One thing has been clear for some time now: the 2019 NFL Draft is Christmas for teams needing defensive line help. What has been less clear is how the class actually ranks up. There’s very little that separates some of the top prospects, so fit and style preference will determine the draft order. Here are the top ten edge defenders this year.
10. Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion: Ximines catapulted himself into the national conversation after totally 12 sacks and 18.5 TFLs in 2018. Ximines is a high motor, highly technical defender who makes up for a lack of athleticism with great fundamentals and football IQ.
9. Zach Allen, Boston College: Once under the shadow of former second round pick Harold Landry, Allen got to shine in 2018. With seven sacks and 14.5 TFLs, Allen was Boston College’s top defender. At 6’4” and 280 pounds, Allen has a strong frame that he uses to bully offensive linemen. His playing strength is his forte while he is only an average athlete. Despite limitations, Allen projects as a steady contributor on any defense.
8. Jaylon Ferguson, LATech: I seemingly botched the timing of a mock I released last week where I had the Eagles taking Ferguson. As the mock went up, Ferguson had a worryingly bad Pro-Day. Ferguson reportedly put on 20 pounds from his playing weight and that hampered his numbers tremendously. Despite the bad performance in shorts, Ferguson’s career at LATech tells a more revealing story about the senior Edge Defender. Ferguson is one of the most productive defenders of all time. He is a non-stop player with great technique and killer anticipation. Don’t let testing fool you, Ferguson is going to be a producer in the NFL.
7. Brian Burns, FSU: A fast riser this season, Burns followed up a tremendous final season in Tallahassee with an outstanding combine. Burns combines blazing speed with a high motor, a combination that have some people projecting him as a top ten pick. Burns’ playing weight (Sub 250) will concern some teams that he won’t be able to play his hand in the ground, but Burns will make a lot of noise on the right team.
6. Rashan Gary, Michigan: Among defensive players, Gary is arguably the most polarizing player in the draft. Gary showed up to the combine at a healthy 277 pounds and proceeded to put on a show. Gary’s potential is never in question, but he failed to produce at Michigan the way his ability would suggest he could perform. The Wolverines played Gary everywhere in order to maximize his ability. The result however was a lot of solid play but nothing spellbinding. A team will convince themselves that they can unlock Gary’s potential and it’s a gamble that could have a huge payout.
5. Jachai Polite, Florida: A former draft media darling, Polite’s favor fell out after a middling combine performance. However, it’s hard to ignore Polite’s fast and ferocious play at Florida in 2018. Polite may not check the boxes in terms of size or athleticism, but he is relentless on the field and will make teams sorry for using combine numbers to write him off.
4. Clelin Ferrell, Clemson: Ferrell has been at the forefront of draft consciousness for three years now. After a stellar freshman season, Ferrell was an All-American for two straight seasons. He was fundamental in both of Clemson’s title runs and is going to take that impact play to the NFL. He is a strong, speedy pass rusher who brings it on every down. He is also a highly intelligent run defender. Ferrell is a high floor player who should contribute immediately in the NFL.
3. Montez Sweat, Mississippi: Sweat was already on everyone’s radar after totalling 22 sacks and 30 TFLs in the last two seasons. Then he supercharged his own hype after he ran a preposterous 4.41 40-yard dash at the combine weighing 260 pounds. Sweat is a tremendous player whose speed is as evident on the field as it is off it. Sweat will have questions to answer about why he was suspended by Michigan State before transferring to Mississippi State. However, there is no doubt that Sweat has stardom written all over him.
2. Nick Bosa, Ohio State: A favorite to go first overall, Bosa has very little to dislike about him as a football player. Bosa was set to go on a tear in 2018 before a core injury forced him to focus on rehabbing and prepping for the draft. Bosa was not only crazy productive in 2017, but efficient too. Ohio State’s deep pass rushing rotation meant Bosa did not see a heavy amount of snaps but he still sacked the quarterback eight times and had 15 TFLs. Bosa will inevitably be compared to his older brother, who quickly turned into a star for the Los Angeles Chargers after being drafted third overall in 2016. However, he is not as agile as his brother and relies mostly on his pure power and deadly technical proficiency to win on a down-to-down basis. Bosa’s extremely high floor (if he’s healthy) could get him drafted with the first pick. It’s nitpicky to have him as only the second ranked edge player, though I still think he should be a top three pick, but it more has to do with the top ranked player’s strengths instead of Bosa’s weaknesses.
1. Josh Allen, Kentucky: Allen said the other day he thinks he is the best player in the NFL draft. Honestly, it’s hard to disagree with him. Of course this is a loaded class at the top and little things will ultimately decide who ranks at the top of this group. However, Allen’s resume makes it difficult to dispute his claim. After 17 sacks in 2018 and a nation leading five forced fumbles, Allen went on to have a strong combine and blow teams away in interviews. Allen, notably, is a high character guy who is viewed as a leader on and off the field. Factor that in with his playmaking pass rushing and the ability to drop into coverage on a dime and you have one hell of a football player. Allen also showed at Kentucky he plays much stronger than his size and can set the edge against the run. Allen has room to grow and add more moves to his pass rushing repertoire, but watching him at the top of his game will really convince you of his own confidence in himself. Bosa will probably be the first edge player taken, but it would not surprise me if Allen is putting up big numbers immediately in the NFL.