2017 NFL Draft Big Board: Here are your top-10 edge prospects

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With the 2017 NFL Draft only a few months away, it’s time to continue our position-by-position look at the upcoming draft class. Today, we’ll take a look at another very deep position in the class – the edge rushers.

Grading philosophy

Rankings are subject to change based on player workout numbers and injury updates this spring, but for these early rankings, I go solely off of the film grade.

When evaluating players, I use an 11-trait system with certain traits weighted more than others depending on the position. The scoring adds up to 100 possible points. I also watch a minimum of four games per-player before assigning a player grade.

Position overview

Whether they play 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, an edge rusher’s primary role is to generate pressure. And while certain players are more effective rushing from a two-point stance or with their hand down in the dirt, the basic traits of athleticism, off-snap explosion, and length hold true for success on the edge regardless of the defensive scheme.

The 2017 draft class of edge rushers is full of long, athletic defenders with an acumen for getting after quarterbacks. The Green Bay Packers could certainly target at least one in the early rounds this spring.

Headlining the position is the draft’s top overall player, Myles Garrett. The Texas A&M product holds the highest film grade of any player I’ve evaluated so far, but this should come as no surprise to any following the draft.

Garrett is a special talent with incredible athleticism and speed around the edge, especially for a defensive end measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. While effective in a 4-3 front, Garrett can also excel at the next level as a standup rush backer in a 3-4 scheme.

After Garrett, Tim Williams and Carl Lawson are top-20 talents and fit well as 3-4 outside linebackers, but they both come with red flags and could fall in the draft because of it. Williams has several off-field concerns to answer for, including repeated failed drug tests.

Lawson ascended as a very well respected player at Auburn his senior year, but he has suffered several major injuries and it’s not clear at this point if there’s long-term damage.

College defensive ends Solomon Thomas, Derek Barnett, and Taco Charlton could all also go in the first round. However, even though they’re probably athletic enough to play upright as 3-4 outside linebackers, they’re best suited as 4-3 defensive ends in the NFL.

Takkarist McKinley and Charles Harris are likely second-round guys that could sneak into the end of the first round with good workout numbers this spring. They both have the build and athletic traits to excel as 3-4 outside linebackers.

Even after naming all of this talent, there are still several other intriguing Day 2 edge rushers that translate well to outside linebacker, like Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel, Ryan Anderson out of Alabama, and Ohio’s Tarrell Basham.

And yet, we’re still just scratching the surface when it comes to what the 2017 edge rusher class has to offer. More names will emerge in the coming months as more people dive into the film of this position group.

The following is the breakdown of my top-ten film grades for the 2017 edge rusher class.

Most Underrated Edge Rusher: Vince Biegel

Most Difficult Edge Rusher to Project: Demarcus Walker

Edge Rusher that needs Further Evaluation: Tanoh Kpassagnon

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Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) is tackled by Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) and defensive back Tony Brown (2, bottom) during the third quarter in the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Edge Defender Rankings: Top-10 Grades

1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (6-5, 270) — Film Grade: 92.5

Quick Take: Three standout seasons at Texas A&M with good pass rush production doesn’t even quite do Garrett’s game justice. You have to watch Garrett’s tape to fully appreciate how he impacts games.

While he may not always show up in the box score every week, he is certainly a true difference maker on the field. Against Alabama this past season, he repeatedly beat his man, got in the backfield, and was disruptive at the line of scrimmage.

Even when Garrett doesn’t make the play, he redirects runs or flushes the quarterback out of the pocket, while taking on double and triple teams. Garrett is strong, lengthy, and explosive off the edge. He moves smoothly in space, and he possesses tremendous closing speed.

He also shows an array of pass rush moves, winning on the edge with speed, power, and strong hand technique. He should get drafted in the first few picks.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (9/10)  2. Play Speed (4.5/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (9/10)  5. Impact (10/10)  6. Run Defense (9/10)  7. Pass Rush (15/15)  8. Hands/Length (10/10)  9. Explosiveness (10/10)  10. Coverage (3/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) in action against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Tim Williams (56) in action against the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 CFP National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

2. Tim Williams, Alabama (6-4, 252) — Film Grade: *84.5

Quick Take: It’s unfortunate there are some character concerns with Williams because his film is very impressive. While Williams played a limited number of snaps at Alabama and was primarily a third-down pass rusher, the athletic former Alabama linebacker still held up better against the run than people give him credit for.

Adding weight over the past season has helped Williams improve his functional strength. Regardless of his ability against the run, if Williams gets selected early in the draft it will be because of his ability to wreak havoc behind the line of scrimmage.

He explodes out of his stance at the snap and also possesses an incredibly quick first step to get around his man and close in on the quarterback. Williams also shows loose hips to bend around the edge and dip under the tackle’s shoulder pads.

The Alabama product is an ideal fit at 3-4 outside linebacker.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (10/10)  2. Play Speed (5/5)  3. Mental Processing (3/5)  4. Play Strength (7/10)  5. Impact (9/10)  6. Run Defense (7/10)  7. Pass Rush (13.5/15)  8. Hands/Length (8/10)  9. Explosiveness (10/10)  10. Coverage (3/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

3. Solomon Thomas, Stanford (6-3, 275) — Film Grade: 84.0

Quick Take: Thomas may be the most versatile edge player in the draft class.

While he did play defensive end in Stanford’s 3-4 front and line up as an interior rusher on third downs, Thomas has the athleticism to play from a two-point stance as a rush backer. He can also line up as a traditional 4-3 defensive end.

In the Packers scheme, Thomas would fit well in their “elephant” position, but it’s unlikely he’ll last to the end of the first round.

Thomas has a strong punch off the line, has the strength to hold the point of attack, and he uses his hands well to disengage from blockers. He may also be the top run defender on the edge.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (8/10)  2. Play Speed (3.5/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (10/10)  5. Impact (9/10)  6. Run Defense (10/10)  7. Pass Rush (12/15)  8. Hands/Length (9/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (2/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (7/10)
Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur (14) during the fourth quarter at Jordan Hare Stadium. Auburn won 23-16. Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

4. Carl Lawson, Auburn (6-2, 253) — Film Grade: *83.0

Quick Take: Lawson is an effective pass rusher. He led Auburn last year in sacks (9) and tackles for loss (15.5) in 2016, but he also finished amongst the CFB leaders in quarterback hurries with 24. The 6-foot-2, 253-pound defensive end packs a lot of explosive power out of his stance.

He’s not an elite athlete that will bend the edge, but he does possess an array of pass rush moves, including a powerful rip move and an effective bull rush.

Lawson can convert speed to power, but he also has a nice counter inside move that can take advantage of tackles who overset to the outside.

The Auburn product is a very disruptive player, but his limited lateral movement and extensive injury history could hurt his draft stock.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (7/10)  2. Play Speed (4/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (8/10)  5. Impact (9/10)  6. Run Defense (9/10)  7. Pass Rush (13/15)  8. Hands/Length (8/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (3/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) rushes past Northwestern Wildcats offensive lineman Eric Olson (76) during the first half in the 2016 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Volunteers defensive end Derek Barnett (9) rushes past Northwestern Wildcats offensive lineman Eric Olson (76) during the first half in the 2016 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

5. Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6-3, 265) — Film Grade: 82.0

Quick Take: Barnett’s college production is eye-popping. As a three-year starter, he set a school record in sacks with 33, while also recording 52 tackles for loss and 31 quarterback hurries.

Barnett is a flat-out playmaker on the edge, and this should hold considerable weight in draft war rooms this spring. However, as a next-level prospect, Barnett doesn’t hit the entire checklist as an edge player.

He’s an average athlete with some limitations in space. He’s not a guy teams will want dropping in coverage. His lateral movement and change of direction ability are a bit labored, and this could minimize his impact at the next level.

He does possess some straight-line explosiveness, and he uses his length and hands well to disengage from blocks to get free and create pressure. Teams running a 3-4 scheme may not value him as high because he’s best rushing from a three-point stance.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (7/10)  2. Play Speed (3.5/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (8/10)  5. Impact (10/10)  6. Run Defense (8/10)  7. Pass Rush (13.5/15)  8. Hands/Length (9/10)  9. Explosiveness (8/10)  10. Coverage (2/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)


Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes on Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman RJ Hollis (74) at Michigan Stadium. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes on Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman RJ Hollis (74) at Michigan Stadium. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

6. Taco Charlton, Michigan (6-6, 272) — Film Grade: 81.5

Quick Take: Charlton is one of the better athletes at the position, and he also has the length and size NFL teams desire on the edge. However, the one major issue with his game seems to be inconsistency.

Charlton can be a very streaky player and disappear for long stretches at a time. He also needs to show more discipline against the run.

Having said this, Charlton possesses everything a team wants in a pass rusher. He has a quick firs step. He bends well around the edge, getting low and flattening his body around the corner. He also plays with tremendous leverage for a player with his length.

He can convert speed to power and get his hands up under the tackles shoulder pads to knock him back on his heels.

If Charlton could just show more consistency and polish his game, he could be a very good edge player in the NFL.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (9/10)  2. Play Speed (4/5)  3. Mental Processing (3.5/5)  4. Play Strength (8/10)  5. Impact (8/10)  6. Run Defense (7/10)  7. Pass Rush (14/15)  8. Hands/Length (9/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (2/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (8/10)

UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) brings down Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley (98) brings down Arizona Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate (14) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

7. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA (6-2, 265) — Film Grade: 81.5

Quick Take: Very few people were talking about McKinley as a legitimate pro prospect entering the 2016 season.

However, the Bruins outside linebacker splashed on the scene his senior year, recording 10 sacks, 18 tackles for loss, and six pass breakups.

On tape, he shows excellent movement skills in space, even holding his own when dropping in coverage or turning to chase down a ball carrier outside the tackle box. He also has good speed off the edge and quick footwork to set up his man with counter moves.

Despite a lot of ability, McKinley’s game still has room to improve. He could serve to get stronger in order to hold a better edge against the run and develop an effective bull rush at the next level.

He’s an ideal fit at outside linebacker for a 3-4 team.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (9/10)  2. Play Speed (4/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (7/10)  5. Impact (9/10)  6. Run Defense (7/10)  7. Pass Rush (12/15)  8. Hands/Length (8/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (3.5/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

8. Charles Harris, Missouri (6-3, 260) — Film Grade: 81.0

Quick Take: Harris has become a bit of a forgotten man in this deep edge rusher class. However, it would be a mistake to overlook the former Missouri defensive end. He’s athletic, explosive, and quick off the snap.

Combine this with his non-stop motor, and he has the potential of being a true impact player at the next level. Notching 16 sacks and 20 hurries in the past two years as a starter, Harris has proven he can be the leading playmaker on a defense.

He can rush from a two-point stance, put his hand in the dirt, or line up as a three-tech on passing downs. Harris is a versatile weapon on defense that still needs to make strides as a run defender.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (8/10)  2. Play Speed (4/5)  3. Mental Processing (3/5)  4. Play Strength (8/10)  5. Impact (9/10)  6. Run Defense (7/10)  7. Pass Rush (13/15)  8. Hands/Length (8/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (2/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (10/10)
Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel (47) rushes the quarterback during the fourth quarter against the Troy Trojans at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel (47) rushes the quarterback during the fourth quarter against the Troy Trojans at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin won 28-3. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

9. Vince Biegel, Wisconsin (6-3, 242) — Film Grade: 79.0

Quick Take: T.J. Watt may grab more headlines because of his last name and breakout 2016 season, but it’s Biegel who’s the better pro prospect.

He’s been the Badgers top defensive player for the past three seasons. He’s a quick-twitch athlete with good first step quickness and change of direction ability.

Biegel is a natural 3-4 outside linebacker who can drop in coverage, play in space, and rush the passer from a variety of spots in the front seven.

While many may show concern over Biegel’s lack of sack production (4) this past season, this would overlook his ability to create constant pressure off the edge and impact the game.

According to Pro Football Focus, Biegel finished second amongst all FBS outside linebackers in total pressures with 51 last season.

Granted, it would serve Biegel well to add weight and get stronger going into the next level, but regardless, the Wisconsin product is a player with a high ceiling and well worth a Day 2 pick in the draft.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (9/10)  2. Play Speed (4/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (6/10)  5. Impact (7/10)  6. Run Defense (8/10)  7. Pass Rush (12/15)  8. Hands/Length (7/10)  9. Explosiveness (9/10)  10. Coverage (4/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) during the game against the Michigan State Spartans in the 2015 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Ryan Anderson (22) during the game against the Michigan State Spartans in the 2015 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

10. Ryan Anderson, Alabama (6-2, 258) — Film Grade: 78.5

Quick Take: Anderson is a player we could see slip on draft boards as April nears. The Senior Bowl reaffirmed some concerns seen on film.

While possessing good straight-line speed, Anderson is only an average athlete who could be a liability in coverage if asked to drop in space.

Anderson does set a strong edge, and with a similar build to Nick Perry, he’s a stout run defender.

The former Alabama outside linebacker does possess enough pass rush ability to compete for a starting spot in the NFL, but he’s not the explosive athlete needed to be a true impact player.

He’s more of a downhill athlete, and this could limit him to a situational pass rusher role in a 4-3 front or early-down player in a 3-4.

Anderson would be a great pick late on Day 2 of the draft.

Traits: 1. Athletic Ability (7/10)  2. Play Speed (3.5/5)  3. Mental Processing (4/5)  4. Play Strength (9/10)  5. Impact (8/10)  6. Run Defense (9/10)  7. Pass Rush (12/15)  8. Hands/Length (7/10)  9. Explosiveness (8/10)  10. Coverage (2/5)  11. Motor/Pursuit (9/10)

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt (42) during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt (42) during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Rest

11. Dewuane Smoot, Illinois (6-3, 255) — Film Grade: 78.0
12. Tarrell Basham, Ohio (6-4, 259) — Film Grade: 77.5
13. Jordan Willis, Kansas State (6-4, 255) — Film Grade: 77.0
14. Derek Rivers, Youngstown (6-4, 250) — Film Grade: 76.0
15. Carroll Phillips, Illinois (6-3, 237) — Film Grade: 76.0
16. T.J. Watt, Wisconsin (6-5, 243) — Film Grade: 75.5
17. Demarcus Walker, Florida State (6-4, 280) — Film Grade: 75.0
18. Devonte Fields, Louisville (6-4, 242) — Film Grade: 75.0
19. Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M (6-5, 265) — Film Grade:  74.0
20. Josh Carraway, TCU (6-3, 241) — Film Grade: 73.5

Edge Rushers to still evaluate: Joe Mathis (Washington), Trey Hendrickson (Louisiana Tech), Darius English (Georgia), Keionta Davis (TN-Chattanooga), Tyus Bowser (Houston), Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova), Deatrich Wise (Arkansas), Bryan Cox (Florida)

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Next Position Evaluation: Wide Receiver

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