Greg Cosell's NFL draft preview: Myles Garrett vs. Jadeveon Clowney, and a good defensive line class

Shutdown Corner

Myles Garrett of Texas A&M is the best defensive end in this draft class. Most people figure he’ll be the No. 1 overall pick to the Cleveland Browns.

Since there isn’t much debate about Garrett in comparison to his own draft class, it’s worthwhile to go back a few years and compare him to another defensive end going first overall: I think Garrett is a better pass-rushing prospect than Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans, who was the first pick of the 2014 draft. I also think Garrett is a better pass rush prospect than Oakland Raiders end Khalil Mack was coming out of Buffalo, though he’s not as strong of a point-of-attack run defender as Mack showed.

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Garrett will need work, with coaching and development, to become a high-level run defender in the NFL. But he has all the traits you look for in a pass rusher. That’s why he’s likely to be the first pick.

Myles Garrett is expected to be the first pick of the draft. (AP)
Myles Garrett is expected to be the first pick of the draft. (AP)

Here are Garrett’s strengths and weaknesses, and after that we’ll break down some of the other defensive linemen in this draft:

STRENGTHS

When I look back at my notes on Clowney at South Carolina, and compare them to what I see on film from Garrett, I simply think Garrett is the more talented pass rusher. He can win in more ways than Clowney could. Garrett uses his hands better. He’s quicker laterally. Garrett has more body bend than Clowney, with the flexibility to get low with his front shoulder and beat a tackle off the edge.

There are a lot of tools at Garrett’s disposal. This play from 2015 against Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson showed Garrett at his best: contact strength and power, hand usage, bend and flexibility, and closing burst.

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Garrett is long and athletic. His 41-inch vertical jump at the combine is rare for a defense end weighing 272 pounds. He has excellent balance and body control as well, a natural bender as an edge rusher with body flexibility and closing burst.

Garrett shows consistent explosion off the ball as a pass rusher with velocity and burst, and even has a knack for timing the snap count and beating the offensive tackle off the ball. What really makes Garrett a good pass rusher is he has outstanding initial quickness, but also has secondary quickness to challenge the technique and footwork of tackles. He understands how to attack upfield and immediately stress a tackle by forcing them to over-set, then has excellent leverage as a speed-to-power pass rusher staying low and exploding into the tackle. He also has active and violent hand usage.

And on this play you can see the strength and power to drive an offensive lineman back. It came against Tennessee and resulted in a sack-fumble.

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Not many edge pass rushers have his combination of length, explosion and body control with the tool set to win multiple ways: speed, power, hands, counters.

WEAKNESSES

Garrett didn’t always play with the kind of effort you’d like to see, and he had a tendency to relax on plays that went away from him. Also, you would like to see him improve as a point-of-attack run defender. But really there isn’t much to dislike about Garrett.

He profiles as a 4-3 defensive end with the skill set to rush the quarterback from wide alignments and play the run effectively. He can even kick inside on a sub-package defensive line and rush against a guard, who he can overmatch with his quickness and explosiveness.

Overall, Garrett has all the traits you want from a pass rusher. There’s good reason he’ll be the top pick.

Here are some breakdowns of some of the other top defensive linemen in this draft:

ALABAMA DT/DE JONATHAN ALLEN

I don’t think Allen has the length or size to consistently play on the outside in the NFL, and he’s not a great athlete for a defensive end. So I think he profiles best as a three-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 front, and has a lot of room for growth and development. He’ll have some alignment versatility in sub-package fronts.

Allen is built similarly to Aaron Donald, though Allen is a bit taller. He’s not as purely explosive as Donald as a gap penetrator but Allen uses his hands exceptionally well to displace offensive linemen – he uses his hands as well, if not better, than any prospect in the draft class. He’s more a technique player than a high-level athlete.

TENNESSEE DE DEREK BARNETT

While Barnett flashed sudden and explosive movement traits, he’s not a quick-twitch athlete overall. He’s not a high-level athlete for an edge pass rusher, lacking the sudden explosion you’d ideally like to see.

Barnett is an intriguing transition to the NFL. He’s more measured than explosive in his movement. He’ll likely begin his NFL career as a sub-package edge rusher in a four-man defensive line. As he develops he will be a 4-3 defensive end; Barnett doesn’t have the overall movement to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. He’ll have to develop a wider repertoire of pass-rush moves to become a high-level NFL pass rusher.

My sense is Barnett will be a polarizing player in NFL draft rooms, as teams debate college production versus a lack of ideal traits.

MICHIGAN DE TACO CHARLTON

Charlton is one of the most intriguing edge pass-rush prospects in the draft with his combination of length and movement. You don’t often see Charlton’s combination of size and athleticism. You can see some similarities to Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals, although Jones is more flexible. But Charlton is a little stronger and more powerful.

Charlton isn’t a true bender working the edge because he’s not naturally flexible enough, but he has excellent first-step quickness off the ball as a “wide 9” pass rusher. He can immediately stress the edge of an offensive tackle, forcing them to open and turn to the sideline. That’s what his athleticism provides. He also has strong hands and 34-1/2-inch arms to create separation from offensive tackles and make plays in the run game. He did a good job setting the edge against the run.

Charlton has the look of a player who will get better with coaching and experience and could develop into a quality NFL pass rusher.

STANFORD DT/DE SOLOMON THOMAS

There will be some questions about what Thomas’ best NFL position is. There’s not much question about the playing ability, because he’s a strong player with active hands who is effective rushing the passer and against the run. He has excellent quickness off the ball with outstanding lateral agility and balance. He can win against offensive linemen with athleticism and quickness, or strength and power.

I believe Thomas would be most effective as a one-gap penetrator in a 4-3 front in the NFL. He has the traits to be a five-technique end in a 3-4 front but I believe he lacks the size and length for that position. But he has the quickness and closing speed to be an effective inside pass rusher in any scheme, though I don’t think he would be a great edge rusher. What makes him special is his explosiveness penetrating gaps and getting underneath as an interior rusher.

My belief is Thomas will develop into a big-time interior pass rusher in the NFL. His position versatility is a huge asset as well, as he transitions to the pro game.

WISCONSIN OLB/DE T.J. WATT

Watt has outstanding length and overall movement and he could play 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, although I think he could easily add more weight and become a 4-3 defensive end. Either way, he has “joker” ability to align in different spots and take advantage of matchups as a pass rusher.

The question with Watt is if he can become a quality edge pass rusher in the NFL. He’s not naturally explosive or twitchy in his movement, though he has excellent coordination and agility. My sense is he will become a good pass rusher who wins with technique and hand usage more than pure athleticism and flexibility. Strong hands and the ability to use them effectively are strengths of Watt’s game. He can also play with power taking on lead blocks and set the edge in the run game.

I think Watt could become a better player with development and coaching, and I believe he will be an ascending player with more experience.

More NFL draft breakdowns from Greg Cosell:
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky
Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes and Cal QB Davis Webb
LSU RB Leonard Fournette
Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Clemson WR Mike Williams

Western Michigan WR Corey Davis

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

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