Previewing The 2018 NFL Draft: Defense
Now that the NFL season is officially over, it’s time to start looking forward to the 2018 season and how teams can improve themselves either through free agency or the draft. For the Ravens, the draft has long been considered the team’s bread and butter where they have a long track record of identifying and developing talented prospects.
In recent years, the draft results have not lived up to typical Ravens standards, but all it takes is one great draft to get the team back on track. A good example of this is the New Orleans Saints who had been mired in mediocrity for several seasons despite having a future HOFer at QB. This past offseason, the Saints had a tremendous draft that transformed the team’s defense from a historically bad unit to a good one. If the framework is in place, sometimes all it takes is 2-3 playmakers to take a team to the next level.
This is an interesting draft for the Ravens because there are a lot of potential directions the team could go. For a long time the Ravens have not needed to draft a QB because they found their franchise guy in Joe Flacco, but Flacco has been injured in recent seasons and his performance has fallen off. The Ravens could absolutely be in the mix for drafting a 1st round QB in 2018. The team also has a number of aging veterans and players coming up on the end of their contracts that will need to be replaced over the next couple seasons, and there remains a seemingly impossible void to fill at the WR1 position.
Over the next 2 articles I will be highlighting a few players at each position starting with defense and then moving on to offense. They are not necessarily the top 3 players at each position, but for the most part I mention the top prospect, a player I consider to be a 1st rounder, and another player that is “interesting” but may not necessarily be a high draft pick.
(You can discuss potential draft prospects on our message board.)
1) Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State – Chubb is one of those rare athletes that is the complete package as an edge defender – highly productive, elite size, speed and explosiveness. While he is almost certainly a lock to go in the top 5, if not 1st overall in the 2018 draft, he is the kind of player that can elevate if not transform a defensive front.
2) Harold Landry, OLB, Boston College – Landry may have been a top 10 pick if he had come out after his junior season, but he chose to return for his senior year that was unfortunately plagued by injury. Landry does not have the elite measurables of Chubb, but he is a highly disruptive player that is regularly found in opponent’s backfields.The Ravens may not have an immediate need at OLB, but Landry could be a long term answer at a position the Ravens have not gotten elite production from in several seasons.
3) Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA - Davenport is probably one of the more polarizing players in this draft class. He has size, speed and power, but is also fairly raw as a pass-rushing prospect. Davenport could go in the top 10 or could fall out of the first round entirely depending on how team’s view his potential.
1) Roquan Smith, MLB, UGA – Smith is essentially the perfect LB for today’s NFL. He has true sideline to sideline speed and is tremendous at diagnosing plays. Smith is a sure and powerful tackler and will be a highlight reel of big hits. For the Ravens he would fill a big need as an ILB who is tough against the run and the pass.
2) Tremaine Edmunds, LB, VT – At first glance, Edmunds looks to be a bit of an OLB/ILB tweener, but at the next level he projects best as an off the ball linebacker. Listed at 6’5”, 236, he has an unique profile for a LB, but when you watch him play, the athleticism jumps off the film and his ability to make an impact all over the field is impressive.
3) Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas – Jefferson is a fast and athletic LB with impressive range. Similar to Edmunds, he lacks the typical bulk of an inside LB, but may prove to be the perfect fit for today’s NFL that likes to spread defenses out.
1) Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan – Hurst is probably the premier interior pass-rushing prospect in this draft. He wins with rare explosiveness, powerful hands and leverage, but he is somewhat undersized for the DT position which may cause him to slip a few spots in the draft. The Ravens are fairly set at DT right now, but Hurst may be hard to pass on if he were to slide to 16 as the interior pass-rush is an area where the defense must improve.
2) Vita Vea, DT, UW – Vea is a player that may remind some of Haloti Ngata entering the NFL. He is massive, but also light on his feet and agile. He’s a force against the run and quick enough to also impact the passing game.
3) Hercules Mata’afa, DL, Wash St – Hercules is a fascinating prospect that could play many different roles on the defensive line. His size suggests he is more of an edge player, but he plays with power and quickness that is more translatable to the “3T” in the NFL. At Washington State he lined up both on the edge and inside and for the Ravens he could play a similar role.
1) Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama – Fitzpatrick is the top defensive back in this draft and it’s probably not even close. He has played CB and Safety for the Tide and he has the size, speed, quickness and instincts to succeed anywhere in the secondary. He reminds me a lot of Jaylen Ramsey coming into the NFL.
2) Derwin James, SS, FSU – James is more of the prototypical strong safety who is best suited for more of an in the box role than roaming the backend of the defense. He is a true playmaker though who is fast, physical and athletic.
3) Kyzir White, S, WVU - White has excellent size and length for the safety position and is a good tackler, but overall athleticism is not outstanding. He played well throughout the senior bowl practices and may have increased his stock there especially if he has a solid combine.
1) Minkah Fitzpatrick (see above)
2) Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa – Jackson is a converted WR with limited playing time in college, but he has great size, instincts and playmaking ability. He is probably a bit of a project, but his upside is very high.
3) Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado – Oliver may be the best pure press corner in the draft and he has the measurables to suggest he can continue to succeed in that role in the NFL. He has some footwork and technique issues that will need to be ironed out, but there is a lot of talent here.