Unlike the defensive interior, the edge players appear to be in deep supply this year. Starting with the presumed No. 1 pick — although leave it to Cleveland to keep that mystery alight — with Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, there looks to be one of the stronger groups of pass rushers we’ve seen in recent years.
The 2016 NFL draft ended up featuring a pretty respectable offering of Year 1 pass rushers — six players notched at least 5.5 sacks in their first season, and five of them can be considered edge players. Top-10 picks Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner (who also plays inside) and Emmanuel Ogbah (another inside-outside guy) all hit that benchmark and look like they have bright futures.
But we actually think this year’s crop could be deeper and ultimately stronger. What we like best is that there is a nice smattering of talents, body shapes and styles. Garrett is an elite athlete with rare traits and length. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, who could go as high as the second overall pick in the draft, could bulk up and play inside, remain as a traditional end in a three-point stance or lose a few pounds and rush as a stand-up linebacker. Temple’s Haason Reddick — a possible top-15 pick after a meteoric rise — has some real versatility as a rusher, too.
Five of the top 20 picks could fall under the edge-rusher umbrella. A dozen could land in the first two rounds combined. In terms of our pre-draft rankings, we have 10 edge players in our Top 50. When a player such as Kansas State’s Jordan Willis — whom we really like — doesn’t even crack that list, that’s some really nice depth.
Garrett and Thomas could be instant upgrades. Reddick is a fascinating prospect. NFL evaluators are split on talents such as Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, Missouri’s Charles Harris and Michigan’s Taco Charlton, but there’s a place for each of them in regular rotations right away next season. There are some players after that who have major questions — Bama’s Tim Williams being a great example — but undeniable talent and athletic ability and could be Day 1 upgrades.
All in all, there’s a lot to like here. Even if this is not a generational class of rushers, it’s a darned good one from our view.
Positional grade: B-plus
We almost pulled the trigger on giving this group an A-minus but couldn’t quite do it. Thomas doesn’t read as dominate as Garrett. Charlton is a player we’ve come down to earth a bit on, and we’re not quite as bullish on Harris as some others are, though we like him. Beyond that, it’s very possible there’s at least one Yannick Ngakoue-like player who gets drafted far lower than he should. And we just believe that the depth extends into Day 3 this year — a little farther than it has in the past four or five drafts — with rushers who can contribute readily over the coming seasons. This is a good group at a position that NFL teams are always hungry to find.
Shutdown Corner’s Top 10 Edge defenders for 2017
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M — 6-foot-4, 272 pounds — You can question when and where his sacks came, but Garrett has the kind of rare, elite traits to be a defensive game-changer for any team
2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford — 6-3, 273 — Has makeup to be a special rusher from numerous techniques, although we wish his motor ran just a little more consistently hot
3. Haason Reddick, Temple — 6-2, 237 — Explosive edge rusher who likely is best suited for a 3-4 OLB spot to take advantage of his speed without having him get washed up in the run game
4. Derek Barnett, Tennessee — 6-3, 259 — Might not be a truly special athlete, but has outstanding pass-rush production that cannot go overlooked (Full scouting report)
5. Taco Charlton, Michigan — 6-6, 277 — Did we overrate him based on one year of production? His skills, frame are impressive but limited body of work is concerning (Full scouting report)
6. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA — 6-2, 250 — Some stiffness and injury concern with him, but relentless motor, long arms and quickness off the snap make him a great long-term investment (Full scouting report)
7. Charles Harris, Missouri — 6-3, 253 — Lean edge bender who still has room to grow as a player and could thrive in attacking, upfield scheme (Full scouting report)
8. Ryan Anderson, Alabama — 6-2, 253 — The key with Anderson is landing in just the right scheme fit, as his frame and game don’t fit every team (Full scouting report)
9. Tim Williams, Alabama — 6-3, 244 — Some real red flags for sure, which we’ve marked him down for, but the kind of electric rusher who could log 10 sacks as a rookie easily (Full scouting report)
10. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin — 6-4, 252 — Different player entirely than his brother, J.J., but an ascending prospect who made a vast improvement in one full year of starting (Full scouting report)
Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M
Overshadowed by Garrett, Hall is a good player in his own right. He has the build, the explosiveness and the versatility to become a very good player in time. Did Hall benefit from having Garrett opposite him? There’s little question. And there is the worry about Hall’s raw strength, hand work and upright style — he plays too tall. But all of those can be remedied with more time in the weight room and with a patient team not expecting Hall to come in and contribute 50-plus snaps a game as a rookie.
In our view, Hall is a slightly less-polished version of Emmanuel Ogbah, who ended up flashing as a rookie and looks like a building block for the Cleveland Browns. Hall might need an extra year of development, as he can get a bit bottled up against the run and must continue honing his pass-rush ability. But in time, he could be a very nice contributor, and falling into Round 3 or 4 would make him a relative steal.
Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic
Very similar in profile to Rob Ninkovich and Matt Roth coming out, Hendrickson is a high-production, high-motor pass rusher with questions in the run game. He doesn’t play with power and has short arms that always will be something that limits him. But it’s hard to overlook Hendrickson’s ability to get upfield and disrupt, and his testing numbers backing that up will get him drafted — we suspect early on Day 3.
Hendrickson is a disruptive, hard-working player and the kind that might fit well on a team that needs to add a little toughness. He had a reputation for raising the intensity level in practices in college, almost to a detriment. That kind of fiery temperament has a place in the NFL, even if it needs to be harnessed, and Hendrickson could carve out a nice role — first as a pass rusher until he develops the other phases of his game. It might take a few years, but he could turn into a Ninkovich-like performer in time.
Other 2017 NFL draft position rankings:
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