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NFL draft: Breaking down top defensive players available

·9 min read

Top defensive players available in the NFL draft, scheduled for April 29 to May 1 (x-early entrant; y-did not play in 2020, opt out).

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EDGE RUSHERS

Position outlook: Elite pass rushers tend be among the first first players off the board. There are none of those in this draft. The best of the bunch this year are intriguing athletes with modest college production and short careers.

Kwity Paye, 6-foot-3, 261 pounds, Michigan

Breakdown: Explosive athlete, who can play with speed, power and agility. But it didn't translate into consistently dominant performances as he had only 11 1/2 sacks. The best could be yet to come as he develops technique.

Fact: Born in a refugee camp in the Republic of Guinea, Paye's mother, Agnes, moved with her two sons to Rhode Island in 1999.

Gone by: top 20.

x-Jayson Oweh, 6-5, 257, Penn State

Breakdown: Size-speed combination is elite. Plays with great effort, but he is still a work in progress when it comes to pass-rush moves and football instincts. Did not have a sack last season, but was still an obvious disruptor.

Fact: The New Jersey native was basketball-focused until his junior year of high school.

Gone by: This kind of pass-rush potential is unlikely to get out of the first round.

Jaelan Phillips, 6-6, 260, Miami

Breakdown: Another looks-the-part pass rusher with elite traits, though might not be as versatile as Paye or Oweh. Stand-up edge seems to be his path to stardom.

Fact: Five-star recruit out of high school who went to UCLA. His career was nearly derailed by concussions, but he returned to football at Miami last year and lived up to the hype.

Gone by: Injury risk makes him top-40 instead of top-20 prospect.

x-Azeez Ojulari, 6-2, 249, Georgia

Breakdown: Quick and low off the edge, with strong hands to fight off blockers. Ojulari is built more like a traditional linebacker and might be more versatile than any other player in this group.

Fact: Parents are Nigerian immigrants and his grandfather was a Nigerian prince.

Gone by: There could be a run on this group from 15-30 and Ojulari should be part of that.

xy-Gregory Rousseau, 6-7, 266, Miami

Breakdown: Long and quick, but the former high school receiver is still filling out his frame and learning to play with power. Is he a future tackle, 3-4 end or super-sized speed rusher?

Fact: Played just one full season of college football and was an All-American with 15 1/2 sacks in 2019 before opting out of 2020.

Gone by: Could be the first among this group off the board or the last.

xy-Joe Tryon, 6-5, 259, Washington

Breakdown: One-year starter, and it was a big one in 2019, showing off his length, burst off the line and effort. But after opting out last season he just hasn't played much over the past four seasons.

Fact: Four-sport athlete in high school with basketball, baseball and track, where he was a sprinter.

Gone by: Early second round, with a chance to crack the bottom of the first.

Others: x-Joseph Ossai, Texas; x-Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma; x-Chris Rumph II, Duke.

LINEMEN

Position outlook: A couple of likely first-rounders on the interior and then a bunch of scheme-fit players who could fly off the shelves in the third and fourth rounds.

x-Christian Barmore, 6-4, 310, Alabama

Breakdown: Smooth and strong player who gets into the backfield frequently, but also can get pushed out of position.

Fact: The Philadelphia native was a basketball-first athlete in high school and tight end-type football player until his senior year, when he grew into a lineman.

Gone by: The best defensive tackle in any draft is not getting out of the first round.

y-Levi Onwuzurike, 6-2, 297, Washington

Breakdown: Played mostly nose tackle with the Huskies, though he's not quite built for that in the NFL. The quickness and pursuit up and down the line could help him switch positions.

Fact: Played at same powerhouse high school in Allen, Texas, as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

Gone by: top 50.

Others: Carlos Basham, DE, Wake Forest; Peyton Hunter, DE, Houston; x-Alim McNeill, NT, North Carolina State; x-Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa; x-Tommy Togiai, DT, Ohio State; xy-Jay Tufele, DT, Southern California; x-Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, Southern California; x-Milton Williams; DT, Louisiana Tech; Marvin Wilson, DT, Florida State.

LINEBACKERS

Outlook: It's all about versatility with linebackers. The more things you can do, the more you downs you can play, the faster you come off the board. This class has a handful of potential first-rounders.

xy-Micah Parsons, 6-3, 246, Penn State

Breakdown: Parsons only needed two seasons at Penn State to show off his sideline-to-sideline range and ability to disrupt an offence from all angles. A defensive end in high school, he could be deployed more as a pass rusher in the pros. He is still learning the nuances of playing linebacker.

Fact: All-American as a sophomore in 2019 and opted out of last season when it appeared the Big Ten would not play.

Gone by: Most likely top-10 talent to slip out of the top 10.

x-Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, 6-2, 221, Notre Dame

Breakdown: Plays fast and agile and delivers jarring hits. Is he actually a safety? Does it really matter what label to put on him with this kind of athleticism? Not so much in today's NFL.

Fact: Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker in 2020.

Gone by: Pick No. 20.

Zaven Collins, 6-5, 259, Tulsa

Breakdown: Big, strong and quick. Run around blocks more than taking them on, but few defensive players impacted their games more than Collins did last season for Tulsa.

Fact: Returned two of his four interceptions last season for touchdowns, including a 96-yard game-winner in overtime against Tulane.

Gone by: Early second round.

x-Jamin Davis, 6-3, 234, Kentucky

Breakdown: Started just one season at Kentucky and it was surprising to see him enter the draft as a junior, but his upside has shone through. Tackling form is inconsistent.

Fact: Father James played football at Bethune-Cookman.

Gone by: Early second round.

x-Nick Bolton, 5-11, 237, Missouri

Breakdown: Fast, aggressive and packs a wallop as a tackler, but Bolton is a bit short for a linebacker and needs work in pass coverage. Especially if his future is as more a hybrid S/LB.

Fact: Second-team All-American in 2020 who led Mizzou in tackles each of the past two seasons.

Gone by: Top 40.

Others: Baron Browning, Ohio State; Jabril Cox, LSU; Chazz Surratt, Wake Forest; Pete Werner, Ohio State.

CORNERBACKS

Position outlook: The top tier includes two lock first-rounders. There is a healthy second/third tier of possible late first-rounders and Day 2 picks in the deepest position on defence .

x-Patrick Surtain II, 6-2, 208, Alabama

Breakdown: Technically sound, tall and fast. He moved into the starting lineup as a freshman with the best program in college football and never left. Could use to be more physical against bigger receivers.

Fact: His father and namesake was a Pro Bowl cornerback who played 11 seasons with Miami and Kansas City. The younger Surtain was also coached in high school by his father.

Gone by: Odds-on favourite to be the first defensive player off the board.

x-Jaycee Horn, 6-1, 205, South Carolina

Breakdown: Physical cornerback who has shown the ability to play outside and in the slot. A little too physical at times and had only two career interceptions.

Fact: Father is former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn.

Gone by: Mid-teens.

xy-Caleb Farley, 6-2, 197, Virginia Tech

Breakdown: Injury concerns (back) might have cost Farley a chance to be the No. 1 cornerback in the class. He opted out of 2020, but the previous two seasons he was instinctive and explosive in man-to-man coverage.

Fact: Had back surgery after the 2019 season and then underwent another procedure in March.

Gone by: The durability issues could make him a high-upside second-rounder.

x-Greg Newsome, 6-0, 192, Northwestern

Breakdown: Moves fluidly and makes a lot of plays on the ball with 25 passes defended — though just one interception in his career. Wiry and lacks power as a tackler.

Fact: Third-team All-American in 2020 with limited college experiences (21 games in three seasons).

Gone by: End of the first round.

x-Asante Samuel Jr., 5-10, 181, Florida State

Breakdown: Undersized but his quick feet and aggressive break on the ball makes him a playmaker. Willing participant in run support,

Fact: Father played cornerback in the NFL for 11 years, winning two Super Bowls with New England.

Gone by: Early second round.

Others: x-Paulson Adebo, Stanford; x-Tyson Campbell, Georgia; x-Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky; x-Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse; Elijah Molden, Washington; Aaron Robinson, UCF; x-Eric Stokes, Georgia.

SAFETIES

Outlook: No first-round locks here and only a few likely to come off the board in the first two days of the draft.

x-Trevon Moehrig, 6-1, 202, TCU

Breakdown: A little undersized, but has shown he can slide into the slot and cover and that versatility makes him the best bet to be selected in the first round.

Fact: Thorpe Award winner as nation’s best defensive back in 2020.

Gone by: If he lasts until Round 2, it won't be for long.

Richie Grant, 6-0, 197, UCF

Breakdown: Projects as a rangy deep safety with good ball skills (10 career interceptions). Needs work in run support.

Fact: Went from two-star wide receiver recruit without much FBS interest to three-year starting defensive back at UCF.

Gone by: Middle of the second round.

Others: Divine Deablo, Virginia Tech; xy-Jevon Holland, Oregon; x-Jamar Johnson, Indiana; x-Caden Sterns, Texas.

PUNTERS

James Smith, Cincinnati; Max Duffy, Kentucky; Pressley Harvin II, Georgia Tech; Drue Chrisman, Ohio State.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://westwoodonepodcasts.com/pods/ap-top-25-college-football-podcast/

Ralph D. Russo, The Associated Press