2018 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings: Examining different skill sets at top of defensive tackle class
The best defensive tackle prospects in this class all have plus skills in different areas
Teams in need of defensive tackle reinforcement are in luck. The 2018 NFL Draft is oozing with tremendous interior front players on that side of the ball.
I currently have six defensive tackles in my Top 50, but here I'll highlight the four highest-ranked. Each can provide something totally different.
Maurice Hurst, Vita Vea, Taven Bryan and Da'Ron Payne represent the next wave of high-caliber defensive tackles -- which is becoming a more premier position every year -- and all can be productive immediately at the pro level.
Read on for a breakdown of the top 32 prospects on my board. You can check out my full up-to-date prospect rankings here.
1. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb is the preeminent edge-rusher in the 2018 class who checks all the boxes. Size. Production. Pass-rushing moves. Edge-setting strength. Athleticism. He's really good.
2. Derwin James, S, Florida State
James was all over the field during Florida State's disappointing 2017 campaign. His wide-ranging skill set should -- and likely will -- make him one of the first defensive backs off the board in April, if not the first.
3. Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
Nelson will step into the NFL and instantly improve a team's run game, regardless of who's carrying the football. As a pass protector, the Notre Dame star uses his strong base and balance to win much more often than not. And he's incredibly aware of blitzers. He was dominant against the always-stout LSU defensive front. He's a line-changing guard prospect.
4. Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
Smith was quiet in the first half of the Rose Bowl, then looked like the best player on the field as Georgia put the clamps down on the most explosive offense in college football in the final two quarters. He had two impact stops in overtime to force Oklahoma into field-goal attempts, the second of which was blocked and helped the Bulldogs earn a trip to the national title game. His blend of power and speed are unparalleled in this draft class at the linebacker spot.
5. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
Is Fitzpatrick a cornerback or a safety? Teams will have him labeled differently, but the reality is the NFL is becoming a more "positionless" league, especially in the secondary. Fitzpatrick has experience in both spots and will excel wherever he lines up on the back end of a defense in the NFL.
6. Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
Brown had his work cut out for him against an assailing Georgia pass rush that boasts the long and ferocious duo of Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter. The Oklahoma tackle was his usual self paving lanes for the run game but was shockingly knocked off his block a few times with swipe moves. It wasn't an abysmal game, as he only moves down one spot.
7. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley's 92-yard touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl was another example of his awe-inspiring speed at his size. He had issues against Washington's brick wall of a defensive line beyond that, but it's those type of home runs that separate Barkley from other recent running back prospects. Even on a day when running lanes are hard to come by, he can score from anywhere on the field.
8. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Don't be surprised if Hurst weighs in at under 300 pounds at the combine. And that won't make him undersized. Aaron Donald was 285 at the 2014 combine. Geno Atkins was 293. Gerald McCoy was 295. Fletcher Cox was 298. Kawann Short was 299. And there you have it. Arguably the five best pass-rushing defensive tackles in football -- and all undoubtedly in the top 10 at the very least --didn't tip the scales at 300 pounds at their respective combines. So Hurst isn't undersized for the position he plays for his specific role. He wins with a lightning quick first step, outstanding leverage, and counter moves. He looks like a future All-Pro.
9. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
Sutton is the premier touchdown-scoring boundary wideout in the 2018 class. At 6-feet-4 and 220-plus pounds, he's a matchup nightmare, and he's deceptively agile after the catch.
10. Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
After sitting atop my quarterback rankings for the vast majority of the season, a brutal game at home against Kansas State sunk Rudolph to No. 2, just behind Lamar Jackson, as bowl season approached. Following a masterful 351-yard, two-touchdown, zero-interception performance against Virginia Tech, he regains the No. 1 quarterback spot.
11. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
According to Pro Football Focus, Guice forced seven missed tackles against Notre Dame in the Citrus Bowl. Clockwork for him. On the season, Guice had four games with at least five forced missed tackles. One can reasonably argue that Guice is more impressive than Barkley between the tackles, and he's probably more powerful. He just lacks elite long speed.
12. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma
Okoronkwo has the athleticism and nuance when getting to the quarterback to be a productive NFL player right away. He actually uses his smaller stature as an advantage in the leverage battle and possesses long arms to keep offensive linemen off his frame on the outside. He's a stand-up outside rusher with three-down ability.
13. Vita Vea, DT, Washington
He's not a once in a generation prospect, but defensive tackles like Vea don't come around very often. I think the Haloti Ngata comparisons are spot-on. Vea would have mid-round value solely due to his enormous frame as a block-eater. But he's ridiculously strong, his arms are like two lead pipes attached to his body, and he uses them frequently to toss offensive linemen. Beyond all that, there's some twitchiness to his game, which seems impossible, that allows him to generate interior pressure on athleticism alone.
14. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Jackson's slight drop is mostly due to Okoronkwo's outstanding week at the Senior Bowl. Despite a poor end to the season, he routinely demonstrated outstanding pocket management, the ability to read the entire field, and fit the ball into tight windows all seasons. Oh yeah, and he's Mike Vick as a runner.
15. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
Washington ended his brilliant tenure at Oklahoma State with a loud statement. He reeled in five catches for 126 yards with one long touchdown. He set career highs in catches, receiving yards, yards per catch and touchdowns this season. He's a well-built speedster with strong hands.
16. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
With the top quarterbacks done, it appears Rosen sitting out UCLA's bowl game was a blessing in disguise. Outside of Rudolph, all the most highly touted signal-caller prospects had average-to-horrendous outings on the national stage. Rosen looks the part of an NFL quarterback yet strangely has stretches when he appears out of sorts and can make bad decisions. He and Jackson are very close as signal-caller prospects.
17. Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson is a stifling man-to-man cornerback with plus ball skills. That's it. He should be a Round 1 lock. Unsurprisingly, Jackson locked down the Boston College passing attack en route to a win for Iowa in the Liberty Bowl.
18. Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
Miller is a large, physically gifted offensive tackle who was one of the bright spots on UCLA's line the past few seasons. He has matured into a quality pass-protector who wins with length and footwork, which NFL teams will love.
19. Taven Bryan, DL, Florida
The J.J. Watt comparisons at Florida are obviously going to be extraordinarily difficult for Bryan to live up to, however, the comparison is an apt one. Bryan moves much better than other 6-4, 290-pounders in college football, has a stellar first step, and flashes devastating pass-rushing moves Watt uses on a regular basis. Bryan's the truly versatile defensive lineman near the top of this class.
20. Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
Okorafor is an offensive-line coach's dream. He's enormous with long arms, quick feet, and he consistently plays with a balanced foundation.
21. Sam Darnold, QB, USC
After a strong end to the regular season, Darnold reverted to the type of play that had many -- including me -- thinking, in a vacuum, the ideal decision for him would be to stay at Southern California for one more season. Darnold dropped an assortment of unreal dimes against Oho State yet was overwhelmed by the Buckeyes' pass-rush and made plenty of errors. His elongated delivery led to a turnover as well.
22. Connor Williams, OT, Texas
Williams might have the highest ceiling of any offensive tackle in the class, but a few hiccups in his injury-shortened 2017 put him at No. 24 for the time being. The pre-draft process will be vital for him.
23. Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Ability to play with faster boundary wideots and stick with the lightning-quick slot receivers will make Ward a high selection. He plays bigger than his size against the run too.
24. Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
A small-school sleeper with top edge-rusher capabilities, Davenport has gradually gotten better in each of his seasons at Texas-San Antonio, and that maturation culminated with a 8.5-sack, 17.5-tackle-for-loss senior season for the 6-7, 255-pounder.
25. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC
Jones was mostly bottled up against Ohio State, yet flashed his suddenness between the tackles on a few occasions. That outing doesn't change an otherwise spectacular campaign for the junior with a bright NFL future due to his vision and explosiveness.
26. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama
A defensive lineman can be versatile in two ways... positionally or in his responsibilities. Payne won't play end in the NFL, but his time spent mastering two-gapping duties for Nick Saban adds another layer to his game. Beyond the "read then react" style of play, Payne routinely showcased the burst, bull-rushing strength, and refined hand use to be a dynamic one-gapping backfield disruptor too. While most defenses ask for their defensive linemen to either one or two gap, some mix responsibilities up front, and Payne's ability to perform either assignment will keep defenses guessing.
27. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
Oliver has No. 1 cornerback physical traits, especially his ability to run and change direction. After breaking up 13 passes in his first two seasons with the Buffaloes, he knocked away 12 passes this season.
28. Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State
Ateman did his thing against the Hokies. He showed off his rebounding ability on a deep ball and was a safety valve for Rudolph as he scanned through his progressions. Ateman obviously doesn't win with separation. His body and length provide him the requisite separation as the ball arrives.
29. Dorian O'Daniel, OLB, Clemson
In a losing effort in the Sugar Bowl, Daniel made an impact in all three phases of defense, as he pressured Jalen Hurts, made a few stops near the line of scrimmage on run plays and covered relatively well. O'Daniel is ultra-reliable, not a flashy player, and at 6-1 and 220 pounds he runs as well as any outside linebacker in the country. Some defensive coordinator is going to love giving O'Daniel a variety of roles in the NFL.
30. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State
There's a good argument that no wideout in this class makes everything look easier than Gallup. The Colorado State star is well-versed in techniques to beat press at the line, he quickly accelerates down the field, has dynamic change-of-direction ability and reliable hands.
31. Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
If he wasn't injured for most of the 2017 season, Alexander would likely be discussed as arguably the No. 1 cornerback in this class. He has immense coverage skills and springy athleticism. According to PFF, he was targeted 19 times and only allowed five receptions in 2017.
32. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Ragnow is the Bradley Chubb of centers. He checks all the boxes. Size, experience, nuanced skill, power. He's got it all and will be a quality pivot immediately in the NFL. His ankle just needs to be fully cleared.
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