph in practice as well, no matter if it’s just a run-through. Versus Florida State last year, he came up with five quarterback hits and two sacks. Chubb is clearly a top-five overall prospect in the draft in my book.
2. Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Davenport played at 6’7’’, 255 pounds his senior year, after adding 30 pounds since his sophomore campaign. At the Senior Bowl, he said he models his game after Calais Campbell’s power, J.J. Watt’s motor and Von Miller’s speed off the edge. Last season, he was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year with 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, four pass knock-down, three fumbles forced and another one taken back to the house. After being known to scouts primarily a year ago, everybody will hear his name from April 26th on.
The UTSA edge rusher has an outstanding get-off and unbelievable closing speed, leading to some major shots on opposing quarterbacks. When he uses his hands the right way to rip through or swim over, combined with that burst, he is a nightmare for tackles out the. Davenport received the second-highest pass rush productivity among FBS edge defenders by Pro Football Focus. He mainly came out of a two-point stance, but he also showed that he can slide inside and play the three-technique. The giant displays a lot of power and uses that inside arm very well to guide himself past blockers. Davenport goes through a lot of offensive linemen on his way to the quarterback and he loves the inside-pull move. You see him throw some big guys to the ground and he doesn’t even look like he is stressing about it. He has some real violence in his hands and when he puts them inside, he can get 330-pounders off his feet.
This is a unique athlete, who can be a hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 DE, a 3-4 OLB or slide inside on sub-packages and use mismatches against guards. He ran a sub 4.6 in the 40 at the combine at 265 pounds and made those space drills look easy, despite playing on the ball for the most part during his collegiate career. Overall, he is very fluid at changing directions and doesn’t let offensive tackle make him widen the arc too much. He can use his long arms to take away passing lanes and knock some balls down. The former Roadrunner recorded 2.5 sacks against North Texas and got several other hits on their QB, with some of them, that could have easily shown up on the stat sheet as well.
Davenport gets physical when taking on blockers in the run game, but he doesn’t use his length enough yet, to create extension. He lets O-linemen get inside chest at times and can’t really work his rush from that point on. Moreover, he gets in some hand-fights with blockers instead of just going around and by them. Davenport could use some technical refinement in his hand-work to free himself up, as those guys who knew how to use a well-timed punch to their advantage, could kind of stall his rush. His ability to recognize plays and react to them isn’t where it’s supposed to be yet either.
This young man took over some later portions of Senior Bowl practices, providing constant pressure and making me think he will be a top 10 pick. It looked like he had to get acclimated and soak everything in early on, but once the snaps came one after the other, he got loose and dominated. Davenport continued to do so during the game on Saturday, getting a bunch of hits on the highly touted North QBs. He has proven that he can add mass to his frame and will continue to do so on his way to becoming a professional. Some team will fall in love with his potential and put his name on their card in the first half on round one.
3. Harold Landry, Boston College
Landry came onto the scene as a sophomore, when he recorded 15.5 tackles for loss and earned a honorable All-ACC mention, but it was his junior year that really put his name on the map as one of the premier edge rushers in the country. The former Eagles defensive end finished that campaign with 22 TFLs, 16.5 sacks, a ridiculous seven forced fumbles and a pick, which led to him to multiple All-American honors. While he doesn’t possess elite height for the position, Landry has some really good length and tremendous burst for it.
Landry knows how to dip his shoulder and get under the blocker. He might have the best bend in this draft class, plus the speed to get around his man on the edge. He doesn’t overrun the quarterback when working his blocker and can take advantage of, when that guy is on his heels by pulling him to the side and taking a direct path to the passer. Landry is at his best as a speed-rusher, but has shown flashes of being able to convert speed to power from that. The Boston College D-end clearly has a plan as a rusher, as he uses pure burst on one snap, engages and pulls the tackle away from him the next and then rides that blocker upfield, before slanting inside. He might not be the strongest guy in the weight room, but he has very strong hands and his push-pull is up there with the best. In addition to that, he flashes a good stab with the inside arm and constantly is looking to strip the ball from the QB.
As a run-defender, Landry doesn’t get taken advantage of at the point of attack, despite those big tackles outweighing him by 70 or 80 pounds. He flips his hips to only play one shoulder and put all that weight on the inside foot. When the RB is showing in the B-gap, the BC edge rusher has the quickness to jump inside and revert back to his original spot to kind of mirror the runner. He closes the gap to the offensive tackle when the quarterback is reading him and then has the burst to chase that guy down, if he keeps the ball. Landry attacks the inside shoulder of pulling offensive linemen to make the ball-carrier bounce it to the outside, where he knows he has help. Overall, he just plays with a relentless motor and you see him chase down some receivers from behind.
However, Landry relies heavily on his burst to make things happen in the passing game and needs to learn, how to use his hands in proper fashion. I’d like to see him be productive if his initial strategy fails. That means developing an inside counter, especially a spin-move, which I couldn’t find on tape whatsoever. Landry disengages a little late from blocks in the ground game. He gets swallowed up by some long offensive tackles and was pretty much shut down by Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. In eight games, he was limited to five sacks, before suffering a season-ending injury. In totality, he had an underwhelming season in 2017, in which he saw his production drop to about a third of his numbers as a junior and didn’t quite show the same hustle.
Landry looked very natural transitioning to 3-4 outside linebacker at the combine, with fluid movement skills in coverage drills, especially transitioning from the back-pedal to coming downhill. With his ability to bend and burst around the edge, combined with the sheer effort he puts in, Landry might end up being one of the top ten players coming out of the draft, which I expected him to be a year ago. His numbers might have dropped in a major way last year, but he still had 29 QB pressures through nine weeks.
4. Arden Key, LSU
This might be the most talented pure pass-rusher in LSU history. Key flashed as a freshman, before lighting up the following season, when collecting 12.5 sacks, and then burning out this prior year, when he was hurt a lot and only appeared in eight games. That led to him basically cutting his numbers in half, while moving out of the top ten draft prospect, to missing the first round altogether potentially.
Key possesses an unreal first step, which he strings together very well with a rip- or swim-move. He has the quickness to slither through traffic when slanting inside and has shown a deadly spin-move on occasions. That counter would serve him extremely well, once he set up his opponent with that speed around the corner. Key has some snaps, where he basically gets by offensive tackles almost untouched, when that club and second arm hit, which allows him to not break stride at all. He also has excellent flexibility throughout his body and got the game-sealing sack versus Auburn last year.
The LSU edge rusher is still growing as a run-defender and wasn’t at his best at setting the edge at under 240 pounds. He gets washed down the line quite a bit, but he doesn’t mind throwing himself around a bit and tripping up things in the backfield. I saw some better thump at initial contact when I watched his 2017 tape. Key has some experience dropping into the flats or hook-to-curl zone, even though he drops back pretty upright and doesn’t show much interest in doing so.
He easily has the speed to chase down guys from behind, but at times he just decides to pull up. Key consistently made a big play in every single game as a sophomore, but he didn’t really live up to his billing last year. He was thrown upfield by some tackles and couldn’t finish some rushes, where he had a good jump on the ball and angle towards the QB, but his tackle bounced him further upfield and he couldn’t redirect or flatten his path. Moreover, Key gives up his contain on some snaps and isn’t really aware of reverses or end-arounds to his side. He left the team for four months in 2017 due to personal reasons, when he had shoulder surgery in the spring.
Key ran the 40 in the high 4.8s at the LSU pro day at 238 pounds, but it’s his short-area quickness and burst off the line that make him a special talent. To me, this guy is as natural a pass rusher as there is in this entire draft. The question with him simply is if he really has the motivation to be great, because I think he could be with the right mind-set.
5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
This guy planned on playing lacrosse for Notre Dame, but after Urban Meyer showed up for a recruiting trip in his area, Hubbard put on an additional 70 pounds to transition from safety to defensive end and helped his high school win back-to-back state titles. He saw him first game action with the Buckeyes when Joey Bosa was suspended in 2015 and he started in his place. He earned Freshman All-American honors that season, before being an All-Big Ten honorable mention and then being named second-team All-conference as a senior, recording 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Hubbard owns a strong upper body and good length. He gets off the ball with a low pad level, takes pride in defending the run and stays true in his responsibility. He possesses long and powerful arms, to extend, keep the blocker away from his body and set a physical edge, while keeping the outside arm free. Hubbard closes the gap from on inside runs, by pushing his blocker into the pile. When he’s unblocked, he shows excellent pursuit and effort off the back-side. When the ball-carrier is past the offensive line, Hubbard redirects and chases him from behind. Versus Penn State, the backside guard was asked to kick Hubbard out, but he was there so quickly, that the O-lineman didn’t even touch him and he took down Saquon Barkley right as he got the ball. In addition to that, he is aware of screen passes and shuts them down straight away.
The Ohio State edge defender can be a thorn in the eye of the quarterback coming forward or dropping back. He is an outstanding speed-to-power rusher and understands how to flatten his rush to the quarterback. Hubbard likes to engage with offensive tackles and then swipe away their hands. He does a nice job shutting down easy throws off boot-legs to the back-side and slid inside at times on passing downs. He also packs a nice spin move and doesn’t stop working with his hands. Hubbard treats running backs like little kids, when they try to chip him or seal the edge on rollout protections. He looks natural moving around in coverage and is savvy enough to really sell that upfield burst before looping back inside on stunts, to make it hard for the O-line to adjust. Moreover, he knows how to use his hands to keep away blockers, looking to cut him, and I’ve even seen him jump over one of those guy.
Unfortunately, Hubbard is not a very natural bender and overall athlete. He simply doesn’t possess elite burst around the edge, as well as getting a little uncreative and predictable with his rush at times. While there’s not really any bad tape on him out there, he doesn’t jump off the tape regularly and benefitted from a star-studded Buckeye defensive line.
Hubbard is a hard-working, lunch-pill kind of guy with a high football IQ. He might never develop into an All-Pro edge rusher, but he should be a more than solid pro for the next decade plus, with strong play against the run and well-coordinated hand-work as a pass rusher. There are no sure things in the draft, but I think Hubbard has a pretty high floor.
6. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Carter was one of the most-talked about high school prospects, but never quite lived up to the hype and was taken off the field on several occasions, due to all the talent on the Bulldogs’ roster. He has all the measurements and athletic attributes you want, brings the right attitude to the table and recorded 15 career sacks. His best days might come going forward though.
The UGA outside linebacker has great acceleration and top-end speed. He gets off the ball with some serious burst and has some wiggle to him as a rusher. Carter can run the arc at a steep angle and makes good use of his tremendous length, but also is kind of lanky and will have to add some muscle to his frame. He already flashes a nice two-hand swipe to free himself up and when he puts his long arms up in front of the quarterback, it’s like throwing through a forest and the passer often loses vision for where his receiver is. Carter is extremely dangerous on loops and twists, where he can kind of slither through traffic.
Standing at 6’6’’, Carter can take on tight-ends at the point of attack in the ground game and then rip inside, if the ball-carrier is trying to get through the gap inside of him. He has a good punch on the ball when there is some distance between him and the guy, who has it in his hands, as he forced and recovered five fumbles each over his last two seasons. Carter has the speed to flatten his path and chase plays down from behind, even if it is drawn up the way to the opposite side. He also doesn’t mind taking on a blocker in the hole and drives his legs through tackles. Carter has experience standing up and covering the flats or hook-to-curl zone. In addition to that, he also blocked an Oklahoma field-goal in overtime of the Rose Bowl to set up his team for the victory.
Carter’s biggest weakness is his inconsistency at keeping his contain and that he misjudges some angles. Georgia’s inside linebacker Roquan Smith made up for a lot of Carter’s mistakes in terms of giving up the edge. On at least on two of his sacks last season, he was either unaccounted for or the back was too slow to get hands on him coming from the opposite side, but give him credit for getting to the QB that fast. However, he struggles quite a bit against the really big bodies and his rush dies when one of those guys gets inside his frame. He also certainly still needs to improve on his hand-usage.
His tape versus Notre Dame is outstanding. Carter has the potential to be an outside linebacker in both a 3-4 or 4-3 and ran a 4.5 flat at North of 250 pounds in Indianapolis. He can play half the distance to the slot receiver, spy on the quarterback or put his hand in the dirt and get after the passer.
7. Uchenna Nwosu, USC
This young man was frustrated due to a lack of playing time until 2017, as he got into a fight with a teammate as a freshman and then didn’t show up for spring training the next season. Therefore he only came off the bench as a sophomore, before taking over as a starter in 2016. However, it wasn’t until last season, that he became a force for the Trojans, recording 75 tackles and 9.5 sacks, which led to First-Team All-Pac-12 honors.
Nwosu is a loose and fluid athlete. He likes to line up wide and really use his speed on the edge. He gets upfield in a hurry and sets up his blocker for inside moves. In addition to that, he shows smarts when he gets his hands up to knock down passes, if he can’t get there with his rush. Nwosu runs the arc with excellent burst and bend, keeps fighting with his hands and draws quite a few holding penalties once he gets a step on blockers and they reach for him. He can line up off the ball and find his way to it as a blitzer or on different stunts. The USC alumn had an unbelievable game the first time around versus Stanford. Even though it might not have shown on the stat sheet, he wrecked hell on the Cardinal, constantly showing up in the backfield. He also completely dominated Ohio State’s tackles in the Cotton Bowl.
The Trojan linebacker proved that he can take away both potential ball-carriers on zone-read plays. He made a bunch of big, negative plays chasing from the backside, like the fourth-and-goal stop against Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship game in the middle of the fourth quarter. He just plays with his hair on fire. Nwosu was a safety in high-school, so I have confidence in him being able to stand up and drop in coverage at the next level, which he will have to do at his size. He showed some of those abilities to go backwards and cover people one-on-one in drills at the Senior Bowl, while proving he’s still that threat off the edge. He also looked outstanding in pass coverage drills at the USC pro day, dropping laterally as well as pedaling backwards and he knocked down a total of 13 passes over the course of the 2017 season.
He should have had an INT versus Arizona, but dropped that one. Nwosu engages the blocker too straight up on many occasions and doesn’t always extend fully, allowing his opponent to get inside his frame. At 6’3’’ Nwosu already doesn’t have perfect size, but if he doesn’t learn how to maximize his length, it could become a problem at the next level. Right now, he gives up some room at the point of attack and gets swallowed up by long tackles on quite a few occasions. The USC edge defender still needs plenty of work in refining his pass rush arsenal, most importantly developing a successful counter move.
Nwosu isn’t the kind of complete player he could become one day, but he has the athleticism and certainly still a lot of room to grow, to convert the flashes you see on tape into consistent production. I don’t believe he has the pure strength and size to be a defensive end. Instead, I think his most natural fit will be at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and designated pass rusher in nickel packages.
8. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
The man with the tongue-breaking name out of Norman was a terror in the Big 12 for four years. His 59 combined total pressures led all returning players in the conference for 2017 and he picked up right where he left off, putting the heat on the opposition consistently. Over his last two years, he came up with a combined 29 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
Okoronkwo just goes out there and wants to hunt. He has his way with bigger and slower offensive linemen because of his burst. He is very sudden in his movements, shows great balance and doesn’t let blockers get at his knees. The OU edge rusher really knows how to work his speed around the edge and has some inside moves to counter that. He displays a tremendously quick spin and a nasty up-and-under move, where he jabs hard to the outside and then comes back underneath the tackle with active hands to avoid contact. Once he got that to work once, he can hesitate and then swim by the blocker. Okoronkwo also shows the smarts to set up his tackle and string moves together, to take advantage of his opponent over-setting to either side.
He can chase down ball-carriers from behind on the backside of zone plays as well as down the field. The former Sooner displays sudden hands, which he uses to slip some blockers on the edge. HE plays with ferocious hustle and finds himself around the football almost every snap. He always keeps his eyes on the backfield and even if he gets fooled, he has the quickness to recover from misreads. He also jumps on the ball whenever it touches the ground. Okoronkwo has experience standing up, covering the flats and RBs coming out of the backfield. He also runs through people in the screen game if opponents honestly believe, they can block him with wide-receivers.
At 6’1’’, 250 pounds, Okoronkwo doesn’t nearly have the size NFL teams are looking for from their edge defenders. He will never be able to take on 300+ pound offensive line at the point of attack due to his size and even was blocked by some tight-ends. He gets tossed around by some of the big guys up front. While he has experience doing it, he is not his most comfortable with playing in space.
Okoronkwo bsolutely destroyed the Ohio State offensive tackles when they squared up against him. He will probably need to stand up on early downs at the next level, but I put him with the edge rushers, because he will make his impact early on as a sub-package rusher I think. This guy already is a very skilled and well-rounded pass rusher, who understands the art of setting up his blocker and has some very unique approaches.
9. Kemoko Turay, Rutgers
This kid played just two years of high school football, but exploded his senior year with 19 sacks. Still, he only received one FBS scholarship. Turay started his collegiate career with 7.5 sacks as a freshman, but dealt with injuries over his next two years, allowing him to appear in just 11 total games, In his final year with the Scarlet Knights, he couldn’t really put up any numbers to create national attention, but with some of those tools he has, I think he could develop into a dude at the next level.
The Rutgers product has some nice get-off and lean around the edge. He showed off a good club-rip move in one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl and flashes sudden hands. Turay puts all that weight on his front foot to explode out of his stance and displays excellent closing burst. He is dangerous on loops and twists as the secondary guy with his speed and the ability to throw off blockers’ arms. Watching his tape, I thought he made an enormous amount of plays, which didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but he made a huge impact. There were several plays, where he was about to get a sack, but another O-lineman saved his tackle or the QB just flicked the ball away. Turay doesn’t stop working if his initially move doesn’t get him free. He was double-timed quite a bit and still created some pressure.
Turay is a super-easy and fluid mover in general. He can drop into the flats as well as covering backs coming out on a route. He shows nice extension in the run game, but can also quick-swipe the blocker on the edge and jump inside. Occasionally he gives up the edge that way, but most of the time he makes a play in the backfield. Turay even got next year’s potential top prospect in Washington tackle Trey Adams that way. Otherwise, he mostly stays home on the backside and doesn’t need to get depth into the backfield to hold his contain. Versus Penn State, I saw him read a RB screen and instead of fighting through a couple of blockers, he side-stepped them and stopped the play for minus two yards.
However, he keeps his eyes on the blocker on too many occasions and loses vision on the backfield. Moreover, Turay isn’t where he needs to be in terms of using his hands properly as a pass rusher and has yet to still develop a true counter move. He missed double-digit number of games with shoulder issues over his sophomore and junior season and only recorded three sacks in 2017.
Turay never put up any huge numbers, but I’m intrigued by this guy’s potential. He has excellent length and movement skills, plus he could still add to his frame. His explosiveness and willingness to chase are what’s going to put him on an NFL field and if he works on his perfecting his craft, he could become a dangerous pass-rusher.
10. Josh Sweat, Florida State
This guy is a former top-ten overall recruit coming out of high school. After a solid freshman season with limited action, it was a knee injury that kept Sweat on the sideline at the start of 2016, before recording 11.5 TFLs and seven sacks, catching the eye of me and a lot of scouts. In a disappointing year for the Seminoles, the edge rusher put up similar numbers, but was kind of forgotten among draft prospects. However, I still believe he is one of the most talented guys at the position out there.
Sweat has a great get-off and can really take advantage of his speed, to convert it into power and creates some havoc looping inside from his defensive end position. The Seminole D-end has great burst and can shed blocks. He just needs to put more attention on the details to be dominant. Sweat shows a strong club and rips his arm all the way through. He doesn’t stop his hand working and hips flipping, when trying to get around tackles. When he does so, he can be that pass-rushing threat. Sweat was one of the few guys, who gave Alabama’s Jonah Williams some trouble last year.
The FSU standout has much more power than his physique would indicate, He can put his helmet in the chest of offensive linemen and take them for a ride into the backfield. He plays with a low pad-level and good knee-bend when taking on blockers, plus he chases people down with an attitude. Over his last two seasons down in Tallahassee, the edge rusher recorded 24 tackles for loss. In addition to his rushing and run-stuffing ability, Sweat has experience standing up and dropping in some coverage. He has also shown toughness, when fighting through injuries and still has produced.
Yet, Sweat loses some traction at holding his ground and sometimes is more worried about putting offensive linemen on the ground, instead of owning the fight. Too often, he doesn’t create extension and just blindly tries to run through the blocker or throw him off to re-gain vision. Sweat needs to get better at using his hands to keep tackles off his body. Repeatedly, he stood there with his blocker, trying to find the quarterback by looking around his man, instead of going through him.
Sweat reminds me a lot of the Ravens’ last year’s third-round pick Tim Williams from Alabama He posted some outstanding numbers at the combine – 10’4’’ in the broad, half an inch under 40 in the vert and 4.53 in the dash. Sweat certainly still has to master his craft and I believe he could strengthen his lower body, but I see a rush linebacker with a lot of upside, who will only get better with NFL coaching.
Just missed the cut:
Chad Thomas, Miami
Thomas has excellent size at 6’6’’ with an athletic, thick build. In two years as a starter, Thomas has recorded 23.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. He gets into his four-point stance low to the ground and gets off the ball with some purpose. On running schemes where he is unblocked, there’s a great chance he will run down the ball-carrier from behind and he took away both options on a bunch of zone read plays. Thomas possesses sudden, violent hands to free himself up and is very loose in terms of changing directions and displays outstanding range to get involved on plays. The Miami D-end initiates contact with his tackle to get him leaning that way and then takes advantage of it, by giving him a club-rip and going by. If that blocker doesn’t respect his power, he can also throw him off and then take the direct path inside. Versus Virginia Tech, Thomas even got his tackle to spin 360 degrees to find him again after giving him a strong push. The Canes’ stud keeps his outside arm free at all times when rushing the passer and once he gets a step on the blocker, he immediately flips his hips and flattens to the quarterback. Thomas also slid inside quite a bit on passing downs, where he took advantage of difference in quickness between him and guards. Moreover, he has experience running different stunts and twists. Thomas can get skinny and squeeze through the space between offensive linemen and then redirect to chase after the quarterback. He bullies tight-ends when they are assigned with protecting against him and uses his long arms pretty well to take away passing lanes. Unfortunately, he lets longer bodies get into his frames at times when rushing the passer, as he doesn’t always avoid the initial punch. The play-recognition is not yet where it needs to be and he wastes some energy with unnecessary steps and jumping around gaps. However, I love his effort and athletic traits. Thomas needs to become a smarter and therefore more productive player at the next level. He can probably put on a couple of pounds and play the five-technique in a 3-4 as well and he could end up being a steal as a late draft pick on day two.
Dorance Armstrong, Kansas
Armstrong has an explosive first step and some wiggle to him when rushing the passer. He is a threat on inside slants and counter moves, and he even blitzed from a linebacker spot on some occasions. He doesn’t stop just in front of the quarterback, but rather just runs through his blocker for the last yard. In the run game, he chases with great effort from the backside. His motor keeps running through four quarters, no matter if it’s a close game or his team is down by 20. Armstrong put up ten sacks, 20 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2016, which earned him first-team All-Big 12 honors. However, he saw those numbers plummet as a junior with more attention. The Jayhawk edge rusher has some shock in his hands, understands the concept of one arm being longer than two and creates extension that way. He plays every snap with a purpose. Despite being used to going forward primarily, he looked very smooth in those stand-up drills at the combine and will likely transition to OLB at the next level. Armstrong is looking to make a name for himself, coming from a big basketball program. I think he just needs to add to his pass rush arsenal to do so.
Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
Ejiofor present an excellent, thick body-build. He was a consistent disruptor for the Deacon Demons even though the stats didn’t always indicate it. The Wake Forest defensive end stays disciplined on the back-side. When he does decide to slip a block, he makes those big guys completely whiff at times. Ejiofor has the speed to catch wide receivers on sweeps for huge negative plays and just doesn’t give up on plays. He gets a firm grip on ball-carriers and usually doesn’t let them escape his grasp. The edge rusher provided Wake Forest with the kind of pressure they needed to succeed as a defense. Ejiofor can work some hesitation moves and be slippery as a rusher. He slanted inside on a multitude of occasions. He displays strong swipe of the hands to free himself up and when he gets a blocker shifting his weight one way, he can shove him out of the picture and take a direct path to the quarterback. He just has a way of finding a lane through the mesh. However, he uses a rather passive stance, is a little slow off the snap and accelerating into top gear. Ejiofor hesitates a lot of times instead of just going full and stressing the blocker to one side. He’s just not the flashiest athlete, but he makes things happen. His final game with Wake was kind of a microcosm of his entire career, as he constantly showed up in the backfield, but didn’t record any sacks or takeaways. He’ll be a solid pro with upside as an inside rusher on sub-packages.
The next guys up:
Jeff Holland (Auburn), Hercules Mata’afa (Washington State), Tyquan Lewis (Ohio State), Kentavius Street (N.C. State), Kylie Fitts (Utah), Justin Lawler (SMU), Marcell Frazier (Missouri)