As the NFL evolves, teams are throwing at a record rate. The trend of moving the ball through the air is increasing year after year. In 2003, six teams threw the ball an average of less than 30 times per game. Fast forward to 2016, only the Buffalo Bills had less than 30 pass attempts each game, with 29.6 APG. Additionally, the median pass attempts in 2003 was 32, fast forward to the 2016 season, and the median pass attempts was 36. With teams throwing at such a high rate, organizations have put a premium on players who can stop an opponent’s passing attack. Edge rushers have become the most important position on the defensive side of the football, and in the 2017 draft, about 8 of the 32 picks will be spent on players whose job it will be to get after the quarterback. Let’s take a brief look at these guys and their scheme fit, as well as their strengths and weaknesses’.
Texas A/M Jr. 6’4” 272 lbs.
Not much needs to be said about Garrett. He’s the best player in this draft by a long shot. 5 star recruit out of high school who dominated the SEC for three years with 31 career sacks. He can play in any scheme and will be an All-Pro. At just 21 years old expect him to dominate at the next level. He is an athletic freak with a 41 inch vertical at the combine, and a 128 inch broad jump. The only knock on him is that there are times you can question his effort. Sometimes it appears that he isn’t going full speed, however the production, the tape, the size, and the athleticism all make Myles Garrett too good to pass up.
Pro Comparison: Mario Williams
Draft prediction: First overall
Stanford (RS) Soph. 6’3” 273 lbs.
Solomon Thomas is my favorite lineman in this draft. He’s an absolute freak athlete who dominates the point of attack. Although he is listed as an edge player, I really believe he is going to move inside, or possibly be a 5-tech.
Has outstanding technique and uses his hands and feet together. He can come at you with a bull rush or a speed rush. Great first step. Relentless, hustles on every play, very intense. Has fully developed multiple pass rush moves, rare at this level. Constantly sheds and makes the tackle on running plays.
Weaknesses: The problem with Solomon Thomas is his frame might not be able to support the additional weight he should put on and move inside as a 3-Tech. He’s also not exactly long enough to play outside. Jumping snap counts can be an issue at times, with over 5 offside penalties in each of the last two seasons. His 33” arms put him in the 27th percentile as far as edge players.
Overall: He can play all along the defensive line and make plays. He’s not going to get outworked, and nobody will ever question his effort like they may Myles Garrett. If he can figure out how to play a little bigger and move inside full time watch out. He has the potential to be the best defensive player in the draft when it’s all said and done. Regardless of what position teams chose to have him play on early downs, he’s going to dominate offensive lines inside on third downs. A look at his spider graph at the Edge position shows just how much of a freak athlete he is. He shows on film and through testing.
Pro Comparison: Aaron Donald
Draft Prediction: Top 10
Tennessee Jr. 6’3” 259 lbs.
Derek Barnett is the all-time sack leader at Tennessee, breaking Hall of Famer Reggie White’s record, with 32 career sacks. Barnett was a star the second he stepped on campus, tallying 9 sacks as a freshman. Barnett left Knoxville as a true junior, just 20 years old, he’s one of the younger players in the draft.
Strengths: The big thing with Barnett you’re going to hear is hand fighting. He’s the best hand fighter in this draft, and his hands and feet are always working together. Has a solid speed rush and good first step, good dip on his rush, able to get the pads lower than a lot of pass rushers coming out this year. His 6.96 3-cone is excellent, and shows the fluidity and twitch you need to succeed in the NFL. Very technically strong, wins with effort and technique, doesn’t win by just being the better athlete against worse talent. Has a mean streak to him, and is a leader on the field.
Weaknesses: Barnett is a liability in the running game. Has good football IQ and he tries his best to set the edge but often just gets out muscled because of his lower weight. He’s definitely not a finished product yet. His tackling could use work, although he had off the charts stats, they actually could have been better, had a lot of TFL get away. Occasionally has his pass rush arc take him too far upfield and out of the play.
Overall: Derek Barnett is a true football player, plain and simple. He can play as a 3-4 OLB or with his hand in the dirt in 4-3. If he’s drafted to a 4-3 scheme he will need to add a little weight. Shows the explosiveness you need to succeed and has probably the best pass rushing technique in the draft. He’s going to be a successful player, but doesn’t have as high a celling as some of the other edge players in the draft.
NFL comparison: Anthony Spencer
Draft prediction: Mid first between 13-20
UCLA Sr. 6’2” 257
Now on to my least favorite edge rusher in the draft, Tak Mckinley. Mckinley came on his final year at UCLA with 10 sacks and 18 TFL. Mckinley is still raw and has way to go before he is a finished product. Some teams will see him as a blank canvas and think they can turn him into a star, others will have him off their board because he is so raw.
Strengths: High motor guy, makes tackles all over the field, never out of the play. His speed strength combination allows him to set the edge well vs the run. Better vs than run than as a pass rusher at this point. Always plays hard, wins with his motor and athleticism, awful technique.
Weakness: There are little to no pass rush moves in his repertoire other than a bull rush. He’s the anti Derek Barnett in that when his hands are working his feet stop, and when his feet are moving his hands get into his body and stop working. Not particularly explosive off the snap. Low twitch grades across the board.
Overall: Like I said earlier, he is my least favorite edge player in this draft. He’s probably more of a strong side DE as he plays the run better. Blank canvas to work with for teams that like his athletic traits and motor and think they can coach him up. I’d stay away from him but he probably gets picked towards the bottom of the first. Low twitch grades but hey, he ran a really fast 40.
NFL Comparison: Jerimiah Attaochu
Draft Prediction: Late first – early second
Missouri (RS) Jr. 6’3” 253 lbs.
Harris didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school in Kansas City. He had 16 sacks in his final two collegiate seasons, and by all accounts will have his name called on day one of the draft. He best fits in a 4-3 scheme as a weak side DE but can also play standing up in a 3-4.
Strengths: Charles Harris has the single best pass rushing move of any player in the draft. His spin move is absolutely deadly, and he works hard to set it up. His first step is outstanding, consistently the first defender to move off the snap. Solid motor, and a team leader. Strong locker room presence, who chose Missouri over other schools because of it’s “outstanding academic reputation.”
Weaknesses: Not a factor vs the run, still learning the game. Sometimes has his pass rush arc is sloppy and gets him out of the play. Hand placement is often times bad, especially on his bull rush. 3-cone, vert, broad jump, and arm length all well below NFL average for the position.
Overall: Charles Harris and his dominate spin move and quick first step will play in the NFL from day 1. He’s going to need to get his football IQ up, and definitely refine his technique. Harris will have his name called sometime in the middle of day 1, look for him to make an impact on third downs early in his career.
NFL comparison: Whitney Mercilus
Draft Prediction: Late first round