Heading into next week’s NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, there’s a growing consensus among draft experts that the defensive line is the deepest position in this year’s draft.
ESPN’s draft guru released his second mock draft on Thursday and had defensive end Noah Spence of Eastern Kentucky going to Big Blue.
“The off-field stuff is a legit concern, but the talent is considerable,” Kiper said. “I don't think he's quite at the level of some Khalil Mack comparisons, but he's not far off.”
Mack, the fifth overall pick by Oakland in the 2014 NFL Draft, recorded 15 sacks in his second season and became the first player in league history to be selected to the same Associated Press All-Pro Team at two different positions -- defensive end and outside linebacker.
While those are lofty comparisons for Spence, teams know the value of playmakers on defense. And in an era that typically favors the offense, everyone saw what Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller did to the Panthers earlier this month as he became the second defensive player in the last three years to be named Super Bowl MVP. The other was Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, who coincidentally earned the honor in a victory over Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.
“In a copycat league, anyone who watched the Denver Broncos completely dismantle the NFL's highest-scoring offense in the Super Bowl had to be thinking, ‘I gotta get one of those,’” Kiper said. “Now, plenty of teams have a great pass-rusher, but Von Miller's performance in particular -- and no, I'm not forgetting DeMarcus Ware -- was a reminder of what we've seen over the past few years in the playoffs. A great quarterback can get you into the playoffs, but teams that can disrupt those quarterbacks are getting to (and winning) the Super Bowl.”
Meanwhile, fellow ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay stayed on the same side of the ball for the Giants, projecting them to take defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins of Louisville.
“We've been on Rankins' bandwagon for quite some time, as his combination of quickness and power popped off the screen whenever we turned on the film,” said McShay, who ranked Rankins No. 7 on his list of Top 32 prospects while Spence came in at No. 32. “After having a terrific week of practices at the Senior Bowl, the versatile D-lineman is shooting up draft boards. At 6-foot-2, 303 pounds, Rankins would give the Giants a devastating DT combo with Johnathan Hankins.”