Josh Katzenstein’s top defensive players in NFL draft
Each year, the draft seemingly has at least one strong position. This year, most analysts believe it’s defensive tackle.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, in fact, said the group is so deep teams might target other need positions early knowing there will be tackle options later.
Starting Thursday, everyone will find out just how much teams target interior defensive line help. But rest assured, there are players who can help at all the other defensive positions.
Linebacker has been an undervalued position in recent years, but there are some players who would add a dose of speed, something the Lions might desire.
Safety is another position teams don’t target high in the draft, but the Lions are desperate for help at strong safety.
Along the defensive line, the Lions need bodies on the edge. For now, their top strong-side linebacker is either Josh Bynes or Kyle Van Noy, and they have three true defensive ends on the roster, although linebacker Brandon Copeland could play there.
The Lions also are looking for long-term help at defensive tackle because all their top options are on short-term contracts.
The team ranked second overall defensively in 2014, but fell to 18th last year, though the run defense was excellent the second half. Whenever the Lions target defense, expect speed to be a big component.
Here’s a look at the top defensive players in the 2016 draft:
BEST: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The 6-foot-5, 269-pounder has ideal traits in every category except speed, but he’s quick enough to rush and strong enough to defend the run, which is why he’ll be a top five pick.
2. Shaq Lawson, Clemson: He’s powerful against the run and steps up in big games — 3.5 tackles for loss against Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl; two sacks against Alabama in the national championship despite a knee injury.
3. Leonard Floyd, Georgia: He’s a little skinny at 6-6 and 244 pounds, but his athleticism will help him pass rush and cover.
4. Kevin Dodd, Clemson: He’s not the most athletic option, but with one full season in college, there’s room to grow — and he still had 23.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks last year.
5. Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky: The Ohio State transfer could fall because of off-field issues, but he’ll contribute quickly as a situational rusher.
Locals: Shilique Calhoun (Michigan State), Matt Judon (Grand Valley State), Mario Ojemudia (Michigan)
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
BEST: DeForest Buckner, Oregon: The 6-7, 291-pounder is imposing and has an impressive nose for the ball, with 80-plus tackles each of the last two years, as well as five passes defensed last season. His power and quickness give him star potential as a 4-3 tackle or 3-4 end.
2. Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: Being explosive off the snap and 6-1 have led to some comparisons to Aaron Donald.
3. Jarran Reed, Alabama: He should provide run support immediately, but needs to improve as a pass rusher.
4. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama: He’s unpolished, but his NFL frame will help him contribute while he improves.
5. Andrew Billings, Baylor: He’s 20 years old, so teams should see upside with someone fast for 311 pounds.
Locals: Willie Henry (Michigan), Lawrence Thomas (Michigan State), Joel Heath (Michigan State), Justin Zimmer (Ferris State)
BEST: Myles Jack, UCLA: He’s a playmaker who uses speed to chase down players all over the field. He should be able to cover, rush and chase down running backs. If he falls out of the top seven, it’ll be over concerns about his injured knee.
2. Darron Lee, Ohio State: The success of smaller, fast linebackers makes Lee — 232 pounds but a 4.47-second 40-yard dash — more appealing.
3. Reggie Ragland, Alabama: He’s the prototypical run-defending middle linebacker, but he’ll have to prove he’s quick enough to cover.
4. Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: A knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl ruined his chances of going top 10, but some team could take a risk he eventually returns to full health.
5. Deion Jones, LSU: At 222 pounds, he’s a great athlete and was an all-around playmaker last year with 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and two INTs.
Locals: Desmond Morgan (Michigan), Joe Bolden (Michigan), Darien Harris (Michigan State)
BEST: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: Considered by some the best player in the draft, he has ideal athleticism and size. There’s a chance he’ll move to safety, but will be able to make plays in all aspects.
2. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida: He’s quick, strong in coverage and a powerful tackler. His 4.5-second 40-yard dash and being 5-10 are the only concerns.
3. William Jackson III, Houston: He’s aggressive, fast and led the FBS with 23 passes defensed last year.
4. Eli Apple, Ohio State: At 6-1, 199 pounds and with a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, he looks and runs like an NFL-ready player despite being 20.
5. Artie Burns, Miami: He also competed on the Hurricanes track team and plays with the necessary confidence for the position.
Locals: Ronald Zamort (Western Michigan)
BEST: Karl Joseph, West Virginia: He tore his ACL in October, which is a reason there hasn’t been much buzz. But he had 104 tackles as a freshman and five INTs in four games as a senior. Joseph is a hard hitter with coverage skills to become a stud.
2. Su’a Cravens, USC: Some teams will see him as a linebacker because of tackling and instincts, but he had nine INTs the last three years, too.
3. Keanu Neal, Florida: An excellent run defender, he should become a reliable strong safety.
4. T.J. Green, Clemson: With a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, teams might move Green to cornerback, but at 6-2 and 209 pounds, he’s got excellent potential to be a playmaker.
5. Vonn Bell, Ohio State: He already can cover, and he’ll be a good pick if he can be more physical.
Locals: Kavon Frazier (Central Michigan), R.J. Williamson (Michigan State)