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Pre-Combine Top 5 at Each Position – Defense

Who will be first defensive lineman taken? Washington's Danny Shelton or USC's Leonard Williams?

Who will be first defensive lineman taken? Washington’s Danny Shelton or USC’s Leonard Williams?

By Dwayne Wilton

Now that the season and the All-Star games are in the books, I thought it would be a good time to do another top 5 ranking. It’s always interesting to go back after the season and see how many players that we thought were good had the type of season that would keep them in the top five rankings. Last week I discussed the offensive players. Today I shift my focus to the defensive side of the ball.

 Defensive End:

First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Leonard Williams USC Jr 1
Randy Gregory Nebraska Jr 1 2
Shane Ray Missouri Jr 3
Dante Fowler Florida Jr 3 4
Arik Armstead Oregon Jr 5

Analysis: Leonard Williams is a massive defensive lineman with freakish athleticism. The 6-5 300 pounder would be an ideal fit for a 3-4 team looking for a defensive end. He moved around all over the line for the Trojans, so he could also be a good fit for defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme. His ability to be disruptive makes him a special player that may be a top 5 pick. Randy Gregory is a smaller, quicker player that may be a 4-3 defensive end or could be converted to outside linebacker. No matter where he plays, he knows how to pressure the QB and will be a high pick. Shane Ray has similar size to Gregory and could also be a candidate for conversion to linebacker. Ray has an explosive first step and surprising power for his size. Dante Fowler lined up all over for the Gators and has experience playing standing up or in a stance. He is a bit larger than Ray and Gregory, but he also ultimately be a linebacker. Arik Armstead is another massive defensive end that could be a good fit as a 5 technique in a 3-4 scheme or moving inside as a 4-3 defensive tackle.

New to this ranking: Leonard Williams (from DT), Shane Ray, Arik Armstead

Out from previous ranking: Mario Edwards Jr, Alvin Dupree (moved to OLB)


Defensive Tackle:

First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Danny Shelton Washington Sr 1
Malcom Brown Texas Jr 4 2
Eddie Goldman Florida State Jr 5 3
Carl Davis Iowa Sr 3 4
Michael Bennett Ohio State Sr 2 5

Analysis: Danny Shelton is a massive defensive tackle that has surprising athleticism. He led his team in tackles, which is unheard of for a defensive tackle. He is a powerful player that can at times dominate games. He could possibly be a top 10 pick. Malcom Brown had a strong senior season. He can pressure the QB from the inside and create havoc behind the line of scrimmage. Eddie Goldman is a powerful player that can take on double teams and plug the middle of the line. Carl Davis improved his draft stock with a very good week at the Senior Bowl. He has great size, good power and moves well for a man his size. Michael Bennett is a bit undersized, but he plays with great quickness and is able to get upfield quickly and be disruptive.

New to this ranking: Danny Shelton

Out from previous ranking: Leonard Williams (now listed as DE)


Outside Linebacker:

First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Vic Beasley Clemson Sr 1 1
Bud Dupree Kentucky Sr 2
Eric Kendricks UCLA Sr 3
Shaq Thompson Washington Jr 5 4
Nate Orchard Utah Sr 5

Analysis: The rankings in this category could change in the future, depending on how many players look good in linebacker drills at the NFL Combine. Vic Beasley could be one of the quickest pass rushers in this draft. He is a former running back and he is explosive off the line of scrimmage. Bud Dupree has played both defensive end and linebacker for Kentucky. He has very good athleticism and will likely play linebacker at the next level. Eric Kendricks is a versatile linebacker that can play inside or outside. He runs well, so he may be a better fit outside. Shaq Thompson has played inside, outside and even as a safety. He has very good speed and could be a very good player in nickel and dime packages and on special teams. Nate Orchard played defensive end for the Utes, but he appears to have the athleticism and quickness to play linebacker. He is a bit of a one year wonder, but he was #2 in the country last year with 18 ½ sacks. There is always a premium on pass rushers, so someone will give him a shot.

New to this ranking: Bud Dupree (from DE), Nate Orchard, Eric Kendricks (formerly as ILB)

Out from previous ranking: Denzel Perryman (moved to ILB), Chi Chi Ariguzo, Noah Spence



Inside Linebacker:

First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Benardrick McKinney Miss State Jr 3 1
Denzel Perryman Miami Sr 2
Stephone Anthony Clemson Sr 3
Taiwan Jones Mich State Sr 4
Ben Heeney Kansas Sr 5


Analysis: Benardrick McKinney has the height and weight you want for an inside linebacker. He is a physical run stuffer that has the ability to go sideline to sideline. He should be a three-down linebacker which is what all teams look for. Denzel Perryman is a versatile player that can play inside or outside. He is a physical presence in defending the run, but he is a liability in pass coverage. Stephone Anthony is at his best when he is allowed to chase and run. He does a good job in pass coverage, but loses some effectiveness when he has to take on blockers. Taiwan Jones played on a very physical Spartan defense and was the key to their run defense. He is likely a two-down linebacker that could be exposed in pass coverage. Ben Heeney is an energizer bunny that is always around the ball. He is a guy the coaches love, that lives in the film room looking for an advantage.

New to this ranking: Denzel Perryman (formerly OLB), Stephone Anthony, Taiwan Jones, Ben Heeney

Out from previous ranking: Eric Kendricks (now OLB), Ramik Wilson, Bryce Hager, A.J. Johnson



First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Trae Waynes Mich State Jr 3 1
Marcus Peters Washington Jr 2
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Oregon Sr 1 3
P.J. Williams Florida State Jr 2 4
Kevin Johnson Wake Forest Sr 5

Analysis: Trae Waynes thrived in the Spartans press coverage. He is a physical corner that has the ability to shut down the opponent’s best receiver. Marcus Peters also excels in press coverage. He stays in good position and competes for 50/50 balls. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a fluid athlete with good ball skills. He makes his living baiting opposing QB’s to throw in his direction, then picking them off. P.J. Williams has good size. He likes to jam receivers and use his size to redirect them. Kevin Johnson has good length, but may need to add some bulk as he is a bit lanky. He likes to play man coverage and may need the added weight to hold up to bigger NFL receivers.

New to this ranking: Marcus Peters, Kevin Johnson

Out from previous ranking: Kevin White, Jalen Mills


First Name Last Name School Year Pre Season Pre Combine
Landon Collins Alabama Jr 1 1
Gerod Holliman Louisville Jr 2
Chris Hackett TCU Jr 3
Derron Smith Fresno St Sr 3 4
Ibraheim Campbell Northwestern Sr 5

Analysis: It seems like Alabama always has a top safety and this year is no different. Landon Collins is an aggressive player that brings the wood. He is at his best when he can play in the box and in short spaces. He can be exploited in deep coverage. Gerod Holliman is a true deep safety with a lot of range. He led the country in picks and loves to bait the quarterback then break on the ball and make the play. Chris Hackett is a versatile player that can play in the box or in the deep third of the field. He is a big hitter with good ball skills. Derron Smith is an intelligent player with the ability to cover receivers in man coverage. His ability to cover slot receivers will make him a valuable commodity. Ibraheim Campbell had a good Senior Bowl week. He does his best work when he is in the box. He gives up too many plays to be considered as a high safety.

 New to this ranking: Gerod Holliman, Chris Hackett, Ibraheim Campbell

Out from previous ranking: Cody Prewitt, Kurtis Drummond


If you like what you read, like us on Facebook and tell your friends. Next week we will continue to talk about the pre-draft period leading up to the NFL Combine. See you next Wednesday!


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