It’s always difficult to rank IDP prospects prior to the NFL draft. It’s not because of the varying talent level or the NFL competition impact, but situation is a huge value driver in IDP leagues. Sure, situation factors into player evaluation and value on the offensive side of the ball, but defensively the value of an edge rusher as a 3-4 outside linebacker compared to a 4-3 defensive end is astronomical. To put it in perspective, it’s typical for a below average talent to be productive for IDP purposes purely due to situation. While it happens offensively as well, it’s not the norm – this is why reliance on pre-draft IDP rankings can be a bit dangerous.
Nonetheless, we’re all itching for prospect discussion regardless of how it may change over the coming weeks and months. Here is an initial cut of the IDP top 16. Please keep in mind that both Combine measurements and team/situation will go a long way in driving the positions and value of a majority of these players post-draft.
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Rankings based on tackle heavy scoring.
- Myles Jack, LB
Jack is working back from a knee injury, but is expected to be ready for the Combine. He possesses the versatility to play all three downs and line up at multiple positions throughout the defensive front. It’s possible his size may have some teams tab him as a safety depending on how his official measurements come in, but given how today’s game is trending, he should stick as a linebacker. That’s where most have him slated currently.
To put his size in perspective, his unofficial numbers have him a tad smaller than Kam Chancellor, slightly heavier than Deone Bucannon and comparable to Shaq Thompson. With how today’s NFL is trending towards speed and undersized linebackers to defend the pass and cover a wide range of space, it seems linebacker would be his best fit, but the combine will provide clarity. The beauty with Jack is he can play both in space as a 4-3 weakside linebacker, as well as inside of a 3-4 base defense.
Jack is fast, excels in coverage and comes with elite explosiveness. He’s an immediate impact player both on the field and in IDP leagues.
- Jaylon Smith, OLB/ILB
More than likely, patience will be needed with Smith due to his bowl season knee injury. Realistically, he may not be available next season, but recent reports suggest he vows to be. It’s unlikely any team spending a high pick on Smith will rush him into a lineup risking re-injury, though – think Todd Gurley. Speculation is he would have been a top five pick prior to the injury and that’s all you should need to know about Smith. The comparisons to both Derrick Johnson and Patrick Willis by draft pundits help paint a similar picture.
He possesses elite athleticism with the ability to cover, blitz and defend the run. He’s best in space, but can play any linebacker spot in any scheme, so landing spot and usage will be key. If he’s drafted into a 4-3 scheme on the weakside or in middle, or to a 3-4 scheme as an inside linebacker, he’s likely to hold a top ranking in tackle-heavy leagues. If he’s drafted as a SLB or 3-4 OLB, he’ll fall quite a bit. I believe he’ll land in a favorable tackle-heavy IDP position, but it’s something to keep in mind based on where he lands. If he lands in a favorable IDP situation and is healthy, I’ll bump him up to the top spot.
- Reggie Ragland, ILB
The ranking of the next few spots are very fluid right now.
Ragland is extremely physical and an ideal inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. However, there are some questions about whether he will be able to stay on the field in passing situations or if he’ll be relegated to a two-down thumper role in the NFL. To temper those concerns and prove he’s versatile enough to stay on the field in different situations, he decided to play a bit of outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. He was explicit with his intent. He wanted to show he could rush the passer and cover in passing situations. Reports are he proved he can put his hand on the ground and get to the quarterback, if needed.
He should be drafted into an IDP favorable position as an inside linebacker or middle linebacker. The subpackage question will be key with Ragland and something I expect to watch closing through the pre-draft process. He’ll slide down the rankings if positioned for a two-down role.
- Deion Jones, OLB
Jones should be a certainty to land in an IDP favorable position. He’s a speedy run-and-chase linebacker with sideline-to-sideline ability. He’s a perfect fit as a 4-3 weakside linebacker. He could see a similar IDP rise as Telvin Smith did pre-draft a few years ago considering the similarities in skill set and size. Jones is undersized which should continue to be a pre-draft focus, but as discussed earlier, speed linebackers, regardless of size, are becoming coveted assets in today’s game. He’s on the smaller side, but he’s extremely fast and athletic possessing three down linebacker potential.
- Su’a Cravens – S/LB
I love Cravens and his IDP potential. Think Deone Bucannon, Thomas Davis or Shaq Thompson. He’s an undersized player who spent time at both safety and linebacker. Some believe he’ll be molded into a Troy Polamalu-type of player, but with how the league is migrating towards undersized linebackers, I believe he’ll be drafted as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or weakside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
However, his value will hinge on how he measures at the Combine as he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. He’ll need to measure in that ballpark to hold an NFL linebacker spot. If drafted as a safety, his value will drop a bit, but he’d still remain high in my rankings as a good bet to excel in the NFL at any position.
- Darron Lee, OLB
Lee’s ability in space coupled with his speed, range and quickness make him an ideal fit in a 4-3 scheme. He has the potential to be a three down linebacker immediately, though there are some concerns with his limited strength. If drafted as a 4-3 weakside linebacker, he has the potential to be a fixture in tackle-heavy leagues.
- DeForest Buckner, DE
Buckner sits above Joey Bosa, primarily due to his sack ceiling and long-term potential. He’s tall and long, so there is some risk he’s drafted as a 3-4 defensive end, but there are a number of teams who run a 4-3 scheme who are tabbed with Buckner in early mock drafts. As a 4-3 defensive end, Buckner will have double-digit sack potential with the ability to play on the outside of the line in early down situations and kick inside to rush the passer. The beauty with Buckner is his versatility and ability to defend the run and rush the passer. The scheme he’s drafted to will be a key driver of his IDP value. Regardless, he should be IDP relevant.
- Joey Bosa – DE/OLB
Bosa is arguably the top defensive player in this year’s draft. He’s a solid run defender who can also leverage his power to get to the quarterback in passing situations. He’s a fit as either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, but this ranking assumes he’s drafted as a 4-3 defensive end. For IDP purposes, the “problem” with Bosa is his sack ceiling may be limited since he doesn’t possess elite explosiveness. He still gets to the quarterback with a combination of power and hand-use making him a valuable IDP asset as a defensive end. If he’s drafted into a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker, he’ll slide down these rankings.
- Shaq Lawson – DE/OLB
Lawson is an edge player who is likely to struggle in coverage at next level if asked to play from a two-point stance, so I believe he’ll ultimately land in a 4-3 front as a defensive end. He’s a dominant defender against the run and, while not a speed rusher, he can get to the quarterback with a combination of explosiveness and power. What sets Lawson apart from other defensive ends in this draft is his consistent effort. He should be a top defensive end selected across IDP rookie drafts this year.
- Josh Perry, LB
Currently underrated. Perry is a long linebacker who could be suited for either a 4-3 of 3-4 scheme. He can do everything – defend the run, blitz, or cover. He reminds me of Jamie Collins-type of player. He has defensive end qualities, but is highly effective from a two-point stance. Because of his versatility, he’s an ideal fit in a scheme that uses a multitude of disguises. Ultimately, the scheme landing spot will be key for his IDP value. If he lands in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker, he’ll fall down a number of notches in the rankings.
- Kentrell Brothers, ILB
Brothers is more brains and football IQ than athleticism, which could hurt ultimately his draft stock. He’s also a tad undersized. Talent level and build aside, he put up solid numbers as Missouri’s 4-3 weakside linebacker finishing 2015 as the nation’s leader tackler. He also tallied double-digit tackles in all but one game last year. So, while there are questions about his athleticism, the production and intangibles are stellar.
He should land in a decent IDP value position because of his production. Someone will give him a shot because of it. The big question will be whether his lack of athleticism keeps him from being a three down linebacker long-term. He was able to do it in college, but the NFL is a different ball game.
- Vernon Butler, DE/DT
I’ve seen the Mohammad Wilkerson comparisons and if you watch Butler’s play, it’s clear why. Both are very fluid in their movement, their ability to shed blockers and how they accomplish it is similar, and they even have similar builds. It’s difficult to project Butler at Wilkerson’s level considering Butler’s level of competition at Louisiana Tech, though. Regardless, Butler should be drafted as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 defensive end as an athletic high-effort prospect. He established a favorable buzz with his play at the Senior Bowl which should continue to prop his value into the Combine and beyond.
- Robert Nkemdiche, DT
There are character flags following his marijuana possession arrest during bowl season earlier this year. However, Nkemdiche has the potential to be a disruptive force inside a 4-3 defense. There are also some concerns about his consistency and effort, but he has everything you want in a prospect – size, speed and power. He was the cog of Ole Miss’s dominant defense and should bring a similar boost to whatever NFL team takes a shot.
- Noah Spence, DE/OLB
Banned from playing at Ohio State after failing multiple drug tests, Spence checked himself into a drug treatment program last year and appears to have straightened out. He spent 2015 at Eastern Kentucky and flashed first-round talent and now plays with an enormous chip on his shoulder. Like Nkemdiche, though, the question is how teams consider his failed drug tests prior to 2015 and how interviews on the subject play out at the Combine. It’s worth noting he was also arrested in 2015 for public intoxication. So, he has repeated off the field issues.
On the field, Spence played defensive end in a 3-4 at Eastern Kentucky and that scheme is likely his best fit in the NFL. Unfortunately, he’d be an outside linebacker in this scheme at the NFL level, hurting his value in all but big-play leagues. It’s hard not to love Spence’s dominant pass rushing ability with the potential to put together double-digit sack seasons beginning early in his career. I believe he’ll be a better football player than IDP asset given his likely position designation. He’ll need to land in a 4-3 defense to have meaningful IDP value, but I don’t envision that happening. If it does, he’ll rise in the rankings.
- Emmanuel Ogbah, DE/OLB
Ogbah needs to develop more as a pass-rusher, but is a solid run defender. There are some concerns about his motor and explosiveness as a pass rusher, which could hurt his draft stock, but he looks the part. ‘Looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane’ concerns will plague him pre-draft, as will his limited pass rush moves. He needs to add to his repertoire as much of his success came with one move in college. That won’t cut it in the pros.
Despite the concerns, expect Ogbah to be drafted high based on physical make-up. He’s a candidate to play either defensive end in a 4-3 or outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. I believe he’s better suited in a 4-3 and if he’s drafted there and can rectify the previously mentioned concerns, the upside is there, making him a viable IDP option to monitor.
- Jalen Ramsey, S / CB
Ramsey is likely to be a top pick, but the concern he’s drafted as a cornerback keeps him down in these rankings. He has the versatility to play either safety or cornerback, but it appears likely he’ll settle in as a corner. If so, his value will be depressed. If he’s drafted as a safety, he’ll vault into the top 10. The great thing about Ramsey and his versatility is he’ll remain on the field in multiple situations. Frankly, the only reason he’s this high is the potential he has to play safety depending on who picks him up. If drafted as a corner, he’ll drop a few spots.
Miles Killebrew, S / LB
He’s a small school prospect, but is a dominant in the box safety who is a fantastic tackler. Draft location will be important, but like many of the undersized linebackers discussed earlier, he could be drafted as a linebacker despite his safety history.