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The top of the 2024 NFL Draft is expected to be offensive-centric with multiple quarterbacks, wide receivers and offensive tackles coming off the board. If the first defensive player is taken No. 9 overall or later, then it will be the latest such occurrence in over two decades. 

Despite the lack of defensive talent at the top, there are still several quality talents expected to litter the first round of April's draft. Here are the top 5 prospects at each defensive position right now, in my opinion: 

Defensive line

  1. Byron Murphy II, Texas
  2. Jer'Zhan Newton, Illinois
  3. Kris Jenkins, Michigan
  4. Maason Smith, LSU
  5. Michael Hall Jr., Ohio State

The interior defensive line has a solid group, but they lack a Quinnen Williams-type. Murphy has upside as a pass rusher and is not a liability in run defense. Newton is a high-motor talent who uses his quickness to get on the hips of blockers. Jenkins is the son of a former NFL standout. He is a rising prospect.

Smith will be polarizing because he was highly regarded by the consensus coming into the season but he has not fully regained form after suffering a torn ACL early in the 2022 season. Most players do not return to peak performance until their second full season post-torn ACL, so one team could get a steal in the LSU Tigers. Hall rounds out the top five. 

Nose tackle types T'Vondre Sweat (Texas) and McKinnley Jackson (Texas A&M) would be in that next tier. Clemson had a few talented interior defenders, such as Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro.

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Edge rusher

  1. Dallas Turner, Alabama
  2. Darius Robinson, Missouri
  3. Laiatu Latu, UCLA
  4. Jared Verse, Florida State
  5. Bralen Trice, Washington

Turner has the most upside and he should test very well at the NFL Combine. He is a relatively young prospect so it is likely that his best football lies ahead. Robinson is a unique talent because he has the flexibility to play on the edge or slide inside in pass-rushing situations. Latu has a lot of pass-rush moves in his bag and, at this point, there is no reason to believe he will not pass a medical check despite his past. 

Verse is a powerful rusher who started to show his ability to take over games late in the season. Trice may not have the highest ceiling of this group, but his floor is high because of his consistency and how he prepares. Penn State's Chop Robinson is often in this conversation as well. He is a bit more raw, but someone who should test well in Indianapolis. One sleeper to watch is Western Michigan's Marshawn Kneeland. 


  1. Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M
  2. Junior Colson, Michigan
  3. Payton Wilson, NC State
  4. Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson
  5. Trevin Wallace, Kentucky

Cooper is the top linebacker because he can play in the box or make plays in coverage. His Herculean grip strength in the open field allows him to track and finish plays. Colson is an athletic linebacker for a team and coach that requires its players to play tough, hard-nosed football. Wilson has more traditional size. He is among the most productive players in the country, but has suffered two ACL tears in his career. The Wolfpack linebacker finally rounded back into form this season. 

Trotter is the son of the former NFL linebacker. He is a more stout player who can play in the box. Wallace is a prospect who I am betting will rise. He entered the draft early as a junior. After excelling in the Senior Bowl game, the Georgia native should test well at the combine. 

Cooper is the most well-rounded linebacker prospect, and then maybe Wilson, when healthy. The rest are still developing in one aspect or another. It is not a star-studded group, but there is functional depth into Day 3. North Carolina's Cedric Gray, UTEP's Tyrice Knight, Missouri's Ty'Ron Hopper, Ohio State's Tommy Eichenberg and Texas' Jaylan Ford are some others who can be contributors for a team.


  1. Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo
  2. Terrion Arnold, Alabama
  3. Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama
  4. Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri
  5. Nate Wiggins, Clemson

There is not a Patrick Surtain II in this draft class, in my opinion. Each prospect has his flaw. Mitchell inspires the most confidence because of his experience and the way he plays the game. He is a fiery competitor who checks the height, weight and speed boxes. Arnold is just 20 years old and has been trained by Nick Saban. His best football is still ahead of him. 

McKinstry is probably going to test better than media expects, which could lead to a surge back up the board for the pre-season No. 1 cornerback. Wiggins is the youngest of this group. He is an unfinished product, but should also test well in Indianapolis. Abrams-Draine is one who I am personally higher on than most. He is buttery smooth in his transitions and is not afraid to be physical. 

A few others in the mix include Iowa's Cooper DeJean, TCU's Josh Newton and Georgia's Kamari Lassiter.


  1. Tyler Nubin, Minnesota
  2. Javon Bullard, Georgia
  3. Calen Bullock, USC
  4. Kamren Kinchens, Miami (Fla.)
  5. Cole Bishop, Utah

Nubin is a hyper-aware safety with elite ball production (12 interceptions) over the past three seasons. He has great range and is the best example of a traditional safety in this draft class. Beyond Nubin, the safety class is a lot about team needs and the type of safety missing from a team's secondary. 

Bullard is a smaller safety with great ball production on a championship-caliber defense. Bullock had nine interceptions over the past three seasons and missed just four tackles in 2022, according to TruMedia. Kinchens has 11 interceptions over the past two seasons. He has disciplined eyes in coverage, but was responsible for a 13.3% missed tackle rate in 2023, according to TruMedia. Bishop is an active prospect with good awareness, but top-end speed and acceleration are not going to set the pace. 

The 2024 NFL Draft will take place from April 25-27 in Detroit. More draft coverage can be found at, including the weekly updated draft ordermock drafts and a regularly available look at the eligible prospects