This class has been billed as the Year of the Defensive Linemen because of the quality of talent at the top and the overall depth, both inside at defensive tackle and off the edge. In each round of the draft, talented players will be coming off the board who could potentially terrorize quarterbacks for years to come in the NFL. Here’s a look at some of the names who stand out most to me based on my film study.
This is the player who I feel is at the top of the class coming into the event.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State
While he’s not quite the prospect that his brother Joey was coming from the Buckeyes in 2016, Nick Bosa is the best player in this draft class. A big, athletic, technically refined pass rusher who is very advanced in the art of using his hands and attacking offensive linemen, Bosa will almost certainly go in the top three picks and has a good shot to go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. He’s in his own tier when it comes to edge players in this class based off what I’ve seen so far.
This is the player who I expect to see perform best in the athletic testing portion of the workout.
Rashan Gary, Michigan
There’s some debate about whether Gary will ultimately be viewed as an edge player or as an interior defensive lineman. I think he’ll see a little bit of both in the NFL regardless and he’ll want to be factored in on the outside when it’s all said and done. A rare blend of size and explosive power, Gary is listed at 6-5, 287 pounds, but will test like an alien in Indianapolis if we are to believe the reported numbers. Expect the 40-yard dash, 10-yard split, and jumps to be incredibly impressive for Gary, particularly when you account for his weight. His shuttles should be very impressive as well. The undersized pass rushers such as Brian Burns from Florida State, Jachai Polite from Florida, and Josh Allen from Kentucky should stand out in multiple areas in terms of raw numbers as well with their athleticism.
Trust The Tape
This is the player who I don’t expect to test off the charts and is a better football player than he is an athlete. With that in mind, don’t drop him down the board with a subpar workout!
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
Some analysts have Ferrell in the Top 10 picks of the draft, and some even in the Top 5. A three-year starter for the Tigers, the junior pass rusher has been productive against both the run and the pass, can drop into coverage, and has gotten incrementally smarter and more technically refined each year on the field since his freshman year. I don’t, however, expect him to set the stopwatch on fire in Indy. That’s OK. Rushing the passer in the NFL is based on, mostly, effort and technique and Ferrell has plenty of both.
This is the player who I expect to see test better than most in the media believe they will perform based off of current projections.
Jalen Jelks, Oregon
I’ve been higher on Jelks than most throughout the process so far, and I don’t expect that to change. He’s long and athletic on film with an impressive burst to close and a motor that doesn’t quit. The senior, who thought he would be a basketball player growing up, earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors this year for the Ducks. He has been knocked his production of just 15.5 sacks in four years on campus, something about the way he plays gives me a Danielle Hunter vibe. Hunter had a lot of similar traits coming out of LSU and also lacked top-end production. You know what else Hunter did? He shocked a lot of people with an impressive workout at the Combine. That’s something I expect from Jelks as well.
Will Kill The Drills
This is the player who may or may not be a great athlete, but he will look the best in the position-specific drills after the athletic portion of the workout.
Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite is a freakish athlete, and he should perform extremely well in Indianapolis in all of the athletic tests. He has an explosive first step to pair with great flexibility turning the corner, and that’s how he wins as a pass rusher more often than not. That athleticism will transfer to the bag drills, but let’s not look over one other part of his skill set. While he’s more of a "high-side" rusher, relying on speed to win upfield, I thought Polite had pretty violent hands when attacking blockers. I think that will show up in those drills as well.
Most To Prove
This is the player who has the most to prove away from the field, whether it’s during the interview process, medical examinations, or even the weigh-ins.
Brian Burns, Florida State
Burns is a really, really impressive pass rusher who should light up the athletic testing portion of this event. A loose-hipped, explosive pass rusher with great flexibility and twitch, Burns has been productive for the Seminoles since his true freshman year of 2016. He weighed around 220 pounds back then. He was listed at 235 pounds on the team’s website this past season. What did he actually play at? What will he measure in at in Indianapolis? Will his lack of bulk scare teams away in April? The first two questions will get answered soon, but I can say this: His film is outstanding. It’s rare to see a speed rusher come out of college with an understanding of how to set tackles up for failure like Burns does. Instead of relying purely on his quickness and speed turning the corner, Burns instead relies more on long-arm bull rushes to win low-side against tackles, as he transitions from speed to power much like Dwight Freeney did for years in the NFL. The weight will hold some people up, and there is a certain benchmark he’ll have to hit for most teams, but he’s a great player.
Most Productive College Player
This is the player who produced at the highest level, either in his final year in college or throughout his entire career.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
Allen was getting first-round buzz over the summer after an up-and-down junior season, but he brought the heat in his final year on campus and has now climbed up to the level where he is nearly a lock for the Top 5 picks in the draft. No edge rusher at the Combine from the FBS level has more sacks than Allen, who racked up an astounding 17 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his final season in Lexington. A Montclair, New Jersey native, Allen was a high school wide receiver who moved permanently to outside linebacker once he arrived on campus and never looked back.
Best Pro Comparison
Comparing draft prospects to NFL players is tough, but here’s a player with the easiest picture to paint when looking at their NFL future through my eyes.
Charles Omenihu, Texas
I studied Omenihu over the summer coming off his junior season and I was pretty impressed with his film. Omenihu is a long, strong edge player who consistently did a good job in the run game and knew how to use his hands as a pass rusher. I wondered what his overall upside would be getting after the quarterback, but I thought he’d have the opportunity to slide inside and do some damage against guards in the NFL in different subpackages. These are some of the same things I thought about Trey Flowers coming out of Arkansas a few years ago, and since then he’s become one of the best players on Bill Belichick’s defense in New England as a versatile, inside-outside defensive lineman who can defend the run and disrupt the passing game as well. They’re built very similarly and present similar skill sets as well.
Let’s face it, all of these players have great stories to tell, but which guy has taken the most unbelievable journey to get to this point in their career? Here’s the one that has caught my eyes (and ears) the most.
Porter Gustin, USC
Gustin is, in the best way possible, a cross between a football player and a comic book character. Standing at 6-5, 265 pounds, Gustin will look really impressive upon first glance. That should be expected, considering the senior Trojan lives for improving his body. Without going too deep into the details, Gustin’s diet, remarkable training regimen, and "mountain man" upbringing make him a true marvel to behold in the weight room. Injuries have been a big issue for the senior, however, as he’s had each of the last two years cut short by different ailments. Whether or not he goes on to NFL stardom remains to be seen, but Gustin is definitely one of the more intriguing and fun players to read about in this draft class.
This is the player who comes from a lower level of competition (outside of the Power 5 conferences) but still has a very bright future in the NFL.
Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion
A very productive player in Conference USA for Old Dominion, Oshane Ximines is one of the more popular sleepers along the defensive line in this class. The multi-year captain finished with 32.5 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in four years as a starter, and what stands out most to me about him is the way he uses his hands to win at the top of the rush. At the Senior Bowl, I thought he had a bit of a slow start to the week but turned it on in the back half once he got adjusted, and I expect that he’ll test fairly well in Indianapolis. In a way, Ximines is maybe a lesser version of Clelin Ferrell. With a strong week at the Combine, Ximines could hear his name called on the second day of the NFL Draft.
This is the player with a special tie to the City of Brotherly Love or to the Eagles who you should keep a close eye on in Indianapolis.
Shareef Miller, Penn State
I asked Michigan offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty at the East-West Shrine Game who was the best player he faced in 2018, and he told me it was Shareef Miller. The Philadelphia native started for two seasons for the Nittany Lions, racking up 14.5 sacks in his career. A bull rusher who loves to get inside opponents’ pads and drive them backward, Miller will certainly be a name to keep a close eye on at this event. Can he follow in the footsteps of other Penn State stars who have torn up the Combine in recent years? If so, that will really help his draft stock.
We get to read all about the measurements for all these players over the next few weeks ... but wouldn’t it be nice to have some context? What is considered a "good" 40-yard dash time for any given position? What about arm length? The broad jump? Here’s what the average player drafted has looked like over the last decade (by my records).
|Hand Size||9 3/4 inches|
|Arm Length||33 3/8 inches|
|Unofficial 40 Time||4.71 seconds|
|Official 40 Time||4.75 seconds|
|10-Yard Split||1.63 seconds|
|3-Cone Drill||7.18 seconds|
|Short Shuttle||4.38 seconds|
|Broad Jump||118 inches|
|Vertical Jump||34.5 inches|
Fran Duffy is the producer of the Emmy-nominated Eagles Game Plan show which can be seen every gameday during the season on NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is also the host of two Eagles-related podcasts, Eagle Eye in the Sky, which examines the team from an X's and O's angle each and every week as well as the Journey to the Draft podcast, which covers college football and the NFL Draft all year round. Fran also authors the Eagle Eye in the Sky column, which runs four times a week during the football season to serve as a recap for the previous game and to preview the upcoming matchup. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging, and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team’s games, practices, and opponents.