The 2018 NFL draft hasn’t been billed as one of the better EDGE defender classes in the past few years, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t talent to be found. A lot of prospects in this class offer intriguing traits to build on in order to make them a more complete player in time.
If we were building the perfect EDGE defender by pulling one or two abilities from most of the top guys in this class, my guess is that the process would look something like this:
An announcer once described Von Miller as capable of running under a table at full speed. That same description could be applied to Landry, whose ability to bend under and around contact is the best in the class.
Yes, his complete rush game needs work and he does have too many dud rushes, but when he is fully healthy, Landry can reduce his surface area and flatten to the pocket like no other. He’s a top-10 prospect in this class because rushes like the one above aren’t aberrations.
Hand Usage - Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State
Chubb is capable of dismantling offensive tackles because of how adept his hands are, as he constantly utilizes a variety of moves to get home off the edge. His ability to string moves together is the best in the class, seamlessly weaving his hands with his feet to attack tackles' pass sets.
That’s a deadly snatch of the tackle’s outside arm, followed by an immediate rip move to tear through contact and flatten to the passer. Chubb doesn’t get home on that one, but those kind of one-on-one victories are common for him, and in the NFL they will lead to major production for the young rusher.
Ankle Flexibility - Kemoko Turay, Rutgers
If you were at the Senior Bowl or watched practices on TV, you saw Turay’s ability to tilt the edge on full display. He reminds me a lot of [Jacksonville Jaguars 2016 fifth-round DE] Yannick Ngakoue in the way that he rushes, as Turay doesn’t bend in the hips on Landry’s level, but he knows how to lean his way through contact with ankle flexibility around the top of the arc.
Turay has some things to work on, but if he goes off the board on Day Two, it will be because teams truly believe in his upside and athletic potential. Turay’s rare flexibility to bend the edge could make the risk of selecting him worth it in the end.
Run Defense - Sam Hubbard, Ohio State
You wouldn’t think that a converted safety with some of the least experience in the draft at his current position would be the most polished run defender in the class, but here we are. Hubbard is an anchor on the edge, with a thunderous punch and ideal leverage to hold the point of attack.
The redshirt junior has some of the best hand usage in the class, and he constantly works free of blocks to make stops. I don’t know that Hubbard will ever be a penetrating force against the run, but he’s exceptionally assignment-sound and does not lose one-on-one battles for his gap.
Burst - Harold Landry, Boston College
Nobody in this class has a first step that can compare to Landry’s. When he times it up, Landry is a blur off the line of scrimmage and can maintain that speed up the arc as well. The most important area for a pass rusher to win is around the outside edge of his opponent, and Landry consistently shows the ability to do that when he is healthy thanks to his speed and bend.
Landry’s Combine testing only reinforced how elite his burst is, as he posted a 1.59 10-yard split and dominated the jumps at 252 pounds. His speed will not only make life miserable for offensive tackles attempting to find the proper range in their pass sets, but it should also open up more inside counters when Landry learns to employ them more readily.
Pad level - Josh Sweat, Florida State
If you watch Josh Sweat on tape, one of the first things you notice is how low a nearly 6-foot-5 defensive end plays. He has impressive flexibility and good attention to detail, which allows him to play lower than his opponent and win his gap at the point of attack.
Sweat is a good run defender with the hand placement and pop to work off of blocks and make plays behind the line of scrimmage. His length aids him in setting the edge, and because he is so leveraged in his approach, it is much harder for blockers to uproot and bully him from his gap.
Vision/Counters - Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest
Ejiofor isn’t a great athlete, but he understands how to use his eyes to exploit the quickest path to the quarterback based on a tackle’s set. Long arms and technique often keeps Ejiofor’s frame clean at the point of engagement, allowing him to work back inside quickly if the quarterback is stepping up in the pocket.
His cerebral approach to rushing helps offset his lack of explosive traits and puts Ejiofor in position to pick up sacks, even if they are of the slow-burn variety. Noting the footwork and hip direction of his opponent puts him in position to win with his hands, which are another one of Ejiofor’s best assets.
Versatility - Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Carter isn’t a great rusher, but he has speed and power off the edge, and he is experienced dropping into coverage and even carrying vertical routes down the field. Some teams see him as an off-ball candidate due to his movement skills and raw traits, while others think he can develop enough moves to take advantage of his rare athletic gifts.
Carter is about as unrefined as they come, but his ability to potentially fill a number of different roles while providing a unique coverage option that can match up in the slot against bigger pass catchers makes him a very versatile piece.
Tackling - Marcus Davenport, UTSA
I know, you probably think Davenport deserves a more glamorous category than tackling, but his traits just aren’t as superior as people think, and I’m not convinced his size and frame are even an advantage due to his inability to play with a proper pad level at all times.
You can laugh, but Davenport is a good tackler who rarely misses opportunities to get his man on the ground once he has him in his sights. His length and strength help him consistently wrestle runners down, and he’ll even lay thunderous hits on the opposition at times. Finishing is an underrated part of edge play, and Davenport emphatically checks that box.
Heart - Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
You’ll find several better pass rushers in this class than Okoronkwo but not many players who work harder or play with as much non-stop energy. Okoronkwo is relentless in his efforts to get to the passer, and he will chase plays down from the backside on a regular basis. He’s violent and physical in his approach at the line of scrimmage, which has kept him alive despite being undersized for an edge player in college.
“Obo” might not be the most gifted edge in the class, but some NFL team is going to get a first-class person who carries himself with a quiet confidence and has a relentless work ethic to continue to refine his craft.