2018 NFL Draft Watch: FBS Edge Defender Overview
The PFF team is going position-by-position to preview the 2017 college football season as it pertains to the 2018 NFL draft. There’s still a lot of football to be played and the evaluation stage is still very young, but a number of prospects are already on the NFL’s radar and you can read up on over 300 of them (to go with PFF signature stats on over 2,200 total prospects) in our first ever Preseason NFL Draft Guide.
We’ve already taken a close look at the offensive positions of quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, and today we’re switching over to the defensive side of the ball and a look at the edge defenders to know heading into the season:
The class of edge defenders may not be as deep as last year’s crop, but there are still some dynamic names to know at the top. Boston College’s Harold Landry sits atop the class with the nation’s top returning pass-rush grade at 89.0. He’s solid against the run and athletic enough to create havoc off the edge. LSU’s Arden Key is right there with Landry, though he has some work to do in the run game. Still, he’s an explosive rusher who ranked fourth in the draft class in pass-rush productivity at 15.5 last season. NC State’s Bradley Chubb brings a different style from both Landry and Key as he’s an excellent run defender (fifth in the draft class with a run stop percentage of 10.4 percent) and he wins more with power as he picked up a bullrush pressure every 59.7 rushes, ninth-best in the draft class. Keep an eye on Ohio State’s Tyquan Lewis who ranked eighth in the draft class with a pass-rush productivity of 13.3 and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo who led the way at 18.6 as a movable chess piece on Oklahoma’s defense.
PFF Edge stats to know
- While Alabama’s Rashaan Evans may move to more of a full-time linebacker role this fall, he led all draft class edge defenders with a pass-rush productivity of 21.5 (19 total pressures on 72 rushes).
- Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa was the best in the class at picking up pressure to his opponent’s inside shoulder, creating pressure once every 15.7 rushes.
- Ole Miss’ Marquis Haynes has three strong years of production off the edge, picking up 27 sacks, 26 QB hits and 62 hurries on 806 career rushes. He needs to improve his work against the run where his grade has never topped 51.1 (freshman year in 2014).
Can make a big jump
- Uchenna Nwosu, USC: Nwosu is an athletic edge defender who has done his best work against the run to this point (82.3 run defense grade in 2016). He’s still developing as a pass-rusher, but has the tools to take a big leap in that department this season.
Sleeper to know
- Hercules Mata’afa: Quietly productive in the Pac-12 for two years, Mata’afa has 13 sacks, 24 QB hits and 56 hurries on 621 career pass-rushes and his pass-rush productivity of 11.8 ranked fourth among interior defensive linemen last season (played more on the interior though he projects as an edge defender at the next level). Mata’afa played 90-plus snaps at six different positions last season and that versatility to create havoc up and down the line will be coveted at the next level.
- Clelin Ferrell, Clemson: After losing two top draft picks in Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, Clemson was depleted on the edge for much of the 2016 season. Ferrell stepped it up down the stretch, ranking 17th in the nation from Week 11 through the end of the year, and if that breakout continues into 2017, he’ll be a top name to watch next spring.
Non-Power 5 watch
- Marcus Davenport, UTSA: With great length at 6-foot-7, 255-pounds, Davenport should be on the NFL’s radar and a close watch this fall. He knows how to shed blocks in the run game (81.8 run grade in 2016) and he’s on the cusp of breaking out as a pass-rusher, so look for him to be a hot name if he can take that next step this season.