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Ledyard’s 2017 NFL Draft Positional Rankings | Edge Defender

Bowl of terror: Texas A&M Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett (#15) battles with Arkansas Razorbacks left tackle Dan Skipper (#70) during the Southwest Classic college football game between the Arkansas and Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Texas A&M won the game 45-24. (Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire)
Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire

1. Myles Garrett, Edge Defender, Texas A&M

Inside the War Room: The term ‘generational prospect’ gets thrown around a lot, and I don’t think we can take it as literally as it sounds, but it’s aptly used to describe Garrett nonetheless. It’s pretty rare to see a pass rusher with his length and build also play with that much leverage and bend snap-to-snap.

An athletic freak, Garrett can win inside or out and run through you on a bull rush as easily as he can bend the edge. He’s still raw in terms of stringing moves together and learning to read a tackle’s set and counter in a timely fashion, but if he’s as dedicated to his craft as people say, the sky is the limit for Garrett.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Athleticism/Bend

Best Fit: 4-3 DE

Round Grade: First

2. Solomon Thomas, Edge Defender, Stanford

Inside the War Room: Thomas is a tough projection because Stanford chose to utilize him as an interior defensive lineman, where double teams ate him alive at times in the run game. Exceptionally mentally sharp and physically overpowering, Thomas was at his best when allowed to one gap and attack, using that explosive get-off to be a consistently disruptive force.

He saw a lot of double teams and rarely got reps off the edge, but Thomas’ heavy hands, short area athleticism and ridiculous motor typically got the job done when he was left one-on-one. He’ll see more of those opportunities on the edge in the NFL, but Thomas will need to develop an array of moves and a plan of attack outside, as well as potentially dropping some weight. That shouldn’t be an issue because of how maxed out his frame is already, and Thomas can still kick inside in sub-packages on long and late downs to give teams with a couple good edge rushers a strong interior attacker as well.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Hand usage/Power

Best Fit: 4-3 DE (Versatile)

Round Grade: First

3. Carl Lawson, Edge Defender, Auburn

Inside the War Room: Lawson proved at the combine that he’s got more than enough athleticism to make his style of play work, especially when you consider that he’s further ahead mentally and developmentally than any other pass rusher in the draft. He uses his feet and hands to adeptly set up tackles, with jab-steps and hand swats to keep his opponent off balance.

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 29: Auburn Tigers defensive lineman Carl Lawson (55) during the football game between Auburn and Ole Miss on October 29, 2016, at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, MS. Auburn would defeat Ole Miss 40-29. (Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire).

(Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire).

Not having elite bend is a tough asset to compensate for, but Lawson uses a variety of moves to soften the edge and give himself space to shoulder dip and flatten to the passer. He’s not rangy against the run, but physically dominant in his gap and very aware of his assignments. Lawson is going to be grossly underdrafted next weekend, but if his medicals are good, someone is going to get a high-energy, violent young pass rusher to add to their unit.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Hand usage/Rush plan

Best Fit: 4-3 DE/3-4 Sam LB

Round Grade: First

4. Derek Rivers, Edge Defender, Youngstown State

Inside the War Room: Rivers is a highly athletic edge rusher with some of the most refined technique and mental processing against the run that this class offers. He’s still coming into his own as a pass rusher, but when he’s allowed to fire off the ball in Bo Pelini’s defense, look out. Legit burst and a bendy frame are his calling cards, but Rivers has shown the ability to bull rush and win with power just as easily.

He was excellent against Football Bowl Subdivision schools and Senior Bowl competition, blew away the combine, and comes off as one of the more high character prospects in the draft. He needs a little more dog in him at times, but Rivers’ potential is through the roof, and he’s got the ability to be an impact starter right away. He’ll probably come off the board anywhere from the late second to mid-third round, but he’s a first-round prospect if teams put aside their Football Championship Subdivision bias and scout the traits, production and positional refinement.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Leverage/Bend

Best Fit: 4-3 DE/3-4 Sam LB

Round Grade: First

5. Derek Barnett, Edge Defender, Tennessee

Inside the War Room: If Barnett were more explosive, he’d be even higher on this list, as I’m in awe of his flexibility and dip around the edge for such a burly frame. He plays with his hair on fire constantly, but Barnett really only has one move as a pure cornering threat with enough hand usage and bend to consistently give himself a softer edge.

If he’s not more explosive off the snap, however, I worry about how often Barnett can win with his style of play unless he develops a counter move or starts converting speed-to-power like his frame would belie. He’s a plus run defender with good technique and awareness, especially for one of the youngest players in the draft.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Bend/Flexibility

Best Fit: 4-3 DE

Round Grade: Early second

6. Charles Harris, Edge Defender, Missouri

Inside the War Room: He is a twitched-up edge who needs significant development as a run defender. Harris gets widened out of his run fit too easily and really struggles to get off blocks. All the tools and the strength are there, he’s just got to get better technically at holding the point of attack. As a pass rusher, he’s got two major assets in his favor: explosiveness up the arc and a nasty inside spin move.

FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2016, file photo, Missouri defensive end Charles Harris celebrates during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia, in Columbia, Mo. Florida wants to know exactly where Missouri defensive end Charles Harris is before every snap when the teams meet on Saturday. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Harris flashes speed-to-power, but right now his bread and butter is that outside-inside unpredictability that he can win speed-counter games with right away in the NFL. His athletic profile at the combine needs to be ignored if you have him this high, which is easier to do since he improved on his numbers at his pro day. I’m banking on the tape and his development by having him this high.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Burst

Best Fit: 4-3 DE

Round Grade: Early second

7. Tim Williams, Edge Defender, Alabama

Inside the War Room: I don’t understand Williams’ combine at all. He’s a highly energetic player on tape, but his testing and lack of muscle development did not indicate a player ready for the big stage at all. Combine his poor showing in Indianapolis with the reports of multiple failed drug tests, struggles to pick up Alabama’s defense and an extremely limited overall snap count in college, especially against the run, and you have a prospect whose stock is in free-fall right now.

Williams tape is impressive despite the concerns, with the explosive first step and quick feet to create a two-way go for himself as a pass rusher. He could be higher on this list if his tape was the only consideration, but there are a lot of layers to his evaluation that has me worried about drafting him with a high-value pick.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Burst/Explosiveness

Best Fit: 3-4 Jack LB

Round Grade: Mid-second

8. T.J. Watt, Edge Defender, Wisconsin

Inside the War Room: I’m actually not a big fan of Watt’s tape at all, but his combine testing, added weight and general work ethic have me excited about his athletic ceiling. He’s a good run defender who will benefit from the bulk he added after the season, as Watt’s hand placement, range and explosiveness should help him be an early contributor in a rotation at the very least.

Where he needs substantial work is as a pass rusher, as Watt doesn’t show ideal flexibility and bend around the corner, and will often play too high and expose his frame to punches early. His hands flashed the more I watched him, with rips, push-pulls and clubs, but Watt is still very much a work in progress with stringing moves together and establishing a rush plan. I feel wary putting him this high given his rawness, but when you consider his combine, size, work ethic and the fact that he’s only spent two years (one as a starter) playing on the edge, it becomes very difficult to bet against him.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Hand Usage/Motor

Best Fit: 3-4 Sam LB

Round Grade: Mid-second

9. Takkarist McKinley, Edge Defender, UCLA

Inside the War Room: McKinley is crazy explosive off the ball and maintains that quickness up the arc, but he’s really stiff-hipped and his high pad level will give him all sorts of issues in the NFL if he can’t play with better knee bend. He’s an absolute warrior on the field, capable of playing through pain and battling every snap at 100 mph.

OCTOBER 22: UCLA (98) Takkarist McKinley (DL) celebrates after making a sack during an NCAA football game between the Utah Utes and the UCLA Bruins on October 22, 2016, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)

But the concerns about McKinley being too linear were confirmed at the combine, and he isn’t currently able to turn his speed rushes into a fluid counter move, or convert his burst into much power because of his inability to stay leveraged. McKinley will continue to develop his hands and secondary moves as a pass rusher, but the athletic ceiling we initially thought was there isn’t quite as impressive.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Burst/Explosiveness

Best Fit: 3-4 Jack LB/4-3 DE

Round Grade: Mid-late second

10. Taco Charlton, Edge Defender, Michigan

Inside the War Room: His first step is good, but he doesn’t really carry that burst up the arc, as Charlton’s long strides eat up ground slowly rather than really threatening the tackle’s edge. He’ll flash a couple times a game, typically with some hip flexibility or an inside spin, but even those staple moves are inconsistently employed successfully.

There are no overwhelming traits with Charlton to really hang your hat on, but he’s a good all-around player who needs to be more physical and aggressive snap-to-snap. He’ll start in the NFL rather quickly, despite the fact that his ceiling isn’t anything to get particularly excited about.

Favorite Trait/Skill: Flexibility

Best Fit: 4-3 DE

Round Grade: Mid-late second

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