Undoubtedly the strength of this year’s class is in the trenches. Here are my top three defensive lineman of 2019:
DI - Quinnen Williams, Alabama
The list of game-changing nose tackles in the NFL is short. Many modern NFL defenses, particularly those that employ odd fronts, rotate their nose tackle off the field in passing situations. As edge rushers have increasingly been used on the interior, defensive tackles have seen less of the field.
Quinnen Williams would test that trend. Finding players capable of beating double teams frequently in the passing game is rare. His ability to shrug off blindside chips while sustaining sufficient momentum to beat another block is remarkable. And Williams is not one-dimensional. He could easily play in a one-gap (penetrating) front or a more conservative two-gap scheme. In many ways, Jay Ratliff reinvented the nose tackle position. Williams could do the same.
Two key concerns linger, however. Although Williams should be positionally versatile, he didn’t play much three or five technique. If anything, Williams should thrive with the luxury of space, but it’s possible his unique skillset might make him ill-suited. Finally, for a player with his physicality against the run, he didn’t dominate with power moves as frequently as would be expected. The weight room beckons, and so does a three-down role as a rookie.
ED - Nick Bosa, Ohio State
It's hard to get excited about a player you’ve seen before. It may be a lazy comparison, but Bosa is about as similar to his older brother as is possible. It’s hard to escape the feeling we’ve been here before, and that Bosa’s pro prospects can be pinned down precisely. He’ll be a very good NFL defensive end as a rookie, with his refined technique and blend of speed and power. In all likelihood, that will be enough to make him a top three pick. Perhaps asking for more is greedy, but I’d want to try to find an elite player in those first few selections. That seems unlikely in this class, adding to Bosa’s value, but I’d be surprised if he emerged as one of those transformative edge defenders who redefine the position.
ED - Brian Burns, Florida State
Somewhat surprisingly at third on the list, Burns steals the last remaining spot from Kentucky’s Josh Allen (more on that bellow). The former Seminole has a giant wingspan, with the hand placement to maximise the impact of his ridiculous length. He is incredibly explosive out of his stance, consistently getting the jump on offensive tackles, and uses an impressive repertoire of pass-rush moves to keep opponents off balance. Most impressively, Burns understands how to setup tackles for counter moves to the inside or his renowned spin move. Partly Burns appeals because of his ability to win the psychological war, forcing tackles to guess which of his many tricks he’s going to pull from the hat. There are some concerns, specifically his relatively feeble production against the run, but Burns might be the only member of this class who could emerge as truly elite.
ED - Josh Allen, Kentucky
Josh Allen ticks all the obvious boxes for a top-5 pick. He is incredibly athletic, possesses a great first step and was highly productive in a tough conference. Defensive end is a difficult position to scout in college, where technique is secondary to athleticism and the level of competition varies so widely. Allen’s potential is sky-high, but he remains raw in his development as a pass-rusher. He wins almost exclusively with speed, lacking counter-moves or variety to react if he fails to win with explosion off the line. I worry that he lacks the physicality or power to develop into a consistent next-level pass-rusher, where converting speed to power is a key trait. Other concerns include an awkwardness in coverage and issues as a tackler. I see Allen as more of a boom-or-bust type player, than a guaranteed starter.