By Joe Civiello (@Joe_Civiello)
The 2017 NFL Draft is one of the most talented defensive drafts in recent memory. The position I am most intrigued with in the draft is the EDGE because the athleticism is off the charts and almost all of them had consistent production. A lot of these players are using the NFL Combine and their respective Pro Days to boost their draft stock. In many cases, a good football player’s stock drops because of the combine. These rankings mainly reflect the player’s tape, measurables, and who I believe will make the biggest impact.
- Myles Garrett
Texas A&M–6’4” 272 lbs.
Arm Length:35 ¼ “ Bench: 33 Reps
Hands:10 ¼ Vert: 41 inches
40 YD: 4.46 Broad Jump: 128 inches
Garrett is the #1 pick in the draft and his production speaks for itself. He earned first-team All-American while fighting through a knee injury his last season at College Station. His athleticism sets him apart from every EDGE rusher in the draft. At his size he can play several positions in many schemes. He’s a dynamic option as a 3-4 OLB because he can rush the passer a variety of ways, but he has the ability to play 4-3 end very effectively. Garrett is ready to make an impact day 1, especially on 3rd downs.
- Derek Barnett
Tennessee–6’3” 260 lbs.
Arm Length: 32 1/8”
40 YD: 4.88
Derek Barnett is an NFL ready 3-4 OLB. He may not be as athletic as Garrett, but watching him grind through the SEC with his production gained a lot of respect from me. He is a relentless worker who never takes a play off. His hand placement and ability to drop in coverage fluidly sets him apart from the pack in my opinion. His attention to detail jumps out more than anything. During his early years playing for the Vols, he seemed almost too conscientious of his job on each play. When he’s feeling comfortable he’s shown incredible burst, but until his feet catch up to his hands he won’t realize his full potential as a pass rusher.
- Solomon Thomas
Stanford–6’3 275 lbs.
Arm Length: 33”
3-Cone: 6.95 secs
40 YD: 4.69
Solomon Thomas is getting mentioned as a potential top 10 pick. I wouldn’t doubt it based on potential because this guy is a freak. People want to know if he’s a 3-4 OLB or a 4-3 End, but I think if he gets bigger he could be a dominant 3-4 DE. Thomas can play all three of those positions well in the NFL due to his athleticism. I was hesitant to put Thomas below Barnett on this list because his feet work so well with his hand movement in his pass rush. 2 things that these top 3 players have in common is the run defense won’t be a problem and they never stop hustling.
- Taco Charlton
Michigan—6’6” 277 lbs.
Arm Length: 34 ¼”
Hand Size: 9 ¾”
Charlton was arguably the best player for Michigan’s defense in 2016, and he improved every year during his college career. He has potential to be one of the best players in this draft. He’s very flexible for his size, which is always a question with EDGE players with his rare athletic traits. There is a question among scouts of consistency with his college production, but his ability to change a game in a variety of ways makes him a first round talent. His ability to rush from a 2-point stance and also rush with a hand in the ground is special. He is still learning to play with his body, but he should improve with the right coaching and situation.
- Takk McKinley
UCLA—6’2” 250 lbs.
Arm Length: 34 ¾”
Hand Size: 9 ¾”
Takkarist McKinley is a phenomenal athlete. It would not be surprising to see him leading all rookies in sacks due to his motor and natural playmaking ability. His extremely long arms make him a huge weapon in the pass rush, although his run support needs work. He is still mastering his hand usage and relies on speed, explosion, motor, and physical gifts to make plays. I think he is 2-3 years away from becoming a solid, every down OLB in a 3-4 scheme. He can impact the game immediately on 3rd down. I give him 1st round talent based on potential, but probably a 2nd round grade from tape.
- Tim Williams
Arm Length: 32 ¾”
Here’s your classic quick-twitch pass rusher. Reminds a lot of people of Vic Beasley because of their similar burst off the line. I see a lot of Bruce Irvin in him. If a team in the first round wants a sack specialist, not many better in this draft. Can make an immediate impact on passing downs. It wouldn’t be smart to draft Williams to be the cornerstone of a defense, he’s more of a luxury pick for an established defense looking to add some heat to their pass rush.
- Dawuane Smoot
Arm Length: 33 ¼ “
When I watched Smoot I fell in love with his play style. He may not have the explosion the guys above him on this list have, but his strength and technique improved considerably each year he played. He can be an effective rusher in the A, B, or C gap and his momentum is great for blitzes and stunts in a 3-4 as an OLB but he’s most comfortable as a 4-3 defensive end. Solid football player that will get better. High floor, low ceiling prospect. mid 2nd round grade but wouldn’t be surprised if he went in late 1st.
- DeMarcus Walker
Florida State–6’4” –280lbs
Arm Length: 33”
Hands: 10 1/2”
Demarcus Walker is a solid football player willing to do the dirty work. He’s incredibly durable and posted ridiculous sack production the last 2 years of his college career. Teams would love to have him as a late second round pick, and ecstatic if he’s available in the 3rd. The reason he dropped for me was his motor, or lack-there-of. If that wasn’t in question he would be a first-round pick. I think his feet and his burst are slow off the snap and that will take an adjustment period for him to fix it. His swim, shock and shed, and rip are dangerous weapons for him along with his lower body strength in pass rush. At 280 lbs, he has potential to be a 3-4 end, 4-3 End, or 3-4 OLB. His interior pass rush seems effortless at times, but Scouts are worried his pass rush will not transition to the NFL from the EDGE. He may be best suited as a 3-4 end when he gets stronger, but I think his athletic ability will allow his defensive coordinator to be creative with him.
- Carl Lawson
Auburn–6’2” 261 lbs.
Arm Length: 31 ½ “ Bench Press: 35 Reps
Hands: 10 3/8 “ 20 Yard Shuttle: 4.19
Lawson is strong as an ox, and it shows on film. Injuries held him back in college (ACL tear, hip) but he put up great production in 2016. Hands, burst, and strength are three things that stand out with Lawson. Comfortable in 2pt or 3pt stance. Run defense is not an issue for him, but needs more effective pass rush at the next level. His injuries and rush production brought his stock down, but he is unbelievable value for a mid to late second round pick. I think if he can stay healthy he’s a great tone-setter for a defense due to his aggressive play style and brute strength (35 reps on bench, sets edge great vs run). His arm length may hold him back from being a 4-3 End.
- TJ Watt
Wisconsin–6’4” 252 lbs.
Hands: 11” Vert:37” 20 YD Shuttle: 4.13
Arm Length: 33” Broad: 128” 60YD Shuttle: 11.20
40YD: 4.69 3 Cone: 6.79 secs
I struggled with #10 because there are a lot of talented EDGE guys deserving, but TJ Watt is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. His measurables are great, his motor is great, and he looks like he’s only going to keep getting better. 2016 was his only year playing full-time and he made significant improvements as the season progressed. He knows he isn’t there yet. Adequate in every aspect as an EDGE, but his best attribute is his hands in pass rush. With more experience and work with his future Hall of Fame brother, JJ Watt, the sky is the limit for TJ. He is drawing comparisons to Clay Matthews, but I think Clay is more explosive. TJ will be a good edge player every down, but it may take a couple years to get used to the speed of the game. I don’t think he had 1st round tape, but his talent and genetics may push him into the 1st.
Next breakdown will be of my biggest sleeper EDGE prospects in the 2017 draft listed below..