Browns, General, NFL Draft

Joe Gilbert and Jake Burns’ final 2018 NFL Draft position rankings: Defense

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We are now within two weeks of the 2018 NFL Draft. The crazy rumors and wild speculation is heating up. With so little time to go before the big event, we still know very little about what will happen during the huge offseason event. The Browns are hiding their intentions very well, even though they hold the No. 1 pick. The team also holds four more picks over the course of the first two rounds and nine picks in the draft.

WFNY has been getting fans ready for the 2018 NFL Draft. WFNY’s Joe Gilbert and Jake Burns took an early glance at all the position classes in the draft, giving their thoughts and top five prospects for each of the positions. And the duo is back again to give their final position rankings for the 2018 NFL Draft.

On Tuesday, the duo released their final position rankings for the offensive classes. Now they are back to finish up the release. So without further ado, here are Joe Gilbert and Jake Burns’ final rankings and thoughts for the five defensive position classes in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Gilbert and Burns’ 2018 Final Position Rankings: Offense

2018 NFL Draft Early Glance Series (Gilbert and Burns’ Initial Position Rankings): QuarterbackRunning backWide ReceiverTight EndOffensive TackleOffensive Guard/CenterInterior Defensive LineEdge RusherLinebackerCornerbackSafety

Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 IDLs Jake Burns’ Top 5 IDLs
1. Taven Bryan, Florida 1. Maurice Hurst, Michigan
2. Maurice Hurst, Michigan 2. Vita Vea, Washington
3. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama 3. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
4. Vita Vea, Washington 4. Harrison Phillips, Stanford
5. Trenton Thompson, Georgia 5. Taven Bryan, Florida


Joe: The interior defensive line class is a really good group with some top tier talent who can change the game. Taven Bryan leads the pack for me because of his freakish explosion. He has the best get off in the class and is constantly penetrating the backfield to disrupt the play in some way. Behind Bryan, I have moved Maurice Hurst to the second spot. He, too, has a lot of explosion for an interior defensive lineman. His health concerns seem to be cleared up, so he is definitely towards the top of most NFL teams defensive line list. Moving down one spot to No. 3 is Da’Ron Payne. Payne has great athleticism for a man his size with the hands to control blockers and shed them in a moments notice. At No. 4, I have Vita Vea, who is probably the strongest interior defensive lineman in the class. He can make blockers look like rag dolls in his ability to push blockers out of the way to make a play on the ball. To finish up my top five, I have Trenton Thompson at No. 5. Thompson has really good athleticism for a player his size. I think he could be a player who will have a better pro career than college career. It was extremely hard narrowing this list to five with how deep the class is this year.

Jake: I’ve seen some movement from my initial rankings as this class has gone up and down. Maurice Hurst didn’t blow away the combine but his quickness off the football and tape in the Big Ten conference just can’t be ignored. I think he has the best career in this group as long as the team selecting him feels the medicals are sound. Vita Vea and Taven Bryan are combine sixe/speed freaks but both lacked much production in college that aligns with a top selection. If you can get the most out of them coaching, they could be special, but the potential is all that it is. Da’Ron Payne has great athleticism for size and he can control the run game as you would want, but will never be important against the pass. He is just as consistent as they come, though. The sleeper here is Harrison Phillips who is just built like a boulder and his production was off the charts for an interior defensive lineman. He is the name I hope gets to Cleveland the most out of this group. Pay attention to the 2019 interior defensive line class – it will be special.


Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 Edges Jake Burns’ Top 5 Edges
1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State 1. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
2. Harold Landry, Boston College 2. Harold Landry, Boston College
3. Marcus Davenport, UTSA 3. Marcus Davenport, UTSA
4. Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest 4. Arden Key, LSU
5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State 5. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia


Joe: The edge rusher class is a pretty interesting group with a bunch of players who I see pretty similarly. But, the class is lead by Bradley Chubb, who I view as the No. 1 player in the draft and the best edge rusher by a good margin. Chubb is an explosive athlete with the strength to be a strong run defender and the technique to be a dangerous pass rusher. The biggest riser in the group is Harold Landry. I raised him up my list because I went back to 2016 and watched the tape when he was healthy. He is a really talented pass rusher with bend on the edge that great rushers possess. He was not the same last year, but he was injured for most of the season. He is No. 2 because I think his true value is the one he showed in 2016. At No. 3, I moved up Marcus Davenport. He is a player with great strength and immense potential to be a dangerous rusher off the edge. Duke Ejiofor is my guy at No. 4. I think he is so underrated by most draft analysts. He has good quickness and hand usage to avoid blocks. And at No. 5, Sam Hubbard wraps up my top five. Hubbard is a good athlete with great hands to disengage from blocks and make a play on the ball. Arden Key of LSU had the biggest fall in my list. I think he has so much talent and that is why I had him initially at No. 2. But, his athletic testing, injury concerns and off-field concerns that led to him taking a leave of absence last spring has caused me to move him off my list for the players above. I still think Key is a player who will be a really good edge rusher in the NFL and is No. 6 on my list, but I just have more trust in the five men above him.

Jake: The edge class has been a tough one to predict. When Clemson’s duo of Clelin Ferrell and Austin BRyant returned for another year at Clemson it changed things. Still at the top are the obvious three best in the class. Bradley Chubb is a complete football player with the size/speed that will last a long time in the NFL. He will need to add to his move repitore to become a dominant pass rusher but he is sound in all aspects of the position. Harold Landry was a top name returning coming off a dominant 2016, but he was a little flat in 2017 in large part due to nagging injuries. When healthy he is the best pure pass rusher in this class and his bend off the edge, paired with moves is deadly and can possibly lead to consistent double digit sack production in the NFL. He is smaller than Chubb so he has scouts who don’t believe in his skill set as a three down end, but I think he plays the run well. Marcus Davenport is a bit of a project at the position but he might have the highest upside if he finds the way to use that size and speed consistently. Arden Key has fallen down draft boards and his testing wasn’t as elite as we had hoped but I still believe in the tape. Someone might get a day two steal. Lorenzo Carter is a freak athlete who will make an impact wherever he ends up on day two.


Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 LBs Jake Burns’ Top 5 LBs
1. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech 1. Roquan Smith, Georgia
2. Roquan Smith, Georgia 2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State 3. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State
4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama 4. Rashaan Evans, Alabama
5. Jerome Baker, Ohio State 5. Uchenna Nwosu, USC


Joe: The linebacker class has a really nice array of talents. It should produce quite a few starting level linebackers. My final rankings for this class has only one change from my early glance rankings. Leading off my group is Tremaine Edmunds. He is a physical freak with the size and speed to fight through the bodies at the line of scrimmage and be able to chase down ball carriers all over the field. At No. 2, Roquon Smith is another linebacker who can play sideline to sideline. He is the best tackler of the group with the ability to take down ball carriers in the open field. I moved Leighton Vander Esch up to No. 3. He is another big, athletic linebacker who can run all over the field and not get stuck on blocks due to his size and athleticism. Coming in at No. 4 is Rashaan Evans. He can fly around the field. His closing speed is a blur at time with the ability to close on a runner in an instance. He also gives the defense the unique ability to rush the passer either as a blitzer or off the edge. Finally, Jerome Baker takes the last spot at No. 5. He is an exceptional athlete, with his best asset being his ability to play in coverage including man coverage against pass catchers.

Jake: This linebacker class is loaded with some special talent in the top four. After that, it gets murky. Roquan Smith will anchor the middle of a defense for a decade and Tremaine Edmunds has a special ability to play off the edge as a rusher or work his area or man in coverage. Leighton Vander Esch is an underestimated athlete who anchors a side of the field well, and really plays fast and brings power each play. Rashaan Evans is a consistent player inside who will do well for his team taking on blockers and making plays inside the box as his team will need. He is just a consistent football player at the position. The rest of the class does little to separate itself but I prefer the play style of Nwosu who is dangerous off the edge as 3-4 linebacker. He gets after the quarterback with an array of moves and excellent short burst speed.


Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 CBs Jake Burns’ Top 5 CBs
1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State 1. Denzel Ward, Ohio State
2. Jaire Alexander, Louisville 2. Jaire Alexander, Louisville
3. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado 3. Joshua Jackson, Iowa
4. Mike Hughes, UCF 4. Carlton Davis, Auburn
5. Carlton Davis, Auburn 5. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado


Joe: This year’s cornerback class is so deep with so many different types of defensive backs. It is one of the hardest positions to evaluate in this draft. From the first time evaluating the position to now, I have made quite a few changes in rankings. But at No. 1, Denzel Ward is still on top. Ward has the best mirror skills in the class because of his feet and fluid athleticism. Moving up one spot to No. 2 is Jaire Alexander. His versatility to play in multiple different types of coverages is a big plus. His ability to explode and close on the ball is the best in the class. One of the biggest risers is Isaiah Oliver. He is a press corner with great length and athleticism that is not often found in a player his size. He can make mistakes, but his length and speed to recover can cover those up. The other big riser is Mike Hughes at No. 4. Hughes is another press corner in this class. He has good mirroring skills, along with the physicality to come up and make tackles. Rounding out my top five is Carlton Davis. He fell a couple of spots because of growing appreciation of Oliver and Hughes, but also because of Davis’ troubling agility times at the NFL Combine. Nevertheless, his tape is good (Check out his game versus Calvin Ridley of Alabama this year). He is a long corner with good press corner ability. Josh Jackson of Iowa was the player with the biggest fall on my list. I had him No. 2 earlier in the process, but his inability to be a productive player in press man coverage drops him below the men on my list. I think he is No. 6 in the class and can be a playmaker in the right situation, but I just covet lockdown press corners more.

Jake: Like Joe said, talk about a deep class. This group has something for any team that wants to select one. My rankings have remained largely the same. Denzel Ward is the most complete in this group, and if he can continue to find a way to put on weight, he will be special. Jaire Alexander is another slightly undersized corner but he plays the position so well with adept skills in man and zone, and his ball skills get better each year. Joshua Jackson is still raw, but instinctually he is the best in the class. When you cut on the tape you will see a player who is broken somewhat fundamentally but he still finds the ball…often. Carlton Davis and Isaiah Oliver are two man to man specialists who excel in press coverage and have freaky ability. The problem is each has a major flaw: Davis has a three cone number that makes you worry about double moves and Oliver hates to tackle. Both are a risk, but they could be major boom players come round two or three.


Joe Gilbert’s Top 5 Ss Jake Burns’ Top 5 Ss
1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama 1. Derwin James, Florida State
2. Derwin James, Florida State 2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
3. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest 3. Jessie Bates, Wake Forest
4. Armani Watts, Texas A&M 4. Justin Reid, Stanford
5. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama 5. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

The safety class in the 2018 NFL Draft is another strong group. It has such a nice blend of talents to pick from depending on what a team may need in their defense. My mind has not changed from the last time I released my top five safeties. At No. 1, I have Minkah Fitzpatrick. He is a player who can do a lot of roles for a defense, including cover in man coverage versus any receiver. Derwin James at No. 2 is not far behind Fitzpatrick. James is a physical freak who should be used in a variety of roles to maximize his value. One of my favorite players in the draft is Jessie Bates, who comes in at No. 3 in my rankings. He is a coverage safety. He can play in man or zone, possessing good instincts and athleticism. Armani Watts is my fourth ranked safety. He is an explosive athlete who can close on the ball very quickly and lay the wood on the ball carrier or pass catcher. He has the ability to affect the pass and run game. Finally, Ronnie Harrison rounds out my top five at No. 5. He offers a great combination of size and athleticism at the safety spot. He, like many of the guys on my list, is able to do a multitude of roles, including man coverage, because of his smooth athleticism.

Jake: Another strong group here. Derwin James jumped Minkah Fitzpatrick for me due to his testing and positional importance. James is a strong safety by nature but his numbers tell us he can play anywhere in a secondary. Fitzpatrick prefers the slot as he interviewed but also might be able to move around. Both players can be really special and have the ability to impact the secondary they land in. After the top two, some projection happens here. I prefer Jessie Bates as a free safety who plays with nice range and instincts. Just Reid is a sound football player who is best as a box safety and making plays near the line of scrimmage, but he is also comfortable in coverage. Mix that with some of the best reported interviews throughout the process and you might have a sleeper. Ronnie Harrison played alongside Fitzpatrick at Alabama and is more free safety. He has a nice size/speed combination that will allow him to play wherever his next team will need him. This group has plenty of important names left off and it will be full of day three players who make an impact.