Increased pressure on opposing QBs would fill major need
1. MYLES GARRETT
Texas A&M, 6-5, 270 Garrett is widely considered to be the best overall player in this draft and should receive heavy consideration by the Cleveland Browns for the No. 1 overall pick. Garrett left Texas A&M after his junior year, but was highly accomplished in his three years in College Station: 31 sacks, 47 tackles for a loss and seven forced fumbles. He’s already got the size that NFL evaluators love and he should be able to start right away as an edge rusher in either a 4-3 (with his hand in the ground) or a 3-4 (standup linebacker) immediately. But what might be most attractive to NFL teams with a Top 5 pick is how polished Garrett already is as a rusher. He has multiple pass rush moves in his arsenal, which is rare for a player coming out of college.
2. SOLOMON THOMAS
Stanford, 6-3, 273 The criticism of Thomas, the PAC-12’s defensive player of the year in 2016, heading into the draft is that at 273 pounds, he doesn’t fit the ideal profile of an edge rusher or an interior lineman. But judging Thomas strictly on his stature would be a mistake, as he might be one of the most versatile defensive players in this class. If teams value effort, raw strength and the ability to play all three downs and at multiple positions, Thomas will wind up as a first-round pick. Thomas had 12 sacks and 24 1⁄2 tackles for a loss over the past two seasons at Stanford, and in his last game with the Cardinal (the Sun Bowl vs. North Carolina), Thomas racked up seven tackles and a sack.
3. DEREK BARNETT
Tennessee, 6-3, 265 If college production was the most important factor in scouting a player’s readiness for the NFL, Barnett would have a good case for being the best pass rusher in this draft. In three years at Tennessee, playing against SEC competition, Barnett racked up 32 sacks, including 13 last year. He also had 52 tackles for a loss, showing his effectiveness as a run defender as well. Barnett’s strength is the way he uses his hands, which is a skill many players lack when they enter the NFL, and he has the athleticism to be a three-down player as a rookie in the NFL.
4. CHARLES HARRIS
Missouri, 6-3, 255 Harris is the latest defensive lineman to come out of a Missouri program that routinely produces productive NFL pass rushers. Harris had 16 sacks over the past two seasons and already has a polished spin move that should translate from the SEC to the NFL. Harris has the body of an outside linebacker but never played that position at Mizzou, so during the draft process he will need to show teams that he can rush the quarterback from a stand-up position, as well as hold up against the run.
5. TAKKARIST MCKINLEY
UCLA, 6-2, 265 McKinley enters the draft after a huge junior year at UCLA, when he recorded 10 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss through a combination of effort plays and exception- al athleticism. McKinley had surgery on his shoulder following the combine and that will keep him sidelined until the start of training camp. If McKinley heals according to the 4-5 month timetable, he’ll be able to begin working again by August, and he’ll need it as he must add more polished pass rush moves to become an effective pro player.
6. TIM WILLIAMS
Alabama, 6-4, 252 Williams has prototypical size for an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense and a productive career as a pass rush specialist at Alabama, with 18 1⁄2 sacks over the past two seasons. The biggest question about Williams as he enters the draft – especially for teams considering selecting him with a high pick – is if he can be a three-down player, or if he can only contribute in substitution packages. There is no doubt about Williams’ skill as a pass rusher, but he needs to prove he can function as an all-around linebacker, in stopping the run and in pass coverage. Williams will also have to answer questions in the draft process about his offfield behavior, including an arrest last year on a misdemeanor gun charge.
7. DEMARCUS WALKER
Florida State, 6-4, 280 Walker’s 16 sacks in 2016 were second-most in college football (BCS) last year and now needs to show he can continue that sort of production against bigger and stronger offensive tackles in the NFL. At 280 pounds, Walker projects as a prototypical 4-3 defensive end, and it would be a bonus for the team that drafts him if he can also provide some interior pass rush in sub packages.
8. TACO CHARLTON
Michigan, 6-6, 272 Charlton is one of the most physically intriguing pass rushers in this draft, with an uncommon height-speed combination. Now Charlton must prove to NFL teams that he can consistently play like he did in 2016, which was his breakout season at Michigan. He had 9 1⁄2 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss, impressive stats against Big 10 competition, but he was too often criticized for being inconsistent early in his career.
9. CARL LAWSON
Auburn, 6-2, 260 Lawson finally proved in 2016 he could stay healthy (after suffering a torn ACL in 2014 and a hip flexor injury in 2015), and a solid final season at Auburn has him on the verge of the first round. He had nine sacks and showed he was still strong and fast, despite his earlier leg injuries. Still, Lawson will likely endure plenty of medical tests at the combine as teams want to make sure they aren’t drafting a player with durability concerns.
10. T.J. WATT
Wisconsin, 6-5, 243 Watt, the younger brother of Texans’ star defensive lineman J.J. Watt, doesn’t have quite the physical stature of his older brother, but he’s entering the draft coming off a solid, 11 1⁄2 sack final year at Wisconsin. NFL teams might be intrigued by Watt’s bloodline, especially when they see similar that Watt has the same sort of relentless motor that has made J.J. Watt one of the best players in the NFL. The youngest Watt may have to bulk up in the NFL and will need to prove that he can develop a larger array of pass rush moves to succeed when sheer effort isn’t enough.
UW linebacker T.J. Watt is the younger brother of Texans star J.J. Watt.