2018 NFL Draft rankings: Hand use, bend and everything to know about edge-rushers

The 2018 draft class of edge-rushers has grown on me the more I've watched, but it's not a loaded group like the running back, linebacker, or quarterback spots. 

Bradley Chubb leads the way, and there are a handful of fun prospects who can become productive players at the next level.

Below I've ranked each of the consensus top edge-rushers in the qualities I deem most necessary to be successful at those positions in the pros (listed in order of importance). I've also added one player who should be available a bit later in the draft who excels at each particular trait.

Other installments in this series: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Tackles, Interior Offensive Line

Pass-Rushing Moves/Hand Use

  1. Bradley Chubb
  2. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
  3. Uchenna Nwosu
  4. Marcus Davenport
  5. Josh Sweat
  6. Arden Key
  7. Harold Landry

From a push-and-pull to a swim move to an inside rip, Chubb has the whole arsenal of pass-rushing moves in his repertoire. Okoronkwo isn't far behind, and he often utilizes a dazzling spin as well. Both Chubb and Okoronkwo have long arms and use them extremely well. As a smaller edge-rusher, Nwosu needs to be a master with his hands, and he is, consistently winning the leverage battle against bigger offensive tackles. Davenport is somewhat unpolished in this area but understands how to slip past offensive linemen after starting with his patented speed-to-power bull rush. Sweat jolts blockers with his long arms and heavy hands, especially against the run. Key has the ability to swipe his way to the quarterback but isn't consistent with his hand use. This is the one area of Landry's game that needs work, although in 2016, he did flash an inside move off his speed rush. 

Sleeper: Duke Ejiofor

A long, powerful outside rusher, Ejiofor is a technician with his hands, as he can get skinny between linemen with a swim or simply rip inside after showing an outside rush. When getting after the quarterback, he rarely lets blockers into his frame. The former Wake Forest star also uses his arms to stave off linemen in the run game to make many plays behind or close to the line. 

Burst/Dip/Bend

  1. Landry
  2. Okoronkwo
  3. Davenport
  4. Chubb
  5. Key
  6. Sweat
  7. Nwosu

No one in this class has the vital burst/dip/bend combination of Landry, which is clearly his trump card. It takes insane athleticism and ankle flexibility to accelerate off the line, dip low underneath the outstretched arms of an offensive tackle then bend tightly to the quarterback. Okoronkwo flattens tremendously well too. For a taller edge-rusher, there's an impressive amount of bend to Davenport's game, and he's undoubtedly explosive. Chubb is more of a technically sound power rusher than anything else but certainly isn't stiff after he beats an offensive linemen to the pass-rushing apex. Key had long stretches of freakish burst, dip, and bend in 2016, yet those moments were few and far between this past season. Sweat and Nwosu are no slouches in this facet either. Sweat's more like Chubb, and Nwosu mainly wins with amazing leverage and hand use.

Sleeper: Gernard Avery

At slightly over 6-foot, and nearly 250 pounds, Avery was a multi-dimensional linebacker for Memphis, mainly playing off the ball on early downs and occasionally rushing the passer from the outside. He made a plethora of impact plays against the run, and his frame would suggest he'd fit best off the ball. Avery's edge-rushing attempts were fun to watch too. Deploying a mean combination of explosion, vicious hand use, and the ability to bend to the quarterback, he wreaked havoc when given the chance to rush the passer.

Run Defense

  1. Chubb
  2. Sweat
  3. Davenport
  4. Okoronkwo
  5. Landry
  6. Nwosu
  7. Key

At over 6-4 and 269 pounds with long arms, Chubb looks like the prototypical three-down defensive end, and he plays like one. He's the strongest edge-setter in the class, routinely recognizes ball-carriers coming his way and can shed blocks to make tackles. Sweat's initial, low-center-of-gravity pop almost disorients offensive linemen and helps him get into the backfield in a hurry. Davenport's aforementioned speed-to-power game makes him a dominant run defender as well. Because of his his long, active hands, Okoronkwo is surprisingly stout on the outside against the run, and Landry is quick enough to chase down runners from the backside, although he gets locked onto blocks often. The lack of size for Nwosu and Key don't benefit them in the run game.

Sleeper: Justin Lawler

The former SMU standout is an amazing run defender with keen awareness, low pad level, and the strength to stack and shed blockers near the line. He also has enough athleticism to fire down on stretch runs to the opposite side of the field and stop those plays before they can materialize.

Position Fits 

Defensive End

  1. Chubb
  2. Sweat
  3. Davenport
  4. Key
  5. Okoronkwo
  6. Landry
  7. Nwosu

With nickel being the NFL's base package today -- used around 65 percent of the time -- clubs often use four down linemen. So whether a defensive coordinator has roots in a 3-4 or a 4-3, he'll want Chubb to man one of his outside spots on the defensive line, and the former NC State stud won't ever have to come off the field. Sweat is nearly 6-5 and could add another 10 or 15 pounds to his 251-pound frame. Best moving forward and somewhat awkward in coverage, whichever team drafts him will want him in a three-point stance frequently. Davenport has the length to play primarily with his hand in the dirt. The same goes for Key. Okoronkwo, Landry, and Nwosu would make more sense standing up on the outside with the occasional coverage duty. 

Sleeper: Dorance Armstrong

A lengthy, powerful rusher, Armstrong went from playing mostly five technique (outside shoulder of the tackle) and even seven technique (inside shoulder of the tight end) in 2016 in a 4-3 system when he had 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to playing heads up with the tackle (four technique) in a two-gap 3-4 this past season when his sack and tackle-for-loss numbers dipped. The most useful as a free-to-rush-the-quarterback edge-rusher, Armstrong also proved to be strong enough to deal with double teams and read-and-react on the outside in college.

3-4 Outside Linebacker

  1. Landry
  2. Okoronkwo
  3. Nwosu
  4. Davenport
  5. Key
  6. Chubb
  7. Sweat

Because of his stellar burst/dip/bend ability, Landry would be able to reach his maximum potential if used as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker predominately asked to get after the quarterback from a wide alignment. The same thought can be applied to Okoronkwo, who also has vast experience in coverage and quickly making plays against wide-receiver screens on the outside. Nwosu would be best in a stand-up role, and Davenport undoubtedly has the movement skills to have a variety of responsibilities on the edge. Key can drop in coverage and his length would, in theory, clog passing lanes. Chubb is a fine athlete but he has the body of a down lineman. Sweat has made it known he wants to just get after the quarterback in the NFL, and his game is ill-fit for even occasional coverage assignments.

Sleeper: Lorenzo Carter

Carter was a do-it-all second-level defender at Georgia, a long, angular plus-athlete with a wide array of skills. He flashed good hand usage and bend on edge-rush attempts, moved fluidly in coverage for a nearly 6-5, 240-ish pound linebacker and read his keys in a hurry to make plays against the run. 

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