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2018 NFL Draft: Defensive Line Rankings

Ranking the 2018 NFL Draft prospects heading into the draft.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft begins this coming Thursday night, and this year I sifted through enough video to compile an 85-man draft board. These are players I’ve seen play a minimum of three games each, and I have given consideration to each prospect’s college production, size, and athletic profile. If the player was injured, and did not work out prior to the draft, he did not make the cut (sorry, Billy Price). As for others who do not appear in these rankings, I either did not see enough of them to establish a firm grade, graded them as a “free agent,” or felt they were lacking a baseline level of production, athleticism, or both. I will be happy to try to answer any specific questions in the comments section, or on twitter (@afc2nfc).

KEY

Rd = Round Grade
Pos = Projected NFL Position
Age* = Age as of 12/31/18
HT = Height (6025 = 6’2 5/8”)
WT = Weight
Hand = Hand Size (938 = 9 3/8”)
Arm = Arm Length (3418 = 34 1/8”)
Bench = # of reps at 225 lbs
40 yard = 40-yard dash time in seconds
VJ = Vertical Jump in inches
BJ = Broad Jump in inches
3C = 3-cone time in seconds
SS = 20-yard (short) shuttle time in seconds

COLOR CODING

Blue = Top of the Line
Green = Above Average
Yellow = Average
Orange = Below Average
Red = Concerning

DEFENSIVE LINE

Bradley Chubb

Chubb is the best defensive player in the draft, but he doesn’t hold quite the same upside of Myles Garrett or Joey Bosa, the best pass rushers from the previous two classes. Still, Chubb is a relentless force - fast, strong and good with his hands - who can get pressure in a variety of ways. He’s a high-energy leader and sets the tone for his teammates with his own hustle. Chubb doesn’t have high-end change of direction, but he will set the edge and take the right angles to the ball. Behind Saquon Barkley, he’s the second-best overall prospect in this year’s draft class.

Key Stat: 46.5 TFL and 20 sacks in 25 games over the last two seasons

Taven Bryan

Bryan is one of the biggest projections I’m willing to make in this class, because I have almost no doubt that despite the fact he had only 5.5 sacks as a collegian, he’ll ultimately become the best interior pass rusher to come out of this draft. Bryan is lightning fast off the ball, with rare athleticism for the position. In fact, he can comfortably line up inside or outside. He just needs to do a better job finding the ball and finishing plays. In the NFL, where he’ll see fewer read option plays, I think this part of his game will come together.

Key Stat: 6 TFL in 11 games in 2017, 4.5 TFL in 25 games prior to last season

Marcus Davenport

Davenport still looks very new to the position, but this is a long, strong, active player who looks to be working very hard play-to-play. Yes, he does play tall and leave his chest open to blockers, and his change of direction is average, but I ask myself “is this a prospect I can maximize based on what he does well?” and I answer “yes” every time. Davenport can beat linemen inside and outside with his speed, and he’s strong enough to run through some of the help blocks from tight ends and running backs. I think Davenport can still add some weight too, because he’s not a guy who has to rely on bend, and if he does that I can start kicking him inside on some passing downs. So I see a player here who has some “lump of clay” ability, similar to how I view Bryan. But the bust risk is higher with guys like that too.

Key Stat: 17 TFL (8.5 sacks) in 11 games last season

Harrison Phillips

Phillips is almost the opposite of the previous two guys on this list in that I feel like even if he doesn’t give me anything as a pass rusher, he’s too strong to fail as a player who facilitates teammates by occupying blockers, and who plugs up run lanes consistently. I don’t have delusions that Phillips will match his college production as a pro - I don’t think he’s quick or fast enough to be a true pressure player - but he is a nasty mauler who can play a ton of snaps and wear down his opponents.

Key Stat: 103 total tackles and 16.5 TFL in 14 games last season

Da’Ron Payne

Payne is a player along the lines of Clemson’s D.J. Reader a couple of years back: an athletic interior lineman who I’m high on despite scant college production. I’ve learned to recognize the role guys like Payne have played, and when I watch the college football playoff games, I see the possibility down the road for more tackles behind the line of scrimmage. At the very least, Payne is a player who will create those opportunities for his teammates.

Key Stat: 5 TFL in 44 career games

Maurice Hurst

The D-line technical experts all love Hurst. Pro Football Focus grades him so highly that they recently posted a mock draft where he was selected with the fourth overall pick. But Hurst has also been medically flagged for a heart condition, despite being previously cleared to play by Michigan doctors, and may be off some NFL draft boards altogether. Hurst is an interior disruptor, who weighed in at 292 pounds. But he lacks the length and versatility of Bryan, and Hurst tested out athletically closer to Payne, who’s nearly 20 pounds heavier. I’m also not even sure Hurst can maintain his current weight, as he was consistently listed at around 280 pounds in college. I ultimately don’t think he’ll see as many snaps week to week as the first five players on this list.

Key Stat: 26 TFL in 25 games over the last two seasons

Tyquan Lewis

Lewis will probably be drafted later than I’m rating him here, but he’s my pick to be this year’s version of Yannick Ngakoue: a pass rusher who immediately outplays his draft position. Lewis is a power player and an excellent athlete. He was the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2016. I believe Lewis’ middling sack totals can be attributed to Ohio State’s D-line depth, and he even moved inside often last year to accommodate that situation. Lewis is probably big enough to continue to see some passing-down snaps on the interior at the pro level.

Key Stat: 23 sacks in 40 games over the last three seasons

Sam Hubbard

Hubbard looks a lot like Joey Bosa in terms of build and athletic testing, but he’s not nearly as strong or fast as his former Buckeye teammate. Hubbard’s quickness and change of direction is evident, and he works hard on his pass rush while using a variety of moves. He just needs to continue to work on his strength. Hubbard turns 23 in June, not ancient by any means, I’m just not sure there’s a lot of untapped potential there. But I do believe he’s a solid rotational pass rusher at the worst.

Key Stat: 7 sacks in 14 games in 2017

Bilal Nichols

Nichols is the only small school D-lineman I had a chance to review, but I made sure to set aside time after he consistently impressed at Shrine Game practices in January. Nichols did not have the production I’d have liked to see out of an FCS prospect, but he’s very strong and quick off the ball. He should be available in the middle-to-late area of Day Three of the draft, and has the potential to give a team the same type of interior disruption as a Hurst or Payne, at a significant discount.

Key Stat: 10 passes defensed in 21 games over the last two seasons

Jalyn Holmes

I believe Holmes is a better pressure player than his stats would suggest, but he’s never going to win consistently with bend or speed, so I think most analysts view him as a 5-tech D-end. However, I’ve seen reports that at least some teams think Holmes can tack on 10-15 pounds and give them pass rush as a 3-tech, and I loved that idea and was mad at myself for not making that connection earlier. If Holmes winds up in one of those situations he’ll outplay his draft position.

Key Stat: 5 sacks in 48 career games