NFL draft 2018 defensive line rankings: Washington's Vita Vea, a 347-pound ex-RB, tops list
The top defensive line prospects entering the 2018 NFL draft:
1. Vita Vea, Washington (6-4, 347): Remarkable athlete for his size. He played running back in high school and even had a cameo at quarterback. Vea has top-end strength, bench pressing 225 pounds 41 times at the combine. That's evident on film, where he regularly walks offensive linemen into opposing pockets and takes down running backs even with blockers draped all over him. Vea likely projects best as a two-gap nose tackle at the pro level, but he did manage 8½ sacks over the past two seasons. Needs to improve his instincts at the point of attack. Projected: Round 1
2. Da'Ron Payne, Alabama (6-2, 311): He'll get the dirty work done. Immensely strong — Payne can bench press 500 pounds — he's going to shut down interior running lanes, should command double teams and gets enough push on the pocket to flush quarterbacks to the edge rushers. Rarely contained when opponent tried to handle him one-on-one. Payne does a good job batting balls when he can't generate pressure. Athletic enough that he picked off a pass and had a reception against Clemson in last season's College Football Playoff semifinal. He only had three sacks in three seasons with the Tide, but his skill set projects him as a plug-and-play starter coming from a defense that consistently funnels talent to the NFL. Projected: Round 1
3. Taven Bryan, Florida (6-5, 291): The J.J. Watt comparisons are a bit over the top, but Bryan does bring a unique blend of strength, athleticism and upside to the position. His frame could make him an ideal five-technique (3-4 defensive end), but he can probably play effectively inside, too, after spending time in an NFL weight room. A highly intriguing prospect who simply needs to harness his potential so his production aligns with his ability. Son of a Navy SEAL. Projected: Round 1
4. Harrison Phillips, Stanford (6-4, 307): His 42 reps on the bench made him the 2018 combine champ for all positions. But that's not the only reason NFL teams will likely fall in love with Phillips. His size makes him scheme-diverse, he has a reputation as a relentless player, and his wrestling background — he was a three-time Nebraska state champion in high school — will serve him well in the pits. He's not the most athletic player but gets into the backfield regularly, amassing 14½ sacks and 27 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. But what may really distinguish Phillips is his intellect. He graduated from Stanford in 3½ years with a double major and is already on the board of a non-profit organization. Projected: Round 1-2
5. Maurice Hurst, Michigan (6-2, 292): Lightning first step. He gets excellent penetration, racking up 10½ sacks and 24½ TFLs over the past two seasons. However Hurst's size makes him a much better fit for teams that routinely use four-man fronts. Could be a Geno Atkins clone if all goes accordingly to plan. Hurst was flagged with a heart condition at the combine, which precluded his participation. He was later cleared and worked out at the Wolverines' pro day. Bills DT Star Lotulelei overcame a similar hurdle and wound up being a first rounder in 2013. Projected: Round 1-2
6. Rasheem Green, USC (6-4, 275): Needs to get stronger but looks like he should eventually project as a base end, regardless of scheme. However Green's length probably ideally tickets him as a five-technique. He may find himself primarily playing on passing downs as a rookie after racking up 10 sacks and 12½ TFLs in his final season for the Trojans. Really good upside. Projected: Round 2
7. B.J. Hill, North Carolina State (6-3, 311): Four-year starter who averaged nearly 50 tackles over the past three seasons. Good athlete who's quick on his feet but needs to get stronger. Only posted eight career sacks for Wolfpack, so Hill has work to do if he's going to get snaps on passing downs. Projected: Round 2
8. Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State (6-4, 315): Native Canadian who knocked around before winding up in Division II program. However Shepherd looked quite comfortable while facing with elite competition at the Senior Bowl. Has requisite size to play on three- and four-man fronts. Projected: Round 2-3
9. Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama (6-4, 297): Another product of the Crimson Tide pipeline and another player with a wrestling background. Hand's size should allow him to plug into just about any defense, but his talent hasn't justified fairly pedestrian numbers to date. Projected: Round 2-3
10. Tim Settle, Virginia Tech (6-3, 329): He won't be 21 until July. Has uncommon quickness for a man his size, helping him record 12½ TFLs and four sacks last season. Settle may really develop into something special once an NFL strength coach gets his hands on him. Projected: Round 2-3
11. Derrick Nnadi, Florida State (6-1, 317): Had double-digit TFLs each of past two seasons. Built low to the ground, he's a hustler, a trait amplified by his quickness. He's added some bulk since leaving Tallahassee, which may enable him to hold up more effectively against bigger players and potentially earn a lot of snaps from his next team. Projected: Round 3
Teams in need of defensive linemen
1. Redskins: They finished last against the run in 2017 and didn't get much from first rounder Jonathan Allen. Need to continue rebuilding up front.
2. Chargers: Allowed 4.9 yards per rush last year, easily worst figure in the league. Need stout athletic linemen who can clog rush lanes even when DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are rushing wide off the edges.
3. Dolphins: Time to reload after letting Ndamukong Suh go.
4. Chiefs: Chris Jones is one of the game's unsung young stars, but he's not getting enough help.
5. Seahawks: Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson are gone, and the D-line exodus may not be over in Seattle. Pete Carroll could use young, versatile replacements.
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