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Build The Team: College Players To Watch This Year (Defense)

Here are a few defensive players to keep an eye on this season in college football that could potentially help the Redskins.

Louisiana Monroe v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images


Arden Key | LSU | 6-6 | 238 lbs

Key will likely be a pure rush end or a 3-4 OLB when he enters the NFL but at either of those positions, he should be his dominant. Key has jumped out on tape since he arrived at LSU and specializes in getting to the quarterback. He has an exceptional combination of explosion, burst, flexibility, and finishing ability. His ability to win with his pure athleticism is special but I look for him to refine his skills technically this year. He’s likely a top 5 pick.


Harold Landry | Boston College | 6-3 | 250 lbs

Landry is another dominant pass rusher that could play standing up or with his hand in the dirt. Like Key, he is likely atop the position on most scouts boards. Landry has impressive versatility and is relentless in pursuit. He also displays some skill in coverage and plays with great awareness. Landry and double teamed almost every game last year and still racked up 16.5 sacks. Watch out for him.


Andrew Brown | Virginia | 6-4 | 285 lbs

Brown is coming off a solid junior season but will have show more consistency and technique to really boost his draft stock. What will help him most is if the Virginia coaches stop standing him up on the outside. This guy is a base end not an outside linebacker and is at his best when he can attack the gaps and generate power from his stance.


Bradley Chubb | NC State | 6-4 | 275 lbs

Chubb wins with a combination of speed and pure strength. What’s most impressive about him, in my opinion, is his vision into the backfield and ability to close and finish. He may be the leading sack leader at the position in the ACC by season’s end.


Tyquan Lewis | Ohio State | 6-4 | 265 lbs

Lewis has great been off the edge for being a true tweener prospect at the moment. Projecting his optimal position in the NFL will be interesting as he has a somewhat unique blend of size, flexibility, and closing speed. He and teammate Sam Hubbard should pile up sacks for the Buckeyes this season.


Sam Hubbard | Ohio State | 6-5 | 265 lbs

Hubbard was recruited to Ohio State as a tight end, played safety upon arriving at school, moved to defensive end, and now the Buckeye coaches want him to play a little linebacker. Hubbard is great as a defensive end but in this case, I would take all the initial position changes as an endorsement of his versatility and athleticism. If he can prove he can play linebacker this year in addition to playing on the line he will be a scheme versatile player in high demand.


Duke Ejiofor | Wake Forest | 6-4 | 275 lbs

Ejiofor is an interesting prospect because his size athleticism and talent helped him rack up 10.5 sacks last season. I am unsure though if he can play inside or it even necessary. He plays with solid technique but something lacks to his game that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’ll be figuring out what that is this season.



Da’Ron Payne | Alabama | 6-2 | 308 lbs

Payne could be the physical freak of the draft. As a player coming out of Alabama he is expected to have a certain proficiency in his football skills. Not only does he have it in spades but he is a player at the point of attack that can bench nearly 550 lbs, squat over 600 and can run a 40-yard dash in just over 5 seconds. Suffice to say Payne if the marquee player at the position to watch this season as he should be collapsing the pocket and stuffing runs with regularity.


Christian Wilkins | Clemson | 6-4 | 310 lbs

He’s a player that is surprisingly quick off the snap and agile in space. Wilkins is a gap buster and proves to be just too quick and strong for interior offensive linemen. He breaks up plays in the backfield and shows off great pursuit as well. He’s a dynamic player and can play anywhere on the defensive line. Fortunately, as a Miami fan, I don't have to watch him wreak the offensive line this year as Clemson isn't on the schedule.


Derrick Nnadi | Florida State | 6-1 | 312 lbs

Nnadi at his best reminds me very much of Grady Jarrett coming out of Clemson (now with the Falcons). He is built like a bowling ball (that's a compliment) and can disrupt the interior when he plays with the correct pad level and leverage. I’ll be looking for improved consistency this season and him improving his TFLs from a year ago (10.5).


Malik Jefferson | Texas | 6-3 | 240 lbs

Jefferson gets some deserved preseason hype from the draftniks but he’ll have to prove he can play with consistency and improve his tackling to make a believer out of me. He certainly has a skillset to get excited about as an inside linebacker. He can disrupt plays in the backfield and has great athleticism for the position. He also needs to work on his pass coverage skills but definitely can bring the heat as a pass rusher and in pursuit.


Micah Kiser | Virginia | 6-2 | 240 lbs

Kiser enters the season as #1 on my own personal ranking at the position. I think he is easily the most complete inside linebacker in the position. He can rush the passer and can stick in coverage. He’s also a tackling machine and is sure at it having racked up 250 tackles over the past two seasons. I’m looking for him to build off his impressive junior season and solidify himself as a potential day 1 pick.


Azeem Victor | Washington | 6-3 | 222 lbs

Victor is coming off a season where he fractured his right leg. If healthy Victor is a very athletic and dynamic linebacker prospect. I’ll be looking to see if he can improve his pass rushing skills but Victor has the athleticism to play sideline to sideline and pursue the running back and can move downfield as a pass defender.


Rashaan Evans | Alabama | 6-3 | 234 lbs

Evans was a nice addition playing along side star linebacker Reuben Foster last season. Now it’s his time to shine and he’s calling his own number saying he’s going to win the Butkus Award. He has experience playing inside and outside at Alabama. Evans has great speed and range for the position and can be a true force inside.


Josey Jewell | Iowa | 6-2 | 236 lbs

Critics of Jewell say he won’t test well but he looks like he moves just fine on a football field to me. The talent is there lead and play in the middle of the defense. He’s a hard hitter and is willing to sacrifice his body on just about every play. He also has fair range in coverage and is excellent in pursuit. He’s going to be a mid round steal for a team.



Jaire Alexander | Louisville | 5-11 | 192 lbs

If you watched the Louisville vs. Clemson game last year then you know all about Alexander. He’s a playmaker who is still refining his technique but his talent in coverage is obvious. He also is dangerous as a punt returner.


Jordan Thomas | Oklahoma | 6-0 | 185 lbs

Thomas turned heads his sophomore year where he recorded 5 interceptions that season. He turned my head last year when he recorded a whopping 17 passes defended. I put a lot more stock in that stat as opposed to interceptions because it generally means the CB is in the right place at the right time because of coverage skill and instincts rather than the dumb luck that can strike on an interception. I look for him to build off those numbers this year.

Tarvarus McFadden | Florida State | 6-2 | 198 lbs

McFadden has the size and athleticism for the next level. The talent is obvious but I’d like to see more control. He takes unnecessary risks and can block a coverage just as well as he can make an impressive interception. I’ll be looking for him to reign it in and prove why he’s a 1st round pick.


Iman Marshall | USC | 6-1 | 200 lbs

Marshall has been generating buzz at USC since his freshman season. He built an impressive sophomore campaign off that and has produced consistently good numbers. He is an impressive cover corner and can be an outright pest. I look for him to break out this season.



Derwin James | Florida State | 6-3 | 211 lbs

James is another player who gets a lot of hype because of his raw talent. After sustaining a season ending injury last year I am looking to see if he can live up to it. If he can he will be the best box safety in the draft.


Ronnie Harrison | Alabama | 6-3 | 214 lbs

Harrison is the best safety in the class for me. He has the versatility to play both safety spots but can lay the wood as a tackler and has good ball skills. He is used in a variety of ways at Alabama and is a force who can play in the box and who can display great range.


Minkah Fitzpatrick | Alabama | 6-1 | 202 lbs

Fitzpatrick switched to free safety once Eddie Jackson was injured last year. Fitzpatrick was a good corner but the position change was great for him. He has great range and instincts and will certainly be one of the best free safety prospects in the country.