Best tools among 15 defensive prospects in NFL draft include Josh Allen as top LB pass rusher

Senior NFL writer
Yahoo Sports

With the 2019 NFL draft on the horizon, I had a lot of fun diving into the 15 “toolsiest” draft prospects on offense last week. Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray won “most accurate quarterback,” for example, while Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson won “best pass catcher” among his peers.

Now it’s time to do the 15 “toolsiest” prospects on defense, starting with …

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Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams drew extra attention last season. (AP)
Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams drew extra attention last season. (AP)

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Best pass rusher (and overall player): Quinnen Williams, Alabama

Total stud. Williams has adequate size (6-foot-3, 303 pounds) and he uses his great athleticism, hands and leverage to dominate on a snap-by-snap basis. His swim move is deadly and he has good eyes as he finds the ball well. Williams might be the best player in the entire draft, and he’s a Day 1 starter with All-Pro potential. Draft projection: Top 5

Best run stopper: Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

At 6-4 and a monstrous 342 pounds, Lawrence uses his long arms (34¾ inches) and big hands (10½ inches) to control blockers and shed them like few have since Vince Wilfork or even Ted Washington. Throw in the fact that he’s a good athlete for his size, and it’s easy to see Lawrence starring as either a 3-4 nose or a 4-3 one-technique. Concerns about his pass-rush ceiling and a PED suspension could lower his draft stock, but there’s no question every team in the NFL could use his skills. Draft projection: Top 40

Most complete: Christian Wilkins, Clemson

Though he isn’t the overall athlete Quinnen Williams is, Wilkins’ tape is outstanding. The 6-3, 325-pounder plays his tail off; no one gives better effort or shows more enthusiasm. Plus, he has a great feel for using his leverage and quickness to win vs. the pass and run. If he goes to a team that allows him to shoot gaps, he’ll be a star. Draft projection: Top 15

Josh Allen catches Texas A&M's Kellen Mond for a sack last season, one of 17 for the Kentucky star linebacker. (AP)
Josh Allen catches Texas A&M's Kellen Mond for a sack last season, one of 17 for the Kentucky star linebacker. (AP)

EDGE RUSHERS

Best pass rusher: Josh Allen, Kentucky

The 6-5, 262-pounder has been terrific for three-plus seasons for the Wildcats, using his size, athleticism and juice off the snap to rack up 31 sacks since 2016, including an absurd 17 in 2018. What’s more, Allen — who led the Wildcats in tackles (88) last season as an edge rusher — is a turnover machine. Since 2016, he forced 11 fumbles. Draft projection: Top 5

Best run stopper: Montez Sweat, Mississippi State

Sweat has the size (6-6, 260), athleticism (4.41 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical) and strength to be a dominant edge setter in the NFL because he’ll always be the best athlete in the trenches. With his ridiculous combination of length (35 ¾-inch arms) and hand size (10½ inches), he regularly sheds offensive tackles with ease. In 2018, Sweat racked up 48 tackles, including a ridiculous 15½ for loss, and 11½ sacks. Draft projection: Top 15

Most complete: Nick Bosa, Ohio State

Bosa isn’t quite the athlete his older brother Joey is — a star edge rusher for the Los Angeles Chargers — but he isn’t far behind. While the 6-4, 266-pound Bosa missed all but three games in 2018 with a core muscle injury, his 2017 tape — in which he racked up 34 tackles (15 for loss) and eight sacks as a part-time starter — was impressive. He’s a strong dude with powerful hands who plays hard, which helps him shine against the run. He also has some pass-rush sophistication and he’s not done growing there yet. Draft projection: Top 5

LINEBACKERS

Best in coverage: Devin White, LSU

Linebackers have to be athletic enough to cover in space these days, and while the 6-foot, 237-pound White flashed as a run defender — he loves to knife into the backfield (12 tackles for loss last season) — he truly shined in coverage, where his outstanding 4.42 speed allows him to run with most tight ends and even some receivers. That’s a rare trait for a three-down ’backer, and someone will value it enough to take White — who had 123 tackles and six pass breakups last season — in the first half of the first round. Draft projection: Top 15

Best run-stuffer: Te’von Coney, Notre Dame

When it comes to defending the run, inside linebackers are like star singers — either you have the gift for the job or you don’t. The 6-1, 234-pound Coney has a knack for seeing where the play is developing, and he also doesn’t miss many tackles. Coney, a three-year starter, racked up 123 tackles (9½ for loss) in 2018 and doesn’t misdiagnose many plays. Draft projection: Rounds 4-5

Most complete: Devin Bush Jr., Michigan

Bush tested out tremendously as an athlete (4.43 40-yard dash) and has great football bloodlines; his dad played in the NFL. And while he’s not huge (5-11, 234), he’s a big hitter who diagnoses well, attacks downhill, is productive as a blitzer and has the athleticism to be a true three-down linebacker. In 2018, he racked up 80 tackles (9½ for loss), five sacks and six pass breakups for one of the nation’s best defenses. Draft projection: Top 15

CORNERBACKS

Best cover skills: Greedy Williams, LSU

It’s difficult to find corners with Williams’ gifts. He runs a 4.37 40-yard dash at 6-2 and 185 pounds. He also has a knack for finding the ball in the air and the skills to come down with it. Whether it’s zone or man, Williams has the tools to be a No. 1 cornerback. His 2018 season — in which he recorded 33 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions — wasn’t as good as his 2017 season, when he logged 38 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups, but if he ramps up his effort in the NFL, Pro Bowls and All-Pro nods will be in his future.

Draft projection: Round 1

Most willing tackler: Byron Murphy, Washington

For all of Murphy’s gifts in coverage, his willingness to throw his body around is perhaps the most admirable, as he tallied 58 tackles last season (including four for loss). Teams will knock Murphy (5-11, 190) for his middling 40-yard dash (4.55 seconds), but we’ve seen players who run that time (like Marcus Peters) become good pros, and when a corner plays as hard and cares as much as Murphy, there’s little chance of them failing. Draft projection: Top 40

Most complete: DeAndre Baker, Georgia

There’s almost nothing Baker, the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award winner, can’t do. Need a guy to play man, zone or press? A corner who will help in run support with sticky cover skills? Baker has it all. What’s more, he didn’t surrender a touchdown all season long and allowed only 175 receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus. The knock on the 5-11, 193-pounder is his athleticism (he tested below the mean for his position) and teams are also digging into his character, but someone will get a really good football player in the second round. Last season he recorded 40 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions. Draft projection: Round 2

Maryland's Darnell Savage Jr. has the look of a shutdown corner, and he might be a sleeper in this draft. (AP)
Maryland's Darnell Savage Jr. has the look of a shutdown corner, and he might be a sleeper in this draft. (AP)

SAFETIES

Best cover skills: Darnell Savage, Maryland

Versatility matters so much in today’s NFL, and the 5-11, 198-pound Savage is an intriguing chess piece. During a 2018 season in which he logged 52 tackles, four interceptions and two pass breakups, Savage — a superior athlete whose speed shows up on tape — showed the potential to diagnose plays quickly and cover from the slot and deep middle of the field. Draft projection: Top 40

Most physical: Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State

Abram (5-11, 205) is an energy-giver who loves football. His passion shines through on tape, where his overall effort and zeal for punishing running backs, quarterbacks and receivers whenever possible stood out during a 2018 campaign in which he logged 99 tackles (nine for loss). Abram’s physicality also makes him an intriguing blitzer (three sacks) from the slot or anywhere in the box. Draft projection: Top 40

Most complete: Nasir Adderley, Delaware

Adderley’s 2018 highlights are littered with big hits, ridiculous interceptions and even a kickoff return for a touchdown. Though he must improve his instincts, the 6-foot, 206-pounder offers tremendous versatility in the box and in coverage. He is one of the most intriguing defensive backs in this draft. He recorded 87 tackles, seven pass breakups and four interceptions in 12 games last season. Draft projection: Top 40

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