NFL Draft: Top Defensive Players


Top defensive players available in the NFL draft, which starts with the first round on April 28.


Joey Bosa, DE, 6-5, 269, Ohio State

Notable: Sacks dropped off from 13 1-2 in 2014 to five last season, but still played at an All-America level.

Strengths: Rarely takes a play at less than max effort. Fast and strong hands keep blockers from locking him up.

Weaknesses: Lacks that explosive first-step speed that many elite edge rushers have.

Outlook: Was talked about as a possible first overall pick, but will have to settle for top seven or so.

DeForest Buckner, DE, 6-7, 291, Oregon

Notable: Pac-12 defensive player of the year in 2015.

Strengths: More power and quickness than speed. Perfect size, quick off the snap, relentless and can wreck a running game.

Weaknesses: Tends to stand straight up, which negates his power.

Outlook: Either he or Bosa will be the first defensive linemen taken.

Shaq Lawson, DE, 6-3, 269, Clemson

Notable: All-American last season who had 25 1-2 tackles for loss.

Strengths: High-effort pass rusher, with good strength and power to stand up run blockers.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have elite speed off the edge.

Outlook: Middle of the first round sounds about right.

Kevin Dodd, DE, 6-5, 277, Clemson

Notable: Outshined teammate Shaq Lawson late last season. Had three sacks against Alabama in the national title game.

Strengths: Another big motor defensive end, like Lawson and Joey Bosa. Locates the ball well.

Weaknesses: Hand technique needs work to shed blockers better.

Outlook: Which Clemson defensive end goes first?

Sheldon Rankins, DT, 6-1, 299, Louisville

Notable: Had 14 sacks playing on the interior for the Cardinals.

Strengths: Gets off the ball very fast. Often blockers simply can’t get to him. Very productive.

Weaknesses: Short and some questions about whether he can stand up to the power of NFL linemen.

Outlook: Playmaker who is a good bet to be taken somewhere between 10 and 20.

Jarran Reed, DE/DT, 6-3, 307, Alabama

Notable: Second-team All-SEC, despite having only one sack and 4 1-2 tackles for loss.

Strengths: Disruptive player against the run. Holds down the point of attack and ties up double-teams with excellent technique.

Weaknesses: Not much of a pass rusher.

Outlook: Late first-rounder for a team looking for a run stuffer.

A’Shawn Robinson, DE/DT, 6-4, 307, Alabama

Notable: Former five-star recruit had three highly productive seasons at Alabama.

Strengths: Powerful and thickly built defensive end that can slide inside. Rarely does a ball carrier break free from his grip. Team leader.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t play with great quickness off the edge, which limits him as a pass rusher.

Outlook: Could hear his name called during second half of the first round.

Andrew Billings, DT, 6-1, 311, Baylor

Notable: All-American last season.

Strengths: As dominant as any defensive linemen in the country at times in 2015. Very strong and can pursue from behind.

Weaknesses: On the short side and technique needs work because he won’t be able to overpower opponents as easily at the next level.

Outlook: Just turned 21. Huge upside could get him into the middle of the first round.

Robert Nkemdiche, DT/DE, 6-3, 294, Mississippi

Notable: Off-the-field issues and character questions, along with tantalizing talent.

Strengths: Rock solid for close to 300 pounds. Good quickness and speed.

Weaknesses. The production comes and goes. Had 6 1-2 sacks in three seasons.

Outlook: First-round talent. But we’ll see.

Chris Jones, DT, 6-6, 310, Mississippi State

Notable: Big freshman season followed by sophomore slump followed by strong junior campaign.

Strengths: Has power to push the pocket backward and moves up and down the line well.

Weaknesses: Doesn’t have many pass rush moves.

Outlook: Could go ahead of Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, which would make Bulldogs fans happy.

Noah Spence, DE, 6-2, 252, Eastern Kentucky

Notable: Former Ohio State player who transferred after failing drug tests.

Strengths: Speed pass rusher who plays with great effort.

Weaknesses: Linebacker size makes him a tweener with a defensive end’s game.

Outlook: Character issues and not ideal size, but he can rush the quarterback, and that can get him into the first round.

Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, 6-4, 273, Oklahoma State

Notable: Co-Big 12 defensive player of the year.

Strengths: Good size/speed/power package.

Weaknesses: Plays stiff and doesn’t make many moves when taking on blockers.

Outlook: Hey, look, another pass rusher who could slip into the first round.


Myles Jack, OLB, 6-1, 245, UCLA

Notable: Played both ways as a freshman and was the Pac-12 offensive and defensive newcomer of the year. Knee injury limited him to three games last year.

Strengths: Speed, athleticism and instincts are exemplary. Can be used in coverage as a safety and is tenacious enough to play close to the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses: Aside from concerns about his healing knee, he does not have a thick, old school linebacker build. But in today’s NFL that should work just fine.

Outlook: His draft slot will be determined by which teams believe his knee will be fine. He would be a top 10 lock otherwise.

Leonard Floyd, OLB, 6-6, 244, Georgia

Notable: Led Georgia in sacks each of the last three seasons.

Strengths: Long, elusive and fast off the edge and in pursuit.

Weaknesses: Not much bulk could lead him to get knocked around at the next level.

Outlook: More upside than production, but could fit nicely into a 3-4 scheme. Top 15 potential.

Reggie Ragland, ILB, 6-1, 247, Alabama

Notable: All-American last year and top tackler on a national championship team.

Strengths: Hits hard. Takes on blockers. Good instincts and clogs holes. Shows some ability to rush the passer.

Weaknesses: Questions are about how he’ll play in coverage and in space, but his pass-rush skills could make him more than a two-down linebacker.

Outlook: Second half of the first round.

Darron Lee, OLB, 6-1, 232, Ohio State

Notable: Former high school quarterback turned ultra-athletic linebacker.

Strengths: Skill set is similar to Myles Jack. Fast and flexible player who excels in space. Could be used as a hybrid safety/linebacker.

Weaknesses: Undersized and an inconsistent tackler.

Outlook: Interesting upside. Lee could be drafted just outside the top 10 or in second round.


Jalen Ramsey, CB/S, 6-1, 209, Florida State

Notable: Started three years for the Seminoles, each season in a different secondary spot.

Strengths: If you could engineer a defensive back, Ramsey would be it. Size, speed and athleticism are all ideal. Played cornerback and safety and was used as a hybrid, playing almost like a linebacker. Excelled at all of it.

Weaknesses: The technique and skills that make for a lock-down cornerback need work. But that might not be the way he is used in the NFL.

Outlook: Top five pick.

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, 5-10, 204, Florida

Notable: First team All-SEC each of his three seasons with the Gators.

Strengths: Changes directions quickly, and has skills, athleticism and attitude to be a shutdown cornerback.

Weaknesses: Small frame could be a problem against big receivers and gets a little too aggressive at times.

Outlook: Second defensive back off the board, maybe a top 10 pick.

Eli Apple, CB, 6-1, 199, Ohio State

Notable: Interceptions dropped from three as a sophomore to one as a junior as opponents began to shy away.

Strengths: Height and long arms, plus good speed, make for an ideal package for NFL cornerback.

Weaknesses: Tends to grab in coverage if he thinks he is getting beat.

Outlook: Chance he gets picked ahead of Hargreaves, but probably third cornerback selected.

William Jackson III, CB, 6-0, 189, Houston

Notable: Had 23 pass break-ups last season to lead the nation.

Strengths: Good speed and locates ball well.

Weaknesses: Strength to stand up to big receivers could be an issue.

Outlook: Maybe a notch below Apple and Hargreaves. Maybe?

Artie Burns, CB, 6-0, 193, Miami

Notable: Had six interceptions last season as a junior and was one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best cornerbacks.

Strengths: Good hands and closing speed.

Weaknesses: Better athlete than technician. Makes big plays. Gives up some, too.

Outlook: NFL teams cannot get enough talented cornerbacks.

Karl Joseph, S, 5-10, 205, West Virginia.

Notable: Was having an All-America-type season until he hurt his knee in practice during the second month of the season.

Strengths: Plays with fierce aggressiveness. Big hitter with knack for getting his hands on the ball.

Weaknesses: The knee could be a problem, plus he plays like he is 30 pounds heavier than he is.

Outlook: Could crack the first round on leadership skills and desire alone.

TJ Green, S, 6-2, 209, Clemson

Notable: Converted from receiver after his freshman year.

Strengths: Coverage skills and receiver speed make him a potentially versatile defensive back.

Weaknesses: His tackling still needs work.

Outlook: A tall safety who might be able to play cornerback could find his way into the first round.

Keanu Neal, S, 6-0, 211, Florida

Notable: Made 95 tackles despite missing two games last season.

Strengths: No safety in this draft hits harder, plus he has the athleticism to be effective in coverage.

Weaknesses: Those coverage skills need work.

Outlook: Another player who an NFL team might be able to use as a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. Late first-round possibility.

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