With the start of the college football season, the best defensive line class of recent memory will become eligible for the 2019 NFL draft.
An initial ranking of the best 32 NFL prospects this season features 12 defensive linemen, a few more defenders who play near the line of scrimmage. Of course plenty will change throughout the season. Some players will plummet while unknowns will rise up.
One name that should stay at the top, though, is Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver. All of the hype surrounding him leading up to the season is legitimate.
Thus far it looks like a it will be a crapshoot season for quarterbacks after five were selected in the first round this year. For now, Oregon’s Justin Herbert looks like the best one, but like the rest of the top 32, there will be movement.
One asterisk denotes juniors, and two is for redshirt sophomores.
1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston*
Oliver is an NFL player who just so happens to be stuck in college football for one more season. With tree trunk legs and good work ethic, Oliver has been hard to block at Houston. In his first two seasons, he’s had 39.5 tackles for loss for the Cougars, and still manages to make plays despite constant double teams.
2. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State*
The younger Bosa is not simply a carbon copy of his bigger brother, Joey Bosa of the Los Angeles Chargers. Nick Bosa is a little faster and gets lower bending the edge with more flexibility. He’s coming off a sophomore season with 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also has excellent handwork, and sheds blockers quickly.
3. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson *
On the vaunted Clemson defensive line, the massive Lawrence is the best prospect. If Oliver is this draft’s Gerald McCoy, Lawrence is the Ndamukong Suh. A good dinner away from 350 pounds, Lawrence is a powerhouse who can manhandle offensive linemen in one-on-one situations. He has an impressive first-step burst and drives linemen backward.
4. Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan*
The former No. 1 high school recruit in the 2016 class is living up to the hype at Michigan. Last season he had 66 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. He’s built like a defensive tackle at 6’5 and 287 pounds, but moves around fluidly.
5. Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama*
The Alabama defensive line factory continues to produce NFL players, and Davis is the latest. He’s a lanky defensive end for the Crimson Tide and uses his 6’7 frame to his advantage. He has impressive speed for a player his size and teams that run a lot of 3-4 will love him
6. Greg Little, OT, Ole Miss*
Little has the combination of size and athleticism at offensive tackle that the NFL loves. He has the speed to reach defenders at the edge and is a physical player. When he needs to, Little gets out in the open with ease and will obliterate linebackers. If he can touch up his handwork, he’s a player who could work himself into the absolute top of the draft.
7. Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon*
Big, athletic and a powerful arm. Raw, inexperienced and too often only works the first read. Herbert has potential to be the top pick in the draft, he just has to string together a complete season after playing just 16 games his first two years with the Ducks.
8. Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State*
Simmons specializes at getting after the quarterback and does so with unique athleticism and quickness for the position. Mississippi State’s line stacked with NFL talent and is moving to more of a 4-3 system this season. It will be interesting to see how if Simmons can maintain his All-American status occupying more blockers this season.
9. Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama
After much speculation throughout the offseason, Alabama announced that Williams is the team’s starting left tackle. After starting the 2016 on the right side, he acquainted himself well playing the left a season ago. Williams is a powerful blocker, and his NFL position could be at right tackle or even guard.
10. Greedy Williams, CB, LSU**
College football’s most appropriately named player is coming off a sensational freshman season that included six interceptions. Williams excels at reading the pass and making a break on the ball. At 6’1, Williams has good size and will only get better at press coverage as he gets experience.
11. Devin White, LB, LSU*
For a linebacker who’s listed at 240 pounds, you wouldn’t guess it based on how White moves around the field. He has good pursuit speed and his tackling ability was evident last season when he had 133 stops. His block shedding could be better, but strength isn’t a concern at all.
12. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
Some will like Wilkins at defensive tackle because of his size (6’3 and 309 pounds), but he can be an asset on the edge thanks to his motor and nimble movement skills. He excels at working through gaps. Teams want to see him play with more power this season.
13. Trey Adams, OT, Washington
Adams should be in the NFL right now. However, a torn ACL in October ended his 2017, and his pro plans were put on hold for a year. One of the nation’s top seniors, Adams is a good all-around blocker who plays with sound footwork and hand usage.
14. Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn*
Brown is a playmaking destroyer for Auburn on the defensive line. He is just as comfortably swimming through as a block as he is pushing a lineman backward. Whether it’s swatting down passes or blocking kicks, Brown always seems to be around to make a play.
15. Noah Fant, TE, Iowa*
Fant is a basketball player on the football field. He’s an incredible athlete for a tight end with crazy agility and leaping ability. He’s a production tight end for Iowa too. Last season he pulled in 30 catches for 494 yards and 11 touchdowns.
16. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn*
Even though Auburn plays a run-heavy offense, Stidham has emerged as a legitimate NFL prospect after transferring from Baylor. Stidham throws a clean, accurate ball and has the arm strength to go deep.
17. N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State*
Harry has just about everything you want in an NFL receiver. He’s big at 6’4 and 210, has good hands and will go up and pull in tough catches. He’s coming off a sophomore season of 82 catches for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns.
18. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson*
Unlike a lot of defensive end prospects, Ferrell isn’t simply just a speed or power player. Ferrell can utilize both in his play, and that can often make him difficult to block. After a stellar freshman season, he appeared to play with more power last year. If he can continue developing and playing consistently, his stock will only rise.
19. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss*
Ole Miss likes to tuck Brown into the slot and let him take advantage of his 6’1 and 225-pound frame. He beats defenders on slants a lot and he works the seam like a tight end. He can simply out-muscle those he goes against. Brown isn’t a speed receiver, but he can do everything else you want.
20. Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
Sweat could have entered this year’s draft and probably land somewhere in the first 100 picks. Instead he decided to return to Starkville and build on an impressive junior season in which he had 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Sweat is a long edge player who uses his length to get free and chase the quarterback.
21. David Edwards, OT, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has the most talented offensive line in college football, and its packed with NFL players. Edwards, Wisconsin’s right tackle, is the best draft eligible player of the bunch. Edwards is a powerful run blocker and loves to finish plays. Speed rushers can give him trouble on the edge, but he makes up for a lack of foot quickness with excellent technique.
22. Brian Burns, DE, Florida State*
Florida State likes to play Burns with his hand down a lot, but in the NFL he may be better served standing up or out much wider on the line. He specializes in speed rushes and has good size at a listed 6’5 and 235 pounds. Power can give him trouble, but if used properly in the NFL he can be a good pass rusher.
22. Josh Allen, Edge, Kentucky
Yes, another Josh Allen. This one is a pass rush specialist who has 14 sacks over the last two seasons. He is used as a stand up rusher, and will likely be that type of player in the NFL. He’s also comfortable dropping into short zone coverage, so he has a little added value.
23. Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina
Through the first three games of last season, Samuel was college football’s most dynamite player. He had highlight reel catches and returned two kicks for touchdowns. Then injuries set in and he had to return for another season at South Carolina. Samuel is a big play waiting to happen, and can be an asset outside or in the slot.
25. Isaiah Buggs, DL, Alabama
The inclusion of Buggs in the top 32 prospects is, at this point, speculative. He’s only played a season at Alabama after starting his college career at a junior college. But the hybrid defensive end and tackle is a rock against the run and flashes playmaking ability at 6’5 and 293 pounds.
26. Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma*
Anderson has struggled throughout his career has been injuries. But when he’s healthy, which he was for Oklahoma’s last eight games last season, Anderson has shown he’s a big back with nimble feet and quickness.
27. Zach Allen, DE, Boston College
There is not a lot of flash or sizzle to Allen’s game. He’s gotten by at Boston College with his power. He has a good bull rush and will drive defenders back in the pocket to make a play.
28. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford*
It’s easy to point out Love’s faults. His size isn’t overly impressive. He’s not a power rusher who will grind on short yardage. He’s not as good as former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey in the passing offense. But he’s a big play waiting to happen, and runs with good vision and balance. Most impressively, he can make defenders simply miss while not slowing down.
29. Jalen Jelks, Edge, Oregon
Jelks is another 6’5 edge player who loves to beat opponents with speed and athleticism. Last season he had more pass breakups (7) than sacks (6.5), but at this point he is more of a pure athlete than technician.
30. David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State
There is a lot to like in Montgomery’s game. He’s a physical and aggressive runner and can just steam roll opponents. But as the often-annoying draft process takes over, Montgomery will get knocked because he’s not overly shifty or fast. But his vision, balance and power is NFL level. This write-up could have been applied to Kareem Hunt before the 2017 draft.
31. Te’Von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
After starting last season as a backup, Coney came on last season for Notre Dame. He’s a run and chase linebacker who tracks down the ball in a hurry and had 116 tackles a season ago. If he can add a few more dynamic plays, his draft stock will soar.
32. Drew Lock, QB, Missouri*
According to one sports book, Lock enters the 2018 season as the odds-on favorited to be taken first overall in the draft. At this point, he’s a tool-laden projection. He completed only 57.8 percent of his throws a season, and was at less than 45 percent in several games. Still, he’s a 6’4, 225-pound pocket quarterback, and the NFL tends to like those types. He’s a wait and see prospect.