This “Edge Rusher” group is anyone who gets after the QB – be that 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. The lines are so blurred now, I don’t think there’s much value in worrying about which system they are best suited to – so they are in one group.
Overall Class Strength
This, for me, is an excellent class – with strength at the top and exciting depth. There will be interesting options available even on day three.
Top 10 Edge Rushers
- Myles Garrett – Texas A&M. I don’t know how much Garrett’s nagging injury was bothering him this season, but in some games (e.g. Alabama) he was pretty quiet. However, if you look at him early in the season against UCLA, destroying a draftable OT in Conor McDermott – it’s clear he wasn’t close to 100%. Garrett is an explosive, elite level prospect – hopefully the injury issues are behind him – if so, we can expect double-digit sacks every year.
- Derek Barnett – Tennessee. After watching Barnett’s 2015 tape in the off-season and the Virginia Tech game early in 2016, I would have told you I wouldn’t rank him this high. However, I thought the light went on and I’m now onboard! There seem to be some who don’t think he’s an elite level athlete, but I think he’s fine in that area. Perhaps a slow 40 at the Combine was the cause – but it is worth remembering he was ill before the event and lost weight – but worked out anyway. It’s also worth looking at his cone time (6.96 seconds – anything under 7 seconds is excellent) – again having been ill. He lacks ideal length – which some might not like – but his ability to dip and rip is exciting. I love his relentless pursuit of the QB.
- Tim Williams – Alabama. Williams was asked to do more this year and while there were improvements against the run – and an odd flash in coverage – his main skill set is rushing the passer. He’s a little up and down (quiet against Clemson, for example) – but when he wants, he can take over a game. As with Barnett, he’s not the longest, so he might not be for everyone – but the NFL wants edge guys who can get to the QB – and Williams can certainly do that. There are some off the field concerns (one incident and reported multiple failed drug tests), but as noted in previous articles, these rankings do not take into account off the field/character or medical concerns.
- Jordan Willis – Kansas State. Willis put together an outstanding Combine workout. I thought he would test well, but perhaps not quite to that level. In looking at my notes, I think the answer is that his primary responsibility was to get the OT in a position from where he could set an edge. I think that took away from his natural athletic ability. When he did have the green light to fly off the edge, you saw that speed and explosion. He’s perhaps a little one dimensional as a pass rusher, so he may need a year of development to see double-digit sack production in the league, but he has the raw tools.
- Taco Charlton – Michigan. Charlton is a bigger/longer DE (6’5” 277 lbs with 34 ¼” arms) and as such, some teams might like him more than Barnett and Williams (the variance in actual teams boards is a lot greater than you might think). Charlton missed time early in the year and was rusty when he did first see the field – but he got better each time I watched him. I would say he plays like a smaller/lighter DE – which is good in the he moves well for his size, but bad, as you don’t see him win with that size. If he continues to grow as he did in the 2016 season, I think we can expect big things.
- Takkarist McKinley – UCLA. McKinley had a groin injury early in the season, but it was clear when he was healthy, that he has a shot to be a first round pick. I think he can play 3-4 OLB in a scheme that demands a more rounded skillset as he looks comfortable in space. Of course, he can also get after the QB – showing speed, a closing burst – plus some speed to power. He’s not the longest, so he needs to avoid attacking the OT square on – he must always focus on attacking the outside half, and then developing a strong inside counter (his spin move looks clunky). There are some medical concerns with him (shoulder), so he might be around on Draft day longer than his talent suggests – but in terms of these rankings he’s here.
- DeMarcus Walker – Florida State. At the time of writing, I don’t have athletic numbers for Walker. All season I’ve ranked him highly, but many of the “big boys” have him far lower. I suspect in their contact with scouts, they have his athletic numbers from junior timing day this time last year – and they weren’t good. However, I’m going with tape – and also the fact that I can see a definite role for him as a pro – 4-3 base end and interior pass rusher in the nickel. Walker may not run fast in the 40, but his quickness will mean he wins against even NFL interior offensive lineman. In college, he was asked to two gap, but I don’t know if he can be a Seahawks system base two gap DE at 6’4” with 33” arms – however, he can certainly be good against the run. I’ll be interested to see where he’s drafted – but in pure tape terms, I really enjoyed watching him play.
- Carl Lawson – Auburn. Lawson struggled to stay healthy in previous seasons, but thankfully, he made it through the 2016 season. At times, he was used as a chess piece – but I don’t think it really suited him. However, as a guy who can fly off the edge – I think he is talented. I thought lack of conditioning was a concern, but hopefully with a full season under his belt, and an off-season of hard work, that will improve. When he gets tired, he plays too high. When fresh, his explosion off the edge is enough to give even the best OTs problems. I would like to see him break down better as a tackler – but there’s no question he can be productive as a situational pass rusher from day one. Hopefully, staying healthy as he did this season will continue – I suspect he could then outplay this ranking.
- Charles Harris – Missouri. Harris didn’t have the best season. Missouri changed schemes and he wasn’t as effective. However, in certain games he was almost unblockable, including two I watched in season – (Georgia and Vanderbilt). Now, had I watched two different games where he got nothing – perhaps he wouldn’t be here… One of those quiet games was Arkansas – and I could almost see the cogs in his mind working – he was clearly thinking too much. So, the right system is what he needs – one that gives him the freedom to attack against run and pass. As a pass rusher, his speed, dip and inside counter are nice – he can also use speed to power, but needs to continue to improve on this. He’s a little boom or bust, but if he lands in the right system, I think he’ll be productive.
- Daeshon Hall – Texas A&M. Hall was the other A&M DE. He’s not the finished product – but he’s 6’5” with 35 6/8” arms and at 266 lbs ran in the mid 4.7’s and had a cone drill time of 7.03 seconds. The cone time was interesting – as on tape I thought he struggled a bit in terms of balance, so I wasn’t expecting it. So, it must be a technique deal – and with his athletic numbers, I’m going to bet he irons out this issue and becomes productive in the league. I like his motor – he made a number of plays using his closing speed to chase down from the backside. He’s going to be an interesting prospect for an NFL coaching staff to get their hands on – his potential is most certainly there.
Just Missing the Top 10
I can’t really call these names sleepers, as they are talented – it’s just in this deep group they just missed out… I really like Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson – it feels wrong not to have him in the top 10! He’s got a high motor off the edge and good production. Like Jordan Willis, his Combine numbers were better than expected – so he’s got athletic upside. In a class this deep, there are always going to be day three picks who are productive. If you grade the flashes with Tyus Bowser (Houston), he deserves to be in the top 10 – but the strength of class works against him. His Combine numbers were outstanding, but he wasn’t always dominant for Houston – but the arrow is pointing up. Arkansas’ Deatrich Wise Jr. struggled with various injuries in 2016 – but he’s talented. He’s got the length some teams like and flashed a nice burst. Joe Mathis (Washington) missed the second half of the season with a foot injury. He’s short – but he gets low and can be hard to block. Florida’s Bryan Cox Jr. is another who had some injury issues in 2016 – he’s a rounded prospect who can get off blocks well against the run.
Top Small Schoolers
- Tanoh Kpassagnon – Villanova. At 6’6” 289 lbs with 35 6/8” arms, you could say Kpassagnon should be in the 0-5 technique group – but I thought on tape he was far better on the OT’s outside shoulder, so I’m including him here. I thought his ability to bend when attacking the edge improved as the season went on – which is encouraging. At times, his raw explosion and power got him a win – and it will still in the league, but not as often. He needs a little more in the way of craft – but you wouldn’t want to have to block him! Right now, he’s a better one gap prospect – but with his length, two gap teams might have interest, but he will need more in the way of development in that role. Of course, hybrid teams might just like him most as he has the potential to do it all.
- Derek Rivers – Youngstown State. There’s talk about Rivers being a first round pick – I watched him a bunch because of their playoff run and I think that’s too rich, particularly in this class. If you grade his flashes, I would say absolutely – but even at the FCS level, they weren’t there enough to go that high. Is he still a good prospect? Absolutely! I don’t think he was helped by his college system; as with Jordan Willis, his first responsibility was not to give up the edge. It meant he was two gapping a lot – playing high and attacking the OT’s chest plate. I think he’s better as a one gap, fly off the edge sort – where he can use his athletic ability and closing burst to greater effect. His excellent Combine numbers confirm that – so he might actually be better than his tape suggests and I might be guilty of not seeing the bigger picture…
- Keionta Davis – Tennessee-Chattanooga. Davis is 6’3”, but his arms are long (34 1/8”). He didn’t workout at the Combine – but from tape it was clear he has speed off the edge. I like how he’s able to use his hands and quickness to also win inside – which puts an OT on their heels. He’s still developing his speed to power move, but there were flashes of that. Like Lawson, I think he needs to break down better as a tackler. It shows how deep even the small school class is, when he’s number three, as I believe he will be productive in the league.
- Samson Ebukam – Eastern Washington. Ebukam is listed at 6’2”, so lacks ideal length – but he’s a good player. I suspect scouts will have been watching him as they will have wanted to see EWU for Cooper Kupp – so his exposure to the league might be higher than usual. He wasn’t always asked to operate in space – but there was enough there to think he can play off the line. However, he does have pass rush ability and a team that doesn’t worry about height thresholds (e.g. Steelers) should be interested.
- Caleb Kidder – Montana. I liked Kidder’s tape and at 6’5” 269 lbs, he also put together a nice pro day workout, highlighted by a cone drill time of 6.91 seconds – so he gets the nod over Rivers’ team mate Avery Moss. He has experience being used as a chess piece, including dropping into coverage – so zone blitz teams might be tempted to spend a day three pick on him.