Trench players: Offensive tackles, interior offensive linemen, interior defensive linemen and edge defenders.
Some of the players included in this list aren’t best fits as trench players, but they have a chance to be one at the next level. Most of them are players who are off the ball linebackers. They are graded as edge defenders for the purpose of this list.
15: Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama
Reed is one of my favorite players in the draft class. He doesn’t have the juice in his legs to really make an impact as more than a two-down nose tackle, but he can play nose guard with the best in this class. His length doesn’t correlate with a 5-technique, either. I think his scheme limitation means he gets skimmed over early in the draft, but whoever lands him is going to get a safe, quality player.
14: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
I’m biased when scouting offensive linemen. Typically, I tend to like long and strong pass blockers more than the project dancing bears. Last draft class, La’el Collins was my top offensive tackle, for example. Stanley’s an above average athlete as a bookend, but there are times when he just looks inconsistent and soft. Shaq Lawson damn near broke his ankles on a crossover when Stanley faced Clemson. I don’t think he’s a bad prospect by any means, but he can’t sink his hips like Laremy Tunsil, and I don’t think he’s a guy you can trust at left tackle for at least his rookie season.
Does he have a Tyron Smith upside? Yes. Look at how many teams have been tricked into taking a soft, agile lineman early in draft, though. With the questions about Stanley’s commitment to the sport coming up over and over, it’s hard for me to feel confident in banking on him hitting. The price of a left tackle is high, though. 18 are paid higher than the highest real right tackle (Lane Johnson doesn’t count.)
13: Javon Hargrave, DL, South Carolina State
12: Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
11: Joshua Garnett, IOL, Stanford
People love Cody Whitehair, the left tackle from Kansas State who moved to guard at the Senior Bowl, but Garnett looked like the best interior linemen at the event. He’s a nasty dude, and he was one of two leaders (Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State) on that North squad all week. He’s a damn bully, and I think mentality is a really underrated aspect of offensive line play. I can’t imagine you’d rank any interior offensive lineman over him if you ran a gap scheme. He enjoys hurting others on down blocks and pulls.
10: Ryan Kelly, IOL, Alabama
I don’t usually advocate for centers going in the first round, but I’d take Kelly there. He was the best lineman on Alabama’s championship team last year that opened up holes for a Heisman winner. For the life of me, I can’t tell why he’s not being considered a top-25 player in the class. He can play in either a gap or zone scheme immediately. If you need a guard, he’s only behind Garnett and Whitehair to me.
9: Vernon Butler, DL, Louisiana Tech
I was surprised by Butler’s fairly poor combine, but he’s still a good nose tackle prospect. He showed enough that you’d at least entertain the idea of playing him at 3-technique if you already had an established 1-technique defensive tackle, but his best role in the NFL will either be as a nose tackle or nose guard at 323 pounds. He has the potential to be a rare three-down nose tackle, as he can pressure quarterbacks, too.
8: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Here’s the length and strength offensive tackle in the class. I’ve been saying since October that he’s the second-best tackle prospect in the draft pool, and I don’t think I’ll be changing my opinion anytime soon. He may be limited to playing right tackle long-term, but I’d let him prove to me that he can’t play left tackle. Fairly consistent down-to-down, which is the best trait a pass protector can have. Is it possible that he’s the next Andrew Whitworth?
7: Jaylon Smith, EDGE, Notre Dame
As a pure talent, if Smith were healthy, I think he’d be one of the best 3-4 outside linebacker prospects in this class. He didn’t look like an all-star athlete on the field, but he did a decent job coming around the edge in limited opportunities. He could have been the “what if Derrick Johnson played outside linebacker?” answer. Side note: as an off the ball linebacker, people aren’t talking enough about Smith’s inconsistent reads. Maybe it’s because he’s injured and people don’t want to take shots at injured players (other than Myles Jack for some reason), but there are a lot of times when Smith blows by his guard read and his eyes get lost in the backfield. Those are fundamentals taught at the middle school level. It’s weird to see him branded as this “safe” prospect juxtaposed to Jack as the “upside” guy, when that’s not really true in reality.
6: Myles Jack, EDGE, UCLA
UCLA had Jack blitzing off the edge at times, and he did a fairly good job. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read Force Players and know how important I think athleticism is for pass-rushers. Jack is an athlete, which was evident by his 40″ vertical and 10’4″ broad jump at his pro day. We’re waiting on his straight line speed and agility drills, but I see no evidence to doubt him in those areas.
5: Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Mississippi
Did Nkemdiche get arrested for marijuana? Yes. Did Nkemdiche fall out of a hotel window? Yes. Did Nkemdiche throw his teammate under the bus? Yes. As a football talent, though, he’s impressive as hell.
He’s so fast off of the line of scrimmage, you’d swear that he’s cheating. He, Bullard and Hargrave are those 3-technique prospects this year. With that being said, Nkemdiche is bad enough against double-teams that you seriously need to think about where you’d play him during the first two downs of a series.
The best role for him may be as a Sheldon Richardson-Datone Jones jumbo 3-4 outside linebacker in early downs.
4: Shaq Lawson, EDGE, Clemson
Our one Force Player so far this year. He’s an edge-setter in the running game, and he has good burst off the line of scrimmage. He bends, but he’s a thicker pass-rusher. His explosion off the line of scrimmage and size typically correlate to more of an under tackle’s skill set than a Von Miller’s, which is why I think he had so many tackles for losses compared to sacks. Last year, Frank Clark was that guy on film.
3: Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville
Young Kawann Short. He was featured in my interior defensive line Force Players piece. He’s a defensive tackle who can get after the passer on every down, and when you find those unicorns, you keep them forever. He can play the small games in the big game, as he knows exactly how offensive linemen play his skill set and he has counter moves built off that. Watching him thrash interior offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl was something.
2: Joey Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
I wrote about Bosa for Bleacher Report. It’s not the most positive piece, since people were talking about him in the running for the first overall pick at the time, but perception has almost flipped so much that he’s now underrated. He’s still a very good football player. He’s just not a dynamic pass-rusher in a way where you’d want to bang the table for him as a 10-sack guy.
1: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Mississippi
God level OT.