Earlier this month, I pointed out that the 2018 NFL Draft is particularly strong in most of the Colts’ primary position needs. With nine picks to use next weekend, Chris Ballard has an opportunity to make serious change to his roster for the short and long term. It is impossible to foresee just how the draft will breakdown so we will take a look instead at my short list of possible targets who should be available throughout the draft.
Today, we take a look at relatively weak edge rushing class.
Bradley Chubb - NC State
In terms of top level edge defenders, Bradley Chubb stands alone in the 2018 NFL Draft. He is the most well-rounded and most pro-ready, and he has all of the collegiate production to be confident that drafting him is a very low risk and high reward proposition. If he is on the board at pick 6, it will be very difficult for the Colts to pass on a player who projects to be such a force on the edge in their 4-3 defense.
The biggest question-mark for Chubb is how he translates to the NFL level as an edge rusher. He doesn’t have to be a speed rusher to be effective but it’s fair to at least wonder about whether he will regularly abuse NFL talent in the way he did collegiate offensive linemen. The big shot in the arm for these concerns is that, even if he doesn’t become a top-level pass rusher, there is very little doubt that he will be a very strong run defender, edge setter, and a three-down defensive player who rarely leaves the field.
If Chubb isn’t the best pure pass rushing talent in the draft, if he isn’t the one who will generate the greatest amount of pressure on the quarterback, will the Colts look elsewhere? After all, Jabaal Sheard is on the team and has a similar skill-set and Ballard knows he has other needs that could be more appropriately filled early in the draft. It is difficult to imagine Indianapolis passing on Chubb if he is there, but anything can happen if Ballard sees better value later in the draft in terms of pure pass rushing talent.
Harold Landry - Boston College
If Chris Ballard is true to his word in terms of placing an emphasis on speed in the new-look Colts defense, Harold Landry could be a primary target. While Landry certainly does not project to be a strong run defender, he might not have to be one of the league’s best in that area to make a huge impact by terrorizing quarterbacks.
There is no prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft who better projects as a speed rushing, pocket disrupting, sack artist than Harold Landry. He will need to be coached up a bit in terms of his technique and to not be predictable relying solely on speed rushing and arch to get around the edge, but something sounds awfully intriguing about handing Robert Mathis the keys to his development.
Will the pure speed rushing upside of Landry outweigh the more rounded game a player like Chubb offers?
Marcus Davenport - UTSA
Perhaps the highest ceiling of all edge defenders belongs to Marcus Davenport. At 6’6” and 268 lbs, Davenport ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash. He is an impressive athlete and could be molded into the most dominant edge defender in this draft. One of his biggest question-marks is just how well and how quickly he will be able to adjust to NFL level competition.
One positive for Davenport is that he was tested against superior competition in the Senior Bowl and showed marked improvement throughout the week, including a productive showing in the game that included a sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown. If he can be as coachable as he appeared in Mobile and continues his physical development with an NFL strength training regimen, he could become a productive pass rusher.
On the other hand, he might also just be a long, athletic, productive college prospect who can’t put it all together technically to make the most of his physical attributes.
Kemoko Turay - Rutgers
In a relatively weak edge rusher draft, a player like Kemoko Turay could find himself coming off of the board earlier than he might in a stronger class. Similar to Davenport, Turay is a piece of clay who could be molded into a very good NFL edge rusher. Admittedly, he is not nearly as polished and does not have the collegiate production or resume that immediately support a positive projection.
This is a higher risk pick that will push Turay into the middle rounds but if the gamble pays off, a team could be handsomely rewarded.
Josh Sweat - Florida State
Another developmental edge rushing prospect is Josh Sweat from Florida State. He is athletic enough to stand up in a 3-4 defense but has the size to put his hand in the dirt in the 4-3. At 6’4” and 251 lbs., Sweat ran a 4.53 second 40-yard dash and showed his speed regularly on the field for the Seminoles.
The biggest question-mark for an NFL team looking to bring him into the fold is whether he’ll be able to produce if asked to primarily rush the passer. Florida State’s defense didn’t really single him out for his skills in this area and much of his pressure was generated as a result of his speed, by chasing down quarterbacks once they left the pocket or were flushed out by someone else.
You can’t teach the length and athleticism he possesses, though, and he could be another middle round prospect with a high payoff if he responds to coaching and development.
Chad Thomas - Miami
One of the more intriguing middle round edge defenders who could be a better NFL player than a college player is Miami’s Chad Thomas. At 6’6”, 281 pounds he is slightly bigger than what might otherwise be ideal for a 4-3 edge defender but he is strong, can hold the edge, has enough bend to get around the edge, and should be an effective bull rusher with coaching.
Thomas may project more as a well-rounded defensive end, in the vein of a Bradley Chubb — though clearly not as polished and pro-ready. For a team transitioning to a new defense, there is a great deal of potential in Thomas that just might still be available in the middle rounds.