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Thor Nystrom

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Defensive Line Draft Rankings

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Defensive End


1. Bradley Chubb (NC State) | 6’4/269


Athletic composite percentile: 82.4%

Player Comp: Everson Griffen (hat tip: Jonah Tuls)


This is an extremely deep DE group, which is all the more impressive in lieu of the fact that Clemson's Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, both potential Round 1 picks, returned to school.


The class is fronted by Bradley Chubb, the surest thing of all defenders in this year’s class. Chubb has an ideal frame, long and broad. He’s uber-athletic, technically sound, obscenely productive and fawned over by those around NC State’s program as a leader and a tone-setter. On tape, he’s as disruptive as a crying baby on an airplane, a play-in, play-out nuisance. He boasts a middleweight fighter’s active hands and ADHD bouncy feet. Chubb isn’t a superfreak bender off the edge like Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett. He makes up for that with a quick first step and a relentlessness playing style bordering on the pathological. Chubb is like being in a room with extremely loud house music playing. You can tolerate it for 10 minutes or so, but then it will begin to melt your brain and you’ll start making mistakes until you can escape it.


Chubb is an extremely sharp player with intuitive feel for what the offense wants to do and how he can best go about foiling those plans. Not only is he a top-flight pass rusher, but Chubb sets the edge in run defense. He’s not getting pushed backwards, and he’ll ghost his man as soon as an opportunity for the kill presents itself. Chubb even showed the capability of not embarrassing himself when dropped into coverage in the rare instances that the Wolfpack shook things up. He’s absolutely a top-five overall talent.


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2. Harold Landry (Boston College) | 6’2/252


Athletic composite percentile: 87.1%

Player Comp: Vic Beasley (hat tip: Dane Brugler)


Landry dominated in 2015-2016, decided to return to school, and, unfortunately, may go a bit lower than he would have last spring. An ankle injury stole four games this past season. Landry is sort of like the edge-rushing answer to WR James Washington in this class—insanely productive over a long period of time, plus-athlete, short, long-limbed, and, ultimately, polarizing in the draft community.


As a pass rusher, Landry explodes low off the snap and wins with speed and a deep bag of pass rusher tricks. Between his quickness, bend, shoulder dip, rip move and assortment of counter moves, Landry is like a pitcher with a big fastball and a wide variety of breaking pitches. If you gear up for the speed, he’ll buckle your knees with a Bugs Bunny curve. Landry has proved his versatility by improving as a run defender and showing the ability to drop into coverage. His lack of power and anchor can be an issue against the run. He’s not weak in that facet of the game, however, due to his quickness, leverage, hand usage and sheer effort.


Landry could very well be in for a move to 3-4 OLB in the NFL. That’s not necessary, but he showed he has the athleticism for it at the NFL Combine. Teams that talk themselves out of Landry because of his height and injury-pocked 2017 are making a mistake.


3. Josh Sweat (Florida State) | 6’5/251


Athletic composite percentile: 95.4%

Player Comp: Smaller Jadeveon Clowney (hat tip: Dane Brugler)


Because of his injury history and uneven tape, the NFL Combine was as important for Sweat as any prospect in this class. He went out and destroyed it, dropping a 95th percentile athletic score via a 4.53 40-yard dash, 4.28 short shuttle, 39.5-inch vertical jump and 124-inch broad jump. Just as importantly, he was cleared medically. That was no sure thing due to Sweat’s knee issues. Late in his high school career, Sweat dislocated his knee and tore his ACL in an injury that was so devastating that he later commented: “I could have lost the bottom of my leg.” Sweat also missed a pair of games last year with a meniscus issue.


But the NFL didn’t red flag him, and Sweat submitted the second-best best athletic composite score of all defensive linemen in this class (Taven Bryan was first). Sweat had a reputation for being lazy earlier in his FSU career. He announced before last season that he would change that perception. Mission accomplished. (And about that perception: It seems probable that Sweat’s sluggish early career with FSU was a result of working through the devastating injury; he still posted five TFL and an interception as a true freshman, one year after the injury occurred... and then he posted 24 TFL over the next two years before turning pro).


The No. 1 defensive end in the country coming out of high school, Sweat is a flexible, explosive athlete with a rocked-up physique and extremely long arms (the second-highest wingspan among edge rushers in this class). He has zero issues bending the edge or quickly changing direction in pursuit. After he sheds, he’s chasing like a greyhound until the whistle blows. Sweat showed an ability to set the edge at FSU, gaining leverage and separation. He plays with discipline, sticking to his assignment and not running himself out of the play. Sweat doesn’t get bullied, and he’ll make plays upfield.


He isn’t the biggest end, and he doesn’t have the strongest anchor due to a skinny lower half, and for those reasons he can get beaten at the point of attack when a linemen latches on. And as of now, Sweat has work to do as a pass rusher to fulfill his ample upside. He has all the athletic tools to become an edge rushing terror, but he needs to play with a quicker first step, improve his technique, add a few counter moves and learn how to more effectively utilize his hands. Sweat’s profile isn’t as clean as some of his brethren, but his upside is sky-high as an end who profiles as a plus against the run and potentially as a plus-plus against the pass.


4. Marcus Davenport (UTSA) | 6’6/264


Athletic composite percentile: 80.1%

Player Comp: Aldon Smith (hat tip: Josh Norris)


Davenport is a long, twitchy athlete with perennial Pro Bowl upside. He’s raw, but we know he has the singular trait we need from underdeveloped prospects: He works his butt off.  Davenport showed great dedication by adding over 60 pounds to his frame since arriving on campus (ESPN’s recruiting profile listed him at 6’6/197). Those around the UTSA program vouch for his superlative work ethic.


And while he still has a ways to go with his technique, it got better and better each year he was on campus. Davenport has a scary combination of length (with a large wingspan in addition to his height), athleticism and strength. He uses his fire hose arms to create space and disengage, and he uses his powerful, active hands to lead the dance. He’s superb at turning speed to power and he’s a violent finisher.


While all the tools are here for Davenport to turn into a Von Miller-esque terror, he’s got a long way to go. Davenport plays alarmingly high, and, by extension, doesn’t bend the edge—which is another way of saying that he lacks flexibility and balance on the attack. Popping up quickly on the snap steals some of the advantages that his athleticism should afford him. Davenport doesn’t get on top of offensive linemen as quickly as he could, and he essentially invites them into his chest protector. And because his movements are predictable and he lacks a deep reserve of pass-rushing moves, Davenport can get run out of the play or have his momentum used against him.


Davenport could dominate Conference USA foes with length, straight line speed and power. In the NFL, if he doesn’t continue improving his technique, learn to play lower and develop more moves, he’ll become our most recent size/speed edge rushing marvel to go bust. But if he continues improving at the rate he did at the end of college, look out. There’s just too much risk associated with the profile for me to buy on his Draft Day sticker price.


5. Sam Hubbard (Ohio State) | 6’5/270


Athletic composite percentile: 64.7%

Player Comp: Derrick Morgan (hat tip: Lance Zierlein)


Hubbard has no such questions, and he comes, for better or worse, with a far more restricted projection variance profile than the players listed ahead of him. In fact, Hubbard is something of a boring prospect in that his projection is so straightforward. He has a good frame, and he plays extremely hard.


Hubbard isn’t a high-end athlete, but, as he showed in his pre-Draft workouts, athleticism won’t be an issue at the next level (his 6.84 three-cone was the quickest of all edge defenders in this class). He’s not the fastest north-to-south, but Hubbard is a coordinated athlete with strong quickness, balance and agility. And that combination plays up because of his high football IQ (high IQ period, that is—Hubbard was an Academic All-American). If Hubbard figures out that you’re tipping plays pre-snap, he’ll make you pay. And because he’s so relentless, Hubbard’s effectiveness increases as the game goes on because you’ll tire before he does, and he’ll diagnose exactly how to go about exploiting your compensatory mechanisms.


I see a valuable long-time starter with very little bust potential, but I don’t see a superstar because he’ll likely never be an elite pass rusher.



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Thor Nystrom is a former MLB.com associate reporter whose writing has been honored by Rolling Stone magazine and The Best American Essays series. Say hi to Rotoworld's college football writer on Twitter @thorku.
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