With three picks in the first-round, and three more picks in the top 70, the Miami Dolphins have the benefit of ultimate flexibility in April's draft. On Monday, we covered the top offensive prospects by position. Today, we're flipping it over to the other side of the ball, the defenders.
These are the top three players at each defensive position according to The Draft Network’s official rankings.
Derrick Brown, Auburn
Derrick Brown's production doesn't scream top-5 talent, but his tape does. Applying context to his four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss becomes even more impressive considering he faced constant double and triple teams. Brown's 54 total tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and four passes defensed was enough to earn unanimous All-American honors.
At 6-5, 325 pounds, Brown is a load. He's heavy-handed and plays with his hair on fire. Brown is more than just a power-player; his get-off is electric. Brown is a blackhole in the running game and an impact interior rusher. He can play anywhere from the nose all the way out to a big end as a 5-techinique. Odd fronts, even fronts, penetrator, two-gap, whatever the defense calls for, Brown will excel.
Brown's teammates refer to him as Baby Barack, after the 44th President of the United States. "Anytime Auburn goes anywhere he has to represent us," said Linebacker Deshaun Davis.
Brown's natural talent and relentless effort are matched only by his off-field preparation. There's no such thing as a perfect prospect, but Brown is close.
Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Senior Bowl star Javon Kinlaw's dominant practice performance was outdone only by his work at the podium. Kinlaw spoke about growing up homeless, and the passion and motivation to become the best defensive tackle of all time. Kinlaw goes 6-6, 310 pounds and has similar versatility to his contemporary, Derrick Brown -- he can wreck shop from any position on the defensive line.
Kinlaw was unblockable in the practices at Mobile, which came as no surprise to those that saw his tape from Saturdays this past fall. He racked up six sacks and six tackles for loss in his final season at South Carolina. Kinlaw was the focal point of the opposition's game plan, drawing double teams with regularity. He fires off the snap and converts his speed into power to overwhelm pass blockers.
Kinlaw was named a 2019 first team All-American by the Associated Press.
Ross Blacklock, TCU
One of the better two-gap options in this class, Blacklock's powerful punch is his best trait – the ability to strike the target and lock out. Missing all of the 2018 season delayed Blacklock's development a year. He defended multiple gaps in Gary Patterson's defense and offers such a force as a power rusher that he'd perfectly fit a rush contain scheme.
It was an Achilles injury that held Blacklock out of the 2018 season, and that type of injury usually requires two years before the player returns to full strength. As a result, someone is likely to get a steal early on Day 2 with Blacklock as he continues to develop the mental aspect of the game.
Missing that full season gave Blacklock perspective and a revved up mindset. "I had a whole year taken away from me that I'll never get back. But I just play every game like it's my last," said the 6-4, 305-pound tackle. Blacklock had 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss last season.
Chase Young, Ohio State
The number one player on most big boards, Chase Young's highlight reel and pass rush production has the attention of football fans everywhere. A lean, muscular 265 pounds, Young is regarded the best edge rusher in recent draft memory. Young took over at crucial moments for the Buckeye defense en route to 16.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles last season.
Chase Young isn't losing many battles for the right to be the first player off the bus (the scouting term for the most impressive body and build). Young is filled out both in his upper-body and lower-half. He's long, powerful, and features rare athleticism. He's more than capable of stacking the edge and working underneath to contribute in the run game.
Ohio State Head Coach Ryan Day was on the Buckeyes staff for both Young and Nick Bosa's careers, but Day preferred the former. "His get-off, his speed, it's unbelievable. It's like nothing I've ever seen before," said Day.
K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
Checking every box on the list of desired edge-player traits, Chaisson should hear his name called sooner than later on the first night. The production didn't match the profile, Chaisson only registered 6.5 sacks in LSU's title-winning season. He did make 13.5 tackles for loss, however, showcasing his ability as a three-down player.
Explosiveness, twitched-up, and passable as a certified judo practitioner for his active hands, Chaisson projects as a better pro than college player. At 6-4 and 238 pounds, Chaisson can rush off the edge as a four-point player in even fronts, or he can stand up as an on-ball linebacker in odd fronts. He missed almost all of the 2018 season with a torn ACL. Still, just 12 months removed from major reconstructive surgery, Chaisson showcased his rare movement skills on a weekly basis.
In addition to impacting the game as a pass rusher, and playing a stout edge in the run game, Chaisson is comfortable working backwards in coverage. In the epic 2019 Alabama game, Chaisson played coverage 21 times compared to 18 pass rush reps.
Chaisson wore the number 18 jersey for LSU this season, a distinction given to the two Tigers players who best exemplify a selfless attitude, and success on and off the field.
A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
An impact player the moment he arrived in Iowa City, Epenesa is the most imposing edge option in this class. At 6-6, 280 pounds, Epenesa overwhelms tackles with sheer strength and length. Epenesa developed a variety of counter moves during his time in college, and enters the draft with a chance to make an immediate impact playing a variety of positions along the defensive front.
With 26.5 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss combined in his final two seasons at Iowa, Epenesa quickly realized the talent that made him a five-star recruit. Iowa's first five-star player since 2005, Hawkeyes coaches were as impressed with his humility as they were his talents. "What a humble kid, what a hard-working kid," Iowa Defensive Line Coach Reese Morgan said. "A guy that's had all the notoriety that he's had, it would be pretty easy to be self-centered, but he's totally the opposite of that."
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Take a picture; we won't see a player like this entering the league for a long time. Playing deep safety, edge rusher, slot corner and off-ball linebacker all with regularity, Simmons is the prototypical modern day football player. A video surfaced last summer showcasing Simmons matching Clemson Running Back Travis Etienne – who has clocked 40-times in the low 4.3's – step for step in a foot race.
Simmons' stat sheet is absurd. In his junior season alone, Simmons made 16.5 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions and 104 total tackles. The unanimous All-American and former national champion will pace the linebackers in every testing metric this week in Indianapolis.
A high school track star, the other parents referred to Simmons as “LeBron \[James\].” He's a unique athlete that helped bring Clemson to three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances. "You can't really work around him because he's everywhere," an opposing coach said of Simmons. "It felt like he was playing defensive line, linebacker and safety all in the same play. He's a problem."
Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma
In any other class Murray would set the standard in speed testing this week in Indianapolis. A rocked-up 235 pounds, Murray has elite range and closing speed. Pairing the explosive nature of his game with quality instincts and processing, Murray can single-handedly destroy any given play.
Murray piled up 257 total tackles his final two seasons in Norman – 29.5 of those occurring behind the line of scrimmage. Oklahoma operated primarily in zone coverage, but Murray's skill set translates as a potential matchup eraser at the next level.
Patrick Queen, LSU
Following the trend of the modern day linebacker, Queen runs, hits and covers with the best of them. He's often first to the football and his instincts in coverage translate well to the next level. A quick trigger allows Queen to knife into gaps and make the game-changing play.
Queen's downfall is taking on blocks; he's not a power player that will frequently disengage from blocks. Getting the best out of Queen will likely come from playing in an open defense that allows him to key and diagnose without fighting through traffic.
The production didn't show up until this last season for Queen. Entering his junior year, the linebacker made just 46 total tackles – five for loss – and one sack. In the Tigers championship season he racked up 85 tackles – 12 for loss – three sacks and an interception.
Jeff Okudah, Ohio State
Okudah will draw comparisons to the best cornerback prospects in the history of the draft, and he's every bit deserving. With the best feet and man coverage skill set in the class, Okudah can press, mirror, or drive out of a zone-turn as well as anybody. The former Buckeye checks all the athletic measurable boxes, and should pace the cornerback testing metrics accordingly.
Okudah added ball production to his resume this season with three picks and nine passes defended. A consensus All-American, Okudah has the fluid hips and change-of-direction skill set to recover on the rare occasions where he initially loses a rep. The knock on Okudah is his perceived unwillingness to tackle, but his Ohio State film is littered with open-field stops.
Playing for a school rich in defensive back lore, Okudah stayed grounded through all of his success. "You know what you sign up for when you come here," Okudah said. "I work every day to be the next, but I won't be unless I prove it on the field. I haven't made it yet."
Jeff Gladney, TCU
Competing with Okudah for the best feet in the class, Gladney glides about the field with eye-popping explosiveness. Flipping his hips and running vertically, or driving on a play in front of him, everything Gladney does is rapid. He plays a physical brand of man coverage that can cause issues against bigger receivers, as Gladney goes just 6-1 and 183 pounds.
Gladney's speed pairs exceptionally with his studious nature. The film Gladney devours throughout the week takes him to the football a beat sooner, making all the difference. Gladney picked off five passes and broke up 31 passes his final three years at TCU.
Damon Arnette, Ohio State
Perhaps the most physical of this year's corners, Arnette has a tendency to frustrate his opponent. Playing a variety of techniques and leverages, Arnette is a master of impacting the receiver's footwork and peering into the backfield to beat his man to the football. Everything he does is aggressive from the feet to his inside-hand jam.
Arnette's plays with a good temperament and has great ball skills. He's as patient as he is explosive at the catch point with an innate ability to separate the football from the receiver.
Xavier McKinney, Alabama
The search for versatile defensive backs begins with the Alabama standout safety. Xavier McKinney lined up all over the formation for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide defense. A tremendous athlete with the instincts and football IQ to match, McKinney makes a number of plays both in the box and in coverage.
McKinney is an exceptional tackler and blitzer. His final two years in Tuscaloosa produced six sacks, five interceptions, six forced fumbles and 15 passes defensed. The knock on McKinney is his center field range, but playing him there takes a capable tackler out of the equation – he made 169 total tackles combined those two seasons.
The All-American safety captained Saban’s defense. "He's an alpha dog on the team," teammate Patrick Surtain II said of McKinney. "He's a special player – not only his play, but when he talks on the field you know it brings other guys to step up their play as well."
Grant Delpit, LSU
Emptying the clip on scouting buzz words is an entirely acceptable practice when referring to Grant Delpit's game. Playing with his hair on fire on every single snap, Delpit is a leader who's capable of changing the temperature of any locker room in which he resides. The unquestioned alpha dog presence of the LSU defense, Delpit is the engine that drives the decorated Tigers defense.
The term click-and-close refers to a defensive back's ability to hang back in zone -- or in off coverage for a corner -- key the passing concept of a particular play, and drive on the football to prevent completions. These anticipatory skills, paired with his quick-twitch athleticism, allows Delpit to make plays on the football seemingly every game. He plays with confidence, versatility, and the swagger to elevate the attitude of his teammates.
When asked about Delpit's versatility, LSU Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda likened Delpit’s game to former Tiger Jamal Adams. "To be honest, Jamal could have [impacted the game in a multitude of ways], but we were so early with installing the defense and stuff that we just weren't ready to do some of the stuff like we've been doing this year."
Antoine Winfield, Minnesota
The son of former Bills and Vikings star cornerback Antoine Winfield Sr. finished fourth in college football with seven picks in 2019. Junior plays a different position than his dad, but the apple doesn't fall far from the team when it comes to the diverse skill set and focused temperament. In addition to the interceptions, Winfield Jr. this season made 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and forced two fumbles. He piled up 172 combined tackles, six pass breakups, and scored two return touchdowns in his 30-game Gophers career.
Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck praised his star safety both for his on-field prowess and off-field character. "He is one of the best athletes, and I think one of the best people. He's an unbelievable young man," said Fleck. Coach's praise ventured into the versatility of his unanimous All-American Safety.
"He can do a lot of things," Fleck said in reference to Winfield's jack-of-all-trades capabilities. Winfield played off-the-ball as a deep safety, crept up close to the line-of-scrimmage as an extra box-defender, and displayed superb man-coverage skills as a slot defender.
Winfield reportedly ran a 4.27 forty-yard dash his freshman year at Ohio State. All eyes will be on the decorated safety prospect Sunday when the defensive backs hit the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The defensive players will participate in on-field drills Saturday and Sunday. We will have coverage live from Indianapolis throughout the week. Brian Flores and Chris Grier will speak to the media Tuesday morning with the players participating in the event taking the podium throughout the week.