Toughness. It's one of the first traits that NFL teams will state that they are looking for in draft prospects.
Will they be tough enough, both physically and mentally, to compete and stick in the NFL? That's a question that is asked by teams in the pre-draft process. I was on a mission to find out who the toughest players were, so I posed a question to dozens of the former college stars – Who was the toughest player you faced in 2018? I already released my column on the toughest offensive players. Here are the best answers regarding the top prospects on defense.
EDGE Josh Allen
Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams, who was the leader of that Aggies offense this year, said that Kentucky's Josh Allen was the best player he faced with everything he brought to the table this year. South Carolina left tackle Dennis Daley said that Allen made him look bad a handful of times and that he had several poor mental mistakes against the All-SEC pass rusher, mistakes that helped him correct some things for the back half of the season. Daley looks back on that matchup as the toughest of his career. Penn State guard Connor McGovern reiterated Allen's talent, saying the senior pass rusher was athletic and while he could win outside, he also threatened to win right up the middle on you as well. Florida's Jawaan Taylor, a potential top-10 pick, also named Allen as the best player he faced last fall.
CB Deandre Baker
One of my favorite one-on-one matchups from early on in the 2018 season was the one between South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel and Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker. When I asked Samuel who the toughest player was that he faced last season, he said it was Baker, who was both fast and physical in their battle and proved why he was one of the top cover corners in the SEC. In speaking with Auburn's Darius Slayton, he also brought up Baker, saying it was a real battle when he took the field against the Bulldogs because of the senior corner. Slayton said Baker was much better in person than what he saw on film, and they had a lot of reps against each other one-on-one in the game.
CB Kris Boyd
Texas Tech wide receiver Antoine Wesley told me that the toughest player he faced a year ago was Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, citing the senior's physicality at the line of scrimmage. The cousin of former Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor, Boyd is a player with exemplary competitiveness on the perimeter based off my film study.
LB Devin Bush
Penn State running back Miles Sanders told me that the toughest player he faced in 2018 was Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. Sanders said that Bush was smart, tough, physical, and had outstanding lateral quickness. Bush ended up being one of the big winners of the entire Scouting Combine with his athletic workout.
DE L.J. Collier
Oklahoma left tackle Bobby Evans told me the toughest player he faced was TCU's L.J. Collier, a player who has helped himself during the pre-draft process thanks to a strong performance at the Senior Bowl in January. Evans said that Collier was really strong and moved very well for his size.
LB Terez Hall
I spoke with Alabama running back Damien Harris as he walked away from the podium and I asked him who the toughest player he faced was, and he singled out Missouri linebacker Terez Hall, a fellow senior who was in Indianapolis for the Combine. I have yet to study Hall, but with him being praised in that way by one of my favorite players in the draft and a guy who I think was one of the toughest players in the SEC, he'll be one of the first linebackers who I go back to watch on tape.
DT Dexter Lawrence
It was no surprise to hear Clemson nose tackle Dexter Lawrence's name come up, as one of the most physically imposing players in the draft. Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom mentioned that Lawrence's raw strength stood out, but his explosiveness off the ball and tight technique also helped him win at the point of attack. South Carolina's Zach Bailey called Lawrence "a handful" to deal with at the point of attack.
CB Byron Murphy
Oregon wide receiver Dillon Mitchell called Washington cornerback Byron Murphy as the toughest guy he saw last season. That matches up with my film study, as Murphy is one of the more competitive corners I've watched for this draft. Mitchell said that Murphy was really patient and technically sound to go along with the attitude he showed on the field.
LB Peyton Pelluer
Washington running back Myles Gaskin, who was the first player in the history of the Pac-12 to rush for 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, told me the toughest guy he matched up with in 2018 was an archrival, linebacker Peyton Pelluer from Washington State. Pelluer, who Gaskin described as a "football guy," was not at the Combine, but he's a player who our friend Ben Fennell singled out on the Journey to the Draft Podcast multiple times after seeing the Cougars play in person. Pelluer is a tough, hard-nosed middle linebacker. We'll see if he can help himself at his Pro Day in the coming weeks.
DE Montez Sweat
Allen wasn't the only SEC edge rusher who received love, as Ole Miss left tackle Greg Little told me that a pass rusher from his archrival, Mississippi State, was the toughest player he matched up with last fall. Little said that Montez Sweat, one of the stars of the Scouting Combine, really stood out to him because of how well he used his length and that he was a real technician as a pass rusher. What's interesting about that assessment is they only truly went up against each other on a handful of plays. Little's teammate, tight end Dawson Knox, reiterated that, saying Sweat was a tough player to block in the trenches when the two teams met in the Egg Bowl.
DL Jordan Thompson
Wisconsin guard Beau Benzschawel told me that Northwestern defensive lineman Jordan Thompson, a Combine snub, was the toughest player he saw in a very talented Big 10. Benzschawel said that Thompson was a powerful player who played with great pad level and technique in the run game. Teammate Michael Deiter echoed that sentiment, saying that Thompson's high motor and physicality really made him stand out. He also did everything right on the football field. Thompson was at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January and will have to prove his athleticism at his Pro Day.
LB Devin White
LSU linebacker Devin White, another star from the SEC, was brought up multiple times which is understandable. Georgia tight end Isaac Nauta raved about White, saying he can really run, and that the junior linebacker was incredibly impressive on film.
DT Quinnen Williams
Typically, when I ask this question, I couch it by reiterating to the players that I want to hear about a prospect on ANOTHER team, to keep the prospect from giving love to one of his teammates. In Alabama center Ross Pierschbacher's case, I forgot to do that, but he gave me a great story about how hard it was to block potential top-five pick Quinnen Williams every day in practice.
Pierschbacher, a four-year starter for the Tide, told me that he studied Williams hard, trying to pick up tendencies with the hope that he'd get a jump on blocking him throughout the year. That work was futile, however, as he said Williams was constantly changing things up, keeping him from getting a bead on him as a rusher. A couple of days later, I hoped to get Williams' side of the story. I didn't even need to ask the question, as he was already telling the story of how he first moved to nose tackle as a freshman, and Pierschbacher used to just destroy him in practice every day. He spent the offseason studying the center, picking up his tendencies so that he could get the upper hand. The mental chess match went in favor of the younger lineman in Williams, who is arguably the top player in this year's draft. Pierschbacher eventually told me that Mississippi State's Jeffrey Simmons was the toughest opponent he faced in 2018 because of his motor, strength, and chip on his shoulder.
Georgia center Lamont Gaillard was a three-year starter who is extremely well-respected by his teammates. I asked him who the toughest player he faced was and he instantly said Williams, an obvious answer. When I asked who the best player was outside of Williams, Gaillard thought it over and responded with Missouri's Terry Beckner. Gaillard said that Beckner comes off the ball well inside and that his first step was the best he faced outside of Williams this fall.
DE Chase Winovich
Maryland left tackle Derwin Gray said that Michigan's Chase Winovich was a great player who you would want to face each week because of how tough of a matchup he is. When I asked what it was that stood out most about Winovich, Gray told me that it was the senior's motor that flashed most on film.
CB Rock Ya-Sin
Buffalo wide receiver Anthony Johnson scored the game-winning touchdown when he visited Temple early last fall at Lincoln Financial Field, but there was one player who really stuck with him from that game. Johnson told me that Owls cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was definitely the toughest corner he faced all season, saying the senior was explosive, had great energy, and you could tell that he had a great work ethic when he took the field against him. Ya-Sin, a two-time state champion wrestler in high school, has helped himself every step of this pre-draft process.
Lastly, I just want you to see how he fits in here with the Eagles' defense. Jackson is a high-motor guy. How often have we seen plays just like this from Cox, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Derek Barnett and the rest of the Eagles' defensive line? This is a standard that is set by the culture in that locker room, and Jackson fits right in.
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.