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2020 NFL Draft: Consensus defensive positional rankings

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Invictus, Nick, Joe, and I rank the draft’s top defenders

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

The second half of the official Big Blue View consensus positional rankings are here. Last time we ranked the offensive position groups, and now it’s time to look at the defense.

Once again InvictusXI, Joe DeLeone, Nick Falato, and I got together to talk draft, comparing our rankings and thoughts on players. The defensive side of the ball proved to be a bit easier than the offensive side, as all but one position group has a clear-cut top talent.

As with the offensive side of the ball, these rankings are based on our own evaluations, though we did also prioritize the traits we felt the New York Giants should be looking for at each position.

Interior Defensive Line

  1. Derrick Brown (Auburn)
  2. Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina)
  3. A.J. Epenesa (Iowa)
  4. Ross Blacklock (TCU)
  5. Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma)
  6. Marlon Davidson (Auburn)
  7. Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M)
  8. Davon Hamilton (Ohio State)
  9. Raekwon Davis (Alabama)
  10. Jason Strowbridge (North Carolina)

Chris: You can never have enough defensive tackles. That’s how the saying goes, right? We’ll see what happens when this all congeals into our big board, but I suspect we’ll only have true “first round” grades on the top three players. But that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the next seven all go by the middle of the third round, maybe by the end of the second.

Invictus: Interior defensive line is a really, really good position in this draft, with the strength of it really being in that end of the first to middle of the second round with guys like Blacklock, Gallimore, Davidson, Madubuike and all. What’s interesting is that this is a bit of a catch all. I classify interior linemen as guys that aren’t prototype EDGEs. That means 5 techniques will be included, and those are guys that will likely be AJ Epenesa and Jason Strowbridge. Epenesa is not the most athletically gifted but he makes up for it in pure motor. He should be a starting caliber 3-4 DE that can moonlight as a 3 technique for several teams.

Nick: We all know Dave Gettleman has an affinity for the hog mollies on both sides of the football. Much to the dismay of a lot of Giants’ fans, this draft is full of defensive line talent. That is, of course, if Gettleman follows through with that love affair and selects a defensive tackle in the top 100. However, I feel that Gallimore, Epenesa, Madubuike, and Blacklock have a change to slide into the top half of the first round, which would effectively push some talent at other positions down to the Giants at 36. That would be a dream scenario for the Giants. We also do not know the future of Leonard Williams or Dalvin Tomlinson with the Giants, so I wouldn’t be shocked if Gettleman invests a late pick on this deep position that he seems to love so much.

Edge

  1. Chase Young (Ohio State)
  2. K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)
  3. Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)
  4. Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)
  5. Joshua Uche (Michigan)
  6. Terrell Lewis (Alabama)
  7. Curtis Weaver (TCU)
  8. Jonathan Greenard (Florida)
  9. Bradley Anae (Utah)
  10. Darrell Taylor (Tennessee)
  11. Jabari Zuniga (Florida)
  12. Kenny Willekes (Michigan State)
  13. D.J. Wonnum (South Carolina)
  14. Alton Robinson (Syracuse)
  15. Alex Highsmith (Charlotte)

Chris: Assuming nothing changes between now and the fourth overall pick, the Giants are going to need more pass rushers. It’s unlikely (but not impossible, or so I keep telling myself, that Chase Young slips to fourth overall. But as we got to the eighth spot in the ranking, we realized it was more likely that the Giants would throw middle- or late-round picks at the position in hopes of getting a steal. So we decided to expand our Top-10 to a Top-15 to try and prepare everyone for the inevitable “Who’s that!?” situations toward the end of the draft. Also, Joe and I really wanted to profile Alex Highsmith, but couldn’t get our hands on enough tape to compile a report up to our usual standards. But he’s good. I don’t care what level you’re playing at, if you get 135 tackles, 40 tackles for a loss, 18 sacks (15 in his final year), 4 passes defensed, and 4 forced fumbles in two seasons ... You can play.

Invictus: With the edge rushers, there was little disagreement with the top four. I personally think after Chase Young, K’Lavon Chaisson is on a tier unto himself. I personally have given him a top 10 grade for the class and believe him to be an elite, scheme-versatile prospect. This is due to his movement skills that’s fused with his effort. He plays with a motor running hot at all times and he’s got easy athleticism to go along with it. Just needs to clean up a few technique issues and some team is getting a monster

Nick: The 2020 edge class isn’t full of depth and lacks mid-tier talent, but there are some interesting players that I think the Giants may look to add. There’s a reason we here at Big Blue View went with 15 prospects, and that’s because the Giants need to throw some accurate darts at the board and find some players at this position. Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith are two names to look at early on Day 3. If the Giants want to add some edge pressure at 36, Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara would be a welcomed addition. His explosive traits and overall athletic ability could really help the Giants at this position. I also feel Wisconsin’s Zack Baun, who we have listed as an off-ball linebacker, could help the pass rush and be a huge get for Big Blue at 36. His versatility allows for him to play at the second level, but Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard utilized him in many roles. If he falls to the Giants, and that’s a big if, I feel Graham would do the same thing, and Baun would be a pillar for the Giants defense for years to come.

Joe: Chris pointed out our eagerness to profile Alex Highsmith, but could hardly find any tape on him to do so. With what I was able to salvage in his one game against Clemson, I was able to see what the hype was about. His production in college was incredible, and more often than not it translates to the next level. 15 sacks in a college football season is a crazy number. You can see the drive, the technique, and the awareness for him to succeed. With pass rush still being a need for the Giants, a Day 3 flyer on Highsmith could pay off huge dividends.

Off-Ball Linebacker

  1. Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)
  2. Patrick Queen (LSU)
  3. Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)
  4. Zack Baun (Wisconsin)
  5. Jordyn Brooks (Texas Tech)
  6. Troy Dye (Oregon)
  7. Malik Harrison (Ohio State)
  8. Akeem Davis-Gaither (Appalachian State)
  9. Willie Gay Jr. (Mississippi State)
  10. Logan Wilson (Wyoming)
  11. Justin Strnad (Wake Forest)
  12. Joe Bachie Jr. (Michigan State)
  13. Evan Weaver (Cal)
  14. Shaquille Quarterman (Miami)
  15. David Woodward (Utah State)

Chris: Like with the edge class we decided to go over 10 players because we felt the Giants could take some fliers at the off-ball linebacker position in the middle to later rounds. We also had a pretty interesting discussion on which traits we wanted to prioritize at the position — what kind of linebacker we think the Giants should pursue if they do draft one. We ultimately settled on speed and ability to play in space. The Giants have guys who can plug gaps on the interior, they need a big infusion of speed in the middle of their defense. And as a side note, it’s pretty interesting that Oklahoma has two defensive players in the top five of their respective position groups on defense. It’s been a long time since that’s happened.

Invictus: At the off-ball linebacker spot, we decided to place Zack Baun in the mix instead of at edge, mostly due to the fact that he did a little of everything at Wisconsin and his size probably doesn’t hold up as well. The debate between Kenneth Murray and Patrick Queen is pretty fierce and really just a matter of what you specifically want in your linebacker. You want a perfect fit at SAM, a run stopper with really good lateral mobility that is one of the best gap shooting backers in the draft? That’s Kenneth Murray. Do you want a rangy middle linebacker that is instinctual and is a form tackler? That’s Patrick Queen, who, despite not having the athleticism of Devin White, I think has a better football IQ coming out of LSU.

Nick: I expressed my feelings about Zack Baun above, and there’s several linebackers here that I feel the Giants should look to add. The Giants needs an athletic linebacker, who can cover the tight end position and utilize sideline to sideline speed. Oregon’s Troy Dye is an option as a lighter linebacker, with solid athleticism, but I really love App State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither. His movement skills, bend, and coverage ability can really assist the Giants in many ways. App State is a smaller school, but turn on the film of Davis-Gaither against South Carolina, and you can’t miss his play-making ability. Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr. is also a player with supreme athletic ability, who could assist with the pass rush and do well in coverage. I’m a big fan of Wyoming’s Logan Wilson. He doesn’t necessarily have the athletic ability of the previous two prospects, but he can still scoot. Wilson does well within the box, is physical at the point of attack, and does a great job diagnosing plays and reacting. I feel like more people should be talking about Wilson, and a team may benefit with a later prize, if the NFL views him similarly to draft twitter.

Cornerback

  1. Jeffery Okudah (Ohio State)
  2. C.J. Henderson (Florida)
  3. Kristian Fulton (LSU)
  4. Jeff Gladney (TCU)
  5. Damon Arnette (Ohio State)
  6. A.J. Terrell (Clemson)
  7. Trevon Diggs (Alabama)
  8. Noah Igbinoghene (Auburn)
  9. Jaylon Johnson (Utah)
  10. Bryce Hall (Virginia)

Safety

  1. Grant Delpit (LSU)
  2. Xavier McKinney (Alabama)
  3. Antoine Winfield Jr. (Minnesota)
  4. Kyle Duggar (Lenoir-Rhyne)
  5. Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois)
  6. Ashtyn Davis (Cal)
  7. K’Von Wallace (Clemson)
  8. Terrell Burgess (Utah)
  9. Brandon Jones (Texas)
  10. Antoine Brooks Jr. (Maryland)

Chris: Ultimately we decided to make Delpit our top safety based on his range, and in spite of his atrocious tackling in 2019 (We’re hoping that was due to the shoulder injury). McKinney is a good, well-rounded safety, but Delpit has the range to be a true center-fielding free safety in the mold of Eric Berry or Earl Thomas, and that is incredibly valuable. Personally, I have three of these players graded as “STAR”s or safety/linebacker hybrids: Duggar, Chinn, Brooks Jr, as well as Isaiah Simmons, Davis-Gaither, and Tanner Muse (of Clemson). “Tweener” used to be a dirty word, but I think these guys can really help a defense adapt to changing offensive substitutions without the defense having to leave its base package. That should prove to be very valuable as more offenses adopt Spread and Air Raid concepts.

Nick: Delpit comes in first for us because of his range. I like McKinney’s skill set as a player that can do a lot well, but Delpit’s speed could be a difference maker as a single high safety, which is something the Giants’ should prioritize. I feel the middle tier of safeties here, Chinn, Dugger, and Davis, are exceptional players. Chinn and Dugger come from smaller programs, but nailed the combine and the Senior Bowl. Davis didn’t get to compete in the combine. But if he did, he would have skyrocketed up boards. His functional athletic ability and short area quickness are hard to ignore, and he’s relatively new to football, so his upside is through the roof.

Joe: Dugger and Chinn are two of the most underrated players in this years draft class. Coming from small programs has no impact on their elite athletic makeup, with both guys showing out at the NFL Combine. Despite listing the two of them in the back end of the top five, theres a legitimate possibility teams fall in love with the positional versatility they offer. Dugger or Chinn will be drafted way earlier than most fans would expect, and both have what it takes to make an immediate impact.