As expected, the D-line and edge rushers dominated this year's class of defenders.
Devin White and Devin Bush left the board at 5th and 10th overall, respectively. Just 1 other true off-the-ball LB followed by the end of Round 2. Then we got 4 more such players in Round 3 before a bunch more joined the party on Day 3.
Up front, meanwhile, we watched teams draft 11 players in just Round 1 who will play DT or DE. That included Josh Allen landing in a Jacksonville defense that will make him a DE rather than LB. It does not, however, include Rashan Gary or Montez Sweat, who are expected to line up at LB.
I've ranked my top 30 defenders overall below, with 70 total players ranked across the 3 position groups beyond that. The order, of course, can vary depending on your league's scoring and/or format. If you don't have DT-specific lineup slots, for example, then Ed Oliver and Quinnen Williams lose some luster. If your scoring weighs tackles more heavily and downplays sack scoring, then it might make more sense to take a shot on 1 of the Day 2 LBs than to grab an edge rusher.
Keep such factors in mind as you go through and build your own draft plan. And always feel free to email email@example.com with any questions as you go.
1. Nick Bosa, DE, 49ers
I don’t care at all what Bosa and Donald Trump think of each other. I do care that Bosa averaged 1.3 tackles for loss and 0.7 sacks per game over the past 2 years.
2. Devin White, LB, Buccaneers
3. Devin Bush, LB, Steelers
White gets the nod over Bush because of greater college production and a clearer path to NFL numbers. But the NFL Draft emphatically confirmed the gap in expectations between this duo and the rest of the LB class. If you favor Bush over White, that’s fine. Both are supreme athleticism-speed prospects.
4. Josh Allen, DE, Jaguars
Landing in Jacksonville saves Allen from a LB designation that would have dinged his fantasy value. He might begin as a rotational player but should see full-time snaps by 2020. Yannick Ngakoue is in the final year of his rookie deal. Calais Campbell’s contract runs through 2020, but he’ll turn 33 on Sept. 1. Allen enjoyed nice sophomore and junior seasons and then blew up as a senior: 88 tackles (56 solo), 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 5 forced fumbles.
5. Ed Oliver, DT, Bills
Look only at the sack numbers, and you might not think Oliver’s ready to make much of a fantasy impact. He totaled a mere 13.5 across 3 college seasons -- which is fine for a DT, but not a thrilling number. The tackles for loss, on the other hand, tell the story. Oliver racked up 53 of those, trailing only Sutton Smith among all D-line/EDGE players in the class. And his 1.66 TFL per game career led the group.
Oliver also led the crew in solo tackles per game by a wide margin: 3.8 vs. 3.0 for #2 Jamal Davis (EDGE from Akron). Thirteen other players sat within 0.8 behind Davis.
Oliver delivered 54+ total tackles in each of his season, including an 8-game 2018. He even deflected 11 passes. And he maintained his production despite playing much of his final season out of position at NT, according to Pro Football Focus. Oliver has a chance to become a beast in the appropriate role next to Bills incumbent NT Star Lotulelei.
6. Quinnen Williams, DT, Jets
Williams had to wait a bit to get his turn but smashed in his lone full starting turn for the Crimson Tide. He racked up 71 tackles (45 solo), 19.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. He joins a talented Jets D-line under experienced DC Gregg Williams and brings the talent to excel across schemes. On top of all that, Williams won’t turn 22 until Dec. 21.
7. Johnathan Abram, S, Raiders
Two factors come together to make Abram my favorite fantasy prospect in this DB class:
1) He looks like a guy ready to be in the middle of everything. He can do all the normal safety stuff, cover in the slot and come up to make plays in the box (including 5 sacks over the past 2 years).
2) Oakland’s LB situation remains shaky at best. Abram’s a near-lock to start right away and play full time from the start, and he’ll face ample opportunity for the tackles that lay the solid scoring base. Abram proved capable of seizing such opportunities by leading his team in tackles (99) and solos (53) last season. That included 9 tackles for loss.
8. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Raiders
It’s tough to know how much Ferrell’s production benefited from him playing on a loaded Clemson D-line that also produced 2 other 1st-round picks, plus 4th-rounder Austin Bryant. And we never got a 40 time because he skipped it at the Combine and then sat out with turf toe at pro day.
But we did get big numbers. Ferrell racked up 50.5 tackles for loss over just 3 seasons, 4th-most in the class and tops among players in Power 5 conferences. Ferrell’s 27 sacks ranked 4th, with Kentucky’s Josh Allen the only Power 5 player ahead of him.
Oakland shocked us by choosing Ferrell 4th overall, with Allen and just about everyone else still on the board. But that doesn’t mean they got it wrong. Ferrell’s worth a shot here, with questions facing every other EDGE player behind him on this list.
9. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Titans
Simmons racked up 123 tackles, including 30 for loss over the past 2 years. If he hadn’t suffered the ACL tear, he’d have probably landed in Quinnen-Oliver territory on the draft’s opening night. As it is, he challenges the top 2 DTs on the upside meter.
10. Brian Burns, DE, Panthers
I’m not the hugest Burns fan. He’ll take development and strength-building if he’s to become more than a situational rusher in the pros. But he also delivered the 5th-best speed score and 6th-best 3-cone time among all EDGE/DL players in this stacked class. So there’s clear upside. Landing in a Carolina defense desperate for new DEs -- and, thus, avoiding a LB designation -- helps his value further.
11. Chase Winovich, DE, Patriots
Winovich crushed the pre-draft testing after way out-producing 1st-round teammate Rashan Gary (43 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks over past 3 years). He should have come off the board before Round 3, but we know he landed with a team that will use him appropriately. The biggest question: Will he carry a DE or LB designation? At LB, I don’t think I’d knock him any further. At DE, I’d consider Winovich among the top 6 if I’m set at DT or don’t play with any DT-specific slots.
12. Germaine Pratt, LB, Bengals
Pratt entered NFL Draft weekend as a bit of a sleeper with lots of upside. He ranked 7th among off-ball LBs in this class in speed score, 11th in solo tackles per game, 14th in market share of solo tackles, 2nd in sacks per game. Pratt followed 3 quiet years with a nice final season: 104 tackles (54 solo), 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks and 3 pass breakups.
Then he landed in a Bengals D that didn’t see any LB crack 60% snap share last season and finally moved on from Vontaze Burfict. Pratt could battle Malik Jefferson and Preston Brown for the MLB job right away.
13. Jahlani Tavai, LB, Lions
Tavai missed the Senior Bowl and didn’t work out at the Scouting Combine because of a shoulder injury. His pro day 40-yard dash produced a below-average speed score. But his productive career at Hawaii and versatility clearly won over the Lions.
Tavai notched big sophomore and junior seasons -- 252 tackles, 151 solos, 30.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks -- before an injury-shortened senior year. Now he joins a Lions defense with disappointing former 1st-rounder Jarrad Davis in the middle and incomplete answers at the OLB spots.
14. Montez Sweat, LB, Washington
Sweat would have ranked higher on this list as a DE in a 4-3 base defense, but there’s room fpr him to make a quick impact in Washington. The team let Preston Smith walk in free agency and has 30-year-old Ryan Kerrigan locked in for just 1 more year (plus another season with no guaranteed money).
I’m not knocked Sweat at all for the heart condition. Instead I’m buying on the 30.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks that marked his 2 years at Mississippi State.
15. Juan Thornhill, S, Chiefs
Thornhill’s production stands out in a just-OK safety class. He snared 13 INTs over the past 3 seasons, while defensing 26 total passes. Thornhill closed out his time at Virginia with team highs in tackles (98) and solos (62). Then he proved his athleticism at the Combine with a 92nd-percentile 40 time (4.42 seconds), a 99th-percentile vert (44 inches) and 99th percentile broad jump (141 inches).
The final piece: Thornhill landed in a Chiefs D that let Eric Berry walk and sports few clear answers in the secondary.
16. Ben Banogu, LB, Colts
Primarily a 4-3 DE at TCU, Banogu looks a bit slight and lacking in power on tape to battle regularly with NFL OTs. Fortunately, the Colts apparently plan to deploy him as a LB who will do a bunch of different things. That should allow Banogu to capitalize on his speed (10th in speed score among the EDGE/DL class, 109.7) and slipperiness. He certainly didn’t lack for production in opponent backfields: 45 tackles for loss and 20 sacks over 3 seasons.
17. Khalen Saunders, DT, Chiefs
No DL/EDGE prospect in the class beat Saunders’ 127 career solo tackles. His 3.8 solos per game in 2018 ranked 4th in the group. Only 3 true DTs averaged more than Saunders’ 1.18 tackles for loss per game in 2018.
18. Sione Takitaki, LB, Browns
Takitaki generated some pre-draft buzz and then left the board 5th among non-EDGE LBs. He might not find a starting spot right away in Cleveland, but MLB Joe Schobert heads into a contract year and WLB Christian Kirksey has cuttable money in his final 2 years beyond 2019. Takitaki delivered numbers across categories over his final 2 seasons at BYU and then notched above-average numbers in speed score and key production categories.
19. Drue Tranquill, LB, Chargers
The Chargers have had just 1 LB season of 60+% snap share over the past 3 years, and no player at the position has cracked 62%. Denzel Perryman has been the closest thing to an answer, and he has yet to reach 65% just in the games he’s played (while missing 22 of 64 games over his 4 seasons). Tranquill posted the non-EDGE LB group’s 10th-best speed score (82nd percentile for the position). And ranked 12th among the group in solo tackles per game last season.
20. Zach Allen, DE, Cardinals
Allen rated well in Pro Football Focus numbers but also looks like more of a base, run-stopping end than a high-upside pass rusher. Allen notched 40.5 tackles for loss over 3 seasons of regular playing time at Boston College, including 15.5 and 15.0 in his final 2. He also delivered a 100-tackle season as a junior and defensed 14 passes. At this stage of a rookie draft, we’ll take a solid producer -- even if he never turns into a stud.
21. Bobby Okereke, LB, Colts (UP)
Indy spent a 3rd-round pick on Okereke, whose 108.6 speed score ranked 8th among off-ball LBs in this class. Darius Leonard delivered big time as a rookie, but there’s room around him in the LB corps. Okereke got a bump here because it sure sounds like the Colts want him to start right away.
22. Cody Barton, LB, Seahawks (UP)
Fellow Seattle LB draftee Ben Burr-Kirven rated better by the measurables and college production and could be a rookie-draft sleeper. But we’ll lean toward the guy the Seahawks took 2 rounds earlier first.
23. Rashan Gary, LB, Packers
I begrudingly toss Gary into the list at this point, well behind plenty of other dudes who didn’t go in the NFL Draft’s 1st round. The measurables are there for him … but they were there throughout college, too. The numbers weren’t. He averaged just 0.68 tackles for loss per game over 3 seasons. That ranked 36th among all the D-line and EDGE prospects invited to the Combine. I was actually happy to see him land in a Green Bay defense that probably means a LB designation, because it’ll make it even easier to not take Gary in rookie drafts.
24. Darnell Savage, S, Packers
It was close, but Savage beats Nasir Adderley here mostly because he was the 1st DB off the board in the NFL draft. The college production was fine -- 8 career INTs, 13 pass breakups -- and the safety spots in Green Bay have been decent to fantasy scorers in recent years.
25. L.J. Collier, DE, Seahawks
Collier posted an above-average speed score at the Scouting Combine, but it’s tough to bet on him turning mediocre college production into big NFL numbers. At some point, a 1st-round DE in a defense with immediate need is worth a shot. But Collier doesn’t look like a high-ceiling IDP bet.
26. Austin Bryant, DE, Lions
We’ll see just how good all these Clemson D-linemen are away from the gang, but it’s not hard to bet on Bryant at this point. He tallied 30.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over the past 2 years. Now he joins a Lions D with big needs on the edge.
27. Anthony Nelson, DE, Buccaneers
Nelson didn’t crack double digits in tackles for loss until his final season at Iowa, but he averaged a solid 7.7 sacks over 3 years and then posted an above-average speed score in pre-draft testing. Avoiding a LB designation in a 3-4 defense keeps him intriguing.
28. John Cominsky, DE, Falcons
Cominsky doesn’t look like a true EDGE player, but more of a 3-4 end or hybrid type that rushes more effectively from a DT spot in passing situations. He gathered just 15.5 sacks across 40 college games but fared much better in tackles for loss. Cominsky’s 2.05 per game in 2018 led the class. And then he delivered a huge 121.3 speed score. Only Montez Sweat and Rashan Gary beat that.
29. Oshane Ximines, LB, Giants
Ximines came in just below average in speed score but rated better in the 3-cone (10th) and production. He’ll likely take some time to make the jump from Old Dominion to the NFL, but he beat up lower-level competition.
30. Maxx Crosby, DE, Raiders
Oakland might hope that Ferrell and 2018 rookie Arden Key control the edges, but there’s obviously no guarantee -- especially with the mercurial Key. Crosby, meanwhile, posted the 2nd-best 3-cone time among all EDGE prospects at the Combine and the 9th-best speed score among all EDGE/D-line players. That followed a strong college career in which he averaged 1.11 tackles for loss per game -- 1.58 in 2018.
1. Nick Bosa, DE, 49ers
2. Josh Allen, DE, Jaguars
3. Ed Oliver, DT, Bills
4. Quinnen Williams, DT, Jets
5. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Raiders
6. Jeffery Simmons, DT, Titans
7. Brian Burns, DE, Panthers
8. Chase Winovich, DE, Patriots
9. Khalen Saunders, DT, Chiefs
10. Zach Allen, DE, Cardinals
11. L.J. Collier, DE, Seahawks
12. Austin Bryant, DE, Lions
13. Anthony Nelson, DE, Buccaneers
14. John Cominsky, DE, Falcons
15. Maxx Crosby, DE, Raiders
16. Shareef Miller, DE, Eagles
17. Christian Wilkins, DT, Dolphins
18. Jerry Tillery, DT, Chargers
19. Christian Miller, DE, Panthers
20. Joe Jackson, DE, Cowboys
21. Darryl Johnson, DE, Bills
22. Charles Omenihu, DE, Texans
23. Dre'Mont Jones, DT, Broncos
24. Gerald Willis, DT, Ravens
25. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Giants
1. Devin White, LB, Buccaneers
2. Devin Bush, LB, Steelers
3. Germaine Pratt, LB, Bengals
4. Jahlani Tavai, LB, Lions
5. Montez Sweat, LB, Washington (EDGE)
6. Ben Banogu, LB, Colts
7. Sione Takitaki, LB, Browns
8. Bobby Okereke, LB, Colts
9. Cody Barton, LB, Seahawks
10. Drue Tranquill, LB, Chargers
11. Rashan Gary, LB, Packers (EDGE)
12. Oshane Ximines, LB, Giants (EDGE)
13. Ben Burr-Kirven, LB, Seahawks
14. Jachai Polite, LB, Jets (EDGE)
15. Jaylon Ferguson, LB, Ravens (EDGE)
16. Sutton Smith, LB, Steelers (EDGE)
17. David Long, LB, Titans
18. Dre Greenlaw, LB, 49ers
19. Quincy Williams, LB, Jaguars
20. Ryan Connelly, LB, Giants
21. Vosean Joseph, LB, Bills
22. Blake Cashman, LB, Jets
23. E.J. Speed, LB, Colts
24. Justin Hollins, LB, Broncos (EDGE)
25. Mack Wilson, LB, Browns
26. Deshaun Davis, LB, Bengals
27. Te'von Coney, LB, Raiders
28. Gary Johnson, LB, Chiefs
29. Cameron Smith, LB, Vikings
30. Gerri Green, LB, Colts
1. Johnathan Abram, S, Raiders
2. Juan Thornhill, S, Chiefs
3. Darnell Savage, S, Packers
4. Nasir Adderley, S, Chargers
5. Taylor Rapp, S, Rams
6. Byron Murphy, CB, Cardinals
7. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, Saints
8. Will Harris, S, Lions
9. Sean Bunting, CB, Buccaneers
10. Deandre Baker, CB, Giants
11. Greedy Williams, CB, Browns
12. Marquise Blair, S, Seahawks
13. Mike Edwards, S, Buccaneers
14. Joejuan Williams, CB, Patriots
15. Deionte Thompson, S, Cardinals