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).
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
Blue = Top of the Line
Green = Above Average
Yellow = Average
Orange = Below Average
Red = Concerning
I’m usually pretty hard on small linebackers who are projected as early first round picks, but Smith is a fast, instinctive player, and sure tackler, and I can’t help but come away impressed. He’s always around the ball, he can spy a mobile QB, he can cover - I just rarely see his size become an issue. Smith looks like one of the safest bets in the entire draft class.
Key Stat: 85 solo tackles in 15 games last season
Edmunds is a huge guy - tall, with arms like vines - who runs like a receiver, and is the youngest player in the class. He can change direction on a dime, run and cover, and he plays with a high motor. I just don’t think he brings the instincts or consistency of Smith. If Smith is the safe bet in this linebacker group, Edmunds is the upside play.
Key Stat: 32.5 TFL in 27 games over the last two seasons
Landry is a bendy, pass rush specialist, with the speed to win outside. He’s on the small side to play down on the line of scrimmage, so I think whoever drafts him will wind up asking him to play off the ball some, in order to keep him on the field. That might create more of a adjustment period than some of these other guys. Landry was slowed last season by an ankle injury, but still his remarkable junior year stats look a little bit fluky compared to the rest of his career. I can see why he’s being treated as a borderline first rounder in the draft media. One thing I love about Landry: he’s always going after the ball. He forced 10 fumbles and batted six passes in his career.
Key Stat: 16.5 sacks and 7 forced fumbles in 13 games in 2016
Leighton Vander Esch
Vander Esch is another big, tall linebacker who projects as a three-down player, but he doesn’t cover as well as Smith or Edmunds, and from what I’ve seen, he’s more prone to bite on play fakes and misdirection. Vander Esch also has a little bit of an injury history that’s apparently keeping him off of some draft boards, but for my money he looks healthy as a horse.
Key Stat: 91 solo tackles in 14 games last season
Baker is a tremendous, if undersized athlete, in the mold of the guy he succeeded at Ohio State: Darron Lee. Baker wasn’t the consistent playmaker his predecessor was, but he showed plenty of flashes, and is valuable in pass coverage. I also don’t think Baker’s size is a terrible detriment. He won’t get washed out often, and he’ll scrap with guys 70-80 lbs heavier than he is.
Key Stat: 17.5 TFL in 26 games over the last two seasons
This is an interesting player, because he doesn’t have much college production, but Carter really pops out on the screen any time I watch Georgia. Like his teammate Smith, Carter plays with discipline, and that left him handling some less-flashy responsibilities. But he doesn’t get pushed around, he can defend the run and the pass, and he’ll be an effective blitzer. I actually think he’ll put up better numbers as a pro than as a collegian.
Key Stat: 7 career forced fumbles
I worry about Sweat’s extensive injury history. He’s suffered ACL and meniscus tears in his left knee, on separate occasions, and I thought he played with a hint of caution this past year. Frankly, I’m surprised to see some late first round projections that bank on future pass rush projections. I do like Sweat’s effort, and I thought he played well against the run. Like Landry, I think Sweat may move off the ball to maximize his snaps. I’m not sure he’ll hold up down on the line.
Key Stat: 24 TFL in 24 games over the last two seasons
Turay looked like a rising star as a redshirt freshman, but wasn’t ever able to recapture that momentum outside of a handful of games over the rest of his career. He’s a great athlete, but I think he’s a situational pass rusher moving forward.
Key Stat: 7.5 sacks and 3 blocked kicks as a freshman in 2014
Jewell is a throwback linebacker, who probably tested a little better than expected, and I think he has real three-down potential. Some of his best plays last season came in pass coverage. His size/speed combo will be a turnoff for some tams, but Jewell will work his butt off and provide excellent value wherever he’s drafted.
Key Stat: 124 or more total tackles each of the last three seasons
One of my favorite small-school sleepers in the class, Oluokun is a safety/linebacker hybrid with sub-4.5 speed. He provides a skillset similar to Baker’s, but at a significant discount.
Key Stat: 22 passes defensed (18 PBUs, 4 INTs) in 42 career games