In scouting hundreds of players in preparation for the NFL Draft, it is impossible not to develop some favorites.
Rang's Gang is the collective answer to the question I'm often asked: "If you were running a team and you needed a (insert position), who would you take?"
There's only one rule -- no consensus first-round prospects. Anyone can compile a list of the top players per position and call them favorites. Let’s dig deeper.
This year’s squad joins a historical team including Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins (Class of 2012), Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (2013), Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (2012), as well as more recent standouts like last year’s dynamic rookie receiver Deebo Samuel (49ers) and steady safety Taylor Rapp, who quietly finished among the NFL’s top first-year players in tackles (100) and passes defensed (eight, along with two interceptions), despite starting just 10 games.
We covered the prospects on the offensive side of the ball last week. Now, let’s introduce this year’s favorites on defense.
Run-Stuffing DT – Leki Fotu, Utah, 6-5, 337, 5.15
With just four sacks in 30 career games, Fotu is not going to offer much in the pass rush department and so analytics sites hate him. The 6-5, 337 pounder is much higher on NFL boards than for the media, however, because scouts still value size, power and toughness against the run. Had Fotu been able to practice at the Senior Bowl (he was held out for precautionary reasons), I believe he would have left Mobile with similar buzz as South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw and Auburn’s Marlon Davidson as potential first round picks.
Pass-rushing DT – McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, Arkansas, 6-3, 307, 4.98
Had this former five-star recruit and four-year starter played his college ball at a program better known for producing top-tier NFL talent and Agim – another Senior Bowl competitor - might be earning top 75 consideration, himself. The 6-3, 307 pounder was miscast as a defensive end over his first three years for the Razorbacks, recording 102 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks during that time. Solid numbers, to be sure, but not the sort one wants out of a traditional edge rusher. His quickness, surprising power (27 reps at the Combine with 33 ½” arms) and core flexibility make Agim one of the most underrated (and still ascending) defensive linemen in this class.
Edge Rusher – Jabari Zuniga, Florida, 6-3, 253, 4.64
Like Fotu, if not for an ankle injury zapping most of Zuniga’s senior season, we might be talking about a first round pick as the flashes are bright. Compactly built at 6-3, 264 pounds, Zuniga is a coiled-up stick of dynamite, challenging blockers with speed and power, alike, in a way that suggests he should be able to continue playing up and down the defensive line, just as he did at Florida. His rare athletic traits were on full display at the Combine, where he was clocked at 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had a 33” vertical and lifted the bar 29 times – impressive weight-room power for a player who only took up football as a high school senior. At least from a tools perspective, Zuniga reminds me a bit of a young Everson Griffen, with Pro Bowl upside of his own.
Off-ball LB – Evan Weaver, California, 6-2, 234, 4.76
Just as Jalen Hurts was the runaway captain of this year’s Rang’s Gang on offense, my quarterback on defense has to be Weaver, the nation’s leading tackler and the most instinctive, steady-wrapping hitter in this class. Weaver does not look the part of a traditional glass-eating inside linebacker, in part because he wore a jersey (No. 89) normally reserved for wide receivers, but he checks most of the other boxes, diagnosing the action in a flash, using his hands well to disengage from blocks and understanding angles, stalking ballcarriers to wrap up solo tackles. Like many before him at the position, Weaver’s instincts and feel for the game allow him to play faster than his average 40-yard dash time (4.76) suggests.
CB – Harrison Hand, Temple, 5-11, 197, 4.52
In terms of where scouts view players in contrast to most media analysts, Hand ranks right there with Fotu among the most laughably underrated prospects in the 2020 draft. He was an immediate standout at Baylor as a true freshman (42 tackles, eight PBUs, interception), a bone-jarring, pass-picker at Temple in 2019 as a hardship transfer (59 tackles, five PBUS, three INTs) and, as Bruce Feldman predicted in his annual Freak’s article, a Combine sensation, proving one of this year’s most explosive leapers (41” vertical, 11’01” broad) with a 1.56 10-yard split that was just as quick as many of this year’s fastest players, though Hand finished with a relatively “pedestrian” 4.52 in the 40-yard dash, perhaps some of the reason he’s been overshadowed in the build-up to the draft. As long as the medical and character checkout, Hand should be a top 100 selection and projects as a future starter and possible standout cornerback for a press-heavy or zone scheme.
S – Ashtyn Davis, California, 6-1, 195, 4.40 (est.)
I generally try to avoid highlighting two players from the same college team in articles such as this but Davis, like Weaver, certainly earned his spot. Just the human-interest angle of Davis’ story can hook you as he overcame a childhood complicated by drug addicted family members to become a two-sport, two major (Social Welfare, Legal Studies) star at Cal. Two minutes into Davis’ film shows that the four-time All-American and 2017 Pac-12 champion in the 110-meter hurdles is not just a former track star, he’s a banger with proven ball-skills (seven interceptions). Groin surgery kept Davis out of the Senior Bowl and Combine, ruining his opportunities to create much buzz in the media, but scouts certainly recognize Davis’ talent.