2017 NFL Draft: Top 10 Defensive Players

By Frank Coppola

Defensive Players:

 

  1. Myles Garrett – Edge Rusher (Texas A&M)

Strengths:

  • Explosive acceleration to attack offensive tackles and push them off the line of scrimmage immediately after snap; has elite footwork and agility that allows him to change direction quickly to shed blocks or spin away from blocker engagement
  • Powerful bull rush that overpowers linemen and allows him to create pass rushing lanes for himself and other defenders
  • Superstar combine performance; incredibly athletic player with a dominant combination of size, power, and explosiveness
  • Times his jump off the snap and accelerates to get around the edge before offensive tackles can establish position to redirect his pass rush
  • Versatile edge rusher who has found success lining up in a three-point stance and as a standup outside linebacker; fits into both a 4-3 (DE) or a 3-4 (OLB or DE) system

Weaknesses:

  • Sometimes looks lazy and does not fully work through rushes when plays shift to the other side of the field or if his rush stalls
  • Relies heavily on power and strength when engaging linemen; needs to transition to other pass rushing moves more quickly to counter against strong blocks
  • Lacks aggression with his hands during initial contact; will use hands to fight off opposing blockers’ contact, but is not very active in dominating hand placement at the point of attack
  • Not an elite run stuffing edge rusher; often pushed off the line by run blocking linemen to clear gaps and lanes for backs to run through
  • His best performance of the season came against weak in-state opponent UT San Antonio (4.5 sacks, 7 total tackles, 1 forced fumble)

Best Fit: 4-3 Defensive End

Value: Top 3

Projected Pick: 1st Overall

 

  1. Jamal Adams – Safety (Louisiana State)

Strengths:

  • Powerful, aggressive hitter in the open field; is not afraid to accelerate and commit to huge hits on offensive players
  • Sets body position low and wide when making tackles; runs with controlled closing speed to pursue ball carriers and finish plays
  • Has the play speed and range to allow him to cover all areas of the field to make plays in both the running and passing attacks; quickly closes in on players who find space
  • Strong presence in pass coverage; has the strength, speed, and size to cover tight ends and close in on wide receivers along the sideline when cornerbacks need support over the top
  • Exhibits natural leadership qualities; operates like a field general in the deep secondary to orchestrate defensive sets

Weaknesses:

  • May sometimes overcommit and put his head down too early to try and connect on potential big hits, leading to easily evaded missed tackles
  • Aggressive nature may cause him to jump on play action throws, which allows receivers to blow the top off the coverage and create space on deep routes
  • Needs to develop anticipation more at the next level; awareness could improve to more consistently diagnose plays and get an early jump on the ball
  • Relatively low/average vertical jump (31.5’’) and 40-yard dash time (4.56 seconds) at the combine

Best Fit: Strong Safety

Value: Top 3

Projected Pick: Top 5

 

  1. Solomon Thomas – Edge Rusher (Stanford)

Strengths:

  • Tremendous jump off the line of scrimmage to establish position against blocker early and quickly
  • Punches at blockers with aggressive hands to harness strength and maintain the leverage he generates during bull rush
  • Plays with an incredibly high motor; fights hard and continues to push through plays to find second and third opportunities to blow up the pocket if initial rush is stalled
  • Dominant swim move to evade contact and get around the edge of blocks from both the outside and inside; uses multiple pass rushing moves to remain unpredictable and beat offensive linemen
  • Has great awareness and instincts when attacking the backfield; knows when to peel off into the flat to cover short passes or help stop the run
  • Incredibly versatile and athletic defensive prospect with the ability to contribute primarily as a pass rusher, but additionally in run stoppage and short pass coverage

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to generate more power during initial contact with linemen; sometimes unable to push linemen off the line when engaging in straight-line one-on-one contact
  • Gets caught standing up too tall at the point of contact on some bull rushes; results in lack of leverage and difficulty changing direction
  • Relatively ineffective spin move; struggles to separate himself from blocks when spinning away from contact
  • Struggles to find a gap in the line when facing double blocks; relies on pure strength instead of using agility and/or pass rushing moves to fend off blockers when doubled
  • Lacks the elite length to produce consistently as a 5-technique defensive end in a 4-3 system (33’’ arm length)

Best Fit: 3-4 Defensive End

Value: Top 3

Projected Pick: Top 5

 

  1. Reuben Foster – Inside Linebacker (Alabama)

Strengths:

  • Chosen as the winner of the 2016 Butkus Award for being the nation’s top linebacker (115 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks)
  • Elite tackling ability at the line and in the open field; aggressively pursues ball carrier and slides between blockers with tremendous closing speed
  • Hard-hitting linebacker who drops his shoulder and accurately lands contact with power; maintains balance through low body position and finishes tackles cleanly
  • All-Pro level instincts; makes his presence known on every play and reads formations and progressions to consistently position himself to make a play on the ball
  • Has strong coverage skills and can stick with tight ends downfield in the seam and running backs on short routes and screen passes
  • Natural defensive field general who is active at the line of scrimmage adjusting blitz packages, coverage schemes, and formations

Weaknesses:

  • Needs to improve his ability to shed blocks when pursuing ball carriers around the outside; sometimes dominated by powerful lead blocks in pursuit
  • Tendency to approach tackles too hot and tries too hard to land enormous hits instead of making well-formed, wrap-up tackles
  • Sometimes lets his desire for aggression and play speed take over, causing him to lose touch with his instincts
  • Had surgery on his right rotator cuff after the 2016 season that may cause some concern, but no problems have arisen from his physical exams
  • Tested with a diluted urine sample at the NFL Combine; drug test not technically failed but may cause slide on draft day

Best Fit: 3-4 Inside Linebacker

Value: Top 5

Projected Pick: Top 20

 

  1. Jonathan Allen – Interior Defensive Lineman (Alabama)

Strengths:

  • Selected as the winner of the 2016 Chuck Bednarik and the Bronko Nagurski Awards as the nation’s Defensive Player of the Year (69 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks)
  • Versatile pass rusher with the strength to dominate inside gaps as well as move outside to pass rush around the edge of the line
  • Times his jump off the line of scrimmage perfectly with the snap count; drives through blocks with powerful burst before linemen can set their feet to find opposing leverage
  • Elite use of hands; has a powerful punch and active grappling techniques to slap away linemen and fight off contact
  • Dominant when pushing through gaps; squeezes between linemen to plug up holes and bounces laterally with agile footwork to stay in front of backs on run defense
  • Has very quick closing speed in the backfield and across the line of scrimmage and is a consistent tackler; maximizes high motor and finishes plays

Weaknesses:

  • Lack of elite height and length force him to play as an interior lineman as opposed to a true 4-3 defensive end
  • Saw his strength challenged by big offensive guards; will need to continue to develop his strength and power to compete in the trenches at the next level
  • Not a dominant outside run stopper; can plug holes in between the tackles but struggles to contain speedy runners around the edge
  • Concerns arise that he may be a systematic and/or situational player who benefitted from Alabama’s strong defensive system and the amount of talent that surrounded him

Best Fit: 3-4 Defensive End

Value: Top 10

Projected Pick: Top 10

 

  1. Malik Hooker – Safety (Ohio State)

Strengths:

  • Ball-hawking safety with the ability to follow a quarterback’s eyes, break down receiver route progressions, and make a jump on the ball in the air (7 interceptions in 2016)
  • Keeps his head on a swivel to track down opposing players and make adjustments to protect passing threats
  • Attacks the football aggressively in the air; has the ball skills to break up passes and convert turnovers with strong hands and the ability to time his jump
  • Gifted athlete that moves laterally across the field with ease and can fluidly open hips and change direction to pursue the ball
  • Confident player that trusts his instincts and football IQ to make decisions and commit to plays

Weaknesses:

  • Not the strongest open-field tackler; tendency to grab with his arms instead of wrapping players up and finishing tackles with his body (17 missed tackles in 2016)
  • Struggles to shed blocks against strong lead blockers during running plays; less aggressive when pursuing ball carriers than passes in the air
  • Overcommits when running downhill; often puts his head down too soon and fails to maintain balance
  • Only has one year of experience as a full-time starter at Ohio State due to depth at the position during his early years in college
  • Raw ability shows pro bowl potential at the position but will require time to develop mechanics and more consistent play

Best Fit: Free Safety

Value: Top 10

Projected Pick: Top 10

 

  1. Marshon Lattimore – Cornerback (Ohio State)

Strengths:

  • Hits receivers early at the line with harsh press coverage; uses inside punch to redirect routes and slow down releases
  • Faces receivers to follow them tightly through route progressions; shows discipline when facing quarterback pump fakes and receiver jukes to stick with receivers and prevent separation
  • Has the speed needed to match elite receivers when turning hips and running vertically deep down the sideline; ran a 4.36 official 40-time at the combine (third among cornerbacks)
  • Targeted 36 times in 2016 and only allowed 17 catches (4 interceptions and 13 total passes defended)
  • Great vision when transitioning into run support and defense against screen plays; aggressive pursuit of the ball carrier with the ability to bounce between blockers to make tackles
  • Solid mechanics when making tackles; hits with authority and wraps up players before bringing them down

Weaknesses:

  • Plagued by a lingering hamstring injury that required surgery early in his collegiate career
  • Often beaten on quick inside routes and is forced to use speed to catch up and make up the distance from separation; may struggle against speedy receivers running slant and in routes
  • Has a habit of turning head around late when shadowing receivers; tends to use receivers’ body language and eye movement to know when to turn and open up to throws
  • Will need to rely more on coverage skills and technique instead of dominant press strength at the line when facing NFL receiving talent
  • Has only one year of experience with significant playing time due to injury in freshman year and chronic illness in sophomore year

Best Fit: Cornerback

Value: Top 10

Projected Pick: Top 10

 

  1. Derek Barnett – Edge Rusher (Tennessee)

Strengths:

  • Incredibly productive three-year collegiate career at Tennessee (198 total tackles, 52 tackles for loss, 33 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles); broke Reggie White’s record for most total sacks in Tennessee history
  • Strong, dominant punch with powerful hands; consistently gets the best of offensive tackles with punch and toss
  • Generates enough strength to push linemen back in straight-line pass rushes and blow up the pocket to disrupt the quarterback’s progression
  • Moves laterally before initiating contact to find gaps across the line and avoid strong leverage from blockers
  • Power hitter who punishes quarterbacks and offensive players when given the opportunity to take a shot
  • Ability to drop into zone coverage and contribute in pass defense on screen passes and short routes

Weaknesses:

  • Bad habit of jumping the snap count and being drawn offside to cause penalties
  • Overcommits to pass rushes by accelerating in one direction to pursue quarterbacks and running backs, allowing mobile players to easily evade his tackle
  • Aggressive jump off the line makes him vulnerable to cut blocks, knocking him off his feet and stopping his rush early in the play
  • Needs to develop more pass rushing moves instead of relying solely on bull rush power; struggles to change direction and move feet when redirected by strong linemen

Best Fit: 3-4 Outside Linebacker

Value: Top 15

Projected Pick: Top 20

 

  1. Haason Reddick – Outside Linebacker (Temple)

Strengths:

  • Gifted pass rushing outside linebacker with experience lining up as a stand-up rusher or in a three-point stance; played running back and safety in high school
  • Possesses the lateral quickness to play in coverage and keep runners in front of him when moving across the field; increased his draft stock with a stand-out performance at the NFL combine (4.52 official 40-time, 36.5’’ vertical, and above average times in agility drills)
  • Plays with an incredibly high motor and ferocious spirit; desires to make a play on the ball every single snap
  • Has the instincts to peel off of pass rushes and slide into coverage; follows running backs out of the back field on check and release routes
  • Quick footwork and hand fakes allow him to juke out linemen and burst through open gaps to rush the passer and stuff the run
  • Gets around the edge with great bend and changes direction by fluidly opening hips to face the quarterback

Weaknesses:

  • Lacks the size and strength to compete with big offensive guards on inside pass rushes; forced to rely on speed and agility around the edge instead of bull rushing strength
  • Initiates contact without much purpose; does not attack with strong hands and does not have many pass rushing moves to resort to when the block stalls at the line
  • Often backs off when overpowered by blocks; pushes away from engagement and tries to search for gaps across the line to adjust pass rushing route
  • Will need to develop his strength in order to play on the outside in the NFL; struggles to hold his ground around the edge against offensive tackles, allowing for running lanes to open up
  • Despite his elite defensive athleticism, his perfect scheme fit remains unclear due to concerns about his size and tackling inconsistencies (16 total missed tackles in 2015 and 2016)

Best Fit: 4-3 Outside Linebacker

Value: Top 20

Project Pick: Top 15

 

  1. Takkarist McKinley – Outside Linebacker (UCLA)

Strengths:

  • Speed rusher around the outside that explodes off the snap and throws powerful hands up quickly to generate leverage and burst into the pocket
  • Uses strength and finesse to disengage from blockers and transition into pursuit to defend the run and short passing plays
  • Great instincts and awareness against play action and option plays; follows the ball instead of the players to keep the play in front of him and pursue the ball carrier
  • Faced double and triple blocks at UCLA; able to redirect and push them back to open up lanes for fellow pass rushers
  • Can easily change direction to transition laterally with speed to find new gaps or contain ball carriers; has the range to make plays outside of the hash marks
  • Has experienced success rushing from both sides of the line as well as from both a stand up position and a three-point stance

Weaknesses:

  • Often stalled when engaging offensive tackles straight on; struggles to move blocks when tackles hit the initial punch first and establish low body position
  • Prefers to use speed to get around the edge instead of dominating linemen at the point of attack with power
  • Not very effective as a run stopper; hot-pursuit of ball carrier causes him to overcommit and misread counter moves at times
  • Needs to improve his hand use and slapping ability to pass rush more effectively and fight off linemen punches; has long arms but usually fails to use them to their full potential
  • Gets caught moving with stiffness; redirected easily due to lack of balance

Best Fit: 3-4 Outside Linebacker

Value: Top 20

Projected Pick: Late 1st Round

 

Honorable Mentions by Position:

Interior Defensive Linemen:  Malik McDowell (Michigan State), Caleb Brantley (Florida), Chris Wormley (Michigan)

Edge Rushers: Taco Charlton (Michigan), Charles Harris (Missouri), T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

Inside Linebackers:  Jarrad Davis (Florida), Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State)

Cornerbacks:  Tre’Davious White (Louisiana State), Marlon Humphrey (Alabama), Quincy Wilson (Florida)

Safeties:  Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), Budda Baker (Washington), Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut)

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Posted in NFL

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