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NFL: 1st Round Grades – Defensive Players

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Ever since I was a kid, I heard the phrase, “Offense wins game, but Defense wins championships”. If you go back and look at every single team that has won a Superbowl, three things happened: The offense had to eventually run the ball, the defense made a crucial game, and they got a lucky break along the way. In the 2016 NFL draft, defense will highlighted with 25 prospects that I have with 1st round grades. With that being said, let’s get right into the positional breakdown of this year’s defensive prospects.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 14 Ohio State at Illinois

4-3 Defensive Ends/3-4 Linebackers:

Joey Bosa – Ohio State
Shaq Lawson – Clemson
Noah Spence – Eastern Kentucky
Kevin Dodd – Clemson
Emmanuel Ogbah – Oklahoma State

I personally think Bosa would be less effective in a 3-4, he reminds me a lot of Derrick Morgan, can be good, but not great. He will get pressure, but not a 10+ sack guy. People say he’s a definite top 10 guy, but I’d pick him in the teens. Lawson is a versatile pass rusher that would probably be best fit for a 4-3 DE. Spence is probably the best natural pass rusher in the draft, but off the field issues could drop him to early 2nd round, better as a 3-4 LB. Dodd is getting a lot of hype, but not sure how he fits in any defense. He’s a bit of a tweener at 280 pounds. Ogbah fits perfectly as a 4-3 DE, could go late 1st round.


4-3 Defensive Tackles/3-4 Defensive Ends:

DeForest Buckner – Oregon
Sheldon Rankins – Louisville
Jarran Reed – Alabama
Robert Nkemdiche – Mississippi
Chris Jones – Mississippi State

Some people have Buckner going as high as 3, but not me. He fits only as a 3-4 DE and unless you are JJ Watt, 3-4 DEs don’t go top 10, matter of fact, JJ Watt didn’t even go top 10. Rankins can fit all schemes, but probably fits better as a pass rusher as a 3-4 DE. Reed is a big DT that doesn’t offer much pass rush but is a mountain of a man and great against the run. Nkemdiche is a guy that physically has everything you want, but his production doesn’t show it, teams will be selecting him based on potential only. Jones is a rising guy that could find himself going in the top 20. At 310 pounds, he can fit in multiple schemes.


3-4 Nose Tackles/4-3 Defensive Tackles:

Andrew Billings – Baylor
Vernon Butler – Louisiana Tech

Andre Billings is considered the #1 NT in the draft, but I do not agree. Although he is strong, I do not think he has the mass to fit as a true run stuff NT. I feel he would be best as either an edge setting DE in a 3-4 or a run stuffing DT in a 4-3. I LOVE Vernon Butler, reminds me of Albert Haynesworth. He has the mass at 323 pounds, the power, and enough movement that he can play as a NT in a 3-4, a DE in a 3-4, and a DT in a 4-3. Some have him slipping to the 2nd round, but if he does, the Titans, who have the 2nd pick in the 2nd round should jump all over him to fill the hole they have there.


Linebackers ONLY:

Myles Jack – UCLA
Leonard Floyd – Georgia
Darron Lee – Ohio State
Reggie Ragland – Alabama

If it wasn’t for injury, Myles Jack would be a guaranteed top 5 pick. Due to the scare of possible future microfracture surgery, he may fall as far as 10th. Where he goes depends on the medical reports of that team. Floyd’s been mocked as low as Chicago in the 2nd round and as high as 5th. I personally think he’s somewhere in between, I wouldn’t use a top 10 pick on him, fits mostly as a 3-4 OLB. Lee goes somewhere mid-1st round to a team that needs an athletic 4-3 OLB. He doesn’t jump off the paper at you, but he’s solid. Ragland is the best ILB in the draft and the only one worth a 1st round pick.


Defensive Backs:

Jalen Ramsey – Florida State
Vernon Hargreaves – Florida
Mackensie Alexander – Clemson
William Jackson III – Houston
Karl Joseph – West Virginia

Here is where it gets interesting, Ramsey is considered the top CB and top S in the draft, and some are even comparing him to Ed Reed and Charles Woodson. I completely disagree. Although I feel he would be a top notch S, he lacks the ball skills to be mentioned with those greats. He’s the 3rd CB on my board. The #1 CB on my board is Hargreaves. Despite being 5’10, he has the speed, change of direction, and ball skills to become a shutdown corner.

Alexander is a good CB, but I just can’t get that National Championship game out of my mind when Alabama players were running free in the secondary all game. Jackson is my #2 CB. He has more speed than Hargreaves, but the level of competition wasn’t as good. Steelers have their eye on him. Karl Joseph would be a high 1st rounder if it wasn’t for injury. He is a hard hitting SS that has some FS skills. Think of a poor man’s Kam Chancellor.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 19 Nebraska at Miami

Borderline 1st round grades:

DT A’Shawn Robinson – Alabama
CB Eli Apple – Ohio State
S Keanu Neal – Florida
CB Artie Burns – Miami

Robinson and Apple are both good prospects that some scouts have labeled as overrated. Because of the need for DTs and CBs, both could end up in round 1 anyway. Always keep in mind, in the NFL draft, no matter how many people don’t like you, it only take 1 to like you for you to go in round 1. Neal is the guy that didn’t impress me, he was invited to Chicago to be in the green room and I feel he could be the last one in there. Burns is an athletic CB with solid production. He has good size and ball skills. He will likely go early in round 2, but like I said, with the need for CBs, he could slip into the end of round 1.


Honorable Mention:

LB Jaylon Smith – Notre Dame

If it wasn’t for a devastating injury in the last game of the year, Jaylon Smith would likely be a top 5 pick. Some analyst like Todd McShay of ESPN said he would have been their #1 player in the draft. Because of the possibility of nerve damage, Smith will fall somewhere between round 3 and 5. It looks like he may miss the entire 2016-2017 season. However, he has the talent, and if he does fully recover, someone will get a steal of the draft late day 2 or on day 3.


There is an abundance of talent on the defensive side of the ball this year in the 2015 NFL draft. The big men are really big and athletic, the defensive backs are all mostly solid and the linebackers may have the most impact of all. As older teams try to get younger and bad teams try to add talent, the defensive players in this draft seem to be much safer picker than the offensive guys. It’s a trend that happens in most drafts and should continue in this one.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com