NFL Draft: Top 25 prospects of 2025 includes strong class of defenders — with 2 QBs ahead of Shedeur Sanders

After seeing a record-breaking number of offensive players go in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, defense strikes back hard for the initial 2025 Big Board. So I hope you enjoyed your glut of quarterbacks and wide receivers to stock up your dynasty teams because the trenches have the pole position so far.

Here are my way-too-early top 25 prospects for 2025.

Williams has so far averaged less than one solo tackle per game in his college career (26 solo tackles in 28 games) and had just 4.5 sacks in 2023. So how is he so high on this big board?

Well, like most recent defensive line and edge prospects from Georgia, it’s all about seeing what Williams does when he is on the field as part of Georgia’s deep rotation up front. And even in a part-time role, Williams’ package of traits and impact play is instantly apparent. In the run game, he is constantly blasting offensive linemen back with his explosive strength and twitch, and when rushing the passer he flashes an evolving move set with the get-off and bendy athleticism to turn the corner on offensive tackles.

Georgia's Mykel Williams is the top 2025 NFL Draft prospect at this way-too-early stage. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Georgia's Mykel Williams is the top 2025 NFL Draft prospect at this way-too-early stage. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Williams has the size, athleticism, technique and competitiveness to be a true ace pass rusher for a defense that is also an impact player against the run. He even has the size and versatility to kick inside for snaps to create matchup advantages. He’s an impressive player who should keep adding layers to his game with more playing time.

A smooth technician who seldom gets out of position with his feet or body as a blocker, Campbell already shows off very good hand usage and the ability to recover against defensive counters because of his calm and quick footwork.

LSU often puts Campbell on an island in dropback situations that will help his game translate to the next level, and he plays with good eyes and awareness as a run blocker and in protection, often anticipating defensive stunts and quickly adjusting.

Campbell doesn’t seem to have the longest arms, but it hasn’t hindered him so far against longer defenders in college because of his hand placement. If Campbell can ease that concern with his play in 2024, then he has all the makings of a longtime blindside protector.

We’re set up for a battle for OT1 for the 2025 draft. Banks is already an experienced blindside blocker, already starting 27 games as he enters his true junior season in Austin. He is broadly built and seldom gets out of whack because of his light feet, very good base, strength and balance. He’s a competitive and tough player who can move people in the run game, and coordinators will have no qualms with running behind him. He’s even more fun to watch as a pass protector. Banks already uses his hands well, taking advantage of his length to strike defenders on the inside of their pads, allowing him to control and nullify them.

Banks lacks ideal height for the position (listed at 6-foot-4), but he has the length to more than compensate for that. His intelligence, two-way play, quickness and strength, along with potentially having 40 games under his belt when he enters the NFL, gives Banks the profile of a high-quality tackle prospect who can hit the ground running as a professional.

A hoss (listed 6-6, 348 pounds) on the defensive line, but don’t let Walker’s size fool you. He has the athleticism and light feet to line up across the defensive front — he lines up at end in Kentucky’s three-down scheme as much as defensive tackle — with hand quickness and pass rushing ability that make him much more than your typical XXXXL plugger.

Walker is a unique combination of size and finesse that would allow him to be a three-down defender who can eat up blockers or explode for tackles for loss and sacks from different spots up front.

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 08: DB Will Johnson (2) of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates winning the game with a championship belt during the Michigan Wolverines versus the Washington Huskies CFP National Championship game on January 8, 2024, at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Michigan's Will Johnson returns to Ann Arbor as a defending national champion. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A long player with good size, Johnson has the build and athleticism of a prototypical modern NFL cornerback. Johnson uses that size to smother wide receivers. That’s not the only way he can do it. Whether it’s zone or man coverage (he’ll likely get plenty of snaps in man coverage with new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale), Johnson is able to constantly stay in the pocket of wide receivers, even smaller ones, with his excellent combination of quickness, burst and body control.

Johnson does not have a glaring weakness, has excellent traits and plays with advanced technique and understanding of the position, giving him the upside of a true shutdown No. 1 cornerback. He can achieve early in his pro career, too. It’s lofty praise, but he has a lot of similarities to Pat Surtain II.

The human hand grenade, Graham is constantly exploding off the ball and creating havoc in the middle of an offense. Graham’s excellent first step, quick hands, balance and strength will let him get in the backfield in the blink of an eye, letting him end plays or force them to go off script, right after the snap.

Graham is not an undersized gap-shooter who can get moved in the run game; with good size (listed at 6-3, 318 pounds) and solid length that would allow him to align at a few different spots at the next level, with that strength showing up again as he works against double-teams in the run game. Graham is an explosive play machine for the defense. He does the dirty work stuff as well to make him so much more than a boom-or-bust player.

He's a modern two-way safety who can align all over the field, make plays and provide answers for his defensive coordinator. On just one drive watching Starks, you will see him play as a split-field safety; deep in the post; as a robber; in the box; and in the slot. (Georgia even tasked Starks with covering Missouri star Luther Burden III in man coverage situations.)

Starks is big, smart, athletic, versatile, a good tackler and can stay sticky in coverage against receivers and tight ends. He fits every type of scheme and every NFL defense would love to have him.

When a Penn State defender now gets the No. 11 jersey, he is inevitably going to get compared to Micah Parsons, which is unfair for any player and such a high bar to come close to. The thing is, Carter might be worthy of those comparisons.

He is a long and twitchy pass rusher who can bend around corners and somehow stay on his feet despite contorting his body like Gumby. Carter is still adding layers to his usage of hands and how to keep blockers off-balance — more time on the edge instead of off-ball in 2024 will surely help that, another Parsons comparison to add to the list — but he has the package of length, quick-twitch athleticism, bend, strength and effort to give him the upside of an elite ace edge defender with double-digit sack potential in the NFL. Plus, he does cool things with tape on his facemask.

A strong and stout player who loves to drive offensive tackles backward, Scourton took his patented spin move (he might be the true successor to the Kerry Von Erich "Texas Tornado" moniker) to College Station in 2024 after spending two seasons at Purdue.

Scourton has a thick lower body and is a tough player to unroot for offensive linemen in the run game because of his strength and balance, while also being a good athlete who is light on his feet and can explode off the snap and toward the ball carrier. Scourton’s spin move is a great weapon that he uses effectively (and often). He still has to develop more weapons to his pass rush arsenal. The excellent effort and toughness that Scourton plays with on every snap is just the cherry on top.

A bit more unrefined than his LSU teammate Will Campbell, nevertheless Jones might have more upside than his bookend partner in Baton Rouge. Jones is a very good athlete with long arms and constantly got better with his technique in pass protection in 2023, especially with how he kept his body square.

Like Campbell, LSU often put Jones in one-on-one situations and he constantly held his own, even against tougher competition, while also being a strong run blocker on the outside. Jones should climb big boards if he keeps adding refinement to his game like he did in the second half of last season, and I’m just going to skip a step and start him off at No. 10.

(Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)
(Taylar Sievert/Yahoo Sports)

One of the most dynamic players in the country, Hunter is a talented player who plays cornerback and wide receiver in college, but I think his best path as a professional is just on defense. Hunter can consistently stay sticky to his coverage assignment, showing off the quickness and body control to thrive in man-to-man situations, with the excellent burst to make plays on the football and nullify the receiver. He plays with a high level of intelligence for the position, and will take calculated gambles to fall off his coverage assignment and even bait quarterbacks into potential interception opportunities.

That quickness and body control shows up when Hunter plays wide receiver, too, but he is raw at the position, lacking the refinement that he shows on the other side of the ball.

Morrison thrives in man coverage and pressing wide receivers. He’s not just trying to jam them and overwhelm opponents with strength. Instead, Morrison is a technician at cornerback. He has the balance and quickness to stay sticky with wide receivers, where his tight footwork and technique are highlighted, even against bigger wide receivers, with his speed and burst allowing him to stay with routes that work away from him.

The fact he’s already shown the ability to not only hold up with the tough task of playing as a man cornerback but to thrive in those situations speaks to his talent and the maturity with which he plays the position. His size, in terms of bulk, isn’t ideal, but he has a decent frame and wins via clean play anyways.

A monster on the outside, McMillan is a smooth athlete with very good hands and ball skills that give him true X-receiver upside. While not overly explosive, McMillan still consistently creates yards with the ball in his hands because of his strength and balance. He is also a good route runner who can sink and still has plenty of burst and speed to create separation on the intermediate levels. McMillan reminds me a good deal of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.

The definition of a speed rusher, Pearce has excellent burst and get-off and can get his way around offensive tackles in the blink of an eye. He can heat up the quarterback with explosiveness around the edge or use his good length to bullrush tackles into the quarterback. He is not as dynamic as a run defender as he is as a pass rusher because of his just-adequate strength. But he has good length and a frame that he can keep adding bulk to, which gives you optimism he'll improve in the area, though his game will always be primarily built around getting after the passer.

Judkins is strong and explosive, and runs with a fantastic combination of power and grace. He can pull by defenders or run them over. The Ole Miss transfer can quickly get to fourth gear (maybe not fifth) and into the secondary in a hurry. He’s not a back that relies on just his speed, consistently showing the ability to tempo his runs while using good vision to set up blockers and use his excellent burst to take advantage. Judkins is also a good receiver with sticky hands who is a viable player to draw up plays for out of the backfield.

Overall, Judkins has the size, explosive play ability and hands of a high-end three-down running back who can be used in any situation and in any scheme. The fact he’ll be playing in Columbus this year isn’t quite fair.

Sawyer is a (forgive me here) Jack-of-all-trades for the Buckeyes' defense. He can play the run, rush the passer or drop into coverage at a plus-level and fill multiple roles throughout the front seven. Sawyer is a good athlete with burst off the ball, and his hands are constantly working and that helps him win over and over again against blockers. He might not have a singular standout trait, but Sawyer’s ability to align across the defensive front on any give down will make him an interesting skeleton key-type player for a creative NFL defensive coordinator.

Walker plays both as an off-ball linebacker and an edge defender on the line of scrimmage in Georgia’s rush packages. He plays a little bit of everywhere, so much so he calls himself an “HLB” which stands for "hybrid linebacker."

As an off-ball linebacker, Walker is a strong tackler and good athlete who is consistently quickly diagnosing plays. He can run, chase and has no issues taking on and shedding climbing offensive linemen, and has the athleticism to be a plus-player in coverage. Walker is also a talented and productive pass rusher, finishing with five sacks and showing off his bend, strength and quickness. Walker can hang as an off-ball linebacker who can stay on the field for all three downs and be a positive player against the run and pass, with the pass-rush ability being a giant cherry on top.

Long, twitchy and with a frame that makes you wish he wouldn’t wear No. 11, Payton is an athletic and wiry strong edge defender who has some similarities to former Seminole Brian Burns. Payton prefers to push the pocket and go from speed to power as a pass rusher, using his length to keep tackles at bay. He’s a strong tackler who also is a good defender against the run, using his length and strength to consistently win. If Payton adds more tools and continues to fill out his frame, he’s going to be a dangerous defender and a high-level prospect.

Loveland is a matchup nightmare who is a terror up the seams and the intermediate area of the field. He has good height and a frame that he can keep growing into and adding strength to, with the speed, body control, quickness and route-running polish to win across the formation, even on the outside. Loveland has good hands and catching range and can create yards-after-the-catch because of his athleticism, but is still a work in progress as an in-line blocker. Still, the spark and advantages Loveland provides as a receiver make him a strong prospect and one of the best overall pass catchers in this class.

I’m stretching a bit here, but this year’s quarterback class isn’t an overwhelming group. I’m tabbing Leonard because of his size, traits and natural accuracy. The Duke transfer has good arm strength, but wasn’t always asked to push the ball in the Blue Devils' offense, which instead relied heavily on quick game concepts. Still, Leonard showed off accuracy and the ability to throw his players open on those plays, while also showing off solid feel in the pocket and the ability to mitigate sacks and negative plays.

Leonard is also a great athlete who is a weapon on designed runs and in the open field. That athleticism and natural feel for playing the position is why Leonard can improve rapidly and ascend with more reps (he had a strong freshman season in 2022 but battled injuries in 2023), especially in a more favorable situation in South Bend, with better talent and being in an offense that will let him drop back a bit deeper and push the ball further. It’s flashes and glimpses with Leonard, but those can be much brighter under a bigger spotlight in 2024.

Perkins is some mix of a big nickel safety, inside linebacker and designated pass rusher. No matter the role he plays, he is always showing off his speed, bend and easy movement ability. He is a good coverage player because of his loose hips and play recognition ability, and can rush the passer on rush looks using the same tools. He does not have a large build and can get swallowed up by blockers, which is probably why LSU preferred to keep him in space more often than not. He's such a good athlete with versatility and high-end pass rushing traits, and he plays with awareness that makes him a supercharged useful player.

Tuimoloau was flirting with the first round if he declared after the 2023 season. He decided to return to Columbus for a last hurrah. Tuimoloau plays with very good strength against the run and pass, and loves pushing the pocket (and poor offensive tackles) back into the quarterback. He can consistently set the edge and disrupt offenses in the run game and maintain position because of his strong hands and power. His bend and pass rushing skills make him more of a strong secondary pass rusher than a true ace.

Ohio State's J.T. Tuimoloau might have been a first-round pick if he came out this year, but decided to return to Columbus. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Ohio State's J.T. Tuimoloau might have been a first-round pick if he came out this year, but decided to return to Columbus. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Beck has good size with polished and clean throwing mechanics. He improved throughout his first year starting in Athens. He plays with good eyes and understanding of the offense. Beck is willing to push the ball and drive throws over the middle of the field. While not having the most overwhelming arm strength, he still has plenty of juice to make the more difficult throws.

He also does a good job of mitigating sacks and negative plays because of his pocket movement and solid athleticism. That athleticism shows up as a runner, and while it won’t be the main forte of his game, Beck is an efficient scrambler and runner. Beck can have some random misses with ball placement and still has to work on quickening his anticipation just a hair, but his ascending play and feel in 2023 could set up for a more consistent and impressive 2024.

Egbuka is ol’ reliable at the wide receiver position. He checks a lot of boxes as a prospect, even if none of his tools are elite. He is strong with good size, and is a sound and clean route runner who can play in the slot and outside with a great feel against zone and how to make himself friendly to the quarterback. Egbuka has good hands, speed and body control to consistently create YAC with the burst to split defenders. He might not have the highest ceiling for a prospect, but he has a very high floor, with enough athleticism to keep tapping into.

An explosive slot wide receiver who can create first downs and touchdowns out of nothing, Burden has a solid frame and is a weapon on manufactured and underneath touches. He can also win deep because of his very good speed and hand-eye coordination. Burden still has to show more as a route runner and whether he can win consistently on the outside and against press (most of his snaps in 2023 were in the slot or after being put in motion), but he has the ability to create explosive plays that NFL teams covet.

(I’ll have more on Sanders and why I don’t see him as a true first-round graded quarterback as of right now in the weeks to come.)