In conjunction with my top 5s for 2013 NFL Rookie Offensive Players, here are the top 5s for all 2013 rookie defensive players by position.
*=Draft Eligible Underclassman
Defensive Tackles: If your league has DT spots, this is a great draft for this position. Should easily see at least three and possibly even five defensive tackles taken in the first round alone.
- Star Lotulelei, Utah: There is not a better run stopper in this draft at any position. If you run at him, he will cause problems. That simple. Needs to develop some pass rush moves if he wants to be a three down lineman in a 4-3 scheme, but can start right away as a run stuffing NT in either a 4-3 or a 3-4.
- Johnathan Hankins*, Ohio State: Another brute strength run stuffer that has the looks of a 3-4 NT. Like Lotulelei, needs to develop better pass rush moves, but is stout against the run. Demands a double team at all times. Could return to school to compete in a bowl game for what will be a highly rated Buckeye squad.
- Johnathan Jenkins, Georgia: One could argue that there would be no Alec Ogletree or Jarvis Jones without the prowess of Johnathan Jenkins. He is a terror on opposinging interior offensive lines given his wide frame and superb strength. Has a good enough burst to even generate a good bull rush on passing downs. Can start right away for more than a few teams (can be considered as early as wherever Carolina picks).
- Sylvester Williams, North Carolina: Will have to prove his quickness and agility at the combine. If he does prove to be as good of an athlete as advertised by ACC fans, then he will climb up the draft board. Quickly. Has the ability to stop the run while already having a small arsenal of pass rush moves (swim move, specifically).
- Sheldon Richardson*, Missouri: Along with Williams, has the ability to quickly climb draft boards after the combine. He is extremely quick with his first step and is explosive with his first contact on offensive linemen. Would not be surprised if he’s the second DT taken in this draft.
Defensive Ends: There are no surefire pass rushers like an Aldon Smith in San Francisco, but there is a Jason Pierre-Paul-type player who just needs the right coaching to get the most out his raw abilities
- Barkevious Mingo, LSU*: Tall (6’5), lean (240 lbs) and flexible for a DE. Has dropped in some people’s eyes, but not mine. Still will be the cream of the DE crop. Best suited as a 4-3 defensive end. Best when pass rushing, but can fly down the line to chase down RBs in the run game.
- Bjoern Werner, Florida State*: Could the most complete of all of the DE in this draft, but is not a standout at any facet of the game. Has a never ending motor and looks to be a solid three down lineman in a 4-3 or as an OLB in a 3-4, but should not be asked to drop back and play in space much, for he is not that naturally athletic.
- Ezekiel Ansah, BYU*: He has played NT, DT, DE, and OLB in his very short time playing football. Ran track for BYU in 2009 (that’s how quick he is). He is drawing comparisons to Giants star Jason Pierre-Paul in that he is raw, but freakishly talented. In fact, scouts are saying that he is more raw than JPP, but MORE talented and athletic. I’ll say that again, Ansah is being touted as MORE TALENTED AND ATHLETIC than Jason Pierre-Paul. If he declares for the draft, teams will be salivating for his raw talent and a bidding war could erupt for his services. Stay tuned on him for he is my “player to watch” in terms of how meteoric his draft stock will rise throughout the process.
- Corey Lemonier, Auburn*: His game reminds me of Justin Smith’s in San Francisco. What he does not have in natural athleticism, he makes up for in brute strength and determination. Quick off the line, which really benefits his relentlessness when tracking down opposing RBs in the run game. His motor is what gets him to the quarterback more often than any exception pass rush move. Needs to refine his hand placement, but should shine in the draft process.
- Dion Jordan, Oregon: Like Mingo, he is tall (6’6) and lean (239 lbs) and has the ability to get around opposing offensive lines in pass rush situations. He looks to be a hybrid DE/OLB for a 3-4 front due to his ability to lift his hand off the ground and play in space.
Inside Linebacker: After the top-2 ILBs, the class is very thin so get them while they’re hot!
- Manti Te’O, Notre Dame: There’s a reason why he was a legitimate Heisman candidate: he’s really effing good. Can play every down, every game, for every team. Emotional leader of the #1 ranked team in the college landscape. Not the most athletic linebacker you’ll ever see, but that does not stop him from getting to the ball carrier first...no matter where they are. Very much like Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.
- Alec Ogletree, Georgia*: Most impressive defensive player in the SEC Championship game against Alabama. Made huge plays all over the field. Impressive in both pass coverage and in pass rush. Very rare trait for an ILB.
- Arthur Brown, Kansas State: Needs to lift well at the combine to prove that he can handle the rough and tough nature of the NFL, but has the speed and instincts against the run and the pass to play at an NFL level. Could very well be a three down starter in the NFL as early as next year.
- Kevin Reddick, North Carolina: Can get lost among the blockers in a more complex running scheme, but shows good instincts to get to the point of attack. Adequate tackling skills once he gets there, but needs to shed blockers in his way better before being a reliable run stopper. Can play in space with his above average speed.
- Shayne Skov, Stanford*: Did well coming off of ACL surgery in 2011. All the measurables are there from Skov, but he is not stellar at any one particular thing. Could be a solid rotation guy for a team looking for depth at ILB.
Outside Linebacker: Jarvis Jones is a treasure. The rest could be someone else’s trash.
- Jarvis Jones, Georgia*: By far the best OLB in the class. Elite pass rusher/backfield disruptor. His pass rushing skills are equalled by his non stop motor. Never takes a play off.
- Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: Like Jones, Jenkins can get after the quarterback. He loves to play in the opponent’s backfield, and does so often. Can work on shedding blocks when the offense runs at him, which is the only thing that is limiting him from being a top-15 pick.
- Chase Thomas, Stanford: Athletic dude that can play with his hand on or off the ground in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense. Very similar to Chicago’s Shea McClellin in his versatile play while in college. Could be a late first round pick, but likely to slide to the second or third given the depth at more premium positions like offensive tackle.
- Jelani Jenkins, Florida*: Can flat out fly. Runs like a defensive back, rather than a linebacker. Has good enough instincts to survive at the next level, but simply isn’t strong enough for my taste. Needs to add some bulk in the offseason and lift well at the combine in order to raise his draft stock. The tape doesn’t lie though, the man is fast and can be very disruptive.
- Khaseem Greene, Rutgers: A converted safety, but Greene wound up leading Rutgers in tackles in 2011 in his first full season as a linebacker. Has good instincts and athleticism to get to the point of attack quickly. Shows solid wrap up skills when it comes to tackling. His inexperience at the position leaves him with room to grow at the next level, given the right coach. Would not be surprised if his former Rutgers coach and current Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano drafts him in the middle rounds.
Cornerback: After Dee Milliner, there may not be a single first rounder.
- Dee Milliner, Alabama*: Prototypical man-to-man shutdown corner. Has superior speed for a CB that can save him even if he’s slightly beaten by a WR. Loves to make plays in run defense as well. Can consistently be seen making plays on RBs trying to stretch a play out wide. Needs refinement if going to be utilized in zone schemes.
- Xavier Rhodes, Florida St.*: Very physical at the line of scrimmage. Constantly knocks his receiver off his route. Has the agility and quickness to stick with receivers should he not jam the receiver as much as he would like. Willing to support the run and tackles effectively
- Desmond Trufant, Washington: Has a great pedigree being the brother of Marcus (Seattle) and Isiah (New York Jets) Trufant, Desmond has shown flashes of elite coverage skills. He tends to shy away from the physical game, especially in run support, but makes up for it with speed and quickness to keep up with almost every receiver to face him.
- Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St.: May have the best ball skills of any defensive back in the draft. Loves to make plays intercepting balls and forcing fumbles. Has good size (6’1), but tends to shy away from making proper tackles, and opts for arm tackles. That simply won’t be acceptable at the next level. Can’t argue with a three year starter for an SEC defense, though.
- Logan Ryan, Rutgers*: Not as talented as New England’s Devin McCourty (and fellow Rutgers alum), but he’s still really good. Has the tools to cover at the next level, but lacks the consistency needed to be an elite DB.
Safety: Class is deep, but not elite.
- Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Has the size (6’1) and speed to play at either safety spot in the NFL, which makes him really valuable. Texas pedigree makes him dependable. His numbers (all conference team) make him talented. Should be in the top-40 picks.
- Matt Elam, Florida*: Whenever the Florida defense needed a big play, Elam was the one who made it. Time and time again it was elam making the big hit, tackle, sack, strip, pick in the big games against Texas A&M, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, etc. Loves to make big plays and does.
- Eric Reid, LSU*: Needs to improve his coverage skills to be a consistent presence on an NFL field, but he did not have tons of help from an LSU defense that lost studs like Brandon Taylor (San Diego), Morris Claiborne (Dallas), and Tyrann Mathieu
- Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma*: The most consistent player on what was a really disappointing Oklahoma team. Production inflated due to terrible play from the rest of the Oklahoma defense, but shows great instincts and athleticism to make the plays required of him.
- Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse: A linebacker in a safety’s body. Loves to throw his body around and make HUGE hits. Needs to show more discipline on fakes so he is not constantly out of position, but the physicality for a safety is very desirable, especially in run support.