The 2017 NFL Draft was one for the ages in terms of defensive prospects. The volume of defensive backs and edge defenders to choose from was so overwhelming that the Eagles decided to dip into the defensive line class for their first round pick and then selected two defensive backs with their next highest selections. The class had a lot of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball like Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Derek Barnett and blue chip players like Reuben Foster and Myles Garrett. This year's class may not have the depth of the 2017 class, but in terms of top tier talent, it could be right up there.
Harold Landry, Boston College: Even though Myles Garrett was the best edge rusher in college football last year, no one was more productive than Harold Landry. In his third year, the 250 pound defender had 16.5 sacks, 22 tackles for a loss and an astounding seven forced fumbles. Landry is a quick twitch player with awesome technique around the edge and his burst more than makes up for his smaller size. While teams may pigeonhole him into an outside linebacker role in the NFL given his smaller frame, he has a chance he can hold up in any scheme getting after the passer.
Arden Key, LSU: The Tigers produced two first round picks on the defensive side of the ball in 2017 but neither Jamal Adams or Tre'Davious White are the impact player that Arden Key is. Key has a massive six foot, six inch frame that he can still grow into and is a very gifted athlete for his size. He has burst and power to get after the passer and has flashed as a run defender. He is still a bit light for his body and it shows when he gets too high in run defense and can get washed out, but his upside is immense and he should be in for a great season.
Second Team: Jaylon Ferguson, Lousiana Tech and Duke Ejifor, Wake Forrest
Christian Wilkins, Clemson: The Clemson defensive line was a big reason the Tigers were able to pull away from a national championship. While freshman, Dexter Lawrence, gets all the headlines, Christian Wilkins is a hell of a player in his own right. He is incredibly athletic despite being six foot, four inches and 310 pounds and he wreaks havoc in the middle of any offense. He is an explosive, high effort player who makes a huge impact against the run and pass and it would not be surprising if he ends up being a top five pick next spring.
Vita Vea, Washington: At a hulking six foot, five inches and 335 pounds, you will be hard pressed to find a player in college football or the NFL who looks like Vita Vea. The freakish defensive lineman is moved around the line for the Huskies and he somehow makes his presence felt no matter where he lines up. He is a bit of an odd projection to the NFl given his size and usage, but he looks like a player who can grow into an absolute monster defensive tackle in the NFL.
Second Team: Derek Nnadi, FSU and Maurice Hurst, Michigan
Jerome Baker, Ohio State: Ohio State has been cranking out prospects over the last few years, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Jerome Baker looks like the player to follow in Ryan Shazier, Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan as Buckeye backers who are viewed highly in the NFL draft process. Baker is a bit smaller at only 225 pounds, but he is an explosive player who attacks the football at high speed on every down. He flashes a lot defending the run and in coverage and if he can add some more weight and consistency to his game, he could contend for being the first linebacker taken this season.
Malik Jefferson, Texas: Malik Jefferson is the perfect example of a player being so gifted that a team tries to use him all over their defense to improve the overall unit but it backfires. It's hard having to learn four different positions, switch between them constantly and hope the turnout is good. Jefferson saw snaps covering the slot, playing middle linebacker, outside linebacker and with his hand in the ground. He is a very athletic player and makes splash plays all over the place, but he is very inconsistent at this point. Hopefully with a new staff in town, Jefferson will get to focus on one position and that should lend itself to him taking a huge leap this season.
Micah Kiser, Virginia: Virginia has not been producing a lot of high level NFL players lately, but this could be the season that changes. Micah Kiser is an old school thumping linebacker whose biggest strengths are brains and braun. Kiser isn't the most athletic, but he is a smart, physical player who does a great job locating the football and coming downhill to get it. He is also a very strong blitzer and while coverage isn't his strongest suit, he is a far from a liability in it too. Kiser seems like the player who does not go super high in the draft due to flashier players going ahead of him, but he looks like a pro's pro.
Second Team: Cameron Smith, USC and Kendall Joseph, Clemson and Azeem Victor, Washington
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama: It will be interesting to see how the NFL views Fitzpatrick. The six foot, one inch and 205 pound defender has experience playing cornerback and safety at a very high level. Fitzpatrick has amazing ball skills and of his eight career interceptions, he has returned four to the house. He is a true playmaking defender and given his versatile experience, it would make sense that the NFL values him more at cornerback given their history with those types of players (Jalen Ramsey, Eric Rowe, TJ Green). However, if cornerback does not work for him in the NFL, he will be a very good safety.
Jaire Alexander, Louisville: Jaire Alexander is a bit smaller of a player (5-10, 188 pounds), but you wouldn't know it by watching him. Alexander is a feisty player at every level of the field and his ball skills make him a playmaker for the cardinals. The NFL runs hot and cold with smaller cornerbacks, but Allexander's blend of attitude and ball skills could find him a place early in the NFL draft next spring.
Second Team: Tavarus McFadden, FSU and Iman Marshall, USC
Derwin James, FSU: It feels like Derwin James has been considered the best player in the 2018 draft since his freshman season ended. Despite missing most of his sophomore year with a leg injury, college football fans and draft nerds are giddy to see the Florida State freak show step back out onto the field. James is an exceptional athlete with the versatility to play everywhere for the Seminoles. He has a huge frame and is a built player (6-3, 215) but still could add more size to his body. It's been a while since he played, but James has Kam Chancellor like upside and it will be exciting to see him back out on the field.
Marcus Allen, Penn State: Heading into his senior year, Marcus Allen has been a staple on the Penn State defense his whole career. He is a tackling machine who can come from all over the field to make stops on defense due to his cerebral football skill set and high playing speed. Allen isn't yet a playmaker in coverage as he is still looking for his first career interception, but he does set the tone as a tackler and can make his presence felt against the run. While he is not the player Derwin James is, he looks like a very solid NFL safety.
Second Team: Ronnie Harrison, Alabama and Quin Blanding, Virginia