NFL Draft: Top 5 Defensive Prospects
While most drafts usually revolve around the quarterbacks, this year’s class is loaded on the defensive side of the ball, making it near impossible to choose just five for this list.
All of these players will most likely go in the top 20 picks, so without further ado, let’s get into the rankings.
1. Kyle Hamilton, Safety, Notre Dame
Hamilton could slip outside of the top 10 picks due to positional value and poor testing numbers at the NFL Combine and Notre Dame Pro Day, but the tape doesn’t lie and his tape is unbelievable.
Hamilton is 6’4” and 220 pounds, making him by far the biggest safety in the class, but he moves like he’s much smaller.
With this size, Hamilton is a force in the box as an effective blitzer and run defender. His fluidity and intelligence allow him to lock down opposing tight ends and running backs in coverage, erasing them from the passing attack. He also has the range to make plays on the ball in zone coverage.
While he’s maybe not best suited for a role as a single-high safety or a nickel, his dominance in almost every other area makes him a versatile weapon on defense and cements him firmly in the conversation for the title of the best overall player in the class.
2. Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Of all the pass rushers in this draft, Thibodeaux might have the highest upside.
He has the ideal size and length for the position, consistently using that length to create separation from opposing offensive tackles.
He is also arguably the most explosive pass rusher in the class, using his get-off to win with speed around the edge or converting speed to power and running through the tackle.
The concerns about Thibodeaux’s on-field ability are limited to a lack of pass rushing moves and poor hand usage, but the bigger concerns are seemingly regarding his personality.
Analysts and teams are questioning his effort and desire to be great, as he seems invested in his personal brand, but his ability and talent are as good as this draft has to offer.
3. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Hutchinson broke out for the Wolverines this past season, collecting 36 tackles, 14 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss — all career highs.
Hutchinson is an above-average athlete, showing an unbelievable ability to convert speed to power and testing off the charts at his Pro Day and the Combine.
However, his closing speed isn’t great and he lacks great bend and flexibility around the edge.
While having Hutchinson at this spot might seem controversial, players like Thibodeaux have more upside, giving him a slight edge here. That being said, Hutchinson is still an extremely high-level prospect with a high floor who will be a day one contributor for whoever drafts him.
4. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cornerback, Cincinnati
While he might not be the best defensive player in this year’s draft class, he is the best cornerback and he easily has the best nickname.
Sauce is a lockdown corner who excels in press man coverage with his physicality, length and speed.
He also went his entire career at Cincinnati without allowing a single touchdown.
Gardner has been knocked a bit for facing a lower level of competition throughout college, but when facing potential top-10 pick Jameson Williams in the postseason, he held him to just one catch for minus two yards on two targets.
Sauce is an extremely safe prospect that profiles as a top-tier No. 1 corner for years to come.
5. Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
The third edge rusher to make this top five list, but potentially the first player off the board Thursday night, Travon Walker is an athletic freak who has seen his stock skyrocket throughout the draft process.
Checking in at a massive 6’5” and 272 pounds with 35 ½ inch arms, Walker blew up the combine. He ran a 4.51 40-yard dash on top of a 35.5 inch vertical jump and 123 inch broad jump.
While Walker is expected to rush off the edge in the NFL, he was mostly restricted to rushing from the interior of the defensive line at Georgia and he currently lacks the technical aspects required for the position. Despite this, his versatility and fluidity as an athlete coupled with his freakish size will surely make him a top five pick come April 28.
Jakob Schnur is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.