The big nasties on the defensive front seven took the field today at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine. The pass-rushing column will consist of defensive ends in the 4-3 and outside linebackers in the 3-4. I wanted to differentiate this group from the defensive line group because the players on this list are the ones who create the sack production on the outside. Some players fit one scheme a whole lot better than the other but versatility is just as important because of the percentage of use the sub packages are coming into play into today’s NFL. The one thing I challenge teams today is to know your scheme and draft accordingly, something Bill Belichick always does.
Myles Garrett is a once in a generational type of talent. If the Cleveland Browns don’t take him with the first overall draft pick, they should demolish the franchise entirely for idiocracy. Garrett has been a force of nature since his true Freshman campaign at Texas A&M recording 11.5 sacks. He has recorded 32 sacks in his college career and is considered a real freak athlete. You can see in the video that he has long powerful hands in the club and rip move possessing a serious natural bend in his rush.
In case you didn’t know, he also tested off the charts. His 4.64 – 40-yard dash is absurd for a 6’4″, 274, pass rusher. His day was simply something to marvel at with 33 bench press reps, 41 inch vertical, 128 inch broad jump. Garrett’s freakishly long arms (34 1/4 inches) almost suggest that he has made in some kind of laboratory. There’s really not much else to say, he should be the first pick in the draft.
First Round Locks:
When I saw first round lock, what I really mean is both of these pass rushers are going to be special players in the NFL. Taco Charlton is one of several Michigan players at this year’s combine. My comparison to him would be Chandler Jones with those super long arms (6’6″ height and 34 1/4 inch arms). His 25 bench press reps also helped him as I didn’t expect that kind of power with those long arms. He doesn’t have the pure straight line speed that Chandler did (4.92 – 40 time) but his 1.73 – 10-yard split was terrific in comparison. That long length also really helped him set the edge in the run game. Charlton posted 9.5 sacks in 2016 and really shined when the lights shined the brightest with 2.5 sacks against Ohio State. It’s hard to find pass rushers who are as long and athletic as Taco is. In the video I recorded, Taco Charlton shows that he bend his knees and change direction with ease. His natural bend and his swivel was on display at the combine. He may be a better fit in a 4-3 but I believe he could easily play both schemes.
Missouri has a great track record of producing NFL caliber defensive ends in recent years including Kony Ealy, Shane Ray, and Markus Golden. Mizzou pass rusher Charles Harris is the definition of a twitchy pass rusher and is probably the best of any of the previous examples. His first step in the drills was probably the fastest of any pass rusher. I constantly was in awe when watching him today. Harris has averaged 8 sacks the past two seasons and showed up well in the run game with 18.5 tackles for loss in 2015. He is that guy that you just go let him hunt that quarterback showing a ton of energy in the drills. In the two videos I recorded, I want you to watch how quick he gets in and out of cuts in space. Keep in mind he spent the majority of his collegiate playing time with his hand in the dirt. At 6’3″, 253, he seems to be a better fit in a 3-4 but I could see him as an end in the 4-3 too. I encourage you to go and watch some of his tape as Harris has some of the most creative pass rush moves in college football including a nasty spin move.
Alabama has two premier pass rushers in this draft class that are sort of the complete opposite of one another. Tim Williams is a skinny undersized pass rusher that is mainly out there to go hunt the quarterback. I projected him to be a guy who was going to fall on draft day because I just didn’t see the elite explosion that others did. I ended up being right as his 4.68 – 40 time was less than to be desired. The good news is his 10-yard split was great at 1.64 which showed his short area quickness that I knew was there. Williams posted 9.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide in 2016 and primarily played on pass rushing downs. Alabama often times rotated him out against the run as he likely won’t show up well in that regard. I thought Williams looked a little tight hipped in the drills but has some nice quick feet that should translate well. Expect some off the field issues to come to light shortly that will drop him on draft day.
Ryan Anderson is the epitome of a bull rush outside linebacker. Anderson has short arms at 31 1/2 inches but has a relentless motor to him relying on his power. The Crimson Tide pass rusher wins with leverage and sets the edge in the ground game. He is similar to Courtney Upshaw in that aspect. Anderson recorded 9 sacks as a part-time player in 2016 and has 5 forced fumbles the past two years. I believe both Bama guys have first round talent.
Late First – Second Round Premier Prospects:
This year’s draft class could host as many as 8 edge rushers in the first round. Outside of the five previously mentioned Derek Barnett, Tarrell Basham, Takkarist McKinley, and T.J. Watt could go in the first round.
Derek Barnett is the All-time leading sack leader at the University of Tennessee topping Reggie White’s old benchmark. 12 of his 32 career sacks came in 2016 along with 18 tackles for loss. It’s hard to argue with that kind of sack production. I thought he looked solid in the drills but he was reportedly very sick during the workout so they should probably be taken with a grain of salt.
Tarrell Basham is a bit of an unknown by most people from Ohio University but this guy is a stud. Basham had the quickest initial get off that I saw at the Senior Bowl and that translated to the Combine. His 40 time of 4.70 was about expected but a 10-yard split of 1.61 is beyond elite. He isn’t the most powerful guy only getting 15 bench press reps but his twitchy athleticism converts speed to power overwhelming opposing offensive lineman. His superior length of 34 1/2 inch arms could be a reason for that. In the video below watch how well he moves in space. 3-4 teams are going to love this guy and dropped back into coverage better than anticipated at 6’4″, 269.
Tak McKinley is a really athletic guy who ran a 4.59 with a 1.61 ten yard split. At 6’2″, 250, that is a great time. One of the biggest underrated strength’s (And this goes for mostly all UCLA linebackers for some reason) showed up really well in coverage breaking up a number of passes. He racked up 10 sacks in college with a relentless motor. Tak is another guy with elite length (34 1/2 inch arms) and has that twitchy pass rush feel you want in a first round pick. If I’m going to put a knock on him, he displayed a number of mental errors during the combine often times not listening to directions and performing the drills wrong. Those are the little things that often times separate a good career from a great one.
T.J. Watt is the 3rd Watt family member that will enter the NFL. He probably won’t be what J.J. Watt is for the Texans but this guy put together a nice day. His 37 inch vertical and 128-inch broad jump showed off the lower body explosion his brother has. At 6’4″, 252, T.J. Watt was great in space and the comparison to Clay Mathews couldn’t have been better in my opinion. You do worry about the one-year wonder status as he was a converted tight end but I’ll trust the blood lines on this one.
Talented Small School Guys:
Did you know you can find talent at Florida Atlanta and Villanova in this year’s NFL Draft? It’s true! Trey Hendrickson and Tanoh Kpassognon respectively are two really exciting prospects. Hendrickson was the best player at the East-West Game and was completely unblockable. From a 6’4″, 266, pure 4-3 defensive end prospect, I was blown away by his workout. Hendrickson flashed 4.65 speed with an absurd 1.59 split which was the best of any defensive player thus far. He couldn’t have helped himself more and even shined in coverage drills making him more versatile.
Kpassongnon is a Villanova prospect who is generating a ton of buzz. For starters, the guy looks like a statue. His build almost makes you wonder whether he is human or not. He has elite measurables at 6’7″, 289, and a freakish 35 5/8 inch arms. A 4.83 – 40 time at that size is a crazy number not to mention that he was a top performer at the broad jump too (128 inches). If the Nova defensive end can put it all together there is no question he can become a pro bowl caliber player. There is a worry that he could struggle with leverage being that tall but I’m not concerned about it after I saw him change his level and bend his knees at the combine.
Take A Flier:
First of all, this pass rusher class is loaded. I see very little chance for bust potential in the first 15 guys or so. Maybe some pan out better than others but I seriously don’t see many busts and that’s rare for me to say because I am often times too harsh of a critic. Bryan Cox, Daeshon Hall, Carl Lawson, Derek Rivers, Jordan Willis, and Deatrich Wise make up this group.
Cox of Florida and Wise of Arkansas both played extremely well at the East-West Shrine game. Cox is a relentless pass rusher that doesn’t necessarily have the elite physical tools. Wise is quite the opposite possessing superior size but is fairly raw.
Hall and Rivers were both participants at the Senior Bowl. I have Hall ranked much higher than other draft experts do simply because I think he is being unfairly overshadowed by collegiate teammate Myles Garrett. Hall could be one of those wide-9 defensive ends or a 3-4 outside linebacker. He has some of the most twitchy pass rushing moves in the Draft including a nasty spin move and should warrant a 2nd or 3rd round pick.
Rivers played really well during the Senior Bowl game portion. I did not realize how athletic this guy was posting a 4.61 40 time with a 1.61 ten yard split. At 6’4″, 248, he also benched 30 reps, jumped out of the gym, and tested well above average in the cone drill. He helped himself a ton as a small school guy from Youngstown State.
Lawson is a guy I am nervous about but his 10 yard split of 1.60 made me look at his initial burst more than once. His arm length is well below average at 31 1/2 but did pump out 35 bench press reps. Lawson may be one of the most powerful pass rushers in the draft and has a deadly rip and swim move.
*The only highly rated guy I am not a fan of is Dawaune Smoot of Illinois. He struggled at the Senior Bowl and didn’t look any better at the combine. I tend to think a couple of his teammates are better that we will talk about in the linebacker section.
Top 5 Edge Rusher Rankings:
- Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
- Taco Charlton (Michigan)
- Charles Harris (Missouri)
- Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
- Tarrell Basham (Ohio)