Five defensive players in which 2017 is a make or break year

PFF's John Breitenbach highlights five defensive players from the 2015 NFL draft that will need an impressive third season to cement their statues with their teams.

| 2 weeks ago
(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Five defensive players in which 2017 is a make or break year

The top of the 2015 draft class featured a handful of outstanding players. Although it will not be remembered for its depth, a handful of studs also went off the board in rounds two or three. As always, however, there were also a number of misses over the course of the three days.

Yesterday, we featured five offensive players drafted in the first round who’s fifth-year contract option could be in jeopardy following this regular season. Today, PFF Analyst John Breitenbach highlights five defensive players selected throughout the 2015 NFL draft who are in need of a big season to cement their status as successful selections:

(Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Dante Fowler Jr., ED, Jacksonville Jaguars

Suffering a torn ACL on the opening day of minicamp in the fall of 2015 could have scuppered Jaguars edge defender Dante Fowler’s career before it had really started. The injury set him a year behind his fellow draft mates, and his remediation in 2016 did not go flawlessly. As the third overall pick, Fowler’s 39 combined pressures were underwhelming in 2016.

He managed a pass-rush grade of only 58.8, and after free agency and the NFL draft his offseason, he’ll have to compete in a defensive line rotation that includes the newly-arrived Calais Campbell from Arizona and former Temple standout Dawuane Smoot. Fowler’s potential is high, but will have to take advantage of any and all opportunities in 2017.

Eric Kendricks, LB, Minnesota Vikings

For Vikings LB Eric Kendricks, athleticism goes a long way in the NFL, but it is not sufficient in isolation. Questionable instincts and subpar physicality have prohibited both Eric, and his bother Mychal’s, NFL development. Shedding blocks is a weakness, in which is highlighted by a 64.9 grade against the run last season.

More positively, Kendricks proved to be an asset in coverage in 2016, limiting quarterbacks to a passer rating of only 85.3 into his coverage. He picked off one pass and deflected six more, boosting his playmaking production after an indifferent rookie year. His overall PFF grade raised from a 48.3 as a rookie in 2015, to an 80.3 in his sophomore season. Although Kendricks enjoyed a much more impressive second season, he’ll need to develop further to nail down a long-term starting role in Minnesota.

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(Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Quinten Rollins, CB, Green Bay Packers

Packers CB Quinten Rollins had a legitimately excellent rookie season, posting a passer rating of only 58.1 on 41 targets into his coverage. He amassed two interceptions and five pass deflections, while altogether preventing opposing receivers from reaching the endzone. With an expanded role in 2016, Rollins failed to produce an extrapolation in production. Rollins took a big stride backwards, managing only one interception and four pass deflections. He lost all reliability, giving up seven touchdowns and a passer rating of 133.8, both figures the second-worst among cornerbacks in the league.

The Packers secondary was a mess in 2016, and Rollins has to prove he can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem to cement his long-term status in the Green Bay secondary.

Henry Anderson, DI, Indianapolis Colts

Injuries have prohibited Colts DI Henry Anderson from fulfilling his prodigious potential. After tearing his ACL as a rookie, the Colts’ third round pick lost further reps in his second season through a recurrent problem to the same knee. He has looked every bit an NFL player when his body has held up.

Anderson earned an overall grade of 77.0 last season, registering 15 combined QB pressures, two batted passes and 11 stops in only 308 snaps. Those numbers are pretty good when considering he was also apparently playing through pain. Production-wise, Anderson also managed 22 combined QB pressures, two batted passes and 23 stops as a rookie. Getting him on the field will be a priority for the Colts in 2017, and Anderson should hope to prove his production value in his third year.

Denzel Perryman, ILB, Los Angeles Chargers

Despite fielding a grade of 81.1 as a rookie in 2015, Chargers LB Denzel Perryman was immediately supplanted by rookie fifth-round pick Jatavis Brown as the Chargers’ primary inside linebacker a season ago. Hamstring and knee injuries further curtailed Perryman’s 2016 season in which he managed only 481 snaps.

That being said, the Chargers’ appear to possess a much more balanced linebacking corps with the combination of Brown and Perryman. The former Miami Hurricane is at his best downhill, earning the league’s best run stop percentage as a rookie at his position in 2015. Missed tackles became a minor issue last season as he missed 13 total tackles in 2016. His career passer rating allowed of 110.3 is also a little concerning, but with a good year in 2017, Perryman can provide some stability as the Chargers’ specialised run-stuffer in the middle.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • hdogg48

    I wouldn’t call 2017 a make or break year for Steelers OLB Bud Dupree.

    But if you were evaluating 2015 defensive draftees, then you
    would certainly put him in the top 5 of those in line
    for having a BREAKOUT year.

    • Malachi

      agreed and he could easily take the place of perryman, who was the the 48th overall pick, aka a 2nd rounder… lol

    • Vinnie Two-Toes

      nitwit named Vinny Two Toes???

  • Andre Taylor

    One of the biggest problems in the NFL today is coaches feeling pressure from fans, owners and upper management to rush players on the field before they are ready. Sometimes it comes from playing guys out of position, injuries, or the player not fitting the scheme. As much as i despise Bill Belchick, he is by far the best coach at putting the player in the best position to succeed. Maximizing the players strengths and not putting the player in a role he is ill suited, far to many times coaches play guys out of position. Jadeveon Clowney is a perfect example, at 6ft 6 and 275lbs. The Texans coaching staff lined Clowney up at OLB, he gets hurt and is in and out of the lineup. Because of J.J. Watts injury the Texans were forced to put him back at his natural position and Clowney took off. Before that the word bust was becoming associated with his name. Had they played Clowney with his hand in the dirt from day one, who knows how good he could have been. The same happen in Oakland last year, with rookies Jihad Ward and Shilique Calhoun. DC Ken Norton Jr, moved 6ft 5, 260lbs Calhoun to OLB. Which made no sense, in college Calhoun was a DT/DE. Why would the Raiders think for one second that OLB was his best position, Norton also had Ward at DE. Again at 6ft 5, 300lbs, why have Ward on the outside instead of at one of the DT spots in their 4-3 scheme. In the case of Melvin Ingram, his first 2 years in the NFL were average at best. However the Chargers allowed Ingram to develop and he rewarded their patients with to excellent seasons. So players are late bloomers, some need more time, coaching, conditioning both mentally and physically to adjust to the pro-game. I truly wonder how many players careers have been lost because of this same issue, it starts with the scouting and drafting of players. Coaches should not be looking to force a player to fit their scheme, rather putting that player in the best position to have success.

    • Paul Francisco

      Melvin Ingram was a DE in college and was moved to OLB. Ingram’s injuries (ACL / hip injury) are the main things that held him back a couple of years. Ingram will now move to DE after 5 seasons.

      Clowney’s main problem was his torn meniscus and microfracture surgery his freahman year, causing him to miss preseason his 2nd year.

      • Andre Taylor

        Paul Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney are two different types of defensive players, im not sure why you felt the need to call yourself correcting me. Ingram was a DE in college, as a matter of fact he was moved around quite a bit to take advantage of his skillset. Lining up in the back field, catch short goal-line passes and even returned a fake punt for a touchdown. However Ingram is 6ft 1 and about 260lbs, in the 3-4 scheme that the Chargers were running Ingram did not have the size to line up at the DE position in there base defense. I spoke on Ingram battling a few injuries, i didn’t say Ingram was played out of position. Even with injuries he did not perform at the level the Chargers were expecting after drafting #11 overall in 2012. But because the Chargers were patient enough to allow him to develop, Ingram has turned into an excellent player. Clowney was taken #1 overall in 2014, but at 6ft 6 and 275lbs. Clowney with or without injuries should have never been at OLB PERIOD, after being primarily a DE and moved inside on 3rd down and obvious passing downs in college. A man that size isn’t going to be effective standing up, when he was moved back to his natural position at DE is when he began to fulfill the vast expectations placed on him after being the #1 overall pick. Despite having elite straight line speed, quickness and solid overall ability, Clowney isn’t an OLB. There are only a select few men his size that can be productive at that position. Clowney isn’t one of them, you want to blame injuries. Instead of accepting reality, take it from someone that played D1 college football. Sure injuries can stunt a guys development and overall growth, but that wasn’t Clowneys problem. One of the least talked about issues in teams scouting and developing players is a players schematic fit. Coaches are always so eager to try and force a player to fit their scheme, or play these players out of their more natural positions. There are only a select few that are universal, players with the God given talent to excel no matter the position, scheme, or team. The consistently successful franchises are the ones that hit more than they miss on scouting and developing players in their schemes. Then defensive coordinator Romeo Crenell admitted that he made the mistake of trying to force Clowney into the OLB position. Fans are eager to call players a bust, however more times than not alot of these so-called bust are forced into position and roles that dont maximize their ability and skillsets. So again i don’t know why you call yourself correcting me, you want to blame injuries for Clowneys lack of production his first few years. However how do you not know that had Clowney not been at OLB, maybe he doesn’t get injured. What we do know is once Clowney was moved to DE, his level of play changed quite a bit. Those are facts, your post was based upon your opinion. In the case of Ingram, it was less about his position flexibility and more about him being giving the time to develop. Not benched or traded, or the coaching staff down on him. Some players like Joey Bosa, Odell Beckham Jr, Von Miller make an immediate impact, while others like Ingram, Andrew Whitworth are late bloomers and need more time to develop. That was my point, why you felt the need to reply and try to correct me using injuries as an excuse made no sense. I welcome others opinions, however if you call yourself correcting me at least be right.

  • Kyle Smith

    Eric Kendricks has no business being on this list. Barr had a down year. But Kendricks was steadily consistent and played at a high level. Just because he has an area to improve upon doesn’t mean it’s make or break for him this season. He’ll be on this team for a while. This part wasn’t very thought out when published.