NFL rookie minicamps: 5 first-round defenders who will star right away

As rookie minicamps continue this weekend, RealSport looks at five first-round defensive selections who should make an immediate impact.


(Photo Credit: USA Today via Reuters/Tim Heitman)

All the pre- and post-draft buzz was about the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, but what about the defenders? Only three defensive players went in the top 10, but each is expected to start right out of the gate. Here’s a look at five defensive players taken in the first round who should do a lot more:

Bradley Chubb, DE, Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall pick)

In plenty of league circles, Chubb is already being labeled as the defensive star of this draft. Playing on the other side of Von Miller, the Broncos might have the next DeMarcus Ware in their midst. Chubb, who had 10 sacks in each of the last two seasons and 60 tackles for loss in his career, is a pass-rushing terror who ultimately could wind up having a more productive NFL career than last year’s top pick Myles Garrett. 


Roquan Smith, LB, Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall pick)

Smith’s Bears career got off to a rough start when he had some important items stolen. Chicago hopes that is all the trouble the talented Georgia standout has while making the transition to the next level. Smith not only was the best player available for the Bears at that point in the draft but also fills a big need and is the prototypical, versatile linebacker for Vic Fangio’s 3-4 system. Also, is there any place else the Butkus Award winner should play than in Chicago?

Da’Ron Payne, DT, Washington Redskins (No. 13 overall pick)

After allowing a league-worst 134.1 rushing yards per contest last season, the Redskins did something about it in the draft. In a big way. At 6-foot-2, 308 pounds, Payne is a run stuffer who also can play elsewhere on the line. That versatility is what should end up setting him apart from other high-round defensive tackles taken in this draft. Payne had a career-high 53 tackles this past season for national champion Alabama.

Derwin James, S, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 17 overall pick)

James is being called the best “value” of those taken in the first round, and it’s easy to see why. James only had three interceptions during his time at Florida State, but had 186 tackles in three collegiate seasons, including 91 as a freshman. Standing 6-3 and 210 pounds, James also saw time at cornerback and linebacker for the Seminoles and even had 5 ½ sacks for his career. Expect to see him all over the field defensively for the Chargers.

(Photo Credit: USA Today via Reuters/Tim Heitman)

Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Dallas Cowboys (No. 19 overall pick)

Depending on who to believe, the Cowboys either got a steal when Vander Esch was available for the taking or they reached with this pick. At 6-4, 240, Vander Esch has drawn comparisons to Brian Urlacher, but could end up being the next Shea McClellin if he doesn’t live up to the hype. With Sean Lee’s inability to stay healthy always a concern, the Cowboys not only have some insurance at the linebacker spot but also a potential star for years to come.

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