The 2015 NFL Draft is less than two months away. Already, the XN Sports NFL Mock Draft 1.0 has been released.
Over the next two weeks, we will be releasing the top five draft prospects at each position leading up to the second edition of the mock draft.
A modern-day position, the edge-rusher is hybrid combination of defensive end and outside linebacker designed primarily to chase after the quarterback in 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. This year, it’s arguably the deepest and richest position in all the draft.
Here are the top five edge rushers in the 2015 draft:
1. Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Gregory is the top-rated edge-rusher in this year’s draft class thanks to his extraordinary physical tools that have him primed to be a relentless threat coming off the end in a 3-4 defense.
Gregory boasts excellent initial burst and flexibility to chase down the quarterback, and also has more power than the other rushers on this list. He’ll need to continue to add strength as he transitions to the NFL ranks.
Though he’s a bit raw, he has all the physical gifts to be an effective NFL pass-rusher. He also is surprisingly stout against the run as well. We expect Gregory to fall off the board as early as third overall to the Jaguars to fill that much-needed Bruce Irvin sort of role for Gus Bradley.
2. Shane Ray, Missouri
As a junior last season, Ray was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year while also earning first-team All-American status after leading the conference in both sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (22.5). Those numbers include school records and ranked among the tops in the nation. Other SEC DPOYs include talents like Jarvis Jones, Patrick Peterson, Rolando McClain, Eric Berry and Patrick Willis, among others.
Ray is a naturally instinctive edge-rusher who can quickly locate the ball and be a disruptive force en route to the ball. He’s relentless in pursuit with a highly touted motor. Missouri has a long pedigree of producing elite pass-rushers such as Aldon Smith and Kony Ealy.
One question mark on Ray is his overall length. He hides it with his explosiveness and highlight reel plays. Most teams will be willing to overlook that.
3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Last year Beasley was considered a first- or second-round prospect, but another excellent year at Clemson has him likely becoming a top-10 pick in 2015. And his NFL combine outing assured teams exactly of what they can get.
Beasley wowed spectators during the combine, flaunting his rare combination of speed, size, power and explosiveness. The 246-pound backer posted a 41-inch vertical and a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, drawing comparisons to Broncos standout Von Miller.
A fit for a 3-4 front, Beasley shows an elite burst off the ball with tremendous closing speed when getting after the quarterback. His lateral quickness has scouts confident he can be a sideline-to-sideline defender. Beasley must become a more sure tackler and continue to work on finishing at the point of attack.
4. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Kentucky
Like Beasley, Dupree is being touted as a physical freak that teams rocking a 3-4 defense will be coveting in the middle-to-late part of the first round.
Dupree racked up 7.5 sacks last season at Kentucky, which brought his total to 23.5 for his career. He also finished with 74 tackles, including 12.5 for loss. At 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds, Dupree posted a 4.56 40 time. Pair that with his explosive closing speed and power, and Dupree is one of the most intriguing edge-rushers in this year’s crop.
Dupree has all of the physical tools to be an effective NFL outside linebacker. He simply needs to improve his run defense and pass coverage, which could be corrected by a strong coaching staff.
5. Eli Harold, Virginia
There’s a lot to like about Harold, who originally was tabbed as a high second-round selection but is being projected to land late in the first-round because of all the potential he packs.
Harold will be 21 by the start of the 2015 NFL season. At 6-foot-3 and 247 pounds, with combine measurables through the roof, he could become a bargain if he winds up going after the first 32 picks.
Harold uses an array of pass-rushing techniques to keep opposing offensive tackles off-balance. He has a tremendous first step off the ball and can beat tackles outside with speed or inside with his power. Harold also looks to strip the football and consistently gets his hands in the air to try and swat down passes. He has the potential to thrive as a 3-4 outside backer and potentially even be groomed as a strong-side linebacker.