NFL Draft: Top 5 DE and DT Prospects

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USA Today

Each week, Frank Coppola will provide scouting reports of the top prospects for the 2016 NFL draft. Today we feature the top running backs and wide receivers.

Defensive Ends:

  1. Joey Bosa (Ohio State) – Projected Pick:  Top 5

This Ohio State edge rusher recorded 51 tackles for loss, 26 of which were sacks, in his three-year collegiate career.  He led the Ohio State defense to a national championship title as a sophomore and, in the same season, was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.  Bosa is a 4-3 defensive end who has a tremendous motor and is fueled by his competitive nature and drive to get into the backfield.  He has a big, strong frame and utilizes his legs to burst off the line and engages blockers before they can establish position.  He has very strong arms and his quick hand contact helps him beat defenders and make his initial punch to get around the edge.  He also proved to be capable at dropping back into coverage and defending the pass, showing that he could operate as a 3-4 outside linebacker if necessary.  The main concern with Bosa’s game is that he relies too much on his hands to get around blockers instead of his strength and bend.  He often uses contact to get around the edge and will need to work on natural play strength and explosiveness to make it as an edge rusher in the NFL.  Overall, Bosa is a prospect who has proven that he can rely on his large frame and power to get into the back field and blow up offenses.

  1. Deforest Buckner (Oregon) – Projected Pick:  Top 10

The 2015 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year came into the national spotlight as a senior at Oregon, posting a conference leading 10.5 sacks in 2015.  Buckner made constant improvement during his four-year collegiate career, increasing his total sacks and tackles for loss each season throughout his time as a Duck.  He has a wide frame and strong hands to beat blockers.  He is flexible and is athletic enough to fit into multiple defensive schemes.  His biggest weakness is that he plays too tall and needs to work on staying wide and lowering his pad level when rushing the passer.  This problem leads to a lack of control and balance when changing direction and must be improved for Buckner to find consistent success as an edge rusher at the next level.  However, his strength, athleticism, and production show his abilities to perform and make an impact on every defensive play, and his constant improvement proves that he could develop into the NFL’s next elite pass rusher.

  1. Shaq Lawson (Clemson) – Projected Pick:  Top 20

Shaq Lawson led the Clemson defense to an appearance in the National Championship as a junior in 2015, leading the nation with 24.5 tackles for loss and earning All-American and First Team All-ACC honors.  He is a versatile edge rusher who is able to play in a 4-3 scheme as a 5-technique defensive end or in a 3-4 scheme as a standup outside linebacker.  He bursts off the line with power streaming from his legs and uses his hand quickness to shed blocks and get around the edge.  He is also a gifted run stuffer, recording double digit tackles for loss in each of his three seasons at Clemson.  His weakness is that he has only average athleticism, which leads to a lack of bend and flexibility.  This is a concern because it is uncertain whether or not he will be able to become a true three-down pass rusher in the NFL, as he looks to be an end or even linebacker that will provide run support and situational pass rush.  Lawson is a talented lineman whose production and leadership prove his ability to develop and immediately make an impact on any defense that drafts him.

  1. Emmanuel Ogbah (Oklahoma State) – Projected Pick:  Mid-Late 1st Round

The Nigeria native who moved to Houston at the age of 9 took the nation by storm during his time at Oklahoma State, recording 26.5 total sacks in his three-year collegiate career and winning the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015.  The speedy pass rusher displayed his elite athleticism at the Combine, running a 4.63 40-yard dash time, finishing second overall in the event for defensive linemen, and shining in the workout drills as well.  He is a thick lineman who distributes his weight in order to absorb contact from a blocker’s initial punch and utilizes his power to generate speed and bull rush around the edge.  Ogbah’s main weakness, however, is his lack of overall football awareness, as he often struggles to foresee developing offensive plays.  Despite this, Emmanuel Ogbah is a prospect with elite athleticism and versatility, and will be an edge rusher that is ready to develop and will provide pressure in any defensive scheme.

  1. Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky) – Projected Pick:  Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round

A 2013 first-team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore at Ohio State, Spence was banned from the Big Ten for life following two failed drug tests.  After rehab and other treatments, Spence transferred to Eastern Kentucky and continued to prove his talent.  He is an edge rusher with explosive burst off the line and the speed and quickness to get around the outside of tackles to blow up the pocket.  He is very disruptive on the line of scrimmage and his high motor and determination fuel his ability to make plays in the backfield and across the line.  The main weakness in his game is his lack of ability to maintain control when engaging blockers head-on.  He is more focused on getting around the edge of blocks to make up for his lack of pure power when attacking the line directly.  This makes many NFL teams and scouts believe that he may be a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker due to his athleticism and quickness, yet lack of power at the point of attack.  Although his off-the-field issues with drugs and alcohol do lead to some concern, he showed perseverance and returned to college football better than ever, with 22.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in 2015.  Spence is a tremendous pass rusher who proved himself through both his production on the field and his improvements in maturity off the field.

Defensive Tackles:

  1. A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) – Projected Pick:  Top 15

Robinson was the anchor of the 2015 national champion Alabama defense.  He recorded 7.5 tackles for loss with 46 total tackles this season and was the clear leader of the ferocious Alabama front seven.  He is a thick, 307-pound interior lineman who generates power through his legs and bursts into guards to open up holes for blitz packages.  Robinson explodes off the line and blows up pockets from the inside, but he also has some experience rushing off the edge and has the ability to slide into either a 1-technique or 3-technique in a 3-4 system as well.  He is very dominant when facing one-on-one blocks and will require some double teams in the NFL, opening up holes for pass rushers off the outside, as he did while playing for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.  The only major improvement that Robinson will need to make is to maintain a low pad level when bull rushing in order to stay balanced and harness all of his power.  If he can improve on his ability to stay low and centralize his power, then Robinson has the potential to develop into an all-pro defensive tackle in the NFL.

  1. Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) – Projected Pick:  Mid-Late 1st Round

A strong 300-pound interior lineman, Rankins dominated at Louisville playing as both a 1-technique and a 2-technique defensive tackle.  He is primarily an A-gap run stuffer, making over 50 total tackles in each of his last two seasons at Louisville.  Rankins has elite foot quickness for an interior lineman, and is able to utilize his agility to laterally break through blocks and contain players out of the backfield.  His use of hand strength and finesse makes it difficult for blockers to get position and hold him from breaking through the line.  The main concern that affects his draft stock is his small size for a prototypical interior lineman, being only 6’1’’ with relatively small arm length.  Although he was very productive, his lack of size is a concern going forward, but his elite power and quickness prove that he can translate his production into NFL success.

  1. Andrew Billings (Baylor) – Projected Pick:  Mid-Late 1st Round

Billings was a Texas high school standout who had high expectations coming into college and not only lived up to them, but exceeded them.  He is strong and plays consistently with a low pad level, allowing him to generate power and burst through gaps.  He is a solid tackler when he gets his hands on ball carriers and has quick instincts due to his background as an offensive lineman.  He has speedy acceleration and is dominant when facing one-on-one blocks.  He also has experience as a power lifter in high school, giving him elite strength to clog holes and control the line of scrimmage.  His main weakness, like Rankins, is his small size, being only 6’1’’ with short arm length.  He is also ineffective when attempting to change directions and make another push after his initial burst.  After given some time to develop in the league, Billings has the strength and motor to become a dominant force along the defensive line.

  1. Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss) – Projected Pick:  Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round

Before facing several off-the-field issues late in the season, Nkemdiche was in contention to be the 2016 first overall pick.  He has incredible physical traits, utilizing his evenly distributed weight to control his power and burst.  He has great off-ball quickness and can beat blockers laterally to attack the backfield and make plays.  He shows signs of improvement as a pass rusher, and increased his total quarterback pressures in 2015.  Nkemdiche was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in December 2015.  Ole Miss decided to suspend him for their bowl game as punishment, and NFL teams now wonder about his off-the-field character and how it may affect his work ethic.  Outside of this obvious concern, Nkemdiche also had surprisingly low production despite his elite playing style.  He recorded on 6 total sacks and 16 total tackles for loss during his three-year collegiate career, which are surprisingly low numbers for a player with the talent to be a top 5 draft pick.  If Nkemdiche can clean up his act off the field and prove to teams that he is ready to work hard, the talented prospect has a bright future and will find nothing but success in the NFL.

  1. Jarran Reed (Alabama) – Projected Pick:  Late 1st Round-Early 2nd Round

A community college transfer, Reed proved that he could be an effective interior lineman during his two-year career at Alabama.  The 2015 second-team All-SEC selection is not an elite pass rusher (having made only two sacks in his two years with the Tide), but is a solid run stuffer and is a nightmare for offensive linemen to block.  He is also a consistent and solid tackler, not allowing a single broken tackle in 2015.  He is rarely dominated in one-on-one situations with linemen and can handle double teams to open up lanes.  He is also an intelligent and instinctual player and is able to read and diagnose running plays as they occur.   The weakness in Reed’s game is his lack of pass rushing skill.  As previously stated, he recorded just two sacks in his two years at the school, and he does not seem to have the ability to develop speed into a bull rush in order to provide pocket pressure through the middle of the line, which caused Alabama to often sub him out during passing situations.  Even though he may never be an effective pass rusher, Reed is a run stuffer who can play in the A-gap and make consistent tackles.  He will have immediate impact on an NFL team looking to improve its run defense.

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