Red Zone

Rating the top edge rushers in the NFL Draft with an eye on Chiefs’ needs

Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett.
Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett. The Associated Press

Included in measurables are height, weight, age they turn this year (if available) and 40-yard-dash time. Grades and rankings are based on film study (at least six games worth, whenever possible) and proprietary reporting. Quotes are harvested from conference calls, individual interviews and television broadcasts. Grades are intended to convey a general sense of the draftee’s value, and where he might be selected.

1. MYLES GARRETT, Texas A&M

Measurables: 6-4, 272, 21, 4.64

Bio: Three-year starter who had 33 tackles (15 for loss), 8  1/2 sacks and 10 hurries in 11 games in 2016. Also had zero interceptions and one pass breakup. Declared after true junior season in which he missed a game with a high ankle sprain.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Ideal body type for an NFL edge rusher, with excellent bulk and ridiculous length (35  1/4 -inch arms). Killed it at the Combine, posting top marks at his position in the 40, bench press (33 reps), vertical jump (41 inches) and broad jump (128 inches). Battled injuries almost all season in 2016 and played through it. Outstanding burst off the snap allows him to convert speed-to-power and punish offensive tackles. Shows flashes of an effective swim move. Quick and powerful rushing inside on stunts. Has the power to hold up on doubles. Shows impressive bend to turn the corner when pass rushing. Scheme-versatile; could be destructive in a 3-4 or 4-3. Athletic enough to hold up in space. Has to be accounted for at all times due to his rare physical traits. Rarely looks bad when he’s healthy and his motor is running hot. “When healthy, he’s easy to do on tape,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “He’s 6-5, 262 pounds. He’s got outside edge ability, he’s got ability to come up and underneath, he can set a physical edge in the run game. But most importantly, he can affect quarterbacks. That’s what this league is about.” Would shock many if he wasn’t the No. 1 overall pick. “I’d have to pick myself off the floor, first of all,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “Then my thought would be that (Cleveland) made a big mistake.”

Weaknesses: Relies on his immense natural gifts too much to get sacks. Not a natural technician; needs to continue to develop his hand usage, pass-rush repertoire and feel for when to use those moves. Not a tempo setter; doesn’t chase hard in pursuit and doesn’t play hard all the time, though some of that might have been affected by his heavy workload. Needs to play with more of an edge. Run defense is a question. “I thought he got better vs. the run this year,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “You can find a handful of plays where defensive linemen, especially playing 100 snaps a game against spread offenses, where you’re not chasing from one side of the field to the other. People are starting to lump him in with Jadeveon Clowney in terms of the effort; I didn’t see that. I thought he gave a lot more consistent effort. I thought he played stronger vs. the run.”

Grade: 7.5

Games I watched before I grading him: Auburn 2016, South Carolina 2016, Alabama 2016, Louisiana State 2016

2. SOLOMON THOMAS, Stanford

Measurables: 6-3, 273, 21, 4.69

Bio: Two-year starter who had 62 tackles (15 for loss), eight sacks and seven hurries in 13 games in 2016. Also had zero interceptions and zero pass breakups. Declared after redshirt sophomore season.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Crushed it at the Combine, posting top marks at his position in the bench press (30 reps), broad jump (126 inches), three-cone drill (6.95 seconds) and 20-yard shuttle (4.28 seconds). Has long arms (33 inches). Gets off the ball with supreme quickness; consistently wins after the snap and pops offensive linemen with his power and strong hands. Does a nice job locking out and quickly locating the ball vs the run. Quick knifing inside on stunts. Played some three-tech. Has spin, swim and rip moves. Ideal fit is as a 4-3 or 3-4 end who can occasionally reduce down to a pass-rushing three-tech. Is at his best when shooting gaps. “Kid can play outside on run down, inside on pass downs,” Mayock said. “I think what jumps off tape is his interior twitch. By that I mean when you look at a guy like Aaron Donald and what he does inside in sub-pass rush situations, that’s a best-case scenario. I’m not saying he’s Aaron Donald. He’s 12 pounds lighter than Donald. I think he’s a base defensive end on first down that kicks inside in your sub-packages. But it’s that interior twitch and ability to push the pocket from the inside out that makes him special. And I think he’s a top-10 pick all day long because of that.”

Weaknesses: Can get moved and turned on the double. Gets to improve his stoutness on down blocks. Needs to keep working on his hands and power moves; his rush can stall out when offensive linemen can withstand the initial surge and he ends up on the ground. “I think he’ll continue to get better with his hands,” McShay said. “Talked to some people who think he needs to improve his take-on skills. I thought he was OK, I thought he was solid-to-good, not great. But what he can do in terms of disruption inside and outside, those are some of the reasons Solomon Thomas has emerged as a top-five pick. That North Carolina bowl game was something else. I don’t know if I saw an individual dominate a game on the defensive side as much as he did this year.” Needs to do a better job getting his hands up for pass deflections.

Grade: 7.4

Games I watched before I grading him: UCLA 2016, Washington 2016, North Carolina 2016

3. DEREK BARNETT, Tennessee

Measurables: 6-3, 259, 20, 4.88

Bio: Three-year starter who had 56 tackles (19 for loss), 13 sacks and 16 hurries in 13 games in 2016. Also had one interception and five pass breakups. Finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award, which is awarded to the nation’s best defensive end. Declared after true junior season.

Strengths: Is young for a prospect. Was among his position’s top testers in the three-cone drill (6.96 seconds). Very productive; broke Reggie White’s all-time career sack record. Shows the ability to get off the ball and consistently bend around the corner. Has an innate feel for rushing the passer; has a speed rush, a rip, a spin and even a little s. Strong hand fighter who knows what he’s doing. Has some experience dropping into coverage. “He’s not as twitchy, not as sudden of an athlete as Charles Harris from Missouri, and he’s not quite as straight-line explosive or powerful as a Takk McKinley from UCLA,” McShay said. “But he’s really smooth and athletic, and just from watching him on the handful of drops and watching him change directions, I think he’s capable of playing 3-4 outside linebacker as much as he is playing defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.”

Weaknesses: Needs to do a better job consistently setting the edge with physicality. Not explosive or twitchy and labors in space. “He does not have elite get off, does not have elite burst, that explosiveness that you’d like to have in an edge rusher,” Jeremiah said. “Some teams are more beholden to those numbers. Some teams aren’t as high on him. Where I have him personally, I think I have him as my 13th overall player. I love him.”

Grade: 7.0

Games I watched before I grading him: Florida 2016, Texas A&M 2016, Alabama 2016

4. CHARLES HARRIS, Missouri

Measurables: 6-3, 253, 22, 4.82

Bio: Two-year starter who had 61 tackles (12 for loss), eight sacks and 10 hurries in 12 games in 2016. Also had zero interceptions and two pass breakups. Declared after redshirt junior season. Lincoln Prep graduate.

Strengths: Looks good on the hoof. Has good get off and some jolt in his hands. Is quick knifing in on stunts. Plays with power and doesn’t get shoved around. Has swim, spin and rip moves and a natural feel for when to break them out. Plays hard; has an edge and gets after it. Scouts think he’s scheme versatile. “Pass rusher, fits either scheme — one of the better ones in the draft,” one scout said. “They didn’t play to his strengths but it didn’t hurt him. He played hard. He was gonna be identified by the offense regardless of scheme.” Mayock expects him to be a first-round pick. “Charles Harris has picked up some steam,” Mayock said. “I would expect him to be gone before (No. 28) … he’s got an awful lot of talent, and he gets in that three-point stance and he goes. He’s a long guy, plays hard. Got a great work ethic. He’s really good off the field, high-character guy.”

Weaknesses: Didn’t test great at the Combine and that could cause him to go a tad lower than he should. Fits the physical profile of a 3-4 edge rusher but didn’t spend a ton of time in a two-point stance. Did some dropping in coverage and can probably be functional in that area for a 3-4 team but it’s not his thing. Shows much juice rushing out of a three-point stance.

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before I grading him: West Virginia 2016, Louisiana State 2016, Tennessee 2016

5. TAKKARIST McKINLEY, UCLA

Measurables: 6-2, 250, 21, 4.59

Bio: Two-year starter who had 61 tackles (18 for loss), 10 sacks and three hurries in 11 games in 2016. Also had zero interceptions and six pass breakups. Junior college transfer.

Strengths: Was among the top testers at his position in the 40 at the Combine. Outstanding length (34  3/4 -inch arms) to lock out on offensive tackles and shed. Shows nice get off out of a three-point stance. Has some power in his hands and can jolt linemen. Has an effective rip move around the edge. Aware and knows where the ball is. Rarely gets pushed back when defending the run and shows the ability to set the edge. Does a nice job getting his hands in the air to deflect passes away. Generally gives good effort. “I thought he could be like Robert Mathis — that’s who I compare him to,” Kiper said.

Weaknesses: Is straight-linish and a bit stiff when getting upfield out of a two-point stance; isn’t a great bender and might be more effective getting after the quarterback as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. Initial get off is only slightly above average out of a two-point. Has some injury issues; is coming off shoulder surgery and had a couple of concussions in his career. Needs to continue to develop his pass-rush repertoire. Needs to do a better job disengaging and against the run. Could miss training camp as he recovers from shoulder surgery, which affects his grade a tad (would be a 7.0 if it were not for that). “There are some medical issues around him — he doesn’t bend as well as Harris,” Mayock said. “He’s a little stiffer, but he’s really an explosive, straight line player.”

Grade: 6.9

Games I watched before I grading him: Stanford 2016, Utah 2016, Colorado 2016

OTHERS TO WATCH

Tyus Bowser, Houston; Taco Charlton, Michigan; Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova; T.J. Watt, Wisconsin; Jordan Willis, Kansas State

GRADING SCALE

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: picks 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second round

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth-round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

5.9: Non-prospect

2017 NFL DRAFT PREVIEW: EDGE RUSHERS

What the analysts say: “The pass-rusher class is deep at the top and middle round,” NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks said. “I think you can find guys that can be perennial 10-sack-plus artists. Guys in the second- and third-tier that have outstanding skill (and) may not have the athleticism or size that you like, but they have the ability to get to the quarterback.”

Chiefs’ need at this position: Medium-to-high. Yes, Justin Houston is still a stud, and he isn’t going anywhere. And yes, Dee Ford is coming off a 10-sack season. And yes, Tamba Hali wants to play four more years. But the reality is, the Chiefs, who could be cash-strapped again in 2018, can create $7 million in cap space by releasing Hali after this season, leaving only Houston (who has had knee issues the last few years) and Ford (who will be a free agent next March if the Chiefs don’t pick up his fifth-year option) as premium talents at the position. And while some remain high on 2016 sixth-round Dadi Nicolas, he’s coming off a torn patellar tendon. So if the Chiefs wanted to stay ahead of the curve at one of the game’s most important positions, they’ll take a swing at an edge rusher, possibly as early as the first round.

QB: With no consensus on draft’s top QB, Chiefs could have plenty to choose from | rankings

RB: Chiefs could draft big-play threat from loaded crop of running backs | rankings

FB: Chiefs try Lindenwood’s Connor Harris at fullback during local pro day | rankings

WR: Curtis Samuel showed he can be more than a receiver at Ohio State | rankings

TE: Mizzou’s Sean Culkin eager to prove he can do more in the pros | rankings

OL: Pro day performance caps fun two days for Missouri Western’s Travis Anderson | rankings, to come

DL: Former Park Hill star Ondre Pipkins hoping for NFL shot | rankings

EDGE: K-State’s Jordan Willis has worked his way into first-round discussion | rankings

ILB: K-State linebacker Elijah Lee is betting on himself in NFL Draft | rankings

CB: Confident, deep crop of rookie corners should be enticing for Chiefs | rankings

S: Pitt State’s Deron Washington carries on NFL dream for family | rankings

The Terez A. Paylor All-Juice Team: 2017 | 2016 | 2015

Terez A. Paylor’s mock drafts: 4.0 | 3.0 | 2.0 | 1.0

Terez A. Paylor, tpaylor@kcstar.com

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