The 2018 NFL draft will be remembered for its quarterback class with upwards of five QBs potentially getting selected during the first round. There are also several high-impact defensive prospects available in the class, however, and they could outshine their signal-calling counterparts in the years ahead.
Some of them figure to slide down the draft board because many front offices could be looking to move up in order to select one of the quarterbacks. That's good news for teams picking in the middle of Round 1 that are looking to upgrade their defense.
So let's check out a mock draft featuring the first 32 picks and then take a closer look at some of the top defenders ready to make their presence felt in the NFL.
First-Round Mock Draft
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
4. Cleveland Browns (from HOU): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Arden Key, DE, LSU
8. Chicago Bears: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
9. Oakland Raiders: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
10. San Francisco 49ers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
11. Miami Dolphins: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
13. Washington Redskins: Derwin James, SS, FSU
14. Green Bay Packers: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
15. Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
16. Baltimore Ravens: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
19. Dallas Cowboys: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
20. Detroit Lions: Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS, Alabama
21. Buffalo Bills: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State
22. Buffalo Bills (from KC): Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
23. Los Angeles Rams: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
24. Carolina Panthers: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
25. Tennessee Titans: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
26. Atlanta Falcons: Harold Landry, LB, Boston College
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
28. New Orleans Saints: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
29. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ronnie Harrison, SS, Alabama
30. Minnesota Vikings: Brian O'Neill, OT, Pittsburgh
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
32. New England Patriots: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Analyzing Top Defensive Selections
Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State
Chubb has been a monster off the edge for the Wolfpack off the past two seasons. He's racked up 128 total tackles, 20 sacks and four forced fumbles across 25 games despite often being double-teamed by opponents in an effort to slow his disruptive pass-rushing ability.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner has all the tools to carry that success to the next level. He combines a 6'4'', 275-pound frame with an explosive first step and eye-popping power, and he's also added to his repertoire of moves off the edge during his time at NC State.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller was particularly intrigued by the defensive end's performance against Louisville in early October:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
Bradley Chubb vs. Louisville is one of the best performances of the entire year.2018-1-3 17:22:43
Chubb's potential game-changing upside on the defensive line is why the Colts, who could also strongly consider Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, would be hard-pressed to pass on him. They finished 31st in the league with just 25 sacks during the 2017 season.
In addition, the Indianapolis defense has been a consistent concern since the Peyton Manning era. With Andrew Luck's future unsettled due to lingering shoulder problems, now would be a good time for the front office to place an emphasis on getting the unit fixed, starting with Chubb.
Buccaneers: Arden Key, DE, LSU
Key's stock skyrocketed during a 2016 campaign with the Tigers where he tallied 55 total tackles, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles. A year where he matched or exceeded those numbers would have likely placed him ahead of Chubb among edge-rushing prospects.
Alas, he underwent offseason shoulder surgery that delayed the start of his junior season and his numbers faded upon his return, picking up just four sacks in eight games. In addition, there are questions about his decision to leave the Tigers for a while during the offseason.
"It was time to take time away from football," his father, Arden Key Sr., told Ross Dellenger of The Advocate in September. "He lost himself. He had so much success early. All the pressures of being a student-athlete. We forget he's still a kid trying to balance life out. It was all coming down on him."
As a result, the draft process is more important for Key than any non-quarterback prospect. The medical testing will show whether his shoulder is back to full strength, and the interviews with teams will allow him to discuss his time away from football and whether his passion for the sport remains strong.
He's a special talent from a pure football perspective, though. His speed off the edge would certainly be a welcome sight for a Tampa Bay squad that finished last in the NFL with 22 sacks this season. But he must eliminate any lingering red flags to solidify his place in the top 10.
Raiders: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson finally got his chance to shine with the Hawkeyes in 2017 after two years in a limited role, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. The cornerback recorded 48 total tackles, 18 passes defended and eight interceptions, including two he returned for touchdowns.
His ability to read a play and jump the route was impressive for a player with limited playing experience, especially when it came to battling an opponent's top target. He was the main reason Iowa ranked tied for seventh in the nation in yards allowed per pass attempt.
Matt Claassen of Pro Football Focus provided further details about Jackson's standout year:
Matt Claassen @PFF_Matt
Iowa CB Josh Jackson officially declaring for NFL Draft. He was the highest-graded CB in FBS this season and one of our 1st-Team All-Americans. https://t.co/EBnbPn9sSg2018-1-3 17:04:41
The Raiders' secondary was one of the biggest reasons, along with the drop off in play from quarterback Derek Carr, for the team's disappointing 6-10 season. Carr will be counted on to bounce back, so bolstering the defensive backfield should be atop the to-do list.
Drafting Jackson would be a major step toward improvement after Oakland ranked 30th in opposing passer rating in 2017. He'd also represent a second crucial building block for the unit along with 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack.