In­creased pres­sure on op­pos­ing QBs would fill ma­jor need


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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