Written by Jason Feiner, @FeinerScores
The 2019 NFL Draft class is littered with impact players along the defensive line. Twenty-eight of the top thirty-two draft selections are locked into place, and if your team has already been eliminated, they are most certainly eyeing the next elite players to enter the pros. The top of the draft possesses buckets of talent, and if you’re a fan of a struggling organization, it would be wise to look to April with hopeful eyes. This is a premier defensive class, and teams in need of an edge rusher or dominant interior presence will have a long list to choose from.
Defensive end is a premiere position group in the NFL with the potential to shift and alter games. The premium of quality pass rushers in 2019 is led by some of the top prospects in the class overall. Many of these athletes have game changing ability that could alter games for whichever team calls on them come April 25th. Their first test will be next week at the Senior Bowl with the Combine quickly following suit. It is only a matter of time before each of these players hear their name called in Nashville.
1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State University
Weight (lbs): 263
Career Stats: 29 Career Games
Total Tackles: 77
Tackles For Loss: 29
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 2
Defensive Touchdowns: 1
Bosa plans to follow the family tradition, mirroring the footsteps of his father, uncle, and more recently, his brother. All three individuals, John Bosa, Eric Kumerow and Joey Bosa were all selected in the first round of the NFL Draft during their respective playings years. During his true freshman season Bosa was an immediate impact player, achieving playing time in 12 games to accrue 7 tackles for loss and 5 sacks earning freshman All-American honors in 2016 as a rotational athlete. Like his brother, Nick earned numerous awards during his sophomore campaign taking home All-American and All-Big Ten honors, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award, and Academic All-Big Ten honors. Bosa was dominant during his second season with Ohio State, recording 34 total tackles, 16 for loss and 8.5 sacks. In the first game of 2018, Bosa wreaked havoc in the backfield of Oregon State and dominated at the tune of 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and a defensive touchdown in their 77-31 statement win. Although his junior season was disappointing he was outstanding through the first three weeks, managing to rack up 6 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, a forced fumble and a defensive score. However, in week 3 of the collegiate season, Bosa injured his abdomen and was forced out of the lineup until ultimately electing to drop out of Ohio State in order to focus on his health and the pre-draft process.
The defensive end is a big, muscular prospect with an NFL-ready frame and the athletic ability to compete from day one. He is long with a built upper body and the play strength to dominate at the point of attack when rushing the passer or setting the edge. With a leadership mentality when on the field, Bosa doesn’t lack confidence or the competitive personality that constitutes a knack for winning in all phases of the game. Displaying excellent burst off the line with a quick and powerful first step to test the tackle off the edge, Bosa generates an explosive speed to power bull rush, utilizing booming and powerful hands with excellent arm extension and a key forward lean that provides additional leverage over opponents. He is an extremely aggressive edge rusher who has demonstrated the same swipe technique that his brother uses to torture NFL tackles, while continuously using his instincts and power to keep the tackle on his heels and off balance. With the consistent ability to swipe the blocker’s weak side hand while bending the outside arc, Bosa has been blessed with fluid hips and ankle flexion that allow him to flatten to the quarterback once he beats blockers to the top of the arc. As a run defender, he has plenty of strength to stack and hold the point of attack, rarely exposing his chest to blockers, and that keeps him from getting wrapped on blocks. Possessing the ability to find the ball in contact, Bosa will slide along the line of scrimmage, setting the edge with power and forcing the ball carrier back inside. The Ohio State product plays with tremendous effort and has made impact plays in every big game. His playing ability rises when tasked with competing against better contenders.
Bosa has tremendous play strength and the mental processing to dominate the pass and run phases of the game — he is a complete player with no glaring weaknesses. However, he is not a finished product. His game revolves around his play strength and aggressiveness, playing with little finesse in a contact-oriented approach. Although he is a strong athlete with a built upper body, Bosa has displayed an inability to disengage from tackles when they engage his chest. The talented defensive end struggles to fight back when being washed down the line by angle blocks and lacks the power to deliver strong hits behind his pads as a tackler, often giving up yards after contact to bigger backs, ultimately dragging them to the turf. He lacks twitch in his movements and is a slow accelerator with heavy movement in his initial steps. Often frozen by zone-read looks, he is slow to process options and misdirection.
Although he left Ohio State without finishing his junior season, Bosa has done enough to secure his spot among the collegiate elite. He is an NFL-ready end with an excellent build and a certain fluidity in his movement. His versatility, power and athleticism will allow him to play in any scheme and in space when required. He will excel as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt, providing the capability to stand up on the edge or slide inside in package schemes and torture the interior with active hands and a planned attack. Although he won’t make a living as a speed rusher relying on finesse, his power, flexibility and athleticism provide him with double digit sack potential in the NFL as a bull rush specialist with dominant hands and outstanding bend. With a safe floor and an exceptionally high ceiling, he could be the first pick off the board come April.
Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 3)
Team Fits: Cardinals, Raiders, 49ers, Jaguars
NFL Comparison: Joey Bosa
2. Josh Allen, University of Kentucky
Weight (lbs): 260
Career Stats: 42 Career Games
Total Tackles: 220
Tackles For Loss: 42
Forced Fumbles: 11
Fumble Recoveries: 2
Passes Defensed: 8
After playing in a limited role during his true freshman season at Kentucky, Josh Allen took a massive step forward towards pursuing his dream of playing in the NFL with an explosive sophomore campaign, putting together 62 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks (led team) and an outstanding 4 forced fumbles (led SEC). This was just the beginning; in his third season with the Cougars, he earned second team All-SEC honors and was a finalist for the Butkus award for his effort throughout the season after accruing 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception. It was after this season that Allen contemplated forgoing his senior year to declare for the NFL Draft, but with unfinished business and more to achieve at Kentucky, he returned. He provided the best season of his career, while earning numerous accolades and drastically raising his stock as a pass rusher. Josh Allen was one of the best overall players this past season, providing impact plays in key situations leading Kentucky to 10 wins for the first time since 1977, forty-one years. Josh Allen amassed 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, an eye-popping 5 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 4 passes defensed. He was named the 2018 Chuck Bednarik winner, given to the best defensive player in the country; the Jack Lambert winner, honoring the best linebacker in the country; the Bronko Nagurski trophy winner, given to the most outstanding collegiate defensive player; and the Lott Impact Trophy winner, demonstrating defensive excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. He was also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks award given to the best defensive end in the country. With a long list of Trophies displayed in his trophy case, the accolades don’t end there, as he became Kentucky's all-time sack leader with a two-sack performance against Middle Tennessee State. Josh Allen is a superior edge rusher with top-5 talent entering draft season.
The long, athletic prospect possesses a strong build and the power, speed and size to win off the edge as a dominant pass rusher and consistent presence in run support.
Displaying outstanding explosiveness on every snap, Allen bursts off the line of scrimmage with a powerful first step, out-playing tackles with his ability to transition his speed to power in order to push the tackle off balance and reach the arc. The Cougars’ leader is a dangerous edge rusher with a natural feel and a nose for the football. He demonstrates excellent flexibility with great knee bend, pad level, and the talent to bend at the arc to break around blocks and close on the signal caller. Allen is a pure disruptor in the backfield, as he can beat blocks by crashing through gaps and driving up field to throw the play’s timing off. The Kentucky product’s motor is roaring throughout an entire game, he takes no plays off, and his desire to win and succeed is evident. He fights on each play and never fails to make life difficult for the offense. With the talent to plant his foot in the ground and change direction passing the tackles face to pressure the quarterback inside, he often collapses the pocket with his bull rush. He rarely misses an opportunity to finish the play in the backfield. Against the rush, he is disciplined and utilizes good technique with great strength at the point of attack to set the edge and shed lineman, often blowing up plays in the backfield. He has the speed to close on backs attempting to turn the corner at the sideline and will show the effort to pursue backs from behind. He has good instincts, reads his keys well, and consistently is around the ball. Allen uses his speed to chase down backs and flows quickly to the ball. He is fast to the perimeter and is a good tackler in space demonstrating the ability to explode through contact and to drive through contact, placing power behind his pads in contact.
His versatility will allow defensive coordinators to use him in numerous roles throughout their defensive scheme showing the talent and play strength to play as a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the dirt or as a 3-4 outside linebacker possessing the athleticism to drop into coverage when needed. His character and leadership is held with high regard on and off the field with his teammates, coaches and members of his community outreach opportunities.
Although the Kentucky product is a polished pass rusher and a dominating presence on the field, there are areas to his game that would make him unstoppable, if improved. He is a long prospect and it is time he learns how to utilize it; he repeatedly allows tackles to get their hands on his chest and inside his frame, often relying too heavily on his athleticism and power to beat the lineman. He struggles to beat double teams consistently and has a thin arsenal of pass rushing moves he can use to exploit opponents. Mobile quarterback and speedy scat backs can occasionally get the better of him, as Allen will tend to over pursue losing leverage on agile and quick runners. When tasked with multiple assignments, he has shown hesitation as a stand up outside linebacker rarely trusting his eyes and denying his initial instincts that have made him a high impact player throughout his career. Although he has the athleticism to assist in coverage, he doesn’t have the deep speed to chase down backs and utilizes a lengthy drop back focusing on the quarterback and losing sight of the opposing receiver working through his zone. He will best be utilized with his hand in the dirt, working out of a 4-3 scheme as a pass rusher with coverage and interior capabilities.
Josh Allen is a havoc wreaking rush linebacker with the burst and physicality to excel as a dominant defensive end at the next level. Having demonstrated the instincts, toughness, athleticism and explosive power to line up at any linebacker position and impact each snap, Allen is ready to make the jump to the NFL for any defensive scheme that drafts his potential and talent. He has been an impact player throughout his career and should factor into the starting lineup of an NFL organization immediately, producing and competing for yet another accolade and trophy to add to his collection: Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is a team leader who offers the full package in order to produce at a high level in the NFL. He will succeed early on and possesses the most potential in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Projected Round: 1st Round (Top 10)
Team Fits: Raiders, Cardinals, 49ers, Falcons, Buccaneers
NFL Comparison: Khalil Mack
3. Brian Burns, Florida State University
Weight (lbs): 235
Career Stats: 33 Career Games
Total Tackles: 123
Tackles For Loss: 38.5
Forced Fumbles: 7
Fumble Recoveries: 2
Passes Defensed: 7
Brian Burns has been a core contributor in Florida State’s defensive scheme since he became a starter during his true freshman season. In his first year as a Seminole, Burns electrified the defense claiming Freshman All-American honors after racking up 9.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and a forced fumble through just 8 games of action. He has the potential to be a devastating pass-rusher in the NFL providing elite athleticism and bend off the edge. Although his sack numbers took a hit during 2017, Burns increased his total tackles, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles, while claiming all 4 of his sacks in the final 5 games. Burns’ third and final year with Florida State was by far his most impactful. In 12 games, he accrued 52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 4 passes defensed. As a semi-finalist for the Benardrick trophy, Burns showed the capability to defend the pass as a standup linebacker and as an outstanding speed rusher capable of delivering big plays in the spotlight. Burns’ leadership on the FSU defense knows no bounds. He guided the young defensive roster and mentored many of the underclassmen playing on the edge. Although Burns declaration for the draft was inevitable, it still hurts a young Seminoles roster that just came off their first losing season since 1976. His leadership, motor and work ethic will be greatly missed by a team staring down a rebuild during their recruiting efforts.
Burns is an explosive athlete with a certain persona to his game. He will never quit on a play consistently outworking his opponents and teammates in each phase of the game and in life. His character is exceptional, and his attitude is humbling. Burns possesses excellent flexibility, speed and quickness. With good footwork and active hands, he does a great job of clearing his pads and working upfield to bend at the arc with loose hips and ankles capable of bending underneath contact to attack the ball. He is dominant out of a four point stance working out of a wide-9 alignment with his body already positioned toward the pocket and displays the necessary burst off the line to explode out of a two point stance providing the versatility, speed and overall athleticism to play as a stand up outside linebacker. With highly developed hands, he showcases a deep understanding for placement and timing, while using his length to separate and keep his chest clean. The Seminole product has shown the knowledge to use his feet to gain additional leverage in order to set up his deep repertoire of pass rushing maneuvers working opponents off their sets in order to gain an angle to the pocket. Burns is a refined pass rusher often winning with his speed rush, inside spin, swim, and rip/club move at the top of the arc. His arm extension keeps his frame free of contact and clears a path to the interior. He has exceptional mental processing as a pass rusher and his vision is among the best in the class. His ability to locate the ball is unparalleled, utilizing his reach to target the ball and force strip sacks is second nature. This also assists in his tackling; Burns has shown outstanding range and good fundamental technique as a tackler. He is a well-trained edge rusher who knows how to expose deficiencies in the opponent's set. A relentless athlete who will not give up pursuit until the whistle blows, and above all else, he is a team leader.
Burns’ versatility will be cherished among defensive coordinators. Although his size and small frame will limit his ability as a 4-3 end, he is a refined pass rusher with many gimmicks and nuances to his game. Burns’ motor is contagious; he will do anything to help his team win, including playing on special teams. FSU’s defensive star played everywhere for the Seminoles throughout his career and cherished every opportunity he got. Outworking players and earning recognition, Burns provided key plays on special teams accruing 3 blocked punts throughout his collegiate career. His versatility will provide his coaching staff with a brand new toy to plug and play throughout their defensive scheme.
Brian Burns is one of the most explosive and athletic prospects on the defensive side of the ball in the 2019 NFL Draft class; however, his frame and play strength are two flaws in his game. He lacks the fundamental play strength to hold his ground and would benefit from adding bulk to his 235-pound frame. He lacks power and won't win with physicality. Although it isn’t detrimental, his size will limit his ability to play as a defensive end with his hand in the dirt, quite possibly eliminating his greatest attribute right off the bat (explosion out of a 4-point stance). Often struggling to transition speed to power, Burns will not win with force; he is a pure finesse rusher who will tend to get bullied once the opponent engages his chest. He struggles to get off blocks and can get run out of the play when engaged with angle blocks. Burns may possess an exceptionally high football IQ as a pass rusher demonstrating planned actions, but his mental processing wanes in run support, often losing the ball in traffic becoming content to hold his ground rather than fight for separation. He could become a liability in the run game if tasked to play on the edge and close or on the line of scrimmage.
Brian Burns is one of the elite and refined pass rushers in this class who demonstrates the consistent ability to adjust in play and attack the ball with a deep understanding of pass rushing concepts and fundamentals. He will be best utilized as a 3-4 outside linebacker whose primary responsibility lies in the pass rush; however, with his elite athleticism and outstanding ability in space will provide a raw capability in coverage. His infectious personality and elite talent will be a highly sought after prize for each team selecting in the first round of the draft. Expect Burns to provide explosive numbers at the combine, drastically raising his stock in the coming months. He will excel as a pass rushing specialist at the next level garnering pro-bowl recognition early in his career.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Patriots, Saints, Colts, Raiders
NFL Comparison: Vic Beasley
4. Clellin Ferrell, Clemson University
Weight (lbs): 265
Career Stats: 43 Career Games
Total Tackles: 166
Tackles For Loss: 50.5
Forced Fumbles: 5
Fumble Recoveries: 1
Passes Defensed: 5
Defensive Touchdowns: 1
The Clemson Tigers boasted one of the best defensive lines at the collegiate level, in recent memory, producing three potential first round picks and another on day two. The leader of the bunch was Clellin Ferrell, the defensive end who made life a mess for opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. Ferrell took home the Tim Hendricks award for his efforts in 2018, an award given to the best defensive end in the nation, along with a consensus first team All-ACC selection. The Tigers edge rusher was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown on route to a National Championship victory against powerhouse Alabama. Since becoming a starter after his redshirt freshman season, Ferrell has been a consistent force along Clemson’s front seven. He has a bright future ahead, as a long, with the potential to grow into a double-digit sack artist at the next level.
Ferrell is a long rangy pass rusher with outstanding quickness, power and strength. His build and frame is built to endure an NFL beating possessing a strong upper body and powerful legs. He is a prototypical 4-3 defensive end with the talent to excel in both the pass rush and run game. The Clemson product possesses the athleticism and size to be a game breaker along the edge. Showcasing excellent burst to explode out of his four- point stance and race up field with a powerful first step, Ferrell uses his length to keep the lineman away from his frame and then plants his foot to drive back inside crossing the face of the tackle. His flexibility as a pass rusher allows him to bend the corner dipping under the tackle’s grip. Ferrell has the talent to wreak havoc in the backfield, terrorizing signal callers and stopping runs in the backfield. With excellent size and play-strength to provide a powerful bull rush, Ferrell combines his length, quickness and speed to convert power into his rush, running over tackles and driving them on their heels. Utilizing his length and an effective rip move to stack and shed the offensive lineman, he effectively works towards the ball finding the ball carrier in traffic and dragging them to the turf behind the line of scrimmage. He is adept at holding the point of attack and releasing to attack the ball carrier using his size and power to force the runner to the ground. Ferrell is a versatile defensive lineman, whose size and power will present problems for any offense he faces at the next level. With his size, speed, athleticism and strength, Ferrell has an excellent skill set to be an impactful defensive end with double-digit-sack potential as a pro. His play strength and size will allow him to play all over the defensive line shifting inside in certain sub-packages.
Clellin Ferrell does an excellent job of adjusting to his opponent and sticking to his strengths that have made him one of the best defensive ends at the collegiate level. Despite his power and length, Ferrell can struggle to disengage tackles once they lock their hands into his frame. By fully extending his arms earlier in the play, he will provide a difficult task for lineman to fully engage his body. His power and hand usage are two massive strengths to his game, but when he fails to initiate contact with a strong punch and rip, he tends to be consumed by tackles, getting redirected and sent off his intended path. Without hand usage, he has trouble keeping his leverage in the run game often allowing the lineman to get their hands on his body forcing him to stand up and losing technique and power within his stance. His pass rushing arsenal is shallow, too; Ferrell almost exclusively attempts to beat the lineman with his power, explosion and hand usage relying heavily on his length to win one-on-one battles. Although he is a raw pass rusher, his potential is through the roof. Development and system will be the key to unlocking his true potential, but following his rookie season, his role as a 3-down defensive end should be in full swing.
With excellent size, length, power and strength, the three year starter for the Tigers has the potential to be a three down edge rusher at the next level working as a consistent "wide 9" pass rusher who has the ability to set the edge and dominate the ground game. Ferrell is a raw athlete with the ability, talent and promise to continue to grow in all aspects of the game. He has extremely high-potential and could develop into a double-digit sack player at the next level.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Vikings, Patriots, Colts, Panthers, Raiders
NFL Comparison: Trey Flowers
5. Rashan Gary, University of Michigan
Weight (lbs): 285 lbs
Career Stats: 34 Career Games
Total Tackles: 119
Tackles For Loss: 23
Forced Fumbles: 1
Michigan has been one of the best collegiate teams in football over the last few seasons, and they always seem to find versatile players to portray the swiss-army knife role in their defensive scheme. Rashan Gary has embraced this role throughout his collegiate career, playing interchangeably on the edge and in the interior as a 3-tech tackle. He has been productive in both roles throughout his career as a Wolverine, earning two All-Big Ten honors through the Associated Press and Coaches. During his junior season at Michigan, he dominated the trenches recording 38 tackles with 6.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks in nine games. Although his stats aren’t as gaudy as some of the other prospects in the class, his ability to collapse the pocket off the edge or from inside on twists and stunts was irreplaceable in Jim Harbaugh’s defensive scheme. He is a versatile weapon with the potential to excel in each area along the defensive line.
Gary has a unique blend of size, power and speed with the athleticism needed to bend the edge or burst through gaps coming out of his 4-point stance. He has an excellent build to play as a power-based end or as a pass rushing defensive tackle. His versatility, size and power are extremely desirable traits heading into the NFL. He has the ability to convert speed-to-power on the edge while rushing the passer throwing the offensive lineman off balance early in the play. From the snap, he has the talent to burst out of his stance utilizing a quick first step and solid technique while taking advantage of his length to lock out tackles with his inside arm before breaking, crossing their face, and winning inside. He has flashed the ability to bend the edge with impressive footwork and ankle flexibility when considering his size. Against the run, he has shown the ability to use his length to engage in contact and survey the field finding the ball and reacting. Gary demonstrates excellent vision and in-play mental awareness to quickly react and reach the ball carrier. He has the power to stack single blocks and set the edge with a strong base and excellent instincts. Gary is at his best in chase mode, often taking good angles to make a hit at or behind the line.
At his size, it is no secret Gary doesn’t possess the desired speed to be an edge rusher on every snap and will be better utilized as a do-it-all player in an NFL defensive scheme. He has failed to show the speed and quickness to be a pure speed rusher and won’t catch runners from behind once they reach the corner and turn upfield. If he loses containment to the boundary, there isn’t much he can do in a straight sprint downfield. Despite Gary’s size, he struggles against interior maulers on the offensive line and will often fail to beat double teams off the edge. He strictly relies on his power and length to win off the edge. He needs to grow as a pure pass rusher gaining additional play strength and utilizing diverse pass rushing techniques in order to win more consistently and provide pressure in the backfield. The Wolverine product will often run into an opposing lineman and can struggle to disengage in small quarters. To compensate for his speed deficiencies, he will overrun the play occasionally getting pinned by angle blocks off the edge taking him out of the play. With added discipline and play strength, Gary could become an impact player at the next level. He is a raw athlete who will need to grow in numerous areas to be a three down lineman in the NFL.
Gary is a talented player with three down upside who hasn't begun to tap into his potential, but still has a long road ahead to become the refined prospect he is capable of being. His style of play fits into every system, but he may be best tuned to play as a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle, playing as a 3-tech interior rusher, rather than coming off the edge. Gary’s versatility will provide a chess piece for all defensive coordinators to play him all over the line. He has all the tools to progress his game and dominate as a three down defensive lineman. His size, power, speed and versatility make him a top prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft class, but he will need to refine his game in pass rush, movement, get-off and play strength at the point of attack. He has the potential to be a game changer at the next level.
Projected Round: 1-2
Team Fits: Rams, Steelers, Titans, Packers
NFL Comparison: Cameron Jordan