In an effort to get through all of the positions before the draft, I’ll be just shortly naming some of the prospects to watch in this draft class, as well as some potential sleepers and maybe busts. I wasn’t able to go as far in depth this year as I did last year, but enough to develop a feel for the class and compile my rankings.
This year’s group, as I imagine will continue to trend throughout all levels of football, is especially deep at defensive line. This draft could see anywhere up to 15 defensive linemen drafted in the first round, between 4-3 defensive ends and tackles as well as 3-4 ends and nose tackles. This is as deep of a group as I’ve seen since I started covering the draft. There’s a little bit of everything in this class, and I expect at least 10 taken in the first round next Thursday.
Top Defensive End Prospect: Joey Bosa Ohio State 6’5″ 269
For the past two seasons, Bosa has been the best player on the field whenever he’s stepped between the lines, which is more impressive considering six other starters off of the Buckeye defense will be drafted in this year’s class as well. He’s the prototypical 4-3 strong side defensive end, but he’s scheme diverse, he can also play as a 3-4 outside linebacker, at least on run downs. He’ll never be a dynamic pass rusher, but he’s very solid and will make offenses pay for not paying attention to him.
Top Defensive Tackle Prospect: Sheldon Rankins Louisville 6’1″ 299
Rankins played both as a 3 technique defensive tackle at Louisville, as well as a two-gapping defensive end. Rankins is very explosive in his first couple steps, which puts the most amount of stress on an offensive lineman. He’s the top 3 technique in this class, but can also play as an under tackle or even as a 5 technique defensive end, but that’s not his best position. Rankins will be a day one starter, a solid contributor.
Biggest Bust Potential: Robert Nkemdiche Ole Miss 6’3″ 294
I was considering putting Emmanuel Ogbah here, but Nkemdiche’s upside is higher, so I went with the former #1 overall recruit. Nkemdiche has the physical potential to be a gamechanger on the interior, but it will be scheme dependent as to how soon he can contribute. He has his high spots, and he looks like a top five player in this class, and there are times where he’s completely made a non-factor in the run game. Touted as a “future #1 overall pick” in high school, Nkemdiche has had some on-field issues, as well as off-field problems. It’ll take the right organization to ensure Nkemdiche isn’t out of the league in 5 years.
Biggest Sleeper: Jonathan Bullard Florida 6’4″ 285
Bullard is a bit of an anamoly in this class. The undersized defensive tackle makes is living raising havoc on opposing offensive lines. He’s a ball watcher, and a snap jumper, but when he’s on, he can almost single handedly change games. He’s a bit scheme dependent, but in the right situation, Bullard can be a terror for offenses across the NFL. I think he could sneak into the end of the first round, but he’s not being talked about nearly enough in the media.
Small School Stud: Javon Hargrave South Carolina St. 6’1″ 309
Hargrave burst onto the scene during the Shrine Game week in St. Petersburg, FL, as he dominated every interior offensive lineman there. He then used that to catch an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he confirmed that he belonged there as well. As Mike Mayock described the “bubble butt”, Hargrave is built pretty low to the ground. He’s got a low center of gravity and makes it tough for offensive linemen to use leverage against him. He’ll be a steal anywhere after the 1st round.
My Defensive End Rankings:
1. Joey Bosa Ohio State Top 10
2. DeForest Buckner Oregon Top 10
3. Shaq Lawson Clemson 1st Round
4. Noah Spence Eastern Kentucky 1st Round
5. Kevin Dodd Clemson 1st-2nd Round
6. Emmanuel Ogbah Oklahoma State 2nd Round
7. Bronson Kaufusi BYU 2nd-3rd Round
8. Jihad Ward Illinois 3rd-4th Round
9. Carl Nassib Penn State 4th Round
10. Charles Tapper Oklahoma 4th Round
My Defensive Tackle Rankings:
1. Sheldon Rankins Louisville 1st Round
2. Jarran Reed Alabama 1st Round
3. Kenny Clark UCLA 1st Round
4. A’Shawn Robinson Alabama 1st Round
5. Andrew Billings Baylor 1st Round
6. Robert Nkemdiche Ole Miss 1st Round
7. Vernon Butler Louisiana Tech 1st-2nd Round
8. Chris Jones Mississippi State 1st-2nd Round
9. Jonathan Bullard Florida 1st-2nd Round
10. Javon Hargrave South Carolina State 1st-2nd Round