NFL: 1st Round Grades on Defense

Ever since I was a kid, I have heard the phrase, “Offense wins game, but Defense wins championships”. If you go back and look at every single team that has one a Superbowl, three things happen: The offense has to eventually run the ball, the defense must win a crucial game, and they got to get one lucky break along the way. In the 2015 NFL draft, defense will be on display as there are over 20 prospects that I have with 1st round grades on Defense. With that being said, let’s get right into the positional breakdown of this year’s defensive prospects.

Rays (pclarke v1)

4-3 Defensive Ends/3-4 Linebackers:

Dante Fowler Jr.
Bud Dupree

People have compared Dante Fowler Jr. to Khalil Mack, but I don’t like that comparison. I see him more as a James Harrison, someone who is big enough to play DE in a 4-3. I’ve had him ticketed to the Jaguars for months now. Other draft people have finally started to come around to my thinking. He will be a big time impact player. Bud Dupree reminds me of a bigger Brian Orakpo. He can play with his hand in the ground or not. He is versatile and will fit in any defense. Dupree has a very big upside.


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

Leonard Williams
Malcom Brown

For most of this “drafting season” Leonard Williams has been considered the #1 defensive prospect in the draft. I only halfway agree with that statement. I feel that Williams can be a dominant DT in a 4-3, but he doesn’t have the pass rush ability to have the same impact as say a JJ Watt in a 3-4. While names like Suh, Seymour, and McCoy have been thrown around, I more see Kevin Williams. Malcom Brown is a sturdy DL that can play in a 3-4 or 4-3. I don’t like him as a NT as much as others have mentioned. My comparison for him is Sylvester Williams.


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

Danny Shelton
Eddie Goldman
Jordan Phillips

In my opinion, Danny Shelton is a beast. I would take him in the top 5 with everything equal, but when taking need into the situation, he should go in the 10-15 range. To me, he is a shorter version of Haloti Ngata. Eddie Goldman is a very good run stuffer and at 6’4 336 pounds, he fits a 3-4 NT position perfectly. He comes in the mold of a Vince Wolfork. Jordan Phillips fits the Albert Haynesworth body type. He can play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 and probably fits a 4-3 better than Shelton and Goldman.


3-4 Linebackers:

Vic Beasley
Shane Ray
Randy Gregory
Eric Kendricks

With the combination of size, pass rush ability, and keeping clean off the field, Vic Beasley is now seen as the top pass LB prospect in the draft. He is too small to play DE in my opinion, but is similar to Robert Mathis. Shane Ray reminds me of Jerry Hughes. He may not end up being a top tier elite LB, but he can be good or a long time. Randy Gregory’s build is similar to Bruce Irvin when he was drafted. Failed drug test has pushed Gregory from a top five pick to borderline 1st round, but he maybe the best pure pass rusher in the draft. Eric Kendricks can play both inside and outside LB. That versatility will help him to hold a high value. Kendricks has Justin Durant-type potential.


Defensive Backs:

CB Trae Waynes
CB Kevin Johnson
CB Jalen Collins
SS Landon Collins

With the NFL becoming more and more of a heavy passing league, secondary positions have become a premium. This year seems to be a down year for elite guys, but Trae Waynes put on a show at the combine. His athletic ability likens him to Antonio Cromartie. Kevin Johnson is a solid prospect that has good athletic ability and doesn’t make too much mistakes. His ceiling may not be as high as Waynes but his floor isn’t as low either. Johnson’s best comparison is Sam Shields.

Jalen Collins may be the most athletic defensive back in the draft. He is a thinner version of Patrick Peterson. He lacks consistency, but if he ever puts it all together, then watch out. Landon Collins is by far the top Safety prospect in the draft. He looks and hits like Bernard Collins, but he can actually cover the field pretty well. Because there is such a need for good safeties in the NFL, and since he is one of the few with a 1st round grade, he will be taken pretty early, some may even consider him around the 10th range.


Borderline 1st round grades:

CB Marcus Peters
CB/S Byron Jones
DT/DE Arik Armstead
OLB Shaq Thompson
OLB Eli Harold
ILB Paul Dawson

Marcus Peters definitely has 1st round talent, but off the field issues hurt him. Someone may take a chance with him at the end of the 1st round. Byron Jones has been mentioned as a possible 1st round pick because of his great combine, but teams must beware that he isn’t a draft workout warrior. Arik Armstead has lost some steam as a potential 1st round pick. His best fit would be as a 3-4 DE. Shaq Thompson would arguably be the 3rd or 4th ranked RB prospect, and arguably the 3rd or 4th ranked S prospect, but he wants to play LB. Eli Harold and Paul Dawson are two names to listen for. Neither is elite prospects, but they are both solid and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear their names in the 1st round.

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. Keep that in mind when you are getting your team’s next favorite jersey.

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