Because there are two franchise-type quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL Draft, there won't be a defensive player to go No. 1 overall for a second straight year. But there are some very good players available. Let's examine BetOnline defensive draft props.
The Houston Texans may have earned the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in the wrong year. Of course they took South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last year over a potential franchise quarterback like Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel (good thing there). Clowney, the first defensive player chosen No. 1 overall since Houston took NC State end Mario Williams in 2006, was a very highly touted prospect, perhaps the best pure pass-rushing end in years.
The problem with him was he often took plays off in college and didn't always play through injury. So perhaps predictably, Clowney played only four games as a rookie with seven tackles and no sacks before his season ended due to injury. Clowney is currently recovering from microfracture knee surgery, which is a very major procedure and could rob Clowney of some of his speed. It's too early to call Clowney a bust, but defensive players taken after him such as linebacker Khalil Mack (No. 4 to Oakland), linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 9 to Minnesota), defensive tackle Aaron Donald (No. 13 to St. Louis and the 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year) and linebacker C.J. Mosley (No. 17 to Baltimore) look like better players as things stand currently.
Grading The Class Of 2015
Quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are going to go No. 1-2 in Thursday's first round of the draft. However, both ESPN's Mel Kiper and NFL.com's Mike Mayock list USC defensive tackle/end Leonard Williams as the No. 1 player on their boards. They also have Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. ahead of both quarterbacks. Williams had 80 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, one interception and forced three fumbles during 2014 season. He was a finalist for the Hendricks Award. Fowler led the Gators with 15 tackles for loss and 17 quarterback hurries and had 8.5 sacks.
There are a handful of players who could be called either defensive ends or outside linebackers in the NFL depending on whether the team choosing them runs a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme. As for inside linebacker, it's not a great group. That position seems a bit lessened these days if you can't rush the passer even with the success of guys like Carolina's Luke Kuechly in recent years. Neither Kiper nor Mayock gives any inside linebacker a first-round grade.
After a pass rushing end/linebacker, cornerback has become the most important defensive position in football. When you have a shutdown corner like a Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman, that changes the entire defense as it closes half the field. There were five cornerbacks chosen in the first round last year. Ironically the worst right now appears to be the first off the board, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert at No. 8 to Cleveland (poor Browns). This year's group is not as deep with only Michigan State's Trae Waynes given a Top-10 grade. Washington's Marcus Peters and Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson also are likely first-rounders. There are a few more on the edge.
As the first end taken, Williams is the -220 favorite on the NFL odds, followed by Fowler at +160 and Nebraska's Randy Gregory, he of the positive marijuana test at the combine, at +2000.
At outside linebacker, Clemson's Vic Beasley is the -300 favorite, followed by Kentucky's Bud Dupree (+200), Virginia's Eli Harold (+1400), TCU's Paul Dawson (+1400) and Washington's Shaq Thompson (+1400). Obviously you can argue what guys are outside linebackers or ends but the props are simply as BetOnline determines the groups.
At inside linebacker, UCLA's Eric Kendricks is the -120 favorite to be the first off the board because he's probably the best in pass coverage of all the prospects. He is followed by Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney (+250), Clemson's Stephone Anthony (+500), Miami's Denzel Perryman (+500) and Georgia's Ramik Wilson (+2500).
At cornerback, it's MSU's Waynes (-600), UConn's Byron Jones (+600), Washington's Peters (+650), LSU's Jalen Collins (+1000) and Wake's Johnson (+1000).
The 'over/under' for defensive linemen + linebackers in the first round is 10, with the 'over' a -150 favorite. The number of defensive backs, which would thus include safeties, is 5.5, with the 'under' a -150 favorite. Utah's Eric Rowe and Arizona State's Damarious Randall are the two top-rated safeties but borderline first-round picks.
NFL Picks: Either Williams or Fowler likely is going No. 3 to Jacksonville and then whichever doesn't should go No. 5 to Washington. I say Williams is off the board first. Beasley will be first among the outside linebackers gone as I know the Falcons covet him at No. 8. Kendricks is the first inside linebacker gone and it's easily Waynes among cornerbacks. Go 'over' linemen + linebackers and 'under' the defensive backs with your NFL picks.