2020 NFL Draft steals - Defense

2020 nfl draft

We are officially one month away from the NFL draft and by now most mock drafts and big boards are recycling the same 100 or so players as top picks in April. The top 100 players have a high chance of success, but it’s the day 3 players that round out a team, provide depth and differentiate contenders from pretenders. Here’s a list of 10 defensive players that will make a bigger impact than their draft grades suggest.

1: Bravvion Roy, DT – Baylor

Bravvion Roy will make his money as an undersized penetrator on the interior of the defensive line. Roy played nearly all his snaps on the nose in Baylor’s 3-3-5 hybrid defense and was asked to eat space but also provide pass rush as part of the 3-man rush. At 6-foot-1 and over 320 pounds, Roy demonstrates excellent quickness off the ball and movement skills that few his size can match. He’s not a pocket pusher, but he uses his quickness and agility to slip gaps and get into the backfield. He struggles with keeping a consistent pad level and leverage but was also named Baylor’s strongest player last season, so the power and strength are certainly there to be tapped into. With his size and athletic profile, Roy should find a spot as a rotational defensive tackle who will provide some quickness and pass-rush on the interior. I expect him to have an impact like what Michael Pierce has had for the Baltimore Ravens over the past couple of seasons.

2: Rashard Lawrence, IDL – LSU

Rashard Lawrence is the epitome of a team guy. His effort is top notch and motor consistently running. He does the dirty work in run defense occupying blockers and keeping linebackers clean that will make him an early down specialist as soon as he enters the league. Lawrence has been a known quantity since his high school days and preservered through some injury leaving a bit of concern as to what his availability will be like over a 16-game season. While his pass rush skills are lacking, Lawrence has strong, violent hands giving him a tool to win at the point of attack. He should be a steady early down disrupter at the next level able to handle starter level snaps while being subbed out in obvious passing situations.

3: Alex Highsmith, Edge – Charlotte

Alex Highsmith is a name to get to know for pass-rush needy teams. As a rocked-up edge rusher coming out of Charlotte, Highsmith will likely transition to a stand-up rusher from the edge in the NFL. His first step quickness and general explosiveness are evident on tape and confirmed by his testing numbers with his 125-inch broad jump (95th percentile) and 4.70 second 40-yard dash (87th percentile). Highsmith will find himself in day three due to his lack of size and questions about his play strength specifically in his hands. Some time in an NFL weight and strength program will be needed, but Highsmith has the burst, quickness and pass rush moves to impact the game immediately in sub packages and obvious passing downs.

4: Derrek Tuszka, Edge – North Dakota State

North Dakota State built one of the greatest dynasties in college sports and put players like Carson Wentz, Billy Turner and Ryan Haeg among others into the NFL. Derrek Tuszka is the next Bison to join that group. Tuszka plays hard and has dominated lower-level competition racking up 29.5 sacks over his time at NDSU. As a pass rusher, Tuszka shows an explosive first step on tape and he has several moves in his arsenal including a surprisingly effective bull rush considering his lack of length. Tuszka’s combine testing further solidified him as a draftable talent with scores in the top 7 or better in the 40, vert, broad jump, short shuttle and 3 cone drill, which was a blazing 6.87 seconds. He may be asked to convert to a stand-up edge but regardless of position, will need to add weight and strength to compete on early downs and hold the edge in run support. Ultimately, Tuszka will be a developmental day 3 pass rusher who could turn into a starter down the road.

5: David Woodward, ILB – Utah State

Jordan Love isn’t the only NFL player coming out of Utah State. Middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense and David Woodward plays his part well. Woodward is an exceptionally instinctive player attacking downhill in the run game and showing excellent pursuit angles. He is a bit limited as an athlete and has some injury concerns including a vertebrae fracture, and several concussions that will certainly drop him down some team’s draft boards. Those concerns shouldn’t be enough to stop him from going on day three in the draft. Woodward’s football IQ and three down ability make him a must have for teams in need of middle linebacker depth and looking to get a smart leader for their defense.

6: Chris Orr, ILB – Wisconsin

How Chris Orr was not invited to the NFL Combine is beyond me. Orr was the leader of a stout Badgers defense causing disruption to the tune of 11.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He has NFL bloodlines with his brother having played middle linebacker for the Ravens and comes well coached out of Jim Leonard’s 3-4 scheme. Orr is a bit undersized but built densely and at his best when asked to blitz. He shows good vision to pick a gap and go with excellent burst and closing speed. Orr will get knocked some on coverage ability, but he does well in shallow underneath zone. He’s a team leader who should get a shot late day 3 and could develop into a starting linebacker in the league. At worst, he will be a core special teamer whose effort and instincts will push the starters in front of him to preform or lose their job.

7: Michael Ojemudia, CB – Iowa

LSU and Ohio State may lay claim to the title of DBU, but Iowa has done a great job of producing NFL talent in the secondary. Michael Ojemudia is next up and should be a nice fit on zone heavy teams, having elite spatial awareness and recognition skills. Ojemudia uses his length and athleticism to crash down on receivers at the catch point where he flashes his ball skills and physicality. If put into man coverage he should hold up, but will not reach the same potentially he could have in a zone specific scheme such as a cover three. When it come to run support Ojemudia is unlike some of the corners ranked above him embracing contact and more than willing to tackle and finish ball carriers. I expect him to be an immediate contributor on special teams and a sub-package corner his rookie year with the ability to step in and start on a zone coverage team day two or three.

8: Reggie Robinson, CB – Tulsa

Reggie Robinson is a long press corner who some say lacks speed and athletic traits and may need to make a transition to safety, I say otherwise. Robinson went to the Senior Bowl and pressed everyone to death. He then went to the combine and answered questions about his athleticism running a 4.44 second 40-yard dash and broad jumping 132 inches both of which are in the 90th percentile of athletic testing. Robinson does lack some flexibility in his hips and is knocked for his ability, or lack thereof, to stay in phase down the field. However, his ball skills are excellent and his size, strength, and speed profile him as a developmental outside corner. Look for Robinson to be drafted day 3 and make some noise once training camp begins for an outside shot at a starting role.

9: Tanner Muse, S/LB – Clemson

Tanner Muse is the athletic safety/linebacker hybrid out of Clemson you’ve all been waiting for! Wait, sorry that’s Isaiah Simmons. So, who is he? Muse gets lost a little bit on Clemson’s tape because he has been asked to play a deep safety allowing players like K’Von Wallace and Isaiah Simmons to blitz from the second level while he stays home. In the NFL, Muse will most likely make a transition to a Nickle/Dime linebacker role where he can use his combination of size (6-foot-3, 230) and speed (4.41) to effect throwing lanes in zone coverage and match up with tight ends and running backs. When asked to blitz, Muse gets downhill in a hurry and does a great job of finding and destroying his target. This translates to run support, where he’s surprisingly adept at keeping himself clean and is a sound tackler. A smart team will see Muse for the versatile chess piece he is and take a shot on him early day 3 or maybe even late day 2.

10: Julian Blackmon, S – Utah

Julian Blackmon made the transition from corner to safety just last year and showed off his positional versatility and football IQ in doing so. Blackmon comes with injury concerns and was unable to participate in the combine, but his athleticism shows up on tape. His best position will be used as a matchup safety who excels in man coverage with tight ends, backs and can slide into a nickel corner role if necessary. While he’ll be used as a coverage chess piece, Blackmon’s best trait is his physicality and aggressiveness. He’s a striker in the secondary and excellent tackler at the point of attack. A good secondary coach will recognize his ability to be a 3-down player and take a shot early on day 3.

Did we miss anyone? Let me know on Twitter.

Part 2 featuring 10 offensive players will follow next week as well as a final Big Board and final 7-round mock draft.

Photo courtesy of UtahUtes.com