2024 NFL Draft: Midseason strengths, weaknesses for the top prospect at every defensive position

2T2BEEE FILE - Alabama defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) sets up for a play against Mississippi during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. McKinstry has been selected to The Associated Press midseason All-America team, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023.(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt, File)

• An extensive pass-rush profile has Laiatu Latu soaring: Now at No. 6 on the PFF big board, Latu is nearly unblockable at the college level.

• Kool-Aid McKinstry could stand to snag more takeaways: He has recorded 26 forced incompletions over the past two seasons but just one interception.

• Check out PFF's 2024 NFL Draft big board: Click here to see 200 of the top draft prospects that college football has to offer.

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes


Entering the final month of the 2023 college football regular season, let's update the strengths and weaknesses for the top prospects at each defensive position on PFF's 2024 big board


DI: JER’ZHAN NEWTON, ILLINOIS

Strength: Deconstructing Blocks

Newton is one of the most well-rounded interior defensive linemen in the country, and he has been for two years now. At 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds, he isn't the biggest defensive tackle in the world, but he can take over games. His first step is violent, his hand usage is so quick and powerful and he has a motor that never quits. Newton has recorded 52 solo stops over the past two seasons. If an NFL team is OK with him being on the smaller size, his tape features a takeover type of player in run defense and as a pass-rusher.

Weakness: Size

The aforementioned size is the only big concern with Newton. If he comes in as his listed 6-foot-2 and 295 pounds, that would rank in the 25th and 24th percentiles, respectively, for defensive tackles. But his strength is more than that of a typical sub-300-pounder. 


EDGE: LAIATU LATU, UCLA

Strength: Pass-Rush Profile

What doesn’t Latu do well? From a technical standpoint, he is well beyond his years, even as an older prospect. His hand usage is excellent, and his approach to pass rushing is so savvy. He is constantly slipping past blockers, whether that’s against the inside or outside shoulders. 2023 marks the second year in a row where he has recorded a pass-rush grade above 91.0 and a pass-rush win percentage above 20%. His extensive pass-rush profile makes him such an alluring player. College offensive tackles just can’t block this guy.

Weakness: Twitchy Athleticism

Though I wouldn’t say Latu is a bad athlete, he isn’t as explosive or twitched-up as some of the other edge rushers in this class. He’s more of a smooth criminal than an all-out athlete.


LB: EDGERRIN COOPER, TEXAS A&M

Strength: Explosiveness and Speed

Cooper is the highest-graded linebacker in the FBS this season, currently sitting at a 91.7 overall grade. A big reason for that is how steady and impactful he has been in all areas. He doesn't have a grade below 84.0 as a pass-rusher, a coverage player and a run defender. This year has been a big jump for Cooper, who has always possessed athletic potential at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds (with 34-inch arms, by the way).

But this season, he is playing more free and confident as an attacking, downhill linebacker. Kenneth Murray had a similar profile coming out of Oklahoma when he went in the first round. He may not be a first-rounder, but he is the kind of athlete in the middle teams can fall in love with.

Weakness: True Coverage Experience

Though Cooper does have a high overall coverage grade, a lot of that production comes from him staying near the line of scrimmage on passing plays and flying toward the ball for quick tackles, especially on short passes. He isn’t asked to take on many true dropback zone coverage assignments.


CB: KOOL-AID McKINSTRY, ALABAMA

Strength: Play on the Ball

McKinstry hangs onto the top cornerback spot, though it’s worth shouting out Clemson’s Nate Wiggins, who is making a push to claim that title. McKinstry has been so solid over the past two seasons. This marks two years in a row where he has recorded a coverage grade of at least 81.0, with an 84.3 coverage grade this season. He plays so much press coverage, and with that, has his back to the ball a lot. Yet, he has still recorded 26 forced incompletions over the past two seasons.

Weakness: Lack of Big Plays

McKinstry is a bit on the slender side at 195 pounds, but that still ranks in the 60th percentile for cornerbacks. He has also earned run-defense grades above 79.0 in each of his three seasons of college action. It isn't necessarily a weakness, but turning more of those forced incompletions into takeaways is an area where he could improve.


S: KAMREN KINCHENS, MIAMI (FL)

Strength: Well-Rounded Athleticism

Kinchens remains the top safety in this class, but Minnesota's Tyler Nubin is making a strong claim for that title, as well. Kinchens hangs on due to his overall athleticism. Miami will not only play him in single-high positions but also as a robber defender over the middle of the field and as a slot player against tight ends. When he anticipates, he has the movement skills to make an impact on the ball. 

Weakness: Anticipation and Angles

Anticipation and angles are two areas where Kinchens can continue to improve. There are times when he sees a pass or a route late or he doesn’t take the right angle to the ball. Those are common things that happen to all secondary players. But having fewer such reps is always a good thing. 

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