With the advent of quick strike attacks and more spread principles in the NFL, defenses have been forced to adjust. One way they’ve adapted is going away from the strict nature of the 4-3 or the 3-4 and blending the two together. But for the most part we also see teams playing their nickel and dime defenses more regularly than their base packages. This had made it a necessity to find versatile players who may be able to play multiple positions or even defend different types of players and most importantly stay on the field. Here I feature the 6 players that I consider to be this year’s chess pieces. Players who can play multiple positions well and would allow creative defensive coordinators to utilize them in different ways depending on the opponent week to week and highlight the 2018 Chess Pieces.
2018 Chess Pieces
Tremaine Edumnds LB Virginia Tech
At 6’5 253lbs with a 4.54 40 yard dash and only 19 years old Tremaine Edmunds may have the highest ceiling of any prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. Edmunds plays inside linebacker for the Hokies but depending on what team he is drafted to he can provide that team with someone that can realistically play every single linebacker position imaginable. Edmunds profiles best as an inside linebacker that can use his quickness and size to come downhill and stuff the hole while also using his speed to make plays on the edge going sideline to sideline. Edmunds isn’t best suited to but could also play as a weakside linebacker because of his change of direction ability while he has the length to line up at the strongside linebacker position and work against tight ends in the run game. Even in a 3-4 defense Edmunds has the length and athletic ability to line up as an outside linebacker and rush the passer. Being able to play all of these linebacker positions allows him to be a scheme transcendent player and teams can move him around all over the field to take advantage of mismatches while also staying on the field no matter the sub package.
Fred Warner LB BYU
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) June 4, 2017
With the NFL being incorporating more and more spread concepts and three receiver sets dominating, defenses need linebackers than can play in space and match up with running backs, tight ends and some receivers. At 6’2 and 236lbs Warner operates best in space where he can utilize his athletic ability to change direction and fly to the ball. Warner is in the same mold of Jets LB Darren Lee and even to a point Arizona LB Deone Bucannon where he’ll be used on the edge and away from traffic. Warner has the athletic ability and length to cover tight ends but his speed and change of direction makes him an ideal candidate to cover receiving running backs that are becoming more of weapon for offenses.
Sam Hubbard DE Ohio State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) September 16, 2017
Back in the 2016 NFL Draft Mathias Kiwanuka was drafted as the last pick in the first round for the New York Giants as the pass rusher was employed by the Giants as a strongside linebacker in their 4-3 defense on early downs before dropping down as a defensive end on pass rushing situations. Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard can be that same type of player for whichever team decides to draft him. Hubbard has the size length and lateral agility to play standing up as a linebacker and has shown he can put his hand down and get after the quarterback. Hubbard isn’t going to wow you with elite explosion and quickness, but his ability to play both standing and with a hand down in the ground will come in handy for creative defensive coordinators that can really utilize him.
Minkah Fitzpatrick CB Alabama
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) January 4, 2018
One of the best defensive players in this class may be the most versatile of any of the prospects. Mainly playing out of the slot at Alabama, Minkah Fitzpatrick has proven to be an elite playmaker since he stepped onto the field. Depending on where Fitzpatrick is drafted he can play many different roles. Teams could look to use his ball skills, speed and size and use him outside as a press man corer or even an off man corner on the outside. Fitzpatrick has played some strong safety at Alabama showing the ability to play underneath coverage, two high and even matching up with tight ends. An NFL team could also keep Fitzpatrick in the slot having him still cover tight ends and slot receivers. But a good defensive coordinator will use him all over the field whether it’s matching up with bigger receivers, tight ends, or even blitzing off the edge. Fitzpatrick may not have elite athletic testing, but he’s got elite instincts and playmaking ability that make up for it.
Derwin James S Florida State
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) September 7, 2017
Big fast safeties don’t come around often and when they do they can be special. At 6’2 215lbs James put on a show at the Combine running a 4.47 40 yard dash with finishing at the top of his position in explosion drills like the vertical leap and broad jump. James shows these traits on the field flying around the field and making big hits. His transition to the NFL will be at strong safety but he is much more than your traditional player at the position. James uses his explosivness to react to the ball playing underneath coverage or even back in two high to disrupt passes with body shots. In man coverage he has the speed and size to run with tight ends down the seam while being able to body up with the bigger slot corners. Not to mention James can walk down in the box and play an athletic weakside linebacker when he needs to. And let’s not forget about his speed off the edge as a blitzer.