Browns, NFL Draft

WFNY’s 2017 NFL Draft Coverage: Joe Gilbert’s Top Five Edge Rushers

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After going through the secondary and inside linebacker groups, we now get to one of the most important positions on the entire team: Edge rusher. The Browns are in great need of pass rushers after ranking 30th in the league with just 26 sacks. They have a young rusher in Emmanuel Ogbah, who has the upside to be a really dangerous rusher. But besides Ogbah, the team does not have a clear answer to help fill the other edge rusher position.

The Browns are in great position to fill this need with this class of rushers and in particular the No. 1 rusher and player Myles Garrett. The Browns have a clear path to pick Garrett and fill a huge need for the defense. It is too simple to pass up. So with that, let’s look at Myles Garrett and the rest of my top five edge rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Joe Gilbert’s 2017 NFL Draft Position Rankings: Safeties, Cornerbacks, Inside Linebackers

1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

Stats: In 11 games last season, he posted 33 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and eight and half sacks.

Myles Garrett is the best edge rusher in the draft and the best overall player in the draft. He has the prototypical size of an edge rusher at 6-foot-4, 272 pounds. He adds incredible athleticism to this prototype size. At the NFL Combine, he showed his amazing athleticism, running a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, lifted 33 reps on the bench press, jumped 41 inches in the vertical and jumped 128 inches in the broad jump. All four ranked in the top five amongst the defensive line group and his 41-inch vertical was the fourth best of all the participants at the Combine. He is explosive off the line, gaining quick advantage against blockers. When he reaches the edge, he can bend around the corner to get a direct path to the quarterback. His pass rushing skills are refined with the ability to institute an array of pass rush moves, including a bull rush, spin move and speed rush. His athleticism is so fluid, allowing him to change directions with great suddenness and quickness. He has extremely long arms at 35 ¼ inches, with hands that are quick and powerful, allowing him to disengage from blocks and control offensive linemen. His legs give him a great base to give out immense power to overtake blockers and lead them where he wants them to go. His legs and power allow him to set a strong edge, along with the attention to assignment to not get out of position and try to do too much. He has great versatility to play in both a 4-3 and 3-4 edge position and he can even move inside to play some if need be. Garrett was so good in college that defenses were quite visibly running away from his side of the ball.

Garrett does have some things to work on in his game, however. He is a very good pass rusher, but he can get better at it. In some situations where he is stalled on his first pass rush move, he can be too slow to try another move to counter the stalemate and get to the quarterback. The other question mark is his health. He suffered with injuries last season, playing through the ailments for most of the season. His health must be checked out to make sure it is not a long term problem. But in the end, Garrett is the prototypical pass rusher who teams dream about to wreck havoc on opposing offenses.

2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford

Stats: In 13 games last season, he had 62 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and eight sacks.

Solomon Thomas is one of the most explosive and disruptive rushers in the entire draft. He wins early right off the snap. The former Stanford Cardinal has a quick reaction time to snaps, often times beating every other player out of their stance. He pairs that reaction time with an explosive first step that helps him quickly explode up field. Once up the field, he uses his arms to control blockers. He uses his hands in several different ways. He can be quick and use swift swim moves to scoot right past blockers. He also can use a strong punch to push the blocker off his stance, enabling Thomas to get free to roam the backfield. Lastly, he can use his hands to rip away defenders when engaged. He pairs this up with good awareness, allowing him to time up the appropriate time to rip away from the block and find the runner in his area. He can get skinny and run through gaps, leaving blockers in his dust. Thomas is an explosive athlete with great short area quickness that teams love in their edge rushers. He has the penetrating ability to affect the run and pass. He has the versatility to play defensive end and in some situations move inside on pass rushing situations. He has a good motor to continue to the ball and always look to make plays.

Thomas is a bit of tweener with no definitive position, however. At 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, he is too small to be a defensive tackle, but also does not have the great length for a defensive end. He did not really show a lot of stand up rushing reps in college, nor does he possess the flexibility on the edge, so he may not be a fit for 3-4 outside linebacker. One of the biggest reasons he may not fit at defensive tackle is his struggle with leverage and staying consistently stout against bigger blockers. He can get driven back by double teams or bigger blockers. He also can lose leverage and get in weird body positions that allow blockers to drive him off the line of scrimmage. Thomas can get out of position, allowing offensive linemen to take him out of the play. He is just too explosive and disruptive to put on the sideline. Just put him in the game and he will make disruptive plays for the defense. Thomas is listed as an edge rusher, but he is a player who could end up inside based on the team that picks him.

3. Derek Barnett, Tennessee

Stats: In 13 games last season, he notched 56 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one interception and 13 sacks.

Derek Barnett lived in the backfield for Tennessee, ravaging the edge with his skillset. He is an extremely quick off the snap, often times beating everyone else out of their stance. He immediately shoots up field, gaining a quick advantage against the opposing blocker. The former Tennessee edge rusher has solid speed to beat tackles on the edge. His hands make up for any lack of explosive speed on the edge, swatting away the arms of blockers, so he can continue upfield without resistance. Once he reaches the corner, he uses good flexibility and bend to swoop underneath blocks and get a path to the quarterback. He is consistently showing the ability to win the edge. His hands also allow him to get away from blockers versus the run game, showing active hands to keep away from getting engaged. He shows good strength to withstand blockers and hold his ground. One of his better traits is his awareness, which helps him stay in the right position on defense and be in a spot to make the play on the ball. He does not leave his assignment and cause holes in the defense. He has some experience in coverage, both in man and zone coverage.

The main knock on Barnett is that he is not a fluid athlete with great athleticism. He lacks explosiveness and fluidness to beat blockers with pure athleticism. When rushing the edge, his lack of fluidness causes him to sometimes run a more rounded arc rather than a straight-line path to the quarterback. He does not have great change of direction ability, which can hurt his ability to tackle in the open field and to take down the more mobile quarterbacks in the pocket. He must show that he can translate his game in the more athletic NFL. He is able to rush standing up and with his hand in the dirt, but he lacks the prototypical athleticism for an outside linebacker and the length for a defensive end. He can do either and play in both a 3-4 or 4-3 edge position. In the end, he has shown the ability to consistently get the edge in rushing situations and the ability to set a strong edge against the run.

4. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA

Stats: In 11 games last season, he posted 61 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and 10 sacks.

Takkarist McKinley is one of the best overall athletes in the edge rusher group, with an immense amount of potential. He is a physical freak with great athleticism. At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, he ran an impressive 4.59-second 40-yard dash, which was fifth best at the NFL Combine amongst the defensive line and linebackers. The former Bruin has the ability to play sideline to sideline with closing speed to close on the ball carrier quickly. He has fluid and quick change of direction for a player his size. Both the change of direction and speed will allow him to play in coverage, both in man and zone, even though he did not do a lot of it in college. He has extremely long arms at 34 ¾ inches, which will help in numerous parts of his game including keeping blockers away from his body. He shows glimpses of explosive burst off the line, which helps him penetrate to the backfield. His athleticism allows him to be a dangerous edge rusher, using his athleticism to beat blockers and good flexibility to cut the corner. He has good awareness of cut blocks and other traffic around his feet, evading the traffic to continue toward the ball without much delay. He pairs all of these traits up with a never-ending motor, flowing to a play until the play is dead. McKinley has the talent to play as an edge rusher in both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense.

McKinley, however, is extremely raw. He has long arms, but he is still not using his hands and arms to his full advantage. He can get stuck on blocks because he is not using his hands well enough, using just his athleticism to try and evade the blocker. His entire game would be aided with improved hands usage. As a pass rusher, he does not have a wide variety of pass rushing moves, which helps blockers know what is coming. The Bruin has explosive burst off the line, but the explosiveness is not seen on a consistent basis. He must learn to always come off the ball with great burst. Overall, he is not a strong player, with a smaller base than other edge rushers. He does not have the power to drive through his legs and disrupt using pure strength. He has a tendency to tackle with his arms, which can lead to broken tackles. He is also coming off a shoulder injury that must be checked before teams can clear him to be picked. Nevertheless, he is an athletic freak with the raw potential to be a very good edge rusher.

5. Tim Williams, Alabama

Stats: In 15 games last season, he had 31 tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and nine sacks.

Tim Williams is a specialist at this point in his career, but he is a great pass rushing specialist. He is a great athlete with the type of skills that teams look for in a pass rusher. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage, earning him a quick advantage against the opposing blocker. He uses his speed to run past the blocker and toward the quarterback. He finishes the rush with good flexibility and bend around the edge, giving him a more direct path to the quarterback. Throughout the rush, he uses his arms and hands to wall off the offensive lineman’s arms, swiping away the blocker’s attempt to engage with him. He uses his elusiveness and good fakes to set up offensive tackles, evading them with a quick move that is too fast for the tackle to react to in time. The former Alabama linebacker has the potential to be effective in coverage, both in man and zone, because of his change of direction ability and athleticism. He has shown some evidence of his ability during his college career. He is able to evade blocks using elusiveness, speed and solid hand usage. Williams will fit in right away as a pass rushing specialist as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Williams was limited to mostly a pass rushing specialist in college, with little reps against the run. He is only 6-foot-3, 244 pounds, which is very small for an edge rusher in the NFL. He lacks the strength and bulk to really stand stout at the point of attack against the run. He just does not have a lot of tape on how he can fare as a run defender. His lack of size and playing experience will likely mean that there is a lot of work to do with him before he can do anything more than just being a pass rushing specialist. He also has some off-field incidents, including drug use, which will make teams have to really investigate who they would be getting as a person if they draft Williams. Williams is one of the best pass rushers in the draft and someone teams could plug in right away as a pass rushing specialist.