Is Myles Garrett Underperforming for the Browns?

David Richard/AP Photo

When Myles Garrett made the decision to enter the draft after his junior season at Texas A&M, he left as one of the most disruptive defensive ends in CFB history, amassing 31 sacks, 47 tackles for loss and 7 forced fumbles in just 34 collegiate games. He also came with a near-perfect analytical profile- at 21 years old he measured in at 6’-4”, 272lbs with 35.5” arms and ranking in the 93rd to 99th  percentile in 40-yard dash, 20-yard split, bench press, and vertical and broad jumps. If scientists and NFL coaches had sat down and designed their perfect defensive end draft prospect, the result would have looked an awful lot like Myles Garrett.

Myles was widely considered the top overall prospect in the 2017 draft, but when people talk about “generational” prospects, one way to think about that is to ask this question – If you combined multiple years of draft classes (using only draft profiles, no hindsight 20-20 based on pro careers), how does this player rank across draft classes as an overall prospect and at his position? Looking at Garrett, I went back 15 years looking at the first one or two defensive players selected in each draft :

  • 2016 – Joey Bosa, Jalon Ramsey
  • 2015 – Dante Fowler
  • 2014 – Jadeveon Clowney, Kalil Mack
  • 2013 – Deon Jordan
  • 2012 – Morris Clayborn
  • 2011 – Von Miller
  • 2010 – Ndamukong Suh
  • 2009 – Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry
  • 2008 – Chris Long
  • 2007 – Gaines Adams, Laron Landry
  • 2006 – Mario Williams
  • 2005 – Adam Jones, Antrel Rolle, Demarcus Ware
  • 2004 – Sean Taylor
  • 2002 – Julius Peppers

If you mashed up every defensive player in these 15 draft classes into a single pool and asked which would be the first off the board, I think this list narrows quickly to 3 players:

Myles Garrett, Mario Williams, and Julius Peppers.

In this hypothetical, I would have probably ranked Mario Williams first, Myles Garrett second, and Julius Peppers third. In that sense, I don’t think it’s going overboard to say that Myles may have been the best defensive *prospect* to enter the draft since Mario Williams in 2006.

These were some of the reasons that a quarterback-starved franchise like the Cleveland Browns would take a defensive end with the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Still, despite Garrett being viewed as a consensus #1 prospect, there was plenty of consternation among the Browns’ faithful who viewed passing on a quarterback for Myles Garrett as a mistake. Some questioned his commitment to football and overall level of effort. Many favored taking the homegrown quarterback Mitchel Trubisky, and when the Browns failed to move up for Mahomes and ultimately traded out of pick #12 instead of selecting DeShaun Watson, the bar of expectation was just raised that much more for Myles Garrett as he began his career with the Cleveland Browns.

After a disappointing 1-15 season in 2016, hopes were high (as they always are in the offseason) with Myles Garrett looking the part of a #1 overall pick though preseason and heading into a week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. As fate would have it, Myles suffered a freak injury as one of his teammates rolled up on his leg in a way that Gregg Williams said would have broken the leg of most players. Luckily for Myles and the Browns, it was diagnosed as a severe high-ankle sprain, but the injury would still cost Myles the first 5 games of the season and linger throughout the year. He finished his rookie season with 7 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 11 games.

Fast forward to week 13 of the NFL season this year – Myles Garrett has recorded 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 47 pressures in 11 games this season, and yet there is still a section of Browns fanbase that feels it isn’t enough. They feel that given the expectations, he’s underperformed, so I’d like to provide some historical perspective so that we can gauge those expectations to see whether or not they are reasonable.

Sacks, FF, and pressures are a narrow view of these players but this at least provides some perspective on what a reasonable expectation of production should be and how that compares historically to players at the same age. Myles Garrett is playing this season at age 22 and for this look at his production, we will project his full-season stats at the pace he’s set through 11 games. Over the course of 16 games at his current pace, Myles would finish with the following stat line –

16 Sacks, 68 pressures, and 4 forced fumbles at age 22.

Here is the list of players that recorded at least 16 sacks at age 22 or younger since sacks have been tracked (1982):

Shawne Merriman in 2006 – 17 sacks, 4 FF, 57 pressures

Jason Pierre Paul in 2011 – 16.5 sacks, 2 FF, 56 pressures

That’s it. That’s the list over the last 35 NFL seasons. Now let’s go a step further and expand that list to include 23-year-old players.

JJ Watt in 2012  – 20.5 sacks

Derrick Thomas in 1990 – 20 sacks

Aldon Smith in 2012 – 19 sacks

Robert Quinn in 2013 – 19 sacks

Von Miller in 2012 – 18.5 sacks

This group is much more impressive, although again probably smaller than you imagined. Now I’m going to list those same players and the seasons they had at age 22 –

JJ Watt in 2011  – 5.5 sacks, 0 FF, 43 pressures

Derrick Thomas in 1989 – 10 sacks, 3 FF

Aldon Smith in 2011 – 14 sacks, 2 FF, 64 pressures

Robert Quinn in 2012 – 10.5 sacks, 1 FF, 45 pressures

Von Miller in 2011 – 11.5 sacks, 3 FF, 60 pressures

What this tells us is that Myles is on pace to have one of the best seasons for a pass rusher at age 22 in the last 35 seasons, with a reasonable shot at the top spot. Truth be told, Garrett still has quite a bit of room to grow as a player in terms of technique and experience as his body fully develops, and  he will need to continue to take those steps if his goal is to ascend to the level of the great pass rushers in recent memory. But to say that he’s underperformed or is behind schedule at this point in his career is misguided at best. Even the great Reggie White didn’t start to reach the peak of his abilities until he was 25 years old with the Philadelphia Eagles.

So for those out there that feel they haven’t seen enough out of Myles Garrett to this point, my advice to you is to be patient and keep your expectations in check as you watch him mature into his prime. Enjoy watching someone who is on his way becoming one of the most dominant pass rushers in this league- And be grateful that he’ll be doing it while wearing Orange and Brown.