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Prospect Profiles: The DL and LB Class

In order to familiarize fans with some of the top names in the 2018 NFL Draft, Chargers.com will be highlighting top prospects by position each week leading up to the first day of the draft on April 26th.

*Next up is a look at some of the premiere defensive line and linebacker prospects according to pundits. *

DEFENSIVE LINE

Taven Bryan

School: Florida
Height: 6-4
Weight: 291 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Robert Nkemdiche

Teams aiming to take the defensive line prospect with the highest upside will likely target Taven Bryan.

While it took a while for him to get a chance to truly make his mark at Florida, the 6-4, 291-pounder was so impressive last season that many pundits believe he has one of the highest ceilings of any player in the entire draft.

Draft experts love to use terms like "super twitched up" and "ultra-athletic" when describing Bryan's game, and it's easy to see why.  He has tremendous speed and slippery moves for a man his size.  Bryan also boasts a rare burst off the snap, which allows him to quickly get into the backfield to rack up sacks and tackles for loss. However, Bryan's game isn't just about athleticism.  He also has impressive strength with a quick punch to jolt opposing offensive linemen.

After seeing limited playing time his first two seasons, Bryan broke out in 2017. He started all 11 games for the Gators, totaling 40 tackles, six tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks, which were tied for the second-most on the team.  Fans who want a taste of what he is capable of should just turn on his tape against Texas A&M a year ago in which he dominated the Aggies with seven total tackles and 1.5 sacks.

With Bryan only scratching the surface of his potential, expect him to be one of the first defensive tackles off the board come draft day.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.98 seconds
Bench Press: 30 reps
Vertical Jump: 35.0 inches
Broad Jump: 119.0 inches

Maurice Hurst

School: Michigan
Height: 6-2
Weight: 282 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Maliek Collins

The first step is everything when it comes to a defensive lineman.

Maurice Hurst's initial burst is so impressive that draft experts predict he'll make an impact right off the bat in 2018.

At 6-2, 282-pounds, the Michigan product makes a living in the offensive backfield. As a result, he is equally effective against the pass as well as the run.  Thus, it's easy to see why scouts see him as an ideal three-technique in a 4-3 defensive scheme.

Hurst appeared in 38 games over the last three seasons for the Wolverines, totaling 130 tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles.  He was at his best in 2017, being named a consensus All-American after recording 61 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His senior campaign was so impressive that Pro Football Focus ranked him as the top defensive player regardless of position in all of college football.

Hurst had a scare when an EKG performed at the Scouting Combine showed irregularities that prevented him from participating. Fortunately, after numerous rechecks proved he is fully healthy, the Michigan product has his spot as a top tier interior defensive line prospect.

Da'Ron Payne

School: Alabama
Height: 6-2
Weight: 311 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Ndamukong Suh

Who is the best run-stuffing defensive tackle in the draft?

If you ask most scouts, odds are they'd immediately respond with Da'Ron Payne without missing a beat.

Payne couldn't have a more apt name as he gives offensive linemen nightmares the entire week as they prepare to face him. After all, they know they are in for a physical confrontation each and every snap against one of the strongest pound-for-pound DTs in the nation.

The 6-2, 311-pounder's pure natural strength is off the charts, which makes him one of the premiere run-stuffers in this year's draft.  Payne is impossible to move off the spot once he anchors down.  He not only eats up blocks to allow linebackers clean looks at the running back, but he's also productive all on his own, often making the tackle.

Thus, it should come as no shock that Payne played a major role in helping the Crimson Tide capture the CFP National Championship in 2017.  In fact, he proved to be at his best in the spotlight as he was selected as the Defensive MVP of the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.  It was the cherry on top of a fantastic season in which Payne totaled 53 tackles, one sack and four passes defensed.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.95 seconds
Bench Press: 27 reps
Vertical Jump: 28.5 inches
Broad Jump: 107.0 inches

Harrison Phillips

School: Stanford
Height: 6-3
Weight: 307 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Brodrick Bunkley

Teams valuing college production will likely have their eye on Harrison Phillips.

While it took some time for him to make his mark with limited playing time early in his career, the Stanford product came into his own the past two years, especially last season.

Phillips totaled 103 tackles a year ago, which was the most in the nation for a defensive lineman. He also recorded 17.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in addition to notching double-digit tackles in four games. All in all, Phillips appeared in 33 collegiate games, amassing 158 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks.

Highly disruptive against the run, the 6-3, 307-pounder is also a force rushing the passer.  As tough as they come with a nonstop motor, Phillips has an innate knack for knowing where the ball-carrier is going.  As a result, many expect him to be one of the first defensive linemen off the board.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:5.21 seconds
Bench Press: 42 reps
Vertical Jump: 32.0 inches
Broad Jump: 103.0 inches

Vita Vea

School: Washington
Height: 6-4
Weight: 347 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Haloti Ngata

If someone was to sculpt the ideal defensive tackle prospect, odds are he would look like Vita Vea.

After all, who wouldn't want a 6-4, 347-pound behemoth with rare athleticism and brute strength anchoring their defense?

Vea was simply one of the most intimidating players in the nation during his career at Washington.  He's made a living embarrassing guards and centers as he overpowers them with ease.  In fact, CBS Sports' top pundits rave about his "Herculean strength" and ability to "make double teams look foolish." Vea is also tremendous in pursuit for a man his size with quick, light feet.

While he saw a good amount of time as a rotational player from 2015-16, Vea really came into his own last season.  He started all 13 games, dominating the competition as he was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.  Overall, he totaled 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four passes defensed as a junior in 2017.

Draft experts also note how he is only scratching the surface of his potential with most comparing him to young, raw Haloti Ngata.  Thus, Vea appears to be a shoo-in to hear his name called shortly after the draft gets underway on April 26.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:5.1 seconds
Bench Press: 41 reps

LINEBACKERS

Tremaine Edmunds

School: Virginia Tech
Height: 6-5
Weight: 253 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Brian Urlacher

It's easy to see why Tremaine Edmunds is a favorite of scouts and pundits alike.

The draft is all about projection, and it's hard not to like what the Virginia Tech linebacker brings to the table…especially considering he is only 19 years old.

A 6-5, 253-pound athletic freak, Edmunds seems primed to take the NFL by storm. In fact, some note how he seems primed to redefine the position as there are not many who possess his size, speed and athletic prowess.

Despite his young age, Edmunds was awfully productive over his three seasons with the Hokies.  He appeared in 40 games with 29 starts to record 226 tackles, 35.0 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, six passes defensed and four forced fumbles.  Edmunds really broke out as a junior when he was named a Butkus Award Finalist and First-Team All-ACC pick.  The rangy linebacker totaled a career-high 109 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks to earn those awards.

With pundits describing him as a "transcendent" linebacker prospect with the potential to be a Pro Bowl player for the next decade-plus, it would be shocking if Edmunds was not one of the first players taken come draft day.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.54 seconds
Bench Press: 19 reps
Broad Jump: 117.0 inches

Rashaan Evans

School: Alabama
Height: 6-3
Weight: 232 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Lawrence Timmons

Teams looking for a versatile, athletic linebacker to upgrade the position through the draft will likely target Rashaan Evans.

After all, speedy 6-3, 232-pound players with the ability to diagnose and make plays from sideline to sideline don't exactly grow on trees.

Evans solidified his standing as a top prospect with a dynamic senior campaign in which he led Alabama in tackles (74) and tackles for loss (13) despite missing two games with a minor injury.  Selected as a team captain in 2017, he also added six sacks, five passes defensed and two forced fumbles for the eventual national champions.

Pundits consider Evans one of the top linebacker prospects to ever come out of Alabama, which says a lot considering the school's lofty history. Overall, he's considered a safe bet to not only be one of the first linebackers drafted, but to also make a significant contribution his rookie year.

Combine Metrics
Vertical Jump: 30.0 inches
Broad Jump: 116.0 inches

Roquan Smith

School: Georgia
Height: 6-1
Weight: 236 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Deion Jones

There's a common draft saying that a prospect checks all the boxes.

The phrase is tossed around way too often nowadays, but if there was ever a prospect who truly did check all the boxes, it's Roquan Smith.

Simply put, he is everything you want in a linebacker prospect.

Smith a leader of men with football acumen that is off the charts. He's an electric, sideline-to-sideline playmaker who can singlehandedly take over a game. The linebacker is also as effective in coverage as he is against the run, which is increasingly rare in the NFL these days.

The first ever Butkus Award winner in Georgia history, Smith dominated the competition in 2017.  He notched 137 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, one sack and two passes defensed to lead the Bulldogs to the National Championship Game.

Even with all his college accomplishments, pundits believe he still has untapped potential ready to be unearthed at the next level.  As a result, they believe Smith has what it takes to not only be a perennial Pro Bowler, but even a possible league MVP.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.51 seconds

Uchenna Nwosu

School: USC
Height: 6-3
Weight: 251 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Kamalei Correa

One look at Uchenna Nwosu's tape shows an athletic, two-way linebacker whose game looks tailor-made for the NFL.

In fact, many believe he's primed to make an immediate impact in 2018.

The USC product is a hard-hitting linebacker who explodes into ball-carriers with a heavy thud.  Draft experts love his quickness off the edge with the ability of getting to the quarterback in a flash in addition to his prowess in coverage.

Over four years with the Trojans, Nwosu totaled 168 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 20 passes defensed and 12.5 sacks in 53 career games.  However, it was his dynamic senior campaign that really put him on the map as he tallied 75 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 14 passes defensed and 9.5 sacks in 2017.

A late-bloomer who only began playing football during his sophomore year in high school, pundits note how Nwosu is still learning the intricacies of the game.  As a result, there is a ton of untapped potential for NFL teams to unearth, which is why most believe he will be late first round/early second round pick.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.65 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 32.0 inches
Broad Jump: 119.0 inches

Leighton Vander Esch

School: Boise State
Height: 6-4
Weight: 256 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Karlos Dansby

Few fans around the country knew Leighton Vender Esch's name the past three years at Boise State. 

Now he's one of the most talked about linebacker prospects in the draft and a safe bet to be one of the first players at his position off the board.

Anyone unaware of his game simply has to put on the tape from 2017 in which Vander Esch was clearly one of the top players in college football.  He was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year as he notched 129 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, four passes defensed and three forced fumbles as a redshirt junior. Vender Esch was also the Mountain West Championship Game Defensive MVP after tying his career-high with 16 tackles before clinching the win with an interception late in the fourth quarter in the Broncos' win over Fresno State.

The 6-4, 256-pound linebacker is a magnet to the ball as he seemingly knows where the running back is going before he even makes his first cut.  He boasts tremendous straight-line speed for the position, especially for someone his size. Scouts rave about his instincts and range, believing he should have no problem making his mark in the NFL.

Combine Metrics
40-Yard Dash:4.65 seconds
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches
Broad Jump: 124.0 inches

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