After concentrating on the top prospects at each position in the Top 10 series, and having updated the Top 100 Draft Board, we continue with taking each position in turn and giving the complete RealSport rankings at each, which will be combined into the final big board. You can find all position rankings so far here.
One of many strong defensive groups this year, there’s talent at the top and depth later on among the edge defender class, with 36 being given a draftable grade and 10 as priority free agents, out of 100 prospects at the position scouted, graded and ranked.
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M – 1st Round
6ft 4, 272 lbs. Junior. 2016: 33 tackles, 15 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 10 QBHs, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 1 KB.
Garrett is widely viewed as the top overall prospect and potential number one overall pick, and with good reason. The film in 2016 may not always have been fitting of a number one overall prospect, as a lingering ankle injury limited his effectiveness, but he still flashed his elite skill set. He has all the traits of a potentially great edge defender at the next level, and has proven production to back that up.
He’s built for the pros with length, speed and power and has been dominant right from his freshman season for the Aggies, totalling 32.5 sacks over his three seasons. The fact that he improved his impact in his 2015 sophomore season from his first year, despite all the extra attention, game-planning and regular double-team focus, speaks to his disruptive abilities to still dominate.
His outstanding reactions and lightning-fast first step immediately jump off the film, much as he does out of his stance with great anticipation and timing to gain the early advantage. That in no way diminishes as he drives into opposing linemen, with impressive lower body power and impact in his hands to enforce that initial speed and enough core strength directly onto offensive tackles to dominate on contact, part of what makes him so effective when dared left to defend one-on-one.
Garrett can win in a variety of ways and regularly switches up his method of attack to keep O-linemen tense, tight and unbalanced as a game progresses. One of his best sees him deliver a violent arm attack into the tackle’s side and rip through immediately with great success. Alternatively, he excels at dipping low, fluidly turning the corner and angling himself for the shortest route to the QB. His awareness in the backfield is instinctive and effective, often disrupting play design by attacking the mesh point between quarterback and running back superbly. On the occasions when he’s not going to reach his target, or when eating up double teams, he uses his long frame with timed leaps to bat down passes at the line.
Overall, Garrett is dependably solid as a run defender, including putting up over 50 tackles in each of his two fully-healthy seasons. He has a tendency though to get too focused on the pass rush and abandon his position on run plays, exposing his side of the defensive line. His success in setting the edge and holding his run assignments can be somewhat inconsistent. The motor for the most part is very good, and the fact he continued to play through his injury issues this season is highly commendable, but there are times when he’ll take some plays off, though not so much to make it a significant concern. While not a perfect prospect, Garrett is a worthy no.1 overall contender, and should make an immediate impact in the NFL.
2. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA – 1st Round
6ft 2, 250 lbs. Senior. 2016: 61 tackles, 18 TFLs, 10 sacks, 3 QBHs, 6 PBUs, 3 FFs.
McKinley only had one year of significant production, but the fact that he improved all three years after his JUCO transfer to the Bruins is encouraging for his continued development. A large part of the appeal is that McKinley is an excellent athlete and a former track star with elite level speed, especially at his build. He may not be the tallest, but has long arms to give him the required reach to be effective, and has experience working from both 2-point and 3-point stances.
As of right now, he’s more-or-less a speed rusher only. Given his impressive explosion out of his stance and acceleration, that frequently does the trick. However, if that does not work, he can be silenced. Once a tackle establishes contact, McKinley is usually shut down there and then. He doesn’t regularly play up to a high first round standard but it’s important to look beyond that and see the upside. If he can learn and take coaching, develop more rush moves and counter moves, his ceiling rises up significantly.
The explosiveness off the snap, the punch at the point of attack, the high motor and impressive pursuit in the run game, that’s all there. Though short, he plays with impressive leverage. Currently, there’s a lack of ability during the post-engagement phase of the rush, not showing a lot in terms of countermoves to force himself off blocks. As a result, he certainly doesn’t cope with double teams any better either, and needs to improve on his currently basic repertoire.
The power he delivers with his strong hands is encouraging, as is a decent rip move that needs some work but finds some success, and will throw in the occasional spin as well. The motor and constant pressure can wear down an OT’s resolve. Of course, the speed rushes themselves certainly gets plenty of results without the aid of other subtleties, and will remain his staple.
3. Derek Barnett, Tennessee – 1st Round
6ft 3, 259 lbs. Junior. 2016: 56 tackles, 19 TFLs, 13 sacks, 16 QBHs, 5 PBUs, 1 INT, 2 FFs.
Physical traits such as length and level of explosiveness, along with how translatable his production in college is and overall upside, are all potential factors in limiting Barnett’s ceiling and grade. There’s no doubt that his exceptional level of consistent production and a number of very likeable traits that led to those totals very much warrant a first round selection.
Barnett has put together outstanding three-year production against top competition. After a big impact his freshman year, Barnett continued to make plays despite facing constant double teams and focus. While lacking ideal length for the position, he is broad and powerfully built with natural strength. While not featuring elite explosion, is as technically polished an edge defender as your likely to see coming out of college, while playing with intelligence and awareness.
Though not the biggest, uses impressive leverage to his advantage, along with powerful, heavy hands and well-developed, well-executed rush moves. Delivers a powerful punch on contact before dipping and turning the corner around offensive tackles and always finishes when in position, hitting quarterbacks hard but fair. His fight in the trenches really stands out, and helps him to force through gaps on interior rushes quite noticeably. Even if he doesn’t challenge the league lead in sacks, he will produce and has always impressed with his disciplined and effective run defense.
4. Charles Harris, Missouri – 1st Round
6ft 3, 253 lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2016: 61 tackles, 12 TFLs, 9 sacks, 10 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 2 FFs.
After contributing as part of the rotation as a redshirt freshmen, Harris had a true breakout season in 2015 that included 18.5 tackles for loss, and chose to declare for the draft a year early after backing that up with a second strong season in 2016.
Though playing much of his time from a three-point stance at defensive end, Harris will very likely stand up off the edge for much of the time as a pro. His game is based largely on his speed and motor, with fast reactions off the snap, and impressive ability to adjust mid-rush to catch offensive tackles off-guard. He wins regularly with his initial explosiveness, which when combined with a flexible rip and bend round the corner can quickly end plays before they start. Inside moves and spins give him change-up options. Once into the backfield with an eye on the ball carrier, he rarely fails to finish.
Notable from his 2015 film, was questionable power at the point of attack and overall core strength. While still not a big part of his game, his 2016 film showed improvement physically on contact. That has resulted in improvement in his run game, even if he’s not going to be bull-rushing many opposing linemen into the backfield by any stretch. Given that he’ll be standing up much more in the NFL, there’s a lot of encouragement to take from the flashes that he has shown dropping back into coverage and working in space, looking quite natural in such situations already. He is an impressive all-round athlete, and looks fluid moving back and laterally, while excelling in pursuit.
The relentless energy, non-stop motor and hustle often generate extra plays made that others don’t. Overall, Harris has a non-stop motor, is a big playmaker, creates frequent pressure and makes himself difficult to keep quiet.
5. Taco Charlton, Michigan – 1st Round
6ft 6, 277 lbs. Senior. 2016: 42 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 10 sacks, 8 QBHs, 2 PBUs.
Much of Charlton’s career was spent failing to put tangible success to the obvious physical traits, but it finally all clicked for his senior year. With natural athleticism that has been described as off-the-charts for his size, his style is based around physicality and pressure, often using his length and brute force to power through. The combination of length, strength and aggression generates wins and proves tough to keep in check for the full course of a game. He directly attacks the chest of opposing tackles on initial contact and proceeds to bruise and bash his way through gaps and double teams.
While he doesn’t explode out of his stance, he should not be under-estimated in terms of his quick feet, and will throw in the occasional spin move inside effectively, a move that caught out fellow potential first rounder Ryan Ramczyk a couple times in Michigan’s Big Ten matchup with Wisconsin. This is a player who is built for the NFL game, knows what his best assets are and how to make the most of them.
The biggest negative in Charlton’s game currently is consistency in run defense. It’s slightly strange to say, given that he was part of one of the most outstanding run defending units in all of college football last season, but the film does show a tendency to crash inside on poor reads, leaving his edge of the line to be exploited as a result. The anticipation and recognition of such plays are raw, and contributes towards the reminder that as good as his 2016 season was, it was his first of serious success after greatly under-achieving to that point. Will his brief progress stall or even regress at the next level? It’s difficult to be sure or confident, adding a certain element of risk to his draft selection. There’s no questioning his foundation traits though, that give him the opportunity to be a great pro.
6. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin rJr – 1st-2nd Round
6ft 4, 252 lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2016: 63 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, 13 QBHs, 4 PBUs, 1 INT (for TD), 2 FFs.
It took a while to really get a look at what Watt could do. A redshirt year initially, then a lost season due to injury, and minimal contributions in 2015 in his first season playing. This past year therefore became the breakout for an exciting playmaker with excellent size. It’s slightly frustrating that someone with his limited experience chose to skip his senior season to go pro, but it’s understandable given he’ll surely go fairly high regardless. What was encouraging though, was how Watt improved over the course of the year, for example looking much more polished and sharp in his rushes late in the season than in some of his performances early on in the year.
Watt backs up a long reach and good build by being high-energy and physical in his play. He fights to get off blocks, flies around the field in pursuit, and works hard to fight through congestion, all of which results in a very active game that sees his presence around the ball more often than not. His eyes and brain are processing constantly and his mental game looks like it will be a big positive.
Watt tries to use his hands as much as possible to work past blockers, which makes sense as he’s not the most explosive relative to others in this class. There’s much room for improvement, but is developing a nice swipe and rip combo, and also uses his long arms well to deflect when stunting inside. There’s a lot of positives in his work while engaged, able to work off blocks after contact. While his high motor and hustle are factors in his success, he also shows good patience to set up his rushes at other times.
Though he had a versatile impact for Wisconsin that included much work in space and dropping back, he might be fairly limited in those areas as a pro. Though capable, he is not overly fluid in his backward and lateral transitions, and generally appears a bit stiff in his movements in space. While of course every draft pick is to some extent, Watt feels like he is still developing his game more than most, but the signs are good. And while avoiding it until this final sentence, there’s no denying that the bloodlines, and the fact that he shows similar intangibles, are certainly encouraging.
7. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State – 2nd Round
6ft 4, 280 lbs. Senior. 2016: 68 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 16 sacks, 4 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 3 FFs, 1 KB.
On an overall young defense, Walker was the veteran leader. The versatile defensive lineman and pass rusher has always been a good run defender, but really made great strides as a pass rusher in 2015, significantly upping his backfield impact, while continuing to pile up tackles against the run. He backed that up with a huge senior season with a particularly strong finish to the year after the team as a whole struggled a bit early on.
Walker is strongly built, and makes up for any question marks (best fit on the line, does his production translate?) with his outstanding tenacity, aggression and power. He is physical in driving into blockers and punishes ball carriers when wrapping up. His athletic traits are solid for his size, notable in various areas of his game. He closes well in pursuit when chasing to the sidelines, but is also quick off the snap on his rushes and immediately into the face and chest of O-linemen. The fast reactions are followed by heavy hands, and has a wicked swim move that he goes to early and often, all within a motor that becomes a nightmare when running fully (admittedly, not always the case).
Versatility is a feature of Walker’s game, lining up on both the right and left-hand sides of the line, as well as regularly shifting inside on obvious passing third downs to great effect. He can line up in a variety of ways in both 3-man and 4-man fronts. While the production numbers suggest it regardless, Walker clearly has a knack for coming up with big plays at key moments in games, with many of his plays in the backfield on crucial 3rd down attempts, and will force fumbles or jump on loose balls created by others. He is instinctive, aware and a battler. He may not hit every ideal measurable but is an impact playmaker.
8. Tarell Basham, Ohio – 2nd-3rd Round
6ft 4, 269 lbs. Senior. 2016: 49 tackles, 15 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, 12 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 1 FF.
He may not have played under the brighter spotlight of a Power Five team, but the Ohio Bobcat is a former freshman All-American and boasts 29 career sacks that includes a career high in 2016 to finish out strong. Basham looks the part of an NFL pass rusher and backs it up with the physical traits and then some. Basham is an impressive athlete with quick reactions, explosion out of his stance, immediately imposing himself onto his blocker. Tough to handle snap to snap, he has impressive hand use, rips and pulls effectively but then can combine it with force and flexibility to turn the corner and find the shortest path to the quarterback.
Fire and aggression are clearly evident in the intense style of play that backs up the athleticism. His ability to combine and transition between speed and power is fantastic in knocking tackles off-balance. Technically, Basham is well co-ordinated between lower and upper body, and regularly uses a lightning-fast swim move to enhance his rush attempts. He impresses with his ability to counter and disengage that often leads to his bigger impact plays.
While he has played in the MAC rather than a conference with a higher competition level, he saw some good matchups at times, including a talented pair of Western Michigan tackles, and Troy’s Antonio Garcia, and proving just as successful. More significantly still, Basham really boosted his draft stock by standing out as one of the best-looking pass rushers in attendance at the recent Senior Bowl event.
While he looked fantastic going forward, Basham looked out of his depth in drills dropping back into coverage, and so while his athleticism gives potential for that role, he has a long way to go. He also shows a tendency to throw his shoulder with inconsistent success when tackling in the open field. Regardless, Basham is a talent in seeking the quarterback, a high character and great leader that could go as high as the second round.
9. Carl Lawson, Auburn – 3rd Round
6ft 2, 261 lbs. Redshirt Junior. 2016: 30 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 9 sacks, 24 QBHs, 1 FF.
Lawson has been a “potential” guy for much of his time in Auburn, and that’s still the tag he carries as he looks toward his upcoming pro career. Part of the issue has been an extensive injury history that will factor into his grading, with medical/durability flags by his name. After missing all of 2014 with a torn ACL, he was only able to take part in seven games the following year due to a troublesome hip problem. A healthy 2016 finally allowed Lawson to put some legitimate production and consistent impact onto the film for scouts. Nine sacks were a good total, but it’s the huge number of additional pressures that tells the story of how often he found his way into the backfield.
For most prospects, that pressure is a huge positive, and it mostly is for Lawson too, but comes with a slight asterisk as well. One of the questions around the former Tiger is being able to finish when in position. Those QB hurries resulted in some disrupted plays and failed throws, but there are also too many missed opportunities where the pass rusher is unable to wrap up. It’s one thing to look the part past the tackle, but he can be easy to shake off, leaving a convenient exposed running lane to take off into for a big gain rather than a potential loss. Lawson’s small stature is not an issue in terms of dealing with long offensive tackles – he gave Laremy Tunsil fits back in 2015 – but it’s when it comes to bringing down ball carriers that the concern may lie.
More specific to the run game directly, Lawson is a liability, at best not contributing much, at worst being highly exploitable to target his edge, and as of right now, feels like a situational pass rusher that may not be able to stay on the field throughout a drive. There is of course, huge value in that ability alone, and Lawson’s level of explosion, first step, and reactions gives O-linemen so many issues. He has plenty deficiencies and concerns over staying healthy, but could prove a bargain if he can finish more regularly in the backfield.
10. Tyus Bowser, Houston – 3rd Round
6ft 3, 247 lbs. Senior. 2016: 47 tackles, 12 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, 9 QBHs, 3 PBUs, 1 FF.
A prospect with plenty upward momentum since the end of the college football season, Bowser has superb athletic traits that put him in the elite category for the position and explosive off the edge from a 2-point stance. With a great first step and flexible around the edge, Bowser takes sharp corners past the O-line, quickly taking the shortest route to the quarterback or hand-off mesh point. While he has put up solid numbers the past couple seasons, he still feels on film as if he’s under-produced to some degree for a player of his abilities.
A potential argument for why that is, is that Bowser is still relatively new to the game, and is still learning and developing. That creates optimism of a very high upside in the long run, but also a little risk. He took a while to fully commit to the game of football, and as a result, was likely asked questions during his interviews this pre-draft process about his dedication to football, and hopefully was able to satisfy on that one. Another question to deal with is a red flag moment that saw him missing a little time this past season after getting into a fight with teammate Matthew Adams, leading to a fractured cheekbone.
Versatility and ability to neutralize matchup issues boost Bowser’s value. He is very capable of dropping back into space and zones with an easy, fluid backpedal, and equally smooth moving laterally, all of which gives him the range to be a factor on multiple levels and facets of the game. Though capable of running with receivers with the quickness to handle as required, he’ll still be looked at as a favorable matchup for opposing quarterbacks, and isn’t overly natural in staying in phase and mirroring in coverage. Place him in a zone assignment and allow him to close and jump routes though and he can be a bigger factor versus the pass. There’s a somewhat raw overall game and some character queries, but Bowser is the kind of athlete that his team will find a role for.
11. Jordan Willis, Kansas State – 3rd Round
6ft 4, 255 lbs. Senior. 2016: 52 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, 4 QBHs, 3 PBUs, 3 FFs.
A relatively under-the-radar prospect during the 2016 season itself, Willis has checked off every box over the build up to the draft, in particular with a sensational Combine workout that placed him among the most explosive and quickest players at his position. Among his marks were a 4.53 dash time and leaping 39” in the vertical jump.
The important factor of course though, is that it translates well to the field of play, more so than just the impressive statistical totals. Willis has good initial reactions and accelerates out of his stance. He gets his wins through an effective combination of quickness, converting to strength on contact, along with good hand use and overall technique. This is a pass rusher who understands how to turn the corner, with the bend to execute, all backed up by a likeable motor that keeps going throughout the game.
His well-developed rush moves should see him transition quickly to the next level and contribute early. The fast-action swim move stands out, but counters well after contact, and also shows ability to work a little bit inside and force his way through the tackle-guard gap. Often, his pressure comes as a result of combination moves back-to-back that catches blockers off-guard. Willis’ contributions to the run game have been modest in the past, but showed improvement as a senior, keeping his eyes up and aware, and enough patience when setting the edge; no doubt though that there is work to be done and develop in that area. The 3-year starter has enough fans that he could go earlier than many expect.
12. Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova – 3rd Round
6ft 7, 289 lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2016: 45 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 11 sacks, 1 PBU, 4 FFs.
There’s no question who wins the best-looking football body award among this position group, and perhaps the entire draft class. With outstanding length and overall size, Kpassagnon is all muscle. The elite physical traits are completed by the athleticism to back up the frame. The small-school prospect is inconsistent on film, but flashes the desired abilities to rush the passer, put up the production at the lower level, and looked the part at both the Senior Bowl and the Combine.
As of right now, Kpassagnon is certainly very raw, lacking in well-developed rush moves to give him an additional edge beyond just his length, with a very basic skill set currently and a favoritism of a simple bull rush to over-power lesser talented offensive lineman. While the length is a fantastic natural advantage, his punch on contact is inconsistent and doesn’t make full use of his reach. Likewise, consistency in his pad level is a significant factor in the difference between his good plays and poor plays.
With some added weight onto a frame that can take it, there’s plenty to work with and develop if he can improve his footwork and leverage that should lead to more consistency from play to play. While their frames are not fully comparable, a name that came to mind when watching Kpassagnon was Vikings’ 2015 third round pick Danielle Hunter (6ft 5, 252 lbs at the time), as a basic, under-developed pass rusher with length and physical traits to work with. Under the right coach, Kpassagnon could also become a good value pick down the line.
13. Ryan Anderson, Alabama – 3rd Round
6ft 2, 253 lbs. Redshirt Senior. 2016: 61 tackles, 19 TFLs, 9 sacks, 10 QBHs, 3 PBUs, 1 INT (for TD), 4 FFs.
Entering the season, the talented senior was over-shadowed by his higher profile teammates in the front seven, including Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams. However, Anderson was impressive himself during his fairly limited snaps during the 2015 season (around 15-20 snaps a game) and finished strongly, including a standout performance while shutting down Michigan State in the playoffs. He brought that forward into his senior year, with increased playing time, and was one of the bigger impact playmakers against both the run and pass, as part of the best defense in the country. He may have been a career backup for much of his time with the Tide, but with his talent would have started earlier anywhere else.
A very good athlete, Anderson has the skill set and speed to fill a variety of roles and a versatile piece to move around formations at the next level. That includes when dropping into space on occasions, even if a little unnatural in that area, and even shakes up his rush attempts by lining up at middle linebacker before blitzing late. Much of his best work though is moving forward off the edge, where his speed and relentless motor regularly brings results.
While his high-energy style sees him stay active from snap to whistle, there is inconsistency in terms of his post-engagement rush phases, sometimes able to fight his way to work off the block, but plenty other times getting stuck on a single blocker. His effort, drive and low pad level can see him drive well in the physical aspects of the pass rush, but his overall strength isn’t a great plus in his game. He’s tough to keep quiet for long though, and Anderson finishes when in position as well as anyone in this class; rarely does an opportunity to make a tackle or sack slip through his grasp. He will have to address an off-field red flag, with an arrest back in 2014 in a dispute that involved some property damage.
14. Tim Williams, Alabama – 3rd Round
6ft 3, 244 lbs. Senior. 2016: 31 tackles, 16 TFLs, 9 sacks, 12 QBHs, 2 PBUs, 2 FFs, 1 FR for TD.
As a pure pass rusher, Williams is superior to many of those listed higher. The key issues here are character and red flags. Williams has had multiple issues including suspensions during his time with the Tide, but also reportedly has significant drug issues with multiple failed tests, that might result in a slide similar to that of Randy Gregory a couple years ago, and could at least keep him out of the first round. We’ll see how that unfolds. On the field, Williams has certainly made a big impact as a situational pass rusher, generally seeing relatively limited snaps. Given the fewer attempts, the numbers he has put up the past two years reflects a better efficiency than most in this class.
Williams tends to win through his exceptional explosion and acceleration off the snap that regularly has offensive tackles beat before they fully emerge from their stance and unable to recover. He can unleash a wicked inside spin move that is as devastating an individual move as anyone in this talented group can call upon. His rate of success is boosted by his effort level every snap he receives. Though the lower body explosion is his forte, Williams has quickness in his hands as well, and will really drive into the chest on opponents with some aggressive force.
That said, something quite notable in Williams’ game as a pass rusher, is that while he has the speed and acceleration, he is rather stiff and upright, lacking the flexibility to dip and bend around tackles that often forces him to take the long route round. That limited ability to bend could impact his ability to replicate his success at the next level. Several of the more technically proficient linemen faced were able to ease Williams away and behind the play.
Another important note, this time more positively, is that for all his exploits as a situational pass rusher, he doesn’t get enough credit for his solid play in run defense, where that good motor again comes into play, and generally makes the tackle when in position; there’s potential there. His character questions are going to have a big say in where and when he ultimately is drafted though.
15. Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M – 3rd-4th Round
6ft 5, 266 lbs. Senior. 2016: 50 tackles, 13 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 12 QBHs, 1 PBU, 2 FFs.
The Aggies “other” edge defender is a quality prospect in his own right. Despite opening up the 2015 season with a 4-sack performance against Arizona State, he tailed off a little bit after that, with only 7.5 more in the nearly two seasons since. He creates much more pressure though than those modest numbers reflect. Hall’s first step and initial get-off are far from being described as explosive, but wins through his excellent length, including his 35” arms, some good hand use to work after engaging and a consistent motor. He has been gradually adding weight onto a frame that can continue to take more, that should help him back up his reach with some additional power behind those hands.
Where Hall’s game has seen plenty of improvement over the past couple seasons is in the run game, with his 104 tackles combined over 2015 and 2016 reflecting that. There’s a discipline about his edge setting approach along with good eyes and recognition to position well, while using his long arms to wrap up and finish. His effort and hustle in pursuit sees him add tackles out to the sideline and contributes to his respectable tackle for loss numbers. While Hall’s long frame is mostly a plus, his average strength and often poor pad level sees him lose the leverage battle a bit too often. His limitations as a pass rusher might lead to disappointment if he’s taken too early, and is more likely to be a solid starter if fairly low impact.
16. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State – 4th Round
A steady riser up draft boards since the season ended, Rivers’ standout showing at the Senior Bowl is a major reason for the elevated draft stock. The active leader at the FCS level in career sacks at the time, his week in Mobile, Alabama suggested he can translate that production when faced with a higher competition level. A defensive end for the Penguins, he’ll likely spend more of his time standing up as an NFL player. A dynamic pass rusher, Rivers totalled 56.5 TFLs and 37.5 sacks in college. Add in his long frame at around 6ft 4, 250 lbs and his natural athleticism, and there is plenty of upside to like.
He could certainly benefit though from adding a bit more strength and build onto him frame, and has the room to do so. That will help him at the point of attack, and in particular versus the run, where he has been exposed at times. While he reportedly had been working on his run defense over the last year or so, he’s been taken advantage of when collapsing inside, or failing to disengage at the right time that results in running success to his side. There’s also something a bit lackluster and casual about his motor and intensity level, satisfied with jogging behind the action on occasion while not having the most impactful punch as part of his rushes. There’s certainly room to improve, but good potential as well.
17. Dawuane Smoot, Illinois – 4th Round
The optimists will cite Smoot’s 2015 film, easily the best season that the Illini pass rusher put together in college, with a bit of a down year as a senior. A good effort player, there’s plenty to like about the way he approaches the game, but has some limitations in his all-round physical measurables and a fairly low ceiling that might result in a low-end starter at best to a spot-starter or rotational type also possible.
Smoot has a notable athletic past before adding the football weight, and certainly has the flexibility to dip underneath and turn the corner, while also using very active hands, even if not well-defined pass rush moves. More often than not though, he can be contained on a single block, lacking the ability to counter once engaged, and rarely is going to trouble double-team assignments. Though a solid run defender, he can be controlled and moved, while struggling at times to disengage to make the play.
18. Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic – 4th Round
The performer of the East-West Shrine event, during both the practices and the game, Hendrickson built on that with a very good display at the Combine. He has unquestionably helped to make himself money over the last few months. It’s not like he was quiet during his time in college, with 29.5 TFLs and 22.5 sacks over the past couple seasons, but doing so in a lesser conference without much wider coverage. Listed currently at 6ft 4, 266 lbs, he reportedly could play up to 275 lbs if required.
While the athletic testing and Shrine Week exploits are impressive, on film, his first step doesn’t really jump off the page. There’s average length off the edge and isn’t one to fly around the corner very often. What certainly does stand out though is the non-stop motor, along with impressive aggression and punch into contact, and keeps his legs driving to force his way through traffic and into the path of the ball carrier. It’s not going to be his staple by any stretch but there’s the occasional spin move in his repertoire. There’s a very likeable habit of coming up with key plays at key moments, and has developed a knack for blocking kicks on special teams to add to his roster contributions potentially.
19. Carroll Phillips, Illinois – 5th Round
A junior college transfer, he joined the Illini with three seasons of eligibility remaining and improved his impact each of those years, finishing in 2016 with 56 tackles, 20 TFLs and 9 sacks. His 2014 season was cut in half with injury, and he’ll be a 25-year old rookie when he hits the NFL. Phillips played with his hands in the dirt in college, but the 6ft 3, 242 lb pass rusher will be up in a 2-point stance for the pros.
His game is pretty straight forward and based around his impressive athleticism and speed. The quick reactions off the snap often allows him to win early around the outside for quick pressure and sacks. He may have been played slightly out of position on the defensive line, and washed out a bit against the run, but all credit to him for his battling style regardless. Strength and power are certainly deficiencies in his game though, and he’ll have a limited situational role most likely. Still, that level of quickness to disrupt the quarterback is always a desired skill.
20. Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia – 5th Round
There will be teams with which the former Mountaineer may not meet certain cut-off criteria, but the gut feeling is that there’s a real potential gem in Nwachukwu with the right team fit. The 6ft 1 flat height may put off some, but the arms are a reasonable length for his frame and is well built at nearly 270 lbs. He combines that heavy, sturdy build with impressive quickness, both in his reactions and acceleration off the snap, and in his general movement around the open field.
Nwachukwu is also an aggressive, intense defender with a strong punch and high motor as part of his pass rushes, using his hands and arms well in working to keep shut-down contact off him. Post-contact, Nwachukwu keeps working and can occasionally hustle himself into extra tackles made. He’ll break out a reliable swim move on rushes, and likes to get his hands under the pads of offensive lineman to make use of his pad level and leverage advantage. Setting the edge well, coping solidly in shallow zones and out to the sidelines, Nwachukwu may not be a perfect fit for one position but can serve a versatile, rotational role and useful depth option.
21. Vince Biegel, Wisconsin – 5th Round
Numerous injuries, including multiple issues with his foot, have disrupted Biegel’s momentum for the Badgers and raises a little bit of a durability question. When he is on the field though, there’s plenty to like, first and foremost with the off-the-charts intangibles that will appeal greatly to NFL teams. With football bloodlines in his family and an inspirational team captain, Biegel is a natural leader, tough as they get and fully committed to the game of football. He may not have all the desired measurables and skills but it would be risky to bet against him not putting together a solid career for himself.
The 6ft 3, 246 lb defender impressed at his pro day with his fluid, easy movement, including looking better than expected flowing backward and laterally. His quick mental process is a big positive in his game that sees him perform with good discipline and effectiveness against the run to make plays for himself, or force the action into the arms of teammates. Decent quickness, active hands and pure hustle helps him find success in the backfield. The biggest issue in his game though, is the lack of power and strength. His effort will only work out so often and can be controlled comfortably on single blocks. The wrong matchup can leave him unable to impact the game. That said, he’s exactly the character that is looked for in all prospect and should make any roster better for his presence.
22. Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington – 5th-6th Round
One of the most fun prospects to watch on film in this entire draft class, Ebukam is easy to get enthusiastic about. Starting with the measurables, the 6ft 2, 240 lb Eagles put up fantastic numbers at his pro day, including 4.45 speed, solid strength with his 24 reps on the bench, and explosive jumps of 39” in the vertical and 10ft 10 in the broad. One of the biggest areas of appeal is the combination of versatility and playmaking impact. He finished his senior season with 71 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 2 PBUs, 1 interception and 2 forced fumbles.
Able to rush the passer, set the edge, work the sidelines, and as an off-ball linebacker, he can impact the game on multiple levels. Ebukam is absolutely relentless as a pass rusher, so much so that he can get far too out of control and does need to learn to reign it in a little, with too much wasted energy. Still, the explosion and dynamic ability to burst into the backfield is eye-opening when he gets it right and routinely destroys plays before they’ve barely got going. One encouraging aspect is when asked to drop back into coverage, looking very natural, showing vision and instincts to impact the pass game in more ways that just bringing down quarterbacks. Ebukam could end up a bit of a draft steal if he can sharpen up his game and be more efficient.
23. Pita Taumoepenu, Utah – 6th Round
A Tonga native and former rugby player, Taumoepenu has very limited football experience and football knowledge but when simply deployed as a situational pass rusher with the assignment to chase down the quarterback, the results can be devastating. An absolutely deadly speed rusher, Taumoepenu is going to get bullied and shut down on contact for the most part, but put him out there for enough plays and he will find his wins eventually, seemingly inevitably, that led to 41 tackles, 12 TFLs, 9 sacks and 3 forced fumble in 2016.
He's certainly at his best winning early off the snap, turning the corner effortlessly at times, getting low, dipping under blocks and angling towards the ball carrier. Still, even though he currently lacks counter moves when engaged on blocks, his high motor can see Taumoepenu hustling to plays late and has enough natural core strength in his stout 6ft 1, 243 lb frame. He may not have much in the way of run discipline currently but doesn’t lack for effort in pursuit. He’ll see limited snaps in the NFL, at least early, but don’t be surprised if he makes them count.
24. Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh – 6th Round
Size is the first question usually brought up regarding Price’s NFL chances, and given his height of just under 5ft 11 as an edge rusher, that’s understandable. Arguably though, the biggest issue that could keep him on the board until late is the extensive injury history. Price missed all of 2012 while rehabbing a pectoral injury, followed by a season ending back injury midway through 2013, then again missing all of 2014 with another chest muscle injury.
Price has fantastic explosion off the snap and gets many of his wins during those first couple seconds round the corner, frequently leaving offensive tackles trailing, and uses his hands well to deflect attempts to establish contact on him. A real playmaker, he piled up 23 TFLs, 13 sacks and a further 14 QB hurries in 2016. While the burst of speed is superb, there’s a question on whether he actually has ideal flexibility to bend around the corner consistently. He also has a tendency to go quiet in the second half of some games, tiring quickly and lacking a bit in terms of conditioning to last a full game. His snap count will be more limited in the pros though, so that may not be as big an issue.
25. Avery Moss, Youngstown State – 6th Round
Moss’ career got off to a very promising start at Nebraska, where he made a strong impact as a redshirt freshman in 2013 that included 36 tackles, 6.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. However, a subsequent incident involving indecent public exposure led to being banned from campus and having to transfer elsewhere, which ended up being to follow his former head coach Bo Pellini to Youngstown.
His first season with the Ohio school didn’t exactly set the FCS on fire, but this year he performed and produced at an outstanding level while healthy, though having to deal with a troublesome foot injury late on during the season. He finished his senior year with 17.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups, to go with 59 total tackles.
At 6ft 3, 265 lbs, Moss has solid if modest size were he to continue as a down-lineman, but is an impressive athlete with good power behind his aggressive, high-motor style of attack. He impresses as a finisher in closing quickly and almost always wrapping up to complete the play. He should be scheme-diverse and has the physical traits to be productive at the next level. There’s some development to do technically, and character red flags to be answered, but plenty to work with and take a flier on late.
26. Bryan Cox Jr., Florida – 6th Round
A prospect who has seemingly fallen off the radar quite a bit, this is a player who has legitimate qualities for the NFL, but suffered a massive drop in production due to injuries that saw him only able to contribute 19 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, half a sack and a forced fumble in his final year for the Gators. A hip surgery earlier in his career does add to durability concerns.
Cox is an intelligent player that has seen plenty work from both 2-point and 3-point stance, occasional rushes from the interior on 3rd downs, as well as chipping in as a lead full back on offense for a few red zone touchdowns. At 6ft 3, 265 lbs, Cox has a solid build and has good speed off the snap and won’t slow down until after the whistle. Working in space is less of a strength though, and added to his average production as a pass rusher, his upside is probably limited to a late draft pick.
27. Tashawn Bower, LSU – 6th Round
With so much talent on the Tigers defense, and with a limited snap count, Bower has been very under-the-radar but has looked an interesting prospect for a couple years now. With good length at just short of 6ft 5 and 250 lbs, there’s potential to contribute as a pass rusher with a bit of developmental work and added strength in the weight room. His pro day was a slight disappointment, not proving as explosive and athletic as hoped, but there are still traits to work with. He may not fly out of his stance but has more than enough footwork and fluidity in his movement to go with his reach to make plays. With a bit more bulk and power in his frame as he develops, there’s the potential to offer some versatility across alternating fronts and can contribute to any scheme.
Late Round Prospects:
28. Darius English, South Carolina – 6th-7th Round
29. Josh Carraway, TCU – 6th-7th Round
30. Deatrich Wise Jr., Arkansas – 7th Round
31. Keionta Davis, Chattanooga – 7th Round
32. Chris Odom, Arkansas State – 7th Round
33. Garrett Sickels, Penn State – 7th Round
34. Jimmie Gilbert, Colorado – 7th-PFA (Priority Free Agent)
35. Devonte Fields, Louisville – 7th-PFA
36. Dylan Donahue, West Georgia – 7th-PFA
Priority Free Agents:
37. Pat O'Connor, Eastern Michigan
38. Joe Mathis, Washington
39. Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami (Fla.)
40. Karter Schult, Northern Iowa
41. Lewis Neal, LSU
42. JT Jones, Miami (Ohio)
43. Fadol Brown, Ole Miss
44. Ifeadi Odenigbo, Northwestern
45. Hunter Dimick, Utah
46. A.J. Jefferson, Mississippi State
Roster/Practice Squad Potential:
47. Cameron Malveaux, Houston
48. Praise Martin-Oguike, Temple
49. Sae Tautu, Brigham Young
50. Evan Schwan, Penn State
51. Ken Ekanem, Virginia Tech
52. Johnathan Calvin, Mississippi State
53. Jamal Marcus, Akron
54. Alex Barrett, San Diego State
55. Austin Gearing, Miami (Ohio)
56. JaMichael Winston, Arkansas
57. James McFarland, TCU
Outside chance to make a team:
58. Chris Casher, Faulkner
59. Christian Kuntz, Duquesne
60. Caleb Kidder, Montana
61. John Stepec, Toledo
62. Marquavius Lewis, South Carolina
63. Cass Weitl, Northwest Missouri State
64. Corey Vereen, Tennessee
65. Deon Hollins, UCLA
66. Se'Von Pittman, Akron
67. Daniel Awoleke, South Florida
68. Junior Gnonkonde, Troy
69. Gimel President, Illinois
70. Joby Saint Fleur, Northwestern Oklahoma State
71. Evan Panfil, Purdue
72. Kevin Kavalec, Boston College
73. DeVante Wilson, California
74. Gary Thompson, Marshall
75. Terrence Waugh, Kent State
76. Mikey Bart, North Carolina
77. Khari Waithe-Alexander, Southern Illinois
78. Austin Roberts, Oklahoma
79. Will Coleman, Mississippi State
80. Kyle Kelley, San Diego State
81. Jason Hatcher, West Georgia
82. Sydney Omameh, Grand Valley State
83. Brad Ambrosius, North Dakota State
84. Sam McCaskill, Boise State
85. Rashad Dillard, Troy
86. Nehemiah Mitchell, Vanderbilt
87. Torrey Dale, Mississippi State
88. Gabe Sherrod, Michigan State
89. Nick Dawson-Brents, Western Kentucky
90. LaTroy Lewis, Tennessee
91. Edmond Boateng, Arizona State
92. Evan Jones, Michigan State
93. Brandon Hughes, Fresno State
94. Hendrick Ekpe, Minnesota
95. Bryce Cottrell, Texas
96. Terrance Bush, Bowling Green
97. Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea, Hawaii
98. Jeremiah Valoaga, UNLV
99. Kurt Laseak, Ohio
100. Dylan Bradley, Southern Mississippi
Thoughts on the 2017 edge defender class? Discuss in the comments below!