NFL Draft 2018: Top 10 Edge Defenders

NC State Wolfpack stand out Bradley Chubb leads a talented group of edge defenders for the draft. See our rankings, notes and grades on he and the rest of the group here.

(Photo credit: SMaloney)

The penultimate position to preview on the defense this year, the edge class for the 2018 draft is a fascinating group, mostly based around potential at this stage, but with a polished gem leading the group. Please note that some who might be considered possibilities as edge players were part of the linebacker rankings instead, such as Tremaine Edmunds, Malik Jefferson and Shaquem Griffin. See all the Top 10 articles so far here.

TFL = Tackles for Loss, QBH = Quarterback Hurries, PBU = Pass Break Ups, INT = Interceptions, FF = Forced Fumbles, KB = Kicks Blocked (on special teams).

1. Bradley Chubb, NC State. Grade: 1st Round

6’4”, 269lbs. Senior. 2017: 73 tackles (40 solo), 25 TFLs, 10 sacks, 9 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 3 FFs, 1 KB.

Similarly to Jonathan Allen the previous year, Chubb is a great example of the benefits of staying for your senior season, refining your game, and maximizing your draft stock. Chubb has a complete game, well-rounded skill set and outstanding measurables with both length and bulk, and rare burst and movement skills for his size. There are no obvious holes in his game, and has been a terror the past two seasons, including totaling 46.5 tackle for loss and 20 sacks.

Chubb contributes equally effectively versus both the run and pass. Technically excellent and situationally aware, he has high football IQ that reflects his vision and instinctive play. Important to note due to the potential schemes of those picking at the top of the draft, Chubb has as much potential playing and rushing from a 3-4 as from a 4-3 base front.

As a run defender, Chubb shows positioning and patience as he sets the edge. He works well down the line, works off blocks with timing to take down ball carriers. Part of an elite NC State defensive line overall, Chubb routinely sets himself up to force runners inside into the arms of waiting teammates.

As a pass rusher, Chubb has an excellent first step and burst out of his stance and is highly effective turning the corner and angling to the quarterback. His arms get good extension and delivers solid contact into the chest of opposing linemen, and converts speed to power in an instant to set up his rushes and finish. He’s proven he has the technique and strength to split double teams.

He may not have been the most heralded of recruits out of high school, but has developed into the best edge defender and pass rusher in the 2018 draft class.

2. Marcus Davenport, Texas-San Antonio. Grade: 1st Round

6’6”, 264lbs. Senior. 2017: 55 tackles (33 solo), 17 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 8 QBHs, 4 PBUs, 3 FFs, 1 fumble return TD.

The Senior Bowl hype going into the event was a little excessive (though not surprising) and those who like him saw the upside traits, those who don’t saw the lack of polish and inconsistency. The 6’6”, 259lb edge defender improved throughout the week, finished with his best showing in Thursday practice, and was disruptive in the game.

No-one’s claiming him to be the finished product, but he has the physical measurables that few are born with. He’s still adding weight and muscle to a frame that can continue to take more if desired, and has the athleticism and strength to switch up his attack from speed to power, as well as shift along the line from inside out and from a two-point stance as he did for the majority of his time in college.

His regular level of competition played wasn’t always the best, but Davenport absolutely dominated as he ought to, producing and finishing well and improving each season. Aggressive at the point of attack, he extends to make use of his length, punches and drives.

While he ought to use it more, he has under-rated flexibility to turn, dip and bend round the corner on outside rushes. The leverage, form and body control aren’t consistent yet but brings a hot motor and is devastatingly effective when he gets it right.

3. Harold Landry, Boston College. Grade: 1st Round

6’2”, 252lbs. Senior. 2017 (9 games): 38 tackles (23 solo), 8.5 TFLs, 5 sacks, 2 QBHs, 2 PBUs.

After leading the nation in sacks as a junior, it was a little bit of a surprise that Landry returned for his senior season, and while his final year at the college level did not quite go to plan, he remains one of the most desirable pass rushing prospects in this class. His significantly reduced production and overall impact was partly attributed to missing five games this past season with an ankle injury.

However, even taking that into account, Landry didn’t always impress when he was on the field, particularly against some of the better opposition faced, including Clemson’s Mitch Hyatt and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, the latter having struggled against other speed rushers this season. Just purely from the eye-test, Landry didn’t look as explosive and dynamic as the previous year.

Still, there are few prospects with his level of threat to make plays off the edge. His calling card is his athleticism, burst and quickness in turning the corner. His outstanding 3-come time at the Combine reflected the agility in short areas. Landry lines up off both the left and right sides of the line, and while he’s likely to stand up more often than not as a pro, attacked from both 2- and 3-point stances for the Eagles.

Very flexible, Landry can bend and dip underneath offensive tackles’ block attempts, turn the corner and take short angles to the QB or ball carrier. He has a nice first step and impressive acceleration to get up to speed quickly and on top of linemen. Not really a power guy, he isn’t going to win by driving directly into the body much. Landry can get shut down on occasions on single blocks once engaged, struggling often to counter and work off them once a tackle has his hands on him.

There is decent hand use in the initial phase of rushes to try to deflect contact and help facilitate his path round the edge or through gaps between linemen. Shows good overall upper body technique that complements his quickness.

When the effort is there, Landry can work his way to extra plays using his speed to chase down ball carriers. The motor is decent but there are times when he doesn’t look at maximum effort, with some very casual, less intense snaps and rush attempts interspersed within his game film.

Landry has the smooth movement around the field, in space and working backward to play the pass in shallow zones. Travels back and laterally as well as forward as a rusher, giving him the skill set for playing in pursuit, and can close and make plays in space. Landry puts up good overall tackle numbers versus the run (over 50 in each of his sophomore and junior years), helped by sideline to sideline range.

4. Josh Sweat, Florida State. Grade: 1st-2nd Round

6’5”, 251lbs. Junior. 2017: 56 tackles (31 solo), 12.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 6 QBHs, 3 PBUs.

Sweat has upside potential as good as anyone in this edge class, particularly through his ideal length and elite athletic traits, but so often underwhelms in terms of the final product that leaves his tangible production lesser than it ought to be. That said, there’s some similarities in terms of traits for the next level that remind of Leonard Floyd, who similarly under-performed at Georgia yet still went ninth overall to the Bears a couple drafts ago.

Good length, including very long arms, and an outstanding athlete, Sweat delivered and then some with his measurables at the Combine, in both the weigh-in and testing. Critical for his eventual draft position though will have been his medical in Indianapolis, where a serious knee injury suffered in high school is of concern, and had a meniscus issue a couple of years ago in college as well.

Sweat can be quick off the snap when the timing is right, but is frequently late to react. While he has the abilities to make up for it, failing to maximize the potential is frustrating and contributes to a more sporadic impact than he ought to contribute. He has natural flexibility to bend and turn the corner, and to take short angles to the quarterback. Sweat finishes well when in position, making full use of his length to wrap up.

He flashes hand use, with many of his best plays featuring good work to deflect contact. Though explosion is his primary means of success, there’s solid core strength in his frame, with the room to add more muscle to his relatively lean frame and the potential to improve his impact at the point of attack. Even now, he again flashes in that respect, occasionally forcing his way into run stops through aggressive play.

It’s likely that Sweat carries wide-ranging grades across teams, with a balance of medical concerns and inconsistent play and production, against unquestionable first round traits and exceptional upside.

5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State. Grade: 2nd Round

6’5”, 270lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2017: 42 tackles (27 solo), 13.5 TFLs, 7 sacks, 3 QBHs, 2 FFs.

There are others in this class with more upside, but Hubbard can at least be looked at to have a likely safe floor as a solid pro. The former Buckeye doesn’t have the most notable explosive traits as a pass rusher, mostly average all round in terms of reactions and first step, speed and strength. He’s unlikely to leave tackle’s battling too often to recover early off the snap, nor is he going to win regularly with direct bull rush attempts.

Hubbard does offer impressive length, good form and pad level and the point of attack and high football IQ that is reflected in his awareness and adjustments. A hard worker, Hubbard’s motor runs consistently hot and hustles himself into extra plays. While he could use additional moves, overall shows effective hand use to deflect, rip and aid his path around the corner. While he lacks ideal presence and power at the point of attack, he flashes the ability to work off blocks post-contact.

Where his game is a bit lacking in polish is in his run defense, where his set-up and flow to the ball carrier is at times inefficient, can sometimes take him out of the play, and at worse see him expose space where he ought to have been. His timing is frequently off in attempting to position himself to make a play. While the effort is always there in pursuit, his overall range and work in space doesn’t stand out.

6. Arden Key, LSU. Grade: 2nd Round

6’5”, 238lbs. Junior. 2017: 33 tackles (15 solo), 5.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 8 QBHs, 1 FF.

Very likely to be drafted significantly later than his talent warrants, Key’s interviews and medicals will be as critical for defining Key's draft stock as for any player in the 2018 class, with plenty mixed reports on how those elements have gone.

It’s difficult to grade Key when you personally haven’t met and spoke with him, without all the pertinent information and details on some of the off-field questions. Still, it seems there’ are some legitimate concerns to earn a day two grade and selection.

Key is a dynamic pass rusher with length, speed and flexibility to be explosive off the edge. Weighing in from the 230s up to the high-260s, fluctuating weight has been another concern, but generally has played better when at the lower end of that range.

After an off-season shoulder surgery prior to the 2017 season and being away from the team for unspecified personal reasons, Key’s play this past season was less explosive and productive. The upside is more obvious from his outstanding 2016 film that saw him break the LSU single-season sack record and regularly wreck offensive gameplans.

When fully healthy, he has an explosive first step and acceleration off the snap to win early and leave offensive tackles struggling to recover. Has an effective rip move as he bends around the edge, flashing occasional use of his advantageous reach, angling quickly to the QB. He can be an emphatic finisher when he gets it right, forcefully taking ball carriers to the ground, even if there are also examples of allowing his target to slip through his grasp on other occasions.

Key makes it difficult on opposing linemen to establish blocks, and at times is able to counter and disengage when they are able to get hands on him. In the run game, Key makes some plays and can wrap up when in position. That said, he shows some limitations working in space, and can be manipulated at the point of attack and exploited to his side, regularly failing to set an effective edge. 

7. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia. Grade: 2nd Round

6’5”, 250lbs. Senior. 2017: 61 tackles (30 solo), 7.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 9 QBHs, 3 FFs, 1 KB.

Not the only prospect in this edge class to receive comparisons to Leonard Floyd, there’s added links for Carter beyond the similar frame, measurables and skill set, having played together with the Bulldogs. Given his ability to find wins in the backfield through secondary efforts and delayed rush attempts, his game also flashes memories of Lorenzo Mauldin from his college days with Louisville.

Carter opened some eyes at the Combine with his athletic testing numbers, so much so that there’s been an increase in first round hype. He’s always had the traits and a long, lean frame, but the former 5-star recruit has also underwhelmed for portions of his college career, particularly after an encouraging freshman season. That’s been a little harsh, given he’s contributed well, but expectations for more impact plays have helped fuel that narrative.

Carter does most things well without truly excelling in any area. There’s versatility in his skills that has seen him successfully contribute as a pass rusher, but also as an off-ball linebacker working in space. Despite his outstanding Combine numbers in both the dash and the jumps that reflect lower body explosion, it doesn’t always show up on film, with a modest first step and initial burst.

While he uses his hands well for the most part to deflect contact and aid his path around the corner, Carter could do with more defined and polished rush moves to yield more regular pressure and overall production in the backfield. He’s unlikely to see many wins through attacking the body of blockers, lacking the necessary strength to create movement and lift anchors at the point of attack.

With a reliable overall game against the run, Carter sets the edge effectively, can track well to the sidelines and generally wraps up when in position. He had one of his better games this season against Notre Dame, who featured one of the country’s better offensive lines and run games. Carter can provide depth at multiple spots on the front seven and within most defensive scheme.

8. Chad Thomas, Miami (FL) . Grade: 2nd-3rd Round

6’5”, 281lbs. Senior. 2017: 41 tackles (19 solo), 12.5 TFLs, 5.5 sacks, 3 QBHs, 1 PBU.

It’s been an up and down pre-draft process for the former Hurricane. He posted underwhelming marks in both the dash and jumps at the Combine that likely sent scouts back to the tape to re-evaluate, yet nor will they forget how impressively he dominated at the East-West Shrine All-Star event.

Thomas’ game film features both flashes and inconsistency, but looks more than athletic enough on film, combined with impressive bulk and length, and it’s more technical refinement that looks required when breaking down his game, more so than any physical concerns. The potential is there to be a more impactful pro player than he showed in college.

He offers some excellent prototype measurables in his length, his broad and powerfully built frame, big hands and fluid movement at his size. There’s potential to contribute in multiple fronts and assignments; standing up, hand in the dirt, and to shift inside on third-down passing situations.

Thomas has good ability to bend and dip around the corner for someone of his size, along with the ability to drop back and contribute in shallow space. He has versatility as a pass rusher with the ability to switch up his attack and convert from speed to power. He can find wins outside, inside and attacking directly into the body of his opposing blocker.

His positive traits can be negated to some extent by his often ragged and rough technique, occasional lack of control, particularly in his base, and disadvantageous pad level. He can self-neutralize through poor balance.

When it goes right though, he’s tough to stop, and with a little more consistency and refinement, ought to make more than enough impact plays. That said, there is enough of a potential variance between ceiling and floor that could see him taken a bit later than his grading here, to minimize some of the resulting risk.

9. Kemoko Turay, Rutgers. Grade: 3rd Round

6’5”, 253lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2017: 65 tackles (28 solo), 7 TFLs, 4 sacks, 6 QBHs, 1 PBU, 1 FF.

After looking like a future early round prospect following a fantastic redshirt freshman season in 2014, Turay seemingly disappeared off the radar for two years, with his playing time decimated by a lingering shoulder injury. He’s very much back to prominence as a prospect however, after a bounce-back senior season, followed by a Senior Bowl which proved a huge boost to his draft stock after he dominated and embarrassed many of the offensive linemen in attendance.

A high school track star in both the triple and long jumps, Turay has a dangerous combination of burst and length, flashing the pass rush skill and potential to be special off the edge. His production in his two seasons of regular snaps were good, but can see on film that it could be just the tip of the iceberg compared with what might be possible.

What particularly stands out about his numbers in 2017, was that he made plays against essentially all the top opposition he faced, such as Washington, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

Turay lacks ideal strength and power at the point of attack, and can allow himself to be controlled comfortably once the block is established. However, he also shows excellent use of his hands in the opening phase of rushes, including a variety of pass rush moves that can get him early wins, and does a nice job of turning the corner and taking quick angles to the QB. He rushes from both the left and right sides, mostly from a two point stance.

He doesn't look the most natural dropping back into space in terms of his positioning, instincts, overall awareness and reads, but has the athleticism to backpedal and make some plays in space. Really impressed with his hustle and pursuit that makes up for some of the other deficiencies, and has the quickness to hit the sidelines and to get late pressure on a scrambling or bootlegging quarterback, all of which contributed to a nice tackle total in 2017.

10. Uchenna Nwosu, Southern California. Grade: 3rd Round

6’2”, 251lbs. Senior. 2017: 75 tackles (47 solo), 11.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 9 QBHs, 13 PBUs, 1 INT.

A high-energy athlete with a nice first step and overall reactions, Nwosu brings a good motor and active hands. Moving around the formation, he attacks from either side and works both inside and outside to find paths to quarterbacks and ball carriers.

His game and style could also translate to off-ball linebacker duties in the pros, given his smooth movement in space, range, pursuit, ability to break down in space and change direction. Add in his pass rush experience to provide late pressure up the middle and contribute to blitz packages and there’s potential there in addition to working off the edge standing up. Either way, Nwosu could provide depth at multiple positions in the front seven.

A star this past season, the former Trojan had easily his best season at the college level in his final year, and his progress to this point is encouraging for the next level and speaks to his work ethic. He is of a different build to many of his peers in this class as a rusher, but uses his leverage to his advantage well when turning the corner.

While his playmaking this past season was impressive, there are limitations. In addition to lacking length, Nwosu doesn’t have a lot of variety as a pass rusher, and can take lengthy, rounded paths outside that can leave him late arriving to pressure the quarterback. Once established on blocks, he shows issues disengaging, regularly being shut down at the point of attack.

He’s found one effective way to contribute when his rush attempts fail however, having shown an impressive knack through his timing and good vertical to deflect passes at the line that resulted in an outstanding 13 pass breakups to his name this season, including five in one game against Stanford.

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