NFL Draft 2016 – EDGE – Top 10 Continuing our look at the top prospects for the 2016 NFL draft at each position in a little more detail, we focus on the edge rushers. In the current pass heavy offensive schemes of the NFL, those that can get to the QB are always highly sought after early in the draft, and there are plenty talented players on offer this year who can provide that ability in what is one of the stronger positions of depth in this year’s class that extends well beyond these first 10. While previously, defensive front 7 players have been categorised between DT, DE, OLB and ILB, these are not particularly suitable these days, with DL, EDGE and LB instead being used. It’s not that appropriate to have a pass rushing 3-4 OLB in the same grouping as an off-ball 4-3 OLB playing primarily in space. Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore. An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college).
1) Joey Bosa, Ohio State, Jr. 6ft 5, 275 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl Grade: 1st Round
Success has its consequences, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are experiencing that this year, with a mass exodus of underclassmen leaving early for the NFL. That list includes some slight surprises, but at no point would Urban Meyer and his staff have been expecting anything else but a declaration for the draft from Bosa. A star immediately during his freshman season, he was arguably NFL ready right there and then. He built on that with a sensational sophomore campaign in which he both exploded on the stat sheet with 21 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 13.5 sacks, as well as developing an all-round dominant game as a key piece of the team that won the National Championship in the first year of the playoff era. In some people’s minds Bosa didn’t appear to be quite the force this season as that 2014 year. It began with a one game suspension as one of four teammates punished for an unspecified violation of team rules, and ended with an early ejection for targeting in the season-ending bowl game versus Notre Dame. Some of the numbers in between (16 TFLs, 5 sacks) don’t leap off the page, but add in 14 quarterback pressures, and attracting constant double or even triple teams that opened up opportunities for teammates, and in actual fact Bosa was no less effective a game changing presence his junior season. He is one of those rare players that requires a specific game plan to attempt to minimise his impact. As a pass rusher, Bosa isn’t the most explosive off the snap, or the quickest round the edge, but wins with outstanding technique, length and size, leverage and brute strength that few even at the next level will be able to match. Right from his early days with the Buckeyes, he has proven to be gifted at defending the run, setting the edge, staying disciplined and aware. His understanding of the position is impressive to go along with the physical traits he brings. This is a player who is built for the pros and a worthy early draft selection.
2) Shaq Lawson, Clemson, rJr. 6ft 3, 270 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Capital One Orange Bowl/National Championship Game Grade: 1st Round
Lawson will undoubtedly be gutted at a tough loss to Alabama in the National Championship game Monday night. He gave everything he had personally, as despite being injured and a question to play pre-game, he still managed to be a threat in the backfield, collecting two sacks. Those were enough to give him first place in the country for tackles for loss on the year with a fantastic 25.5 (interestingly just ahead of his teammate opposite Kevin Dodd, who’s late season surge included 5 vs Alabama). Prior to this season, Lawson had been a backup, rotational player behind the likes of Falcon’s top pick Vic Beasley. Expectations were high however as in little playing time he racked up 11.5 TFLs in 2014, and he didn’t disappoint as a first year full time starter. Lawson was dominant all year long with several elite left tackles among those unable to handle his relentless style, including Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley who will be a high draft pick himself this year. Lawson doesn’t have prototypical length with a fairly short and stocky frame, but wins with his power, speed, non-stop motor and outstandingly fast and violent hands. His combination of bull rush with a rip move is devastatingly effective. As with Bosa, Lawson has more than just eyes for the quarterback, proving to be highly effective versus the run, getting off blocks and taking down the ball carrier. Lawson’s game has no weaknesses, and he has earned the first round selection that he will assuredly receive in April.
3) Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State, rSr. 6ft 5, 252 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Goodyear Cotton Bowl Grade: 1st Round
With 26 sacks and 41.5 TFLs the past three seasons, Calhoun has been one of the top playmakers on a consistently strong Spartans defence and one of the best pass rushers in the Big 10 conference. His long, lean frame is put to excellent use on speed rushes, where his initial get off often gives him the advantage early before turning the corner effectively to finish the play. Lining up at defensive end, Calhoun regularly switches from left to right, and as he’s developed with more experience has added better use of his hands and a dangerous inside rush to go with his standard moves round the edge. While initially not sold on his play versus the run, I really saw him take his overall game to another level in 2014 versus Nebraska where he dominated in all phases. While he has a lot of appeal with his length, the question on Calhoun relates to his strength and power, which are somewhat lacking right now. If he doesn’t win early in his rush attempts with his quickness, Calhoun can be kept in check, losing the leverage battle and failing to find an effective countermove. His overall field and situation awareness are a bit raw still. There’s plenty development required as he transitions to the pros, but his natural pass rush skills are always a coveted commodity to warrant an early selection, potentially toward the end of Thursday night. There’s work to be done in the weight room but I like him more than most and believe him worthy of a top 32 selection.
4) Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky, rJr. 6ft 3, 261 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: N/A Grade: 1st-2nd Round
Potentially the biggest boom pick of the 2016 draft for the team who chooses to take a chance on him. Spence was a member of the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in 2015, but began his career as a five star rated pass rusher for the Ohio State Buckeyes and after flashing in limited play time as a freshman, broke out in 2013 with 8 sacks in his first year as a starter. Drug related issues have derailed Spence’s career however with a number of failed drug tests including for ecstasy which he later admitted to. Those suspensions cost him his 2014 season. Spence was originally going to enter the 2015 draft with his stock at an all-time low, but wisely chose to transfer from Ohio State to EKU, get clean, and rebuild both his draft standing and his personal well-being. The decision has proved a wise one. Not only has Spence once again excelled on the field, but has passed all drug tests. As of September he had passed 11 tests over a 12 month period. He’ll face tough questions during the interview process, but his honesty regarding his previous issues and his clean record since will certainly be more convincing than where he was at the time of the 2015 draft. Should teams satisfy themselves with those issues, there will be no questions relating to his talent and ability on the field. Spence is without question one of the most gifted pass rushers in this class. Playing from both a two point and 3 point stance, and from both the left and right sides, he is a versatile threat from multiple spots. A superb athlete, his elite level explosion and speed from his lower body is matched by the quick and polished use of his hands, effectively utilising rip and swim pass rush moves in particularly with great effect. His motor is high, both in terms of being full speed every snap, and in hustling to the whistle to chase and pursue to get in on additional tackles on the ball carrier. The competition level overall was of a lower standard during this past season, but he did have opportunities to remind of his talents against good opposition in North Carolina State and Kentucky, as well as producing despite facing double teams frequently all year. The Arizona Cardinals took a shot on Tyrann Mathieu a couple years ago in fairly similar circumstances which paid off; Spence could do similar this time around.
5) Jonathan Bullard, Florida, Sr. 6ft 3, 283 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Grade: 1st-2nd Round
When Bullard’s card is turned in to the podium, it’ll certainly be done so with confidence; there won’t be any second guessing putting his name down. Taking on a very versatile role for the Gators that saw him line up all across the defensive line both inside and out, Bullard’s work ethic, toughness, and NFL body will fit right in on any roster. He is at his best as a 4-3 end with his hand in the dirt, but can continue to be a versatile piece in multiple fronts at the next level too, as at times he was devastatingly effective shooting the gap from the 3-technique inside. Bullard is an absolutely outstanding run defender, who anchors and disengages with technique and timing to go with his physical imposing style. While their offense sputtered, the Florida defence was one of the most difficult in the country to move the ball against, and that started up front on the D-line led by Bullard. While extremely physical and a beast versus the run, his rush attempts can be fairly basic, without much in the way of moves outside of his bull rush. His lack of ideal length will be looked at as a negative as well by some. He might end up getting his “tweener” size between end and tackle thrown at him in a negative manner by some also, but his versatility and effectiveness at multiple positions should be considered a positive that outweighs that instead. Bullard considered entering the 2015 draft, when he might have been a day two pick, but his decision to stay and to put in his best season yet as a senior which included 66 tackles and 17.5 TFLs will give him a chance to be a first round pick.
6) Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State, rJr. 6ft 3, 275 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Allstate Sugar Bowl Grade: 1st-2nd Round
When Ogbah takes his turn to weigh-in at the Combine, and as he goes through his drills in shorts on the Lucas Oil Stadium field, few of his defensive lineman peers will look better from a physical stand point. Ogbah looks the part of an NFL player with his toned build that is all muscle. When in pads, he uses that strength to his advantage to win at the college level, but will need more than that to continue to succeed at the pro level. Ogbah has been a good playmaker for the Cowboys, who broke out as a sophomore in 2014 with 49 tackles, 17 TFLs and 11 sacks. He built on that with an even better 2015 season with 64 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 13 sacks but also 19 quarterback pressures in addition, speaking to his constant threat to disrupt the QB even when not bringing him down. Despite the strong production, Ogbah is still learning the game. That can be looked at as a plus, as there could be a lot of upside if he continues to improve with more experience, but he also is a risk, and tends to go quiet and ineffective for long stretches of games. His production slowed toward the end of the season as the schedule and quality of opposition got better in the 2nd half of the year. His performance against West Virginia was a good example of what excites scouts about the possibilities though, in a game where he made an impact in a variety of ways to help contribute to the win. Ogbah chipped in with a fumble recovery in the end zone early on for a defensive touchdown, then went on to add 8 tackles, a sack, and two forced fumbles that he forced himself this time. He’s not going to explode out of his stance, but throws his weight behind his powerful hands to walk back O-lineman and close the pocket. When he does reach the quarterback he tends to flatten him in a manner that makes you wince a little as a viewer. I’d feel more comfortable with an early second round pick for Ogbah, but his physical traits and potential ceiling will be hard to resist in round 1, especially after an inevitable boost to his stock in Indy next month.
7) Jonathan Allen, Alabama, Jr. 6ft 3, 283 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Goodyear Cotton Bowl/National Championship Game Grade: 1st-2nd Round
Though listed here with the edge rushers, Allen is another like Bullard who can also contribute as a 3-4 end, or as a 3-T interior rusher. Allen can play at multiple spots in both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts, an ability he showed with the Tide this season in a breakout season for the pass rusher. Unlike his massive teammates and fellow potential first rounders Jarran Reed and A’Shawn Robinson, Allen is (at least relatively) the lighter and quicker player of that exceptional group for the National Champions. The strength in depth on the defensive line that Alabama has meant rotating out of the lineup at times, limiting his snap count somewhat, but still managed to have a big year. After a 5 sack showing in 2014, Allen became a much more productive force this season with 12 sacks. Unsurprisingly, playing where he does, the junior brings a lot of physicality to his rushes and a high motor, which helps him win often at the point of attack, win the leverage battle and push the pocket. He’s not particularly flashy or explosive and might not put up big backfield numbers in the NFL, but he is steady, strong and disciplined, with the ability to contribute versus both the run and pass.
8) Leonard Floyd, Georgia, rJr. 6ft 3, 232 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl Grade: 2nd Round
It’s been a bit of an up and down career for Floyd in college. After impressing early as a redshirt freshman in 2013, tallying 9.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks and 16 QB pressures, he took quite a step back in 2014. Rather than taking his game to the next level, he stalled. On top of the numbers taking a slight dip (8.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, 12 pressures), he was even dropped from the starting lineup and lost significant reps to more effective teammates. Floyd had been hoping to take an early leap to the NFL after his rSo season but wisely returned this year to try and do better, and to also get fully back from surgery on a shoulder that had been bothering him much of the season. His role changed in 2015 on the defence to more of an off-ball linebacker than an edge rusher, albeit with only moderate success, at times not looking entirely comfortable in space. His natural abilities are certainly more suited to rushing the passer, where his speed can be best put to use. However, his lean frame lacks ideal strength and muscle that led to being neutralised at times if he can’t win early in his rush attempts. Right now, Floyd is more athlete than football player who has some bust potential. There’s raw ability there though to be untapped and developed, and there’s no questioning his effort level which was on show each play. That will encourage that he will put the time in to work at his game and become a more consistent playmaker.
9) Kevin Dodd, Clemson, Jr. 6ft 5, 275 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Capital One Orange Bowl/National Championship Game Grade: 2nd Round
Clemson’s other pass rusher fully intended to return for the Tigers in 2016, where he would have been top cat with Lawson off to the NFL. But then the post-season happened, and a ridiculous 8.5 TFLs combined versus Oklahoma and Alabama happened. As mentioned earlier, Dodd’s late season surge boosted him up to second in the entire country for TFLs with 23.5 in his first season as a starter, going from an unknown to a star on the national scene especially after the last couple performances. It’s not a bad call. His stock is pretty high after his brilliant year, and he surely would have seen a lot more attention on him next season as the main pass rush threat without Lawson opposite. Unlike his teammate, Dodd comes with much more traditional size to the position. Despite his base end build, Dodd was used frequently standing up from a 2 point stance, but should transition to mainly being a down lineman in the pros. His game isn’t really about quick reactions off the snap or speed in general. But his heavy hands, excellent drive and often overpowering strength is tough to handle snap in and snap out, as practically every right tackle found out very quickly this season. His tenacity and effort to go with his physical gifts led to the impressive tangible results he put up each contest. What is quite surprising for someone who has not played a great deal is his ability to set the edge, get off of blocks, and make a lot of stops in the run game, either forcing the runner back inside or taking him down with efficiency himself. Dodd, as well reported, was very bad when initially joining the team, with his coaches questioning whether he truly belonged. Part of the issue was that he had only played one season of football in high school. He put in the hard work, improved his game, with the result being the huge breakout season he just completed, which will pay off with an early selection in the upcoming draft.
10) Alex McCalister, Florida, rJr. 6ft 5, 240 lbs
2015/16 Bowl: Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl Grade: 2nd-3rd Round
A big favourite of mine all season long, McCalister has fantastic length and athleticism that made him a nightmare to handle at times off the edge, flashing elite pass rush ability at times. Although he didn’t start any games that year, McCalister became a key part of the rotation in 2014, before becoming a big playmaker this season. His promising season went wrong in recent months however. After totalling 9.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks in the first 9 games, McCalister was sidelined for the remainder of the season with a foot injury. It turned out that that would be the end of his college career, as he was dismissed from the Florida team for an unknown violation of team rules. Rather than transfer, McCalister decided to enter the draft. Those character concerns that he will now have to answer questions on, along with a long, skinny frame that doesn’t quite fit playing as a base defensive end, means there are some slight similarities both good and bad to those that faced Randy Gregory this time last year. His range and speed are rare, but he could do with bulking up as well. The upside is just as good too though, and while it’s more likely that he goes on the final day of the draft, talented pass rushers are in high demand, and few possess the upside that McCalister has. He has day 2 talent, if he can alleviate concerns over his character that saw him dismissed from the Gators.