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NFL Draft: Top 20 defensive players

Holder’s rankings for top of defensive board

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama
Will Anderson Jr.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

The Las Vegas Raiders need a lot of help on defense in the upcoming NFL Draft, so much so that the board is wide open for them to take a player at any position on that side of the ball. Luckily, this year’s class is full of good defenders, and below is my ranking of the Top 20.

Each player’s name is hyperlinked to a scouting report if you’d like more information on someone specifically and I included a brief synopsis of what they would bring to the Silver and Black.

1. Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama

Anderson Jr. is a disruptive defender against the run and as a pass-rusher who reminds me of a former Raider, Khalil Mack. The Alabama product is physical and can win with power, however, Las Vegas will likely have to trade up to get him, which doesn’t seem likely, as he’ll probably be the first non-quarterback off the board.

2. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia

It’s a bit of a mystery where Carter will go on draft night given how the last couple of months have played out. If he does slide to No. 7, he’ll certainly be an intriguing option as his combination of quickness and strength reminds me of another former Raider, Warren Sapp. The Bulldog visited Sin City about a week ago, likely so that the team’s decision-makers could interview him and give him a chance to explain himself. We’ll find out how those conversations went on draft day.

3. Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson

Admittedly, I’m higher on Murphy than most other draftniks seem to be. He’s an excellent athlete who posted a 9.71 RAS Score at his Pro Day workout, due in part to running a 4.53-second 40-time at nearly 270 pounds. That shows up in his ability to turn speed to power as a pass-rusher, and he’s physical and strong enough to set the edge in the ground game which is highlighted by his 25 bench press reps.

4. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon

Gonzalez is a cornerback that Al Davis would love as he checks all three of the height, weight and speed boxes at 6’1 3/8”, 197 pounds and a 4.38-second 40-time. He also has long arms (32”) and tremendous ball production with 11 combined interceptions and passes defended last year. He should be on the table for the Raiders with the seventh-overall pick and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s donning the Silver and Black in September.

5. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois

I’m at the point where it’s pretty much a coin-flip between Gonzalez and Witherspoon as the top corner in this draft class and size is the only reason why the former is ranked higher. The Illinois product is half an inch below six feet and only 181 pounds, but he has great instincts and was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded FBS corner in coverage (92.5) a year ago. The Illini is also on the table with Las Vegas’ first pick of the draft.

6. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson

Bresee is a bit of a polarizing player in this draft class, mainly because he’s an unfinished product. His technique needs work but he is a great athlete with a 9.61 RAS Score, which helps him be disruptive as a pass-rusher. He’s currently projected to be a late-first-round pick, making it tough for him to land in Las Vegas, but if he somehow falls to the second, he’d be a great addition to the Raiders.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 09 CFP National Championship
Nolan Smith
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

7. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia

Leadership might be Smith’s best trait as he commands the room when speaking and brings a lot of energy. As a player, he’s physical and strong at the point of attack, especially for being under 240 pounds, to help set the edge and he’s a good athlete with upside as a pass-rusher. If the Silver and Black opt to trade back into the teens, the Georgia product should be on their radar.

8. Tyree Wilson, DL, Texas Tech

I have my concerns about Wilson which is why he’s lower on my board than most others, but there’s no denying that he can be a physical force and has some natural gifts that can’t be taught. His 35 3/8-inch arms are going to be a problem for offensive tackles. Personally, I’d go in a different direction at No. 7, but I can see why the Raiders’ brass would be enamored with the Red Raider.

9. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State

Even without knowing his name, it’s pretty obvious on tape that Porter Jr. grew up with a father who was an NFL linebacker. He’s physical and strong, and 34-inch arms combined with 4.46-speed help him recover when getting beat by batting the ball out of the air. The Penn State product is in the second tier of corners in this class, in my opinion, so he’d be another good target if Las Vegas opts to trade back.

10. Lukas Van Ness, DL, Iowa

There might not be a better bull-rusher in this draft class than Van Ness. At 272 pounds with 34-inch arms and 4.58-speed, he puts tackles on skates and can be an effective run defender as well. To be honest, I don’t have a great feel of where he’ll get drafted as his lack of experience with no college starts throws a wrench into things. But he is a good player with a high ceiling who the Raiders could look to develop behind Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones.

11. BJ Ojulari, EDGE, LSU

Ojulari is one of “my guys” as I love the fact he varies his pass-rush plan based on who he’s lined up across from. He has the speed and athleticism to win around the edge against offensive tackles with bad feet and has enough strength to turn speed to power and beat tackles who have a weak base. I view him as a late-first-round pick, but if he falls to No. 38, he could be a great pickup for Las Vegas.

Iowa v Minnesota
Jack Campbell
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

12. Jack Campbell, LB, Iowa

Another one of “my guys” in this draft class. Campbell put nearly any questions about his athleticism to rest by posting a 9.98 RAS Score at the combine, making him the most complete linebacker in this draft class, in my opinion. If he slides to the second round, I’ll sprint to Kansas City and turn the card in for Dave Ziegler and Josh McDaniels.

13. Brian Branch, S, Alabama

There are three main reasons why Branch would be a good fit with the Raiders. One, they need a lot of safety help; two, he’s versatile which Patrick Graham looks for at the position; and three, he had two picks and eight pass breakups last season and that level of ball production is something the defense is missing. The Alabama product falls into that fringe late-first- to second-round category so we’ll have to wait and see if he falls to the 38th pick.

14. Will McDonald, EDGE, Iowa State

McDonald is an exceptional pass-rusher who has a slew of moves he can win with. He needs to get bigger and stronger to play against the run and be an every-down player, but he’d be a good second-round target as he could sit behind Crosby and Jones for a year and bulk up.

15. Keion White, DL, Georgia Tech

Originally a tight end at Old Dominion, White switched sides of the ball and then transferred schools, giving him a unique profile. He’s an excellent athlete with a 9.92 RAS Score but is still very raw as he sat out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was injured in 2021. The Yellow Jacket does bring some position versatility given his size—nearly 6’5” and 285 pounds—and athleticism, making him an intriguing option for the Raiders in the second round, if he’s still there.

16. Drew Sanders, LB, Arkansas

Perhaps the most intriguing part about Sanders as a prospect is this was his first season playing as an off-ball linebacker and he ended up being a finalist for the Butkus Award. He’s a good athlete who just needs to add some size and strength to be better at taking on blocks. If Campbell isn’t available in the second round, the Razorback would be an excellent consolation prize.

17. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland

Banks might end up being a mid-first-round pick which could put him out of range for the Raiders barring a trade back. With a 4.35-second 40-time, he can run and has good size at 6’ and 197 pounds to check the height, weight and speed checkboxes.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Pitt at Virginia
Calijah Kancey
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

18. Calijah Kancey, DL, Pittsburgh

To me, the comparison to Aaron Donald is just lazy helmet scouting but there’s no denying that Kancey can be a disruptive pass-rusher. He’s racked up 14.5 sacks over the last two seasons which doesn’t happen by accident and is worthy of taking a flier on in the second round if he’s still there.

19. Siaki Ika, DT, Baylor

There isn’t a defensive tackle who is better at taking on double teams than Ika is. His 335-pound frame—which is nearly 25 pounds lighter than his roster weight at Baylor this past season—certainly helps as he’s nearly impossible to move in the ground game. It seems like I’m higher on him than most, so if he somehow falls to the third round, the Raiders should pounce as they currently lack a space-eating defensive tackle.

20. Tuli Tuipulotu, EDGE, USC

Versatility is a common theme throughout this draft board and Tuipulotu also falls into that category. USC played him up and down the defensive line and occasionally as an off-ball linebacker. At just 266 pounds, he’s probably more of an edge in the NFL, but he can be disruptive in both phases of the game. If Las Vegas can manage to add a mid- to late-second-round pick, he’d be a good option as Graham will love the Trojan’s position flexibility.