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2017 NFL Draft: Mike Mayock's defensive positional rankings

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Draft guru Mike Mayock has released his first top five positional rankings for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Network's draft guru Mike Mayock has released his first top five positional rankings for the 2017 NFL Draft.

I wrote a piece on Mayock's top five positional rankings for the offensive side of the ball a few days ago, and today I will tackle the defensive side of the ball.

The Denver Broncos defense remains one of the best in the league but did take a step or two back along the defensive line and at stopping the run. I would expect them to upgrade their defensive line depth, add another Inside linebacker, and possibly another cornerback.

Interior Defensive Line

  1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama
  2. Caleb Brantley, Florida
  3. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
  4. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte
  5. Chris Wormley, Michigan

Thoughts:

The interior defensive line group doesn't have as many big names as it has in year's past, but it does have a lot of solid second and third tier talents that will contribute on NFL rosters going forward.

Leading the group might be the best player in the draft, Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. He can do it all, rush the passer, stop the run, play in multiple schemes and helped anchor that dominant Alabama defense the past few years. He's a top 5 pick in April's draft.

Next, comes a name that Broncos fans should get to know. Florida's Caleb Brantley is probably the best nose tackle prospect in the class. He looks the part of a nose tackle and might be one of the strongest defensive linemen in this entire class. He can play in both one gap and two gap defenses and should be a first round pick come this April.

Michigan State's Malik McDowell is this year's boom or bust defensive line prospect. He has all the talent in the world and could become a great NFL player, but is kinda lazy, and has work ethic concerns. His upside alone will likely make him a first round pick but will need a good positional coach and defensive coordinator to get the most out of McDowell. If not he could be a disappointing bust.

North Carolina Charlotte's Larry Ogunjobi isn't someone you think about when you talk about the top defensive prospects in the draft, but the small school prospect could be a first round pick. He's not the biggest prospect but is a disruptive lineman who can get into the backfield. Ogunjobi will need to prove he can play despite his smaller stature.

Rounding out the list is a personal favorite of mine, Michigan's Chris Wormley. The 6-5, 297-pound lineman has the size you look for in a 3-4 defensive lineman. Wormley has long arms, strong hands, and good athleticism for a man of his size. He has all the tools to be a difference-maker along the defensive line.

The Broncos will be on the lookout for some defensive line depth this offseason and could consider Brantley, McDowell, and Wormley during the first two rounds of the draft.

Edge Rusher

  1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
  2. Tim Williams, Alabama
  3. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  4. Solomon Thomas, Stanford
  5. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA

Thoughts:

The edge rushing talent in this year's draft is very good and we will likely see an edge rusher go first overall to the Cleveland Browns.

Texas A&M's Myles Garrett should be the first player off the board come April. He has elite pass rushing ability and is just an all-around elite prospect. He can line up as a 4-3 defensive end or as a 3-4 outside linebacker. If he can stay healthy and live up to his hype, he will have a long and successful career.

Tim Williams, another Alabama defensive player makes Mayock's list. He has the size, strength, and ability to be a starting 3-4 outside linebacker in this league. He should be a first-round pick, a top 15 pick in all likelihood but off the field, concerns could drop him into the second round.

Barnett had a very successful college career and figures to be a first-round pick come this April. He has very strong hands and has solid awareness. He can rush the passes, stop the run, set the edge, and likely play in multiple spots and in multiple schemes.

Another personal favorite of mine is Stanford's, Solomon Thomas. Another explosive and very strong prospect who has a non-stop motor. He does have some "tweener" traits since he doesn't have enough size to play inside consistently and the size to be an edge guy, but the talent is there. I would have him higher on this list and I think he will rise as we get closer to the draft.

Rounding out the list is another first-round edge rusher, UCLA's Takkarist McKinley. If you're not familiar with him you will know his name after the combine. He is expected to put on a show there. Has a non-stop motor and athleticism to be a menace for offensive linemen. He is raw but will be drafted higher because of his potential.

The Broncos are deep at edge rusher with Von Miller, Shane Ray, and Shaq Barrett. They will likely add some depth to the position in the draft but probably not until later in the draft.

Linebacker

  1. Reuben Foster, Alabama
  2. Haason Reddick, Temple
  3. Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
  4. Jarrad Davis, Florida
  5. Alex Anzalone, Florida

Thoughts:

This linebacker group might be my favorite top five group in this draft. All five are talented players who should be able to contribute on NFL rosters right away.

Topping the list is the ultra talented Reuben Foster, another Alabama player. Has sideline to sideline range, tough as they come, solid tackler, an elite coverage linebacker in college, and a three down linebacker. He is likely a top 15 player but is having shoulder surgery this offseason, so he could drop some. If so, someone is going to get themselves a steal.

Next is a big favorite of mine, Temple's Haason Reddick. He was a hand in the dirt edge rusher in college but played some linebacker at the Senior Bowl and really impressed. He showed elite range, instincts, and cover ability. He also showed off his athleticism and loose hips to bend underneath tackles. He can play outside, inside, or put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. Versatile, explosive, athletic, and an exciting prospect.

Zach Cunningham is another explosive prospect who might be limited to being a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense. His play strength is not what you're looking for, but when he's in space he can fly and make plays. He does miss some tackles as well, but the upside is there. He's like a late first round pick come April.

Next are two Florida linebackers, Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone. Davis another athletic and explosive linebacker who figures to go early in the draft. A high motor and high character player who is a three down linebacker prospect. Anzalone was a surprise addition but did have a solid Senior Bowl. Has the size, speed, and athleticism you look for, but durability concerns could drop him in the draft.

I think the Broncos address the inside linebacker position early in the draft and could select one of the five in this group. They should take advantage of this talented and athletic group. Something the inside linebacker group lacks currently.

Cornerback

  1. Sidney Jones, Washington
  2. Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
  3. Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
  4. Teez Tabor, Florida
  5. Tre'Davious White, LSU

Thoughts:

Another very deep positional group is the cornerback position. We could see five or six corners selected in the first round and another 5 or so in the second around as well.

Topping Mayock's list is Washington corner, Sidney Jones. Like former teammate and current Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, Jones has great ball skills. He's highly athletic and figures to be one of the top corners selected in the draft. The only concern is his weight but it has been reported that he will weigh in around 190 at the combine.

Another talented cornerback in Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore. He's highly athletic, good press ability, and just an overall smooth athlete. He does lack experience since he only started for one season at Ohio State, but his upside and athletic ability will get him drafted rather high.

Yet another Alabama player makes Mayock's list, this time being cornerback Marlon Humphrey's. He has the height, weight, and speed you look for in a corner. He might be limited to zone only teams but should excel in those defenses. He also struggled against the deep ball in college so that will be something he needs to clean up in the NFL.

Another favorite of mine is Florida's ball-hawking corner, Teez Tabor. He honestly reminds me a lot of Aqib Talib. Both are big and strong athletes who are physical on the field. He also has Talib's personality on and off the field. So how he interviews will be key. I think he goes in the first round but character concerns could drop him some.

Rounding out the group is LSI corner Tre'Davious White. He's a little undersized and probably best suited for slot corner duties, but be very good at it. He's a sticky man coverage corner but lacks the ideal play strength to matchup against bigger and more physical receivers.

As I said prior, I think cornerback is a darkhorse first-round pick for the Broncos. The Broncos have a former DB coach as Head Coach and at Defensive Coordinator, so they could look to add to their cornerback group. My personal favorite is Teez Tabor and would be completely fine with the Broncos taking him at 20.

Safety

  1. Malik Hooker, Ohio State
  2. Jamal Adams, LSU
  3. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
  4. Budda Baker, Washington
  5. Obi Melifonwu, Connecticut

Thoughts:

The safety classes have been lacking the past few years, but not this year. All five of these prospects are talented and likely top 40 selections come April.

Ohio State's Malik Hooker has been compared to Ed Reed, a future Hall Of Famer. That's high praise but he does have the talent to back that comparison up. He reads the quarterback's eyes, has great instincts along with athleticism and size/strength. He only has one year of game experience and is rather raw, but has immense upside. He is having offseason surgery that may drop him some on draft day, but I don't see him making it out of the top 10.

If the Broncos needed a safety I'd be banging the table for Jamal Adams. He's a great leader, hard worker, and a tough player. He is likely a box/strong safety in the NFL but able to cover backs and tight ends. He's a big hitter and will patrol the middle of the field. Think of Giants safety Landon Collins when you think of Adams.

Michigan's Jabril Peppers did a bit of everything in college. He played some running back, cornerback, safety, linebacker and whatever else they asked him to do and excelled at it. His versatility should help him in the NFL as well. I think he's a safety who can play some linebacker and big nickel as well. A talented player who could be dangerous if landing with the right defensive mind.

Budda Baker is Bob Sanders 2.0. Undersized but that doesn't stop him from playing fast and being a physical presence on the field. He has big play ability but like Sanders, injury concerns will be there because of his play style and size. I think he could sneak into the first round, but probably a second rounder.

Rounding out the group is someone who caught my eye at the Senior Bowl. Connecticut's Obi Melifonwu. He's a bit of a freak. Highly athletic and comes in at 6-4, 220lbs. He will be someone who nails the combine and all this should get him drafted a little higher than he should. He might not be a 'center field' type safety, but likely a box safety who will matchup against tight ends.

The Broncos have T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Justin Simmons, and Will Parks at safety so I do not see them adding any pieces to this group.