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2020 NFL Draft: Top 5 defensive positional rankings

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Who are the top defenders in the 2020 NFL Draft?

Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Good morning New York Giants fans! Today is the first Saturday since August that we haven’t had a full slate of college football to keep busy until Sunday — the only game is the annual showdown between Army and Navy.

Yesterday we got started transitioning into our preparation for the NFL draft with a (very early) look at the offensive position rankings. Rather than make one big post, I decided to break them up into offensive and defensive rankings so we could discuss both separately and in their own time.

Keep in mind that these rankings are fluid. They will change over the course of the run-up to the draft and be expanded upon as our final Big Board gets built.

EDGE

  1. Chase Young (Ohio State)
  2. Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
  3. K’lavon Chaisson (LSU)
  4. Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)
  5. Curtis Weaver (Boise State)

Notes: This might as well be Chase Young and everyone else — he is just on a different level from everyone else in this class. The rest of the 2020 EDGE class isn’t necessarily “bad”, but there is a definite gulf between Young and the rest of the class. There are still a variety of rushers to fit pretty much every defensive scheme, so rankings 2-5 could well depend on the potential scheme fits.

Defensive line

  1. Derrick Brown (Auburn)
  2. A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
  3. Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)
  4. Raekwon Davis (Alabama)
  5. Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma)

Notes: For those of you wondering where A.J. Epenesa was in the EDGE rankings, here he is. I want to take this time to mention that the definition of “EDGE” can vary from person to person. For me, an “EDGE” is a player who plays downhill on the edge, but is capable of doing so from 2 or 3 (or 4) point stance. As of now, I think Epenesa will have his hand in the dirt (or on the rubber pellets, as the case may be) at the next level, so he gets classified as a defensive lineman, even if he is playing defensive end. Because of the demands on collegiate defenses, the lines between defensive end and outside linebacker are certainly blurring, so having a true defensive end is somewhat rare. That is having an effect on the NFL as well, as pretty much every defense is a hybrid of 1-gap 3-4 and 4-3 principles, playing in a variety of fronts and alignments. So while looking at these players as “EDGE” and “Defensive Line” might be confusing when viewed from the neat boxes of “DE, DT, or OLB,” “one gap or two gap”, and “3-4 or 4-3” fronts, it is simpler for football in 2019 (and beyond), where versatility is a requirement.

To quote Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, “If you don’t like change, you’re gonna like irrelevancy even less.”

Off-ball linebacker

  1. Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
  2. Dylan Moses (Alabama)
  3. Monty Rice (Georgia)
  4. Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
  5. Troy Dye (Oregon)

Notes: This is a nice group of off-ball linebackers. Simmons is the obvious prize, with all the length, athleticism, range, and instincts you want in space in the modern NFL. The rest of the list has starter upside as well, and you could probably reshuffle them any way you wanted and have a viable list — as long as Simmons is number one.

Moneybackers

  1. Hamsah Nasirildeen (FSU)
  2. Antoine Brooks Jr. (Maryland)
  3. Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne)
  4. Reggie Floyd (Virginia Tech)
  5. Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois)

Notes: I’ll admit, I decided on the fly to include this category, but it feels right. Just as there is a blending between outside linebackers and defensive ends, the lines between safeties and linebackers are blurring as well. It’s all in response to the ever-increasing speed of offense and the weaponization of spacing and tempo. Defenses need to be able to cover huge swaths of field, respond quickly to misdirection, and play in space. And in response, we’re seeing players who would have been considered “tweeners” just a few years ago have a role created for them which takes advantage of their size and athleticism to help improve speed and coverage ability in the middle of the field.

I use the term “moneybacker” simply because that’s the one we’re familiar with here — this isn’t a prediction that James Bettcher will be here next year. Different programs have different names for the position, from the “Spur” at South Carolina to the “Aztec” role played by Nat Berhe at San Diego State.

Cornerback

  1. Jeffery Okudah (Ohio State)
  2. Kristian Fulton (LSU)
  3. Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
  4. A.J. Terrell (Clemson)
  5. C.J. Henderson (Florida)

Notes: This is a really good cornerback class — to the point where we could potentially see 8-10 players ranked in the top 50 by the time all is said and done. Of particular note is Ohio State CB Shaun Wade. He would absolutely be on this list, and probably no lower than 3rd, except for the fact that he is a red-shirt sophomore. I’m going to hold off on putting his name on the list until he declares for the draft.

Safety

  1. Grant Delpit (LSU)
  2. Ashtyn Davis (Cal)
  3. Xavier McKinney (Alabama)
  4. Antoine Winfield Jr (Minnesota)
  5. Brandon Jones (Texas)

Notes: Delpit might not have had quite as strong a season as many were expecting this year, but he is still the top safety in this class. He has everything you want to see from a deep safety at the NFL level. I’m a fan of Cal safety Ashtyn Davis as an experienced and disciplined deep safety with the range, coverage skills, and tackling ability the Giants have lacked since the pairing of Will Hill and Antrel Rolle. Also keep an eye on Antoine Winfield Jr., son of the 14-year NFL veteran of the same name.