Continuing with our NFL Draft Position previews, moving on to defense now.
This year is a really deep year for defensive linemen in the draft, with 56 players invited to the combine (second only to DBs). Here’s a look at the ten I think are the best and likely to be the first players drafted, with the best likelihood of having successful NFL careers. Just like with the O-line, I haven’t broken down players by specific defensive position (End versus 4-3 Tackle versus Nose-tackle), and instead, I’ve just put ten players total here.
Top Defensive Linemen
1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Joey Bosa has a good chance to be one of the top five players taken in the draft. His technique and athleticism are unmatched, and he can shed blockers with hand violence looks more like a judo fighter than a football player.Has great motor and length (6’6″) at the position too. Bosa’s father John was a first-round draft pick in 1987, and Joey looks to follow that legacy.
2. DeForest Buckner, DT/DE, Oregon
As a Husky fan, I don’t like heaping huge praise on any Duck, but Buckner was the Pas-12 Defensive Player of the Year and a four year starter for a team that competed for national titles until this past season. Has great frame and size (6’7″, 300 lb). Primarily an end in Oregon’s 3-4 system, it’ll be interesting to see whether Buckner plays at end or tackle at the next level.
3. Robert Nkemdiche, DE/DT, Ole Miss
Another player who could project at either a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle, NKemdiche has great footwork and hand violence and is able to shed blockers, sometimes by pure speed. The main concern surrounding Nkemdiche has been his low tackle numbers, and the fact he only had 6.5 sacks over three years. Some of this stems from a great first step and burst but a lack of ability to finish. Nkemdiche’s draft position will come down to how much importance GMs place on production versus athleticism and build.
4. A’Shawn Robinson, DT/NT, Alabama
Robinson’s frame (6’4″, 320) and strength project beautifully for an interior linemen in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. He generates incredible push and eats blocks, often facing double teams. He really had tremendous production for a tackle: 46 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks for the National Champion Crimson Tide.
5. Jarran Reed, DT, Alabama
Reed played both DE and NT for the Tide’s 3-4 scheme, but projects as a tackle at the next level. A huge part of the Tide’s top-rated run defense, Reed has great hips and keeps his pad level low and his knees bent. A monster against the run, the one question is whether he will get sufficient push on passing downs.
6. Andrew Billings, DT/NT, Baylor
Billings has a great burst and push at the point of attack, and may end up going higher than the other NTs on this list to a teams places a lot of value in getting some pass rush out of its nose tackles. The real question is his size, and it’s rumoured he many not even be the 6’2″ he’s listed at. Teams will really be looking at what numbers come out of the combine for him.
7. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Many people are projecting Dodd highly because of his huge improvement over the 2015 season. His hand technique isn’t the best, but he has the frame (6’5″, 280), the athleticism and the football IQ that coaches like to see. He’ll be a monster on the edge wherever he ends up, the question really is whether he or his teammate Shaq Lawson go first. I think with so much room for improvement in hand technique, Kevin Dodd has a higher ceiling that Lawson, and he looks to project into a late first-round pick.
8. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
Teams are really hyped on Ogbah because of how well he played against other players likely to be fixtures in the NFL. In particular, he dominated Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair. With great strength and All-Pro level had technique, it’s going to be a concern whether he has the top-level speed to get past the edge at the next level.
9. Kenny Clark, DT/NT, UCLA
Similar to Jarran Reed in size and ability, Clark is a monster against the run but has issues generating push on passing downs. A really smart player, he has a nature ability to close gaps in run situations and has fantastic hand violence, partly due to being a high-level wrestler in high school.
10. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
One of the toughest players in the draft, Lawson has only average speed for an NFL end, but superb awareness and tackling technique. Has accomplished good hand violence and gets big push at the point of attack. With just average speed on the edge, Lawson may end up playing more on run downs that passing downs, and may even project into a 3-4 outside linebacker. Look for him to go in the mid-to-late second or early third round.