Matt LaPan’s 2018 NFL Draft Defensive Positional Rankings

Defensive players dominated the discussion ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. They likely will not get the same buzz in the 2018 NFL Draft, but the class is still loaded with talent. From Derwin James in the defensive backfield to Arden Key on the edge, the 2018 NFL Draft class is not short on athleticism or play making.

The offensive rankings are behind us, lets take a look at the defense.

Defensive Line

The Spokesman-Review

Interior line play has become a much bigger focus for many teams in recent years – especially athletic interior rushers. The 2018 NFL Draft has plenty of defensive line depth, featuring six linemen in my top-50 rankings. They are led at the top by Christian Wilkins, fresh off a disruptive 2016 season that saw him as a major factor in the Clemson Tigers’ run to a national title. He is disruptive, quick and powerful – creating havoc against the run.

His spot is not secure at the top however, as Da’Shawn Hand looks to fill the role of breakout defensive lineman that perennially finds his way into the national spotlight from Alabama. Hand has the size and burst to be that guy, much like Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed and others before him.

Players like Vita Vea and Lowell Lotulelei are also essential to success, clogging the middle and making themselves nearly impossible to move. Both behemoth men tip the scales at well over 300 pounds with power and dominant hand strikes. The entire group has a lot to prove, but all have a chance to make a massive impact this year.

1. Christian Wilkins – Clemson

2. Da’Shawn Hand – Alabama

3.Vita Vea – Washington

4. Derrick Nnadi – Florida State

5.Lowell Lotulelei – Utah

Edge

The Boston Globe

Edge players dominated the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and will likely do so again in the 2018 NFL Draft. With seven EDGE players in my top-50, the class is loaded with talent – led by Arden Key.

Key lives in the backfield, creating problems in both the run and pass games. He is lightning quick off the snap and uses his hands very well to free himself. His speed and agility make him a nightmare for opposing tackles.

The player in the class not getting as much hype, but will see a lot of success this year is Harold Landry from Boston College. He might not be on the best team, but he has violent hands and a nearly unmatched motor. He creates great leverage and is strong in both the run and pass game. Both he and Bradley Chubb are flying under the radar, but both will make a big impact in 2017 and should go quite high in the 2018 draft.

1. Arden Key – LSU

2. Sam Hubbard – Ohio State

3. Harold Landry – Boston College

4. Bradley Chubb – N.C. State

5. Tyquan Lewis – Ohio State

Linebacker

Real Sports Entertainment Network

The traditional two-down linebacker is a thing of the past. If linebackers want to see the field in today’s NFL, they generally need to show the thump on run downs and the agility and awareness on pass downs. The group of linebackers in the 2018 NFL Draft are all pretty solid linebackers, led by Malik Jefferson. He is likely to be more of an outside linebacker in a traditional 4-3 system, but he is big, strong, fast and provides good coverage. He flies around the field with a nasty demeanor, and looks the part of an NFL linebacker – expect him to lead the pack throughout the season and into draft season.

The rest of the pack is all evenly matched, showing good versatility and agility. A name to watch is Cameron Smith, as he could jump up the list thanks to his speed and awareness. He sees the field quite well and has tremendous instincts. He will have to work hard to overtake the athletic Jerome Baker, but both linebackers will be working hard to catch Jefferson.

1. Malik Jefferson – Texas

2. Jerome Baker – Ohio State

3. Cameron Smith – USC

4. Azeem Victor – Washington

5. Kendall Joseph – Clemson

Cornerback

todaysu.com

Stop if you have heard this before, but a big, physical, athletic cornerback from Alabama sits atop the list of potential draft prospects. As the 2018 NFL Draft approaches, Minkah Fitzpatrick leads the pack – even if there is an outside chance he could be playing safety.

Fitzpatrick has the elite ball skills, strength at the line and recovery speed to garner the top ranking, but do not sleep on a guy like Tavarus McFadden. He also shows the athleticism and strength needed plus has great length and footwork to go with good ball skills.

Alexander, Summers and Marshall do not show the same size and length, but all work hard at the line and have very good ball skills to garner the top-5 ranking.

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick – Alabama

2. Tavarus McFadden – Florida State

3. Jaire Alexander – Louisville

4. Jamar Summers – Connecicut

5. IIman Marshall – USC

Safety

247sports.com

Derwin James holds the top spot on my top-50 rankings, so it makes sense to see him atop the safety list. James has size, speed, strength, coverage skills, ball skills and delivers devastating hits when opponents come over the middle. He is the complete package and will be one of the top players selected.

Marcus Allen is likely a little undervalued because of the attention James is getting, but he is a complete player who should also garner a lot of attention due to his play style and ball skills.

1. Derwin James – Florida State

2. Marcus Allen – Penn State

3. Armanti Watts – Texas A&M

4. Quin Blanding – Virginia

5. Godwin Igwebuike – Northwestern