Tier 1: First Round Consideration
1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State (6-5, 269, 4.77)
Bosa is clearly one of the top prospects in the entire draft class, but it seems popular as of late to find holes in the former Buckeye’s game. After an incredible sophomore season, where he recorded 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, Bosa’s 2015 numbers didn’t grab any headlines (5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss). However, on tape, Bosa is still every bit of the impressive edge defender as he was in 2014.
Constantly fighting double teams and being the sole focus of opposing offenses, Bosa’s motor never stops as he battles through blocks and finds ways to impact the game, whether it’s agains the run or as a pass rusher. Although I do feel he’s athletic enough to make the switch to outside linebacker in a 3-4 front, his best fit in the NFL is clearly as a 4-3 defensive end. (Projection: Top-10)
2. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson (6-3, 269, 4.70)
Lawson is another elite edge rusher better suited at 4-3 defensive end than outside linebacker in the NFL. Having only started one season at Clemson, Lawson made it count. He led the FBS in tackles for loss with 25.5, and also finished fifth in sacks with 12.5. Lawson is also very good against the run and should provide an NFL team with a quality power end that can start immediately. Although Lawson will most likely go in the middle of the first round, he could be drafted as early as No. 9 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Projection: Round 1)
3. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia (6-6, 244, 4.60)
Floyd has received a lot of criticism from fans and draft media analysts, a sentiment I just plainly don’t understand. I’ve heard from several sources that I trust that scouts and coaches around the NFL feel Floyd is a top-15 talent in this draft class. I’ve been a fan of Floyd’s game since his outstanding freshman season, where he recorded 6.5 sacks and 16 hurries and established himself as one of college footballs best young edge rushers.
In 2015, Georgia had Floyd split time between inside and outside linebacker in their 3-4 front. In my opinion, this was a poor move that really hurt Floyd’s draft stock as his overall production took a hit (4.5 sacks, 10 hurries). Instead of using him on the edge and letting him do what he does best and get after the passer, Floyd was asked to plug holes and stop the run. Playing around 225 pounds, this was not the best spot for him on the field, but he still held up admirably and showed a willingness to square up and meet backs in the hole.
According to Pro Football Focus, Floyd only spent 61% of his snaps at outside linebacker, and even then, Georgia frequently dropped him into coverage because he was one of their best athletes in space. Although 2015 did demonstrate Floyd’s versatility as a defender and willingness to do what his coaches ask of him, this move caused many to miss-evaluate his junior tape. Floyd has since added approximately 20 pounds of muscle, and many believe he has the frame to add another 10 at the next level to play on the edge.
He possesses rare athletic ability, which his combine numbers demonstrate, and his quick first step and explosion off the snap make him an elite prospect. He also shows tremendous bend around the edge and impressive hip flexibility–perhaps better than any other pass rusher in this draft. He’s an exciting prospect that deserves better than the Dion Jordan and Barkeviovs Mingo comparisons being loosely thrown around in draft media. (Projection: Round 1)
4. Noah Spence, OLB, Eastern Kentucky (6-2, 251, 4.80)
Spence is talented enough to be a top-15 pick if it wasn’t for several failed drug tests his sophomore year at Ohio State. After a year out of football, Spence did get a new start at Eastern Kentucky and got his life together. He did just about everything he could at EKU to stand out and show he’s still a dominant pass rusher. In 2015, he recorded 13.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss, despite facing double teams on a regular basis.
He’s a bit undersized as a defensive end in the NFL, but he fits well as a stand up edge rusher in either a 3-4 defense or as a blitzing outside linebacker in 4-3 system similar to how Seattle used Bruce Irvin. He’s one of the few well-rounded pass rushers in this class, who can beat tackles with speed or power. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes on draft day. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)
5. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State (6-4, 273, 4.63)
Ogbah’s production immediately jumps out on paper. His 2015 stat line alone exceeds some player’s career numbers–13 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss, 19 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, and four passes batted down at the line. This is following a sophomore season where he recorded 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Ogbah was only a full-time starter for two seasons at OSU, but he consistently dominated on the edge in the Big 12. He’s also an explosive athlete with good straight-line speed.
However, he lacks the change of direction ability and fluidity in space to effectively drop in coverage or play in space if lined up as an outside linebacker in the Packers defense. His game reminds me a bit of Nick Perry. A good downhill edge rusher, but a guy who looks stiff in space. He’s also not as good of a run defender as Perry is, but as an early entry, Ogbah is still young and can grow and develop his game in the right system at the next level. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)
6. Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson (6-5, 277, 4.86)
Dodd seemed to be on few people’s radar until his outstanding three-sack performance against Alabama in the National Championship game. He finished the year just behind teammate Shaq Lawson in both sacks (12) and tackles for loss (23.5), both impressive numbers in their own right. Dodd has better length and even movement in space than Lawson, but the towering 6-foot-5, 277-pound defensive end isn’t quite as consistent.
The concern with Dodd is that he disappears at times, and is a player that flashes on film but isn’t always playing with a high motor. He did finish the year strong, recording 7.5 of sacks in the last five games, but after only playing a significant role on his team for one season in college, he’s still a bit of a boom-or-bust pick at the next level. (Projection: Rounds 1-2)
Next: Tier 2: Early-Round Edge Rushers