2017 NFL Draft Prospects: Defensive Edge

edge-picThis post covers my preliminary rankings of the top defensive edge rushers entering the 2017 NFL Draft. That group consists of five technique (4-3) ends and seven and nine technique (3-4) outside linebacker prospects. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).

DEFENSIVE EDGE: (+)
1. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) | 6’5 265 (++)
2. Taco Charlton (Michigan) | 6’5 270 (+++)
3. Soloman Thomas (Stanford) | 6’2 275 (++++)
4. Tim Williams (Alabama) | 6’3 250 (+++++)
5. Takkarist McKinley (UCLA) | 6’2 260 (++++++)
6. Derek Barnett (Tennessee) | 6’3 265 (+++++++)
7. Charles Harris (Missouri) | 6’3 255
8. Ryan Anderson (Alabama) | 6’2 250
9. Jordan Willis (Kansas State) | 6’4 255
10. Devonte Fields (Louisville) | 6’3 240
11. DeMarcus Walker (Florida State) | 6’2 275
12. Dawuane Smoot (Illinois) | 6’3 255
13. Carl Lawson (Auburn) | 6’2 253
14. TJ Watt (Wisconsin) | 6’4 240
15. Deatrich Wise Jr. (Arkansas) | 6’5 270
16. Joe Mathis (Washington) | 6’3 250
17. Tarrell Basham (Ohio) | 6’6 250
18. Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M) | 6’5 270
19. Carroll Phillips (Illinois) | 6’3 240
20. Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova) | 6’6 285
21. Ejuan Price (Pittsburgh) | 5’11 250
22. Garrett Sickels (Penn St) | 6’4 250

(+) Similar to the interior DL group, this is a very deep class consisting of diverse edge rusher profiles that are better fits for certain team schemes than others. Rightly or wrongly, combine numbers will have a big impact on how teams sort these players.

(++) If you’ve found this blog, chances are you already know that Garrett is the presumptive #1 overall player in this draft class– and I’m inclined to agree given his idyllic frame and rare blend of agility, power and first-step quickness. With that said, there’s room for discussion whether he projects to be the most impactful prospect to come out of this draft class. It’s an inquiry I intend to explore further through head to head prospect breakdowns.

(+++) After relatively modest production his first three seasons, the light seemed to come on for Michigan’s Taco Charlton his senior season (42 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 10 Sacks, 8 QB hurries). At 6’6 272, Charlton sports an idyllic 4-3 defensive end build and athleticism. Charlton also employed a highly effective spin move, to go along with effective speed and power moves, to suggest a high development upside. Charlton is a surefire first round pick with an outside shot at being selected in the top 10.

(++++) There’s some debate whether Stanford’s Soloman Thomas is more aptly described as an interior defensive lineman, given his style of play. I’m including him among the edge group because I believe he projects best as a strong side, five technique end in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. Nevertheless, Thomas has demonstrable versatility to go along with an impressive blend of motor/competitiveness, power, quickness and technique. Similar to Charlton, he’s a surefire first round selection with an outside shot at being selected in the top 10.

(+++++) Over the past two seasons, Alabama’s Tim Williams has been college football’s most disruptive pass rushing force on a play to play basis. His Junior season, he produced 12.5 TFLs and 10.5 (and 4 QB hurries) sacks despite playing limited snaps. Then, in a full time role his senior season, he became a solid run defender while continuing to put up impressive numbers (16 TFLs, 9.0 sacks, 12 QB hurries). At 6’4 250, with demonstrated upside and coachability, he’s probably the edge rusher most likely to land in the Top 10 picks along with Garrett. Regardless, he’s also a sure fire first round pick.

(++++++) Other than Garrett, UCLA’s McKinley displays arguably the best pure athleticism among the edge defenders in this draft class. In addition to possessing a relentless motor, he demonstrates excellent power and quickness to be a disruptive force at the next level. With that said, there are some aspects of his game that give me pause. First, he is overly reliant on pure athleticism to make plays at this point. He relies almost exclusively on first step quickness and simple bull rushes to generate pressure. Moreover, he may lack functional athleticism to develop a diverse repertoire of moves to counter OTs that can handle his pure athleticism at the next level. Second, and related to functional athleticism, his angular, somewhat stiff, frame makes it more difficult for him, at times, to bend and maintain leverage as he’s turning the corner on speed rushes. This potential limitation could make it easy for NFL OTs to, for instance, employ a strategy of pushing him upfield and out of plays if he lacks the functional athleticism and counter move arsenal to reroute and gain inside leverage. With that said, I’m far from sold he possesses any prohibitive limitations to developing into a menacing edge defender– and his upside is, undeniably, tremendous.

(+++++++) Many people will argue that Barnett is a top 10 talent, and he certainly built a strong case of that when he broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. There are elements to Barnett’s game that I really like and appreciate–specifically, his impressive combination of hand fighting technique, balance, and ability to bend around tackles to close on QB drop backs. But it’s fair to question whether Barnett offers much upside. He has an average build (at 6’3 265) that seems to carry some unnecessary weight. Also, he lacks the first step quickness that usually separates good and great edge rushers at the next level. Fair or not, Barnett’s forty team will be extremely important because, in a very deep edge rusher class, a poor forty time could drop him out of the first round. However, I do see Barnett as the type of player who could competently play 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB and, if that’s true, his chances of getting selected in the first round grow immensely. Right now, I see him fitting with multiple teams in the late first round (such as the Falcons and Packers) and, if he runs a surprisingly good forty time, some teams picking in the top portion of round one (the Saints or Colts).

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