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Cleveland Browns

Evaluating first two preseason performances of Myles Garrett

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) rushes against New York Giants tight end Rhett Ellison (85) in the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
(AP Photo/David Richard)

It should come as no surprise that Myles Garrett was my No. 1 overall player in the 2018 draft class, but I still approached his evaluation with some nuance. While Garrett had elite tools and exceptional ability, his hand usage and pass rush variety still left something to be desired.

I obviously entered my evaluation of his preseason performances looking to see how he’d developed his weakness and strengthened his best traits, and was thrilled to see that Garrett appears ahead of the curve in his growth as an edge rusher.

His mental processing to find the best rush lane to the quarterback and exploit it is light years beyond where most rookies are. Here he catches Ereck Flowers on the 45-degree set and immediately hits an inside rip move to run a direct path to the pocket for a pressure.

From a wide alignment, Garrett did the same thing against the Saints, identifying the tackle oversetting and working inside of him with a power move to record the quarterback hit.

The ability to process an opponent’s sets and adjust your rushes on the fly is an ability shown by elite pass rushers in the prime of their careers. Not many can do it right away as rookies, yet Garrett has improvised and adapted consistently to his opponent during the Browns first two preseason games. The speed of the game is not overwhelming at all for him; if anything, he’s elevating the pace his opponents need to play at to stop him.

Garrett doesn’t just rely on inside moves, however. He still shows off his patented speed/bend rushes that were so often successful for him in college. His first step is just otherworldly, often working his way up the arc before the opposing tackle can even reach the landmarks in his set. Garrett’s flexibility to bend tight corners at the top of the arc is truly eye-popping, running a strong rip move around the edge to clear hands. He forces a hold on arguably both of the reps below.

In college, Garrett was very reliant on the bull rush, which is surprisingly successful for him despite his 6-foot-5 frame. Garrett is able to play with such exceptional bend and pad level that he often wins the leverage battle right away at the point of engagement. But Garrett struggled to create space with proper arm extension at Texas A&M, often rushing body-to-body which inhibited his ability to get off a bull rush and finish. While I didn’t see him get home on a bull rush yet, I noticed his arm extension was vastly improved as he walked Flowers back several yards on one play.

While pass rush is the most important thing Garrett can provide Cleveland this season, he’s also dominating vs. the run. Garrett was often used as a gap shooter in college due to his burst, power to fight through slivers and disruptiveness. The Browns have asked him to work in a similar fashion, which he did successfully several times against the Giants on Monday night. Note how he keeps his inside arm active to leverage the gap and rip through tight end Rhett Ellison on his way to the backfield. The running back is forced to bounce and the result is an easy tackle for loss by the scraping linebacker.

For a rookie, I have no real complaints from Garrett’s tape so far. He’s rushed with variety, a clear plan of attack and consistently adapted to his opponent’s tendencies while also be nearly unblockable as a run defender. At this point, Garrett is already ahead of where I thought he would be during his first season, and while it may just be preseason, he appears poised to be a force despite his rookie status.

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