Written By Jason Feiner
The Cleveland Browns are thirteen days away from officially going on the clock. Although it is almost a certainty that Cleveland will use the #1 overall selection on a signal caller, there is always the possibility that Cleveland is, well, Cleveland and chooses a different position group altogether. If this were to happen, only two other players make sense: Blitzalytics’ top ranked prospect, Saquon Barkley, and NC State’s Bradley Chubb. Barkley would be an excellent pick in this spot, as in recent years top running backs have seen success. In this case, however, a dominant, game-changing defensive end may be a higher priority. Linking an athletic, prototypical end with their 2017 first overall pick Myles Garrett would keep offensive coordinators awake at night, gasping for air.
Defensive end is a premiere position group in the NFL, with the potential to shift and alter games. On February 4th, 2017 we witnessed one of these moments on the biggest stage, Super Bowl 52. New England got the ball back with just over two minutes left in the game, and every individual knew what was coming next: TB12 was going to do the unthinkable once again. After a strong start to the drive that included an 8-yard completion to tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Philadelphia pass rush finally got going.
The Eagles’ leading sack artist and defensive end, Brandon Graham, lined up on the inside of the line and overpowered Shaq Mason for the first sack of the game. This particular sack had more implications than expected– Graham changed the game and stopped the feared comeback attempt of quarterback Tom Brady. He forced a strip sack with 2:08 seconds left on the clock which was recovered by former New England end Chris Long. Graham left Brady sitting on the turf thinking what could have been. His late game heroics led the Eagles’ final push for their first Super Bowl Championship.
The premium of quality pass rushers in the 2018 NFL Draft is led by some of the top prospects in the class. Many of these athletes have game changing ability that could alter games for whichever team calls on them come April 26th. It is only a matter of time before each of these players hear their name called in Dallas.
1. Bradley Chubb, NC State
Weight (lbs): 269
Career Stats: 40 Career Games
Total Tackles: 198
Tackles For Loss: 54.5
Forced Fumbles: 6
Since becoming a starter in NC State’s defensive system during his true sophomore season, Chubb has been a dominant presence along their defensive line, causing mayhem in the backfield of opposing offenses and giving nightmares to their offensive coordinators. He is a true monster with game-changing ability. Chubb’s family has a history in football. His father played as a linebacker for Georgia, his brother played for Wake Forest, and his cousin is soon to be drafted senior running back, Nick Chubb, out of Georgia. Bradley dominated each team he played and was awarded the 2017 Hendricks Trophy as the number 1 rated defensive end in college football, en route to an All-American and first-team All-ACC senior campaign. Chubb showed off his ability throughout the 2017 season, as he compiled 72 total tackles, finishing second with 23 tackles for a loss, while grabbing 10 sacks and a forced fumble to close out his collegiate career. Chubb was electric, as he led NC State to a comeback win against Florida State in a thrilling road upset. Chubb accrued 2 sacks and 2 tackles behind the line. He has the talent and athleticism to become a difference maker at the next level with the versatility to play all over a defensive system.
Bradley Chubb is a big, chiseled prospect with great length and prototypical size. He is long-limbed, with a built upper body and thick legs. Chubb has an excellent combination of size, speed and athleticism. He is a strong athlete with the ability to set the edge with a wide base. He is an explosive athlete with a quick get off, as he can beat the blocker and make a play behind the line of scrimmage. Chubb 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. Chubb’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. The NC State product is never stationary, and he plays with buoyant feet. Chubb is a freak athlete, a trait he showcased at the 2018 NFL Combine, measuring just under 270 pounds, but he ran an impressive 4.65-second 40 yard dash. He possesses the necessary range to track down ball carriers behind the line, constrict backside lanes, and chase play side. His relentless play style and speed give him the ability to make plays down the field that other defenders would quit on. He is a physical player who loves contact. The gifted defensive end runs his feet through contact, and has developed into a sure-fire tackler. Through his collegiate career, Chubb has actively searched to strip the ball when he knows he has help around him. Utilizing his athleticism, he has the versatility to play as a stand-up linebacker in a 3–4 scheme, but his natural position will come as a base 4–3 end. Chubb’s ability as a pass rusher has been showcased throughout his career, as he recorded double digit sack totals in each of the last two years. Having faced some quality tackle competition over the course of his career, he has developed into a mature pass rusher. His hands are quick, powerful, and violent with powerful punches, letting him gain leverage over tackles before they have a chance to latch onto him. He is an absolute nightmare on twists and stunts, easily avoiding the block and getting to the QB in a hurry. He utilizes his acceleration to run the arc around the corner. Chubb is a polished prospect with outstanding athleticism and size, and he has the talent to contribute early and often in his NFL career.
Although the NC state prospect is a polished player there are areas of his game that he could stand to improve. Chubb possesses a powerful punch but can be late when attempting to use his hands on physical and explosive offensive linemen. He needs to time his hand usage earlier and utilize his hand swipes to knock away the blocker’s grip. Chubb’s flexibility will need to improve, as he can be limited in his motion. He is not a natural hip-flipper and can often play with straight legs. By playing with better knee bend he can generate more power and improve his conversion speed. He often relies on power and speed rather than bending ability and leverage. His explosion creates a quick get-off from the line, but also tends to create an off-balance play style. Chubb compensates by utilizing his elite athleticism and power to engage with tackles; however, he often gets overly invested with the initial contact and can lose sight of the ball carrier giving up the edge in the process. Chubb struggles against down blocks and will need to attack them earlier. Throughout his career, Chubb has played with high pad level, causing him to lose leverage and get off balance. By improving his flexibility and lowering his pad level, Chubb can greatly enhance his shedding ability at the point of attack.
If this draft wasn’t featuring four potential franchise signal callers, the “freak talk” may have been circling Chubb throughout this entire draft process because that’s exactly what Bradley is. Chubb weighs 270 pounds and ran a 4.65 forty. That is pure insanity, but his freakish athleticism doesn’t end there. He recorded the second best vertical, jumping 36 inches. Chubb should be categorized as an athlete in the same regard as last year’s number one overall pick, Myles Garrett. Chubb possesses high-end physical traits, versatility to play all over a defensive system, and upper tier production. With motor and athletic ability, he jumps off the tape. He is a natural leader with the talent and potential to become an All-Pro at some point in his career. He is a lock to go in the top-10 of the
2018 NFL Draft, and likely as a top-5 pick.
Projected Round: Top 10
Team Fits: Browns, Colts, Giants, Broncos
NFL Comparison: Myles Garrett
2. Marcus Davenport, University of Texas at San Antonio
Weight (lbs): 264
Career Stats: 43 Career Games
Total Tackles: 185
Tackles For Loss: 37.5
Forced Fumbles: 6
Marcus Davenport’s speed, athleticism and length made him a nightmare for opposing tackles, and he continuously grew throughout his career at UTSA. Davenport is a hybrid edge rusher, capable of playing with his hand in the dirt or as a stand up rusher. He has the athleticism to beat tackles around the corner or drop into coverage. Although he plays for a non-Power Five FBS school, Davenport has impressed, continuously dominating lesser opponents. UTSA may have lost against long-time rival North Texas, but it in no way takes away from the massacre that the Roadrunner unleashed. He dominated the game from the first snap, recording 8 tackles (4 for a loss), 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He followed up this dominant performance with a thrashing against Rice, recording 11 total tackles (3.5 for a loss) with 2 sacks, 1 pass defended, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. In 2017, Davenport recorded 55 total tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He is a dominant defensive player with sky-high potential, and someone who has has improved each year and will continue to do so at the next level.
Edge rushers with length are always in demand, and Davenport fits that mold. He is a long-limbed edge rusher with a build that has been proven to build muscle and add weight. Davenport added over 30 pounds of pure muscle over the past two seasons (from his sophomore to senior year). Davenport has consistently showed his elite athleticism, displaying elite quickness in his lateral slides in order to close out running lanes down the line of scrimmage. He is aggressive in the run game and never hesitates to unload on a ball carrier. The UTSA product consistently explodes through contact utilizing his hips to gain power. He has become a reliable tackler consistently wrapping-up the ball carrier. Davenport utilizes a downhill play style, often showcasing his fluid movement ability with good change of direction. He possesses the ability to alter his direction, changing his path to the ball carrier when getting downhill or over pursuing. Davenport utilizes his length to his advantage, gaining leverage while working as an edge rusher. His combination of length and athleticism give him the ability to consistently threaten the offensive backfield. He has showcased his transition of speed to power and the immense potential that he could uncover with more coaching. The athletic end has the ability to use his hands to knock tackles off balance disorienting them in the process. A powerful punch combined with his length allows him to set the edge and rush with more consistency.
Although he has morphed into a quality edge rusher, Davenport is not without flaws. He has grown each year becoming a dominant defender, but still has a long way to go before becoming a consistent presence in an NFL scheme. Davenport struggles with flexibility as he utilizes a high pad level in contact, which can give long tackles the opportunity to lock their hands into his chest. He is tight hipped as an edge rusher, and fails to bend consistently around the corner. Although he posted the fastest forty time at the combine with a time of 4.58 seconds, Davenport has demonstrated a delayed acceleration in his pursuit to ball carriers. He has not been able to consistently close out the edge, allowing speedy ball carriers to beat him to the corner. Davenport doesn’t seem like he possesses urgency in run support, but he is a willing tackler. While he loves to initiate contact this part of his game can consume him, so he will need to learn to avoid unnecessary contact rather than taking everything on headfirst. He has below average awareness and his instincts suffer because of it. The Roadrunner is slow to find the ball and can get lost on play-action. He has immense potential, but Davenport will need to fix these issues if he wants to become an unstoppable force at the next level.
Davenport’s greatest concern may lie in his conference, as UTSA only played one of the top 25 ranked teams throughout the 2017 season. While he dominated his lower level competition, his production doesn’t match up to the player we came to know throughout UTSA’s 2017 campaign. Overall, Davenport has the combination of size, speed and athleticism to compete as a fundamental part of an NFL system. He excelled during the senior bowl displaying his length and speed during the event. Although he played as a stand up edge rusher while wearing the Roadrunners logo, he may fit better into a base 4–3 defensive end. He will need to develop, as he has been inconsistent playing against lower level opponents, but his potential is through the roof.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Ravens, Seahawks, Cowboys, Lions
NFL Comparison: Danielle Hunter
3. Harold Landry, Boston College
Weight (lbs): 252
Career Stats: 38 Career Games
Total Tackles: 158
Tackles For Loss: 48
Forced Fumbles: 10
With outstanding athletic ability, Harold Landry has the potential to make a name for himself early in his career. Throughout his career at Boston College, Landry consistently utilized his speed and strength off the line to wreak havoc in the backfield. The BC product has been a valuable contributor since his true freshman season. After playing in 11 games through his first collegiate season, Landry became a regular starter for the last nine games of his sophomore season. With a giant step forward in 2016, Landry took home numerous All-American honors and a first-team All-ACC honor. Starting 12 of 13 games during his junior campaign, Landry finished with 22 tackles for a loss, 16.5 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. After a surprising decision to return for his senior season, the powerful edge rusher took a step backward, as he was only able to play in eight games after suffering an ankle injury that ended his season. He was still able to garner third-team All-ACC recognition recording an impressive 38 tackles, 8.5 for a loss and five sacks in limited playing time. He gained national recognition during the 2016 season after posting 6 total tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble against Wagner. Following the Wagner game, Landry secured at least one sack in the next five contests. Against Virginia Tech Landry harkened back to his junior years, recording 7 tackles and 3 sacks. Landry has tons of potential to be a game changer at the next level.
Landry is an exceptional athlete with excellent explosion and quick feet. He possesses the ability to fly out of the gate, utilizing a quick and powerful first step to glide passed the line of scrimmage. Landry has long arms to make up for his lack of height, and he has displayed the ability to take long strides in order to beat offensive lineman to the edge. He is a fluid athlete with great twitch, often showcasing loose hips and an angled upper body that creates a small target for the lineman to engage with him, gaining a grip on his body. Landry also possesses natural flexibility, with the talent to bend and rush the edge and the ability to drop underneath the tackle’s hands in order to get by him. Landry is a ball magnet, forcing 10 fumbles throughout his career, 7 of which came in 2016. Once he gets to the quarterback Landry knows how to finish, targeting the throwing hand in the process. He utilizes his long and active arms to generate plays on the ball, gathering strip sacks and batted passes. Landry is an elite athlete with the ability to chase down ball carriers and scrambling quarterbacks. He has a no quit mentality, and can tail a carrier with his plus speed and length. Landry has experience as a stand-up linebacker, but is most dominant when working from a base 4–3 scheme with his hand in the dirt. Landry is a great athlete with plus speed and quickness, and will make any pass rush better for whichever team drafts him.
Landry is a boom or bust prospect that will go in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft solely because of his athletic ability and college production. He is an undersized defensive end who may need to play as a standup outside linebacker at the next level if he can’t gain more weight. He needs to develop a wider variety of pass rush moves, as his go-to rush counter is an inside move that can thwarted by longer tackles and double teams. Landry has good upper body power, but he has yet to learn how to tie his explosive burst with active hands or powerful punches, a trait that will cause him to lose against physical blockers. The athletic prospect’s speed is his greatest strength, but he has yet to learn how to convert his speed to consistent power. Lacking that grit at the point of attack Landry can be pushed off balance, as he tends to lose leverage. He rides blocks too long, allowing the lineman to get hands into his chest. Landry is not a consistent force in the run game, and needs to do a better job of wrapping the ball carrier. He seems more comfortable chasing runners rather than meeting them headfirst coming downhill. If he could translate his speed and power into contact, Landry would be a dominant tackler. While watching the Notre Dame contest, Landry looked like a helpless puppy lost in the woods. He totaled one tackle on the day and was of no assistance as Notre Dame ran their way to seven touchdowns while gaining over 400 yards on the ground. Landry was pitiful in this contest, losing almost every rep against top offensive tackle prospect Mike Mcglinchey. Quenton Nelson also had his chance to ragdoll the athletic end throughout the course of the game. Landry will need to improve his tackling if he wants to be a three-down playmaker at the next level.
Landry lacks the size of a prototypical defensive end, but his explosiveness, speed and flexibility give him immense potential as an edge rusher. He can dip and rip around the edge to cause mayhem in the backfield, but his lack of elite strength at the point of attack may cause him to be a situational pass rusher early on. Landry has special athleticism that will let him succeed, and his versatility gives him the ability to play in either a 3–4 or base 4–3. If Landry can build on his collegiate career and improve on his hand usage and leverage, he may become an impact player sooner rather than later.
Projected Round: 1
Team Fits: Lions, Patriots, Ravens, Titans
NFL Comparison: Vic Beasley
4. Arden Key, Louisiana State University
Weight (lbs): 238
Career Stats: 31 Career Games
Total Tackles: 129
Tackles For Loss: 24.5
Forced Fumbles: 3
Arden Key has been a core contributor in LSU’s defensive scheme since he became a starter for the final nine game of his true freshman season. He has the potential to be a devastating pass-rusher in the NFL, but injury, on-field, and off-field concerns may push him down draft boards. Key increased his productivity in his sophomore year, earning second team All-SEC honors by recording 56 total tackles (14.5 for a loss), 12 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. He was an unstoppable force, becoming one of the best edge rushers in the nation. Key possessed a high motor and outstanding athleticism, but his production drastically fell over the course of his junior campaign. LSU’s star rusher dealt with a plethora of personal issues off the field and surgically repaired his shoulder in the offseason, which forced him to miss the first two weeks of the season. It wasn’t until midseason that Key resembled his 2016 self, but a knee injury forced him out of the final three weeks of his collegiate career. Key finished the year with 8 games under his belt, recording 33 total tackles, securing 5.5 behind the line, 4 sacks, and a forced fumble. When Key is motivated to play, he has ability to be a game changer. Every LSU fan had goosebumps when they packed up the bus and went to play at Ole Miss. Key led the charge, as the Tigers won the game by a score of 40–24. He was all over the field and dominated Ole Miss’ offensive line all day on route to 6 total tackles, 2 sacks and his lone forced fumble on the year. Key also secured the game-clinching sack in a comeback win against Auburn, and was consistently a spark on LSU’s defense.
Key is an explosive player with an excellent first step and efficient motion. He utilizes outstanding timing when watching the ball pre-snap to get a head start on the offensive lineman. He plays with natural flexibility, utilizing good pad level and great knee bend in order to gain leverage over blockers. He has long arms and a strong punch, and has good change of direction and balance. Key has the ability to slip underneath a lineman using unorthodox movements to confuse blockers and disappear from their view, and impressive bend around the edge. He utilizes an effective jab step to force the offensive lineman inside, creating an imbalance and a path to the outside. He has consistently shown the ability to pursue ball carriers and set the edge, forcing them inside, while also being a powerful tackler. Key has the versatility to play as a stand up 3–4 outside linebacker or a 4–3 defensive end, but with his size and weight in question, a 3–4 OLB may be better suited for the troubled playmaker.
LSU’s defensive end may have the slippery ability to confuse tackles avoiding their punch, but he is not a fluid athlete. His spin move is easy to diagnose and combat, while his punch is usually rendered ineffective when utilizing it to gain outside leverage. Key tends to show his lead hand early when attempting to use his two-hand swipe, allowing tackles to slap it away before he can engage their chests. Inconsistency has derailed his production, and he will need to learn to consistently use his length to his advantage. The undersized edge rusher lacks a willingness to help in the run game or in coverage. He is a major liability in running situations, as he struggles to release from blocks and rarely dominates tight ends at the point of attack. The star player that the collegiate world came to know in 2016 was missing in 2017, looking sluggish and slow. He lost his motivation and seemed much less consistent than in previous seasons, bulking up prior to the season and losing speed and explosiveness in the process. He may be the hardest first round talent to take within the first 32 selections. His on- and off-field issues leave many worried, and his injury history doesn’t make anyone feel better. Key left the Tigers for months for personal reasons, and during that time he underwent shoulder surgery, costing him two games at the start of the 2017 season. Teams are worried about his “personal issues” and some have compared them to former Nebraska edge rusher and Dallas Cowboy, Randy Gregory. There are red flags that surround Key that may be too hard to overlook. Although he has the talent to be a dominant edge rusher at the next level, his inconsistency on the field and off-field behavior doesn’t justify a first round pick.
Key didn’t look like the same player he was in 2016. His length and athleticism are dangerous weapons for any defensive coordinator, but he lacked speed and suddenness this season. There are many red flags when looking at Key including injuries, off-field issues and now his long speed. Key ran a 4.85 second forty yard dash at LSU’s Pro-day. Standing at 6’5 and 238 pounds, that time is not impressive in the slightest. He is a small defender with inadequate straight-line speed– that is not a good combination. Key will start his career as a designated pass rusher, but holds the potential to be a valuable contributor as a 3–4 outside linebacker rushing the edge. Due to his red flag Key should not go within the first 32 picks, but he may end up being the steal of the draft if he can focus on football in the NFL
Projected Round: 1–2
Team Fits: Rams, Broncos, Cowboys, Redskins
NFL Comparison: Randy Gregory
5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State University
Weight (lbs): 270
Career Stats: 39 Career Games
Total Tackles: 116
Tackles For Loss: 30
Forced Fumbles: 3
Sam Hubbard has been a crucial part of Ohio State’s often-dominant defense. He was a core contributor in his redshirt freshman year, replacing the suspended Joey Bosa. Hubbard earned freshman All-American honors for his play as a starter while Bosa was sidelined and as a reserve once the future third overall pick returned to the field. In his freshman season, Hubbard helped lead the Buckeyes to a National Title win over Oregon. Hubbard is a technically sound defensive end with the talent to be a consistent game changer in the Big-Ten conference, posting 28 tackles (8 for a loss) and 6.5 sacks throughout his first season with Ohio State. While he rotated into the game throughout his sophomore year Hubbard played well. He never played up to his full potential however, and that will certainly grow with good coaching in the NFL. The following year, Hubbard was awarded second team All-Conference. He posted his best season in Urban Meyer’s system, recording 42 tackles for the year, 13.5 for a loss, 7 sacks, and a pair of forced fumbles. He was a dominant factor in the team’s win against Michigan, as he repeatedly harassed the quarterback. He recorded 2.5 sacks and one of his forced fumbles in the 31–20 thrashing. The technical end displayed a similar performance in the Cotton bowl, as Ohio State dominated USC to the tune of 24–7. Hubbard led the charge, as the team slowed star running back Ronald Jones to a poor 3.4 YPC average and just 64 yards on the day. More notably, Hubbard pressured Sam Darnold all day. He ended the bowl game with 2.5 sacks and 4 total tackles in an impressive performance to solidify his collegiate career. Hubbard’s combination of size, strength and athleticism create game changing potential, and he has been a solid game manager through his tenure at Ohio State.
The Ohio State product has an excellent combination of size and athleticism with a build that could stand to gain more weight as his play evolves in the NFL. He isn’t a standout athlete, but he has good body control and excellent bend ability at the point of attack. He has displayed natural flexibility and plays with consistent pad level when coming out of stance and engaging a lineman. Hubbard possesses the talent to sink his hips and wrap around the blocker and can move inside or out. He plays with excellent balance and a wide base, often displaying active and powerful hands to knock tackles off balance. Quick out of his stance, Hubbard demonstrates a quality first step with no wasted motion. He utilizes his hands extraordinarily well, as he uses his punches at the point of attack to look for the ball carrier, and he can gain separation and attack with great burst. Hubbard’s hands are active as a pass rusher– he displays the ability to throw quick and powerful strikes to prevent the tackle from locking in his hands. He confuses tackles by utilizing a bull rush, reversing direction and spinning toward the inside. Hubbard is a relentless athlete that will not give up on any snap. He has a unique motor that will take him to plays most others will quit on. He has an incredible football mind and I.Q., able to diagnose plays quickly.
Hubbard is a quick athlete with excellent fluidity, but doesn’t possess much explosion within his play style. He is a hard worker with a high motor, but he isn’t a twitchy athlete with elite speed or quickness. Although the Buckeyes’ star has a great first step, he does not possess the desired burst of other elite athletes along the defensive line. He often needs to fight to gain separation and win against tackles. Hubbard needs to work harder than other athletic ends in order to pressure the quarterback, but his relentless attitude and technique help. Hubbard occasionally becomes high after first contact and will need to stay lower to win consistently in the trenches. Although he has an effective spin maneuver his arsenal of pass rush moves runs thin. He is a strong competitor with good play strength, but he doesn’t always access his full power, diminishing the effectiveness of his bull rush. An arc-runner rather than a power-house as a pass rusher, Hubbard needs to gain strength and power to become successful against NFL tackles. He tends to get tight when attempting to corner and pressure the quarterback, making him miss the tackle and give up leverage to the outside.
Hubbard is an enthusiastic player who has a no-quit mentality. He has great height, weight and build on his frame, but he is missing elite athleticism and burst in his play style. He is a great foundational player, but doesn’t possess the talent to be a true game changer. He will become a great role player with starter potential as a 4–3 strong side end. Hubbard has the ability to contribute as a pass rusher early in his career and as a quality edge protector in the ground game. His hard work and motor will bring him to heights he never reached in his collegiate career. With proper development and coaching, Hubbard could evolve his game into a dominant edge defender.
Projected Round: 1–2
Team Fits: Patriots, Eagles, Bills, Browns
NFL Comparison: Rob Ninkovich