We continue our position-by-position preview of the NFL Draft with the outside linebackers.
The Green Bay Packers’ need is obvious, with Julius Peppers and Datone Jones leaving in free agency and Clay Matthews projected to be a man on the move. Green Bay clearly needs to draft one, if not two, from this group. Fortunately, this is a class with tremendous depth.
History might be an important guide. Since the switch to the 3-4 in 2009, Thompson has drafted seven outside linebackers: Matthews, Brad Jones, Ricky Elmore, Nick Perry, Nate Palmer, Carl Bradford and Kyler Fackrell. Six of the seven ran their 20-yard shuttle in 4.37 seconds or faster. The exception was Perry, though he made up for his 4.66 shuttle with size (271 pounds), speed (4.64) and strength (35 reps on the bench). Six completed their three-cone drill in 7.27 seconds or faster, with Fackrell just off of that at 7.34. Even Jones, who was drafted as a defensive end, posted a 4.32 shuttle and 7.32 three-cone.
With that as a backdrop, here are our top 31 prospects. Barring a Perry-like result in some other test, any player slower than 4.45 in the shuttle and 7.40 in the three-cone drill has been eliminated.
Note: Run-stop percentage and tackling efficiency are from ProFootballFocus.com’s Draft Pass. Run-stop percentage measures impact tackles (less than 40 percent of needed yardage on first down, less than 60 percent on second down and short of the line to gain on third and fourth down). Tackling efficiency measures attempts per missed tackle. The rankings used in this story are based on the top 26 prospects, plus five other top players who we eliminated based on testing.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (6-4 1/2, 272; 4.64 40; DNP shuttle; DNP 3-cone): Junior. Despite a high-ankle sprain sidelining him for two games and limiting him in others, Garrett was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2016. Of his 33 tackles, 8.5 were sacks and 15 were behind the line of scrimmage. He added two forced fumbles, 10 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. In our Top 31, Garrett ranked 17th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity and 18th in run-stop percentage but missed only three tackles. In 2014, Garrett had 11.5 sacks to break Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman record. In 2015, Garrett had career highs of 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles. His three-year total? An impressive 32.5 sacks, 48.5 TFLs, seven forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. Garrett had a prodigious Combine, with a 41-inch vertical jump that is the best in this class and 33 reps on the bench, which were beaten only by Auburn’s Carl Lawson. That’s 33 reps with 35 1/4-inch arms. Combine production, size and athleticism and you get the projected No. 1 overall pick.
Solomon Thomas, Stanford (6-2 5/8, 273; 4.69 40; 4.28 shuttle; 6.95 3-cone): Junior. Thomas won the Morris Trophy, which goes to the best lineman in the Pac-12, and was named a second-team All-American. He tallied 62 tackles, including eight sacks and 15 tackles for losses, and added seven hurries and a forced fumble. Thomas was only 21st in pass-rushing productivity but third in run-stop percentage. He missed nine tackles. Thomas had one of the best Combines, with a 35-inch vertical and 30 reps on the bench to add to the numbers above. Athleticism runs in the family. His dad played basketball at Wooster, his mom ran track at Wooster and an uncle ran track at Indiana, where he was a four-time Big Ten hurdles champion. He’s expected to be a top-10 pick.
T.J. Watt, Wisconsin (6-4 1/2, 252; 4.69 40; 4.13 shuttle; 6.79 3-cone): Junior. Watt is brothers with superstar Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Chargers fullback Derek Watt. T.J. and J.J. share a similar story as former walk-ons who started their college careers on offense. T.J. Watt redshirted in 2013 and did not play in 2014 due to a knee injury. He was moved to defense during training camp in 2015 and recorded eight tackles. Watt broke out in a big way in 2016, with 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for losses among his 63 tackles. He forced two fumbles and intercepted one pass to earn second-team All-America. “I’m only scratching the surface. I've only played defense for 18 or 20 months. If I can do all the things I did this last year what can I do when I'm under the tutelage of an NFL coach? Obviously, lack of film, lack of experience are points that's come across. I think it's not a problem with my work ethic and my bloodlines and stuff like that.” He is all upside — and he’s pretty good already. Of our top 31, Watt finished seventh in pass-rush productivity and 12th in run-stop percentage. He missed nine tackles and fattened up his stat line against blockers other than offensive tackles. Watt’s Combine was great. In our group of prospects, Watt ran the fastest shuttle and was fourth with a 37-inch vertical. He’s got hulking 11-inch hands that were the biggest for any defensive player at the Combine. That lack of experience and superb athleticism are why he should be selected late in the first round or early in the second. The Packers love shuttle times so the guess is they love Watt.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6-3, 259; 4.88 40; 4.44 shuttle; 6.96 3-cone): Junior. Barnett spent most of his three years in the opponent’s backfield. His 33 sacks broke Reggie White’s school record of 32, and his 52 tackles for losses were one off Leonard Little’s record. Those figures from a player who faced SEC competition should make him a top-20 pick. He was a first-team All-American in 2016 with 13 sacks and 19 tackles for losses making up the bulk of his 40 tackles. He added 16 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one interception. Barnett was a dominant rusher, ranking fourth in pass-rush productivity, but a disappointing 21st in run-stop percentage. For a 260-pounder, he almost never won with power. He missed six tackles. Barnett was the only player in SEC history to have 10-plus sacks in three consecutive seasons. His Combine work was fine. Not that he cared. “I don’t think combines are really for football. It’s when you put the pads on is when you can really tell how good someone is. Hustling to the football has always been my thing. I just don’t want anybody to outwork me because I feel like even if I make a mistake, if I’m hustling to the ball, I can make up for it.”
Carl Lawson, Auburn (6-1 3/4, 261; 4.67 40; 4.19 shuttle; 7.46 3-cone): Junior. Lawson is one of the most confounding prospects in the draft. He earned some first-team All-America accolades with his nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for losses and 24 hurries. However, he wasn’t even a consensus first-team all-conference selection, since he posted only 30 tackles. Lawson ranked 10th in PFF’s pass-rush productivity. He is a powerful, well-schooled, high-motored rusher with experience as an interior rusher. In fact, one scout called him the best all-around rusher in the draft, winning either with athleticism or technique. But Lawson was a woeful 29th in run-stop percentage. He’s basically a one-hit wonder. He missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. In 2015, he was limited to seven games with a cracked hip and recorded just one sack and three TFLs. Beyond the injury history, Lawson is an interesting case in our projecting 2017 through Thompson’s history. Lawson’s three-cone time was significantly slower than any outside linebacker picked by Thompson and his 31 1/2-inch arms are a concern, too, but his shuttle time was great and his 35 reps on the bench press topped the field. His father, Carl, played fullback at Georgia Tech.
Jordan Willis, Kansas State (6-3 3/4, 255; 4.53 40; 4.28 shuttle; 6.85 3-cone): Willis closed his career with a bang. He earned All-America and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year accolades with a school-record-tying 11.5 sacks. He added 17.5 tackles for losses, 52 tackles, three forced fumbles and four hurries. Despite the outrageous production, Willis ranked only 20th in pass-rushing productivity and 23rd in run-stop percentage, plus missed 10 tackles. Willis started the final 39 games of his career and finished with 26 sacks, 40.5 tackles for losses and seven forced fumbles. Willis tallied 9.5 sacks, 15.5 TFLs and four forced fumbles as a junior. He’s a bit of a straight-line athlete, which at least partially explains the high total of missed tackles. Willis’ 39-inch vertical leap at the Combine was beaten only by Garrett’s 41. Willis wins at the line of scrimmage with an explosive start off the ball and beating the tackle to the corner. With tackles fearing that speed, he turns to an effective bull rush. Most of his pass-rush production came against right tackles, so it will be a big step up in competition in the NFL. He was great rushing the passer at the Senior Bowl but not so much in coverage. This story from his senior year at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City speaks to Willis’ split personality: He’s so quiet that he wasn’t voted team captain; he’s so intelligent and thoughtful that he was voted school council president. K-State offered him a scholarship after his sophomore year — before he played a snap on the varsity.
Derek Rivers, Youngstown State (6-3 5/8, 248; 4.65 40, 4.40 shuttle; 6.94 3-cone): Rivers had career-high figures of 58 tackles, 14 sacks, 19.5 tackles for losses and three fumble recoveries to help the Penguins reach the FCS championship game. PFF only charts games involving FCS schools so Rivers’ numbers are incomplete. In his limited sample size, he ranked eighth in pass-rushing productivity but second in run-stop percentage. Rivers, a three-time first-team all-conference selection and two-time All-American, had four-year totals of 37.5 sacks, 56.5 TFLs and three forced fumbles. While he didn’t put up elite numbers in the agility drills at the Combine, he brings athleticism to the party — especially when getting around the corner. Where Rivers did put up elite numbers was the bench press (30 reps). He has surprising skills if you come with a small-school bias.
Taco Charlton, Michigan (6-6 5/8, 277; 4.92 40; 4.39 shuttle; 7.17 3-cone): After starting four games in his first three years, Charlton was first-team all-Big Ten as a senior with 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and 43 tackles — all career-best numbers — and added eight hurries. He ranked sixth in pass-rush productivity and 13th in run stop percentage, and he missed only four tackles. One scout said there was entirely too much buzz around Charlton. His lack of athleticism could limit his impact as an edge rusher. In four seasons, he notched 19 sacks and 28 TFLs. He’s got a mean spin move. If the Packers decide to keep the elephant role, Charlton almost certainly would be at the top of the board. Charlton’s real name is Vidauntae. If you guessed his favorite food is tacos, you’d be right. But only sort of. His mother and grandmother gave him the nickname. Being a typical little kid, he decided that he didn’t like tacos. Now, he loves them.
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin (6-3 1/4, 246; 4.67 40; 4.30 shuttle; 6.92 3-cone): Despite missing two games with a foot injury that required surgery, Biegel was second-team all-Big Ten as a senior. He logged 44 tackles, including four sacks and six for losses, and added seven quarterback hurries. He was third-team all-conference as a junior (66 tackles, eight sacks, 14 for losses) and second-team as a sophomore (7.5 sacks, 16.5 TFLs, two forced fumbles). Biegel finished ninth in pass-rush productivity but fifth in run-stop percentage. His 11 missed tackles are tied for the most in our Top 31. He’s got a great motor and plays with an edge, and his Combine workout certainly earned him a few bucks. He just might need a year or two to maximize all of those gifts. Biegel is a fifth-general cranberry farmer from Wisconsin Rapids. “I would say that I am a first-round type of player. And any team that doesn’t get me in the first round is getting a steal on me. What I mean about that is by my professionalism, how I go about my business, my work ethic and my upside. I think definitely I’m a first-round talent.”
Tyus Bowser, Houston (6-2 5/8, 247; 4.65 40 4.34 shuttle; 6.75 3-cone): Despite missing five games with a broken orbital bone suffered during a scuffle with a teammate at practice, Bowser was second-team all-AAC with 8.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses among 47 tackles while playing outside linebacker in the Cougars’ 3-4 scheme. He added nine hurries. Bowser finished 14th in pass-rush productivity but tied for fifth in run-stop percentage. He missed only five tackles. Bowser finished his career with 21.5 sacks, 27.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. How good of an athlete is Bowser? Following the 2013 and 2014 football seasons, he played on the basketball team. He might be best in a Clay Matthews-like role where he moves between inside linebacker and edge rusher. Houston used him frequently in coverage, making him one of the few players in this class that have that skill on film. Though he needs to add some power, he’s a potential dual-threat player as a rusher and cover man.
Tarell Basham, Ohio (6-3 3/4, 269; 4.70 40; 4.35 shuttle; 7.27 3-cone): Basham was the program’s first MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Among 49 tackles were 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses. He added 12 hurries and one forced fumble. Basham ranked 11th in pass-rushing productivity but 20th in run-stop percentage. He missed eight tackles. His big-play production dwarfed his junior campaign, when he had 5.5 sacks and 10 TFLs. His 11.5 sacks as a senior and 29.5 sacks for his career set school records. “I’m pretty sure we get doubted some coming from a smaller school, but I never doubted myself which is the most important part.” Basham’s length is an asset (34 1/4 arms) but his lack of strength at the point of attack on Saturdays showed up with his meager total of 15 reps on the bench. However, he explodes off the ball and has sort of a bull-in-a-china-shop approach. There’s a lot of upside.
Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic (6-4, 266; 4.65 40; 4.20 shuttle; 7.03 3-cone): Hendrickson put up big numbers during his final three seasons with 27.5 sacks, 39.5 tackles for losses and eight forced fumbles. All of those are school records. After piling up 13 sacks, 14.5 TFLs and five forced fumbles as a junior, Hendrickson faced more attention as a senior but was named Conference USA’s Defensive MVP with 9.5 sacks, 15 TFLs and one forced fumble. Hendrickson led the charge in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity but was only 23rd in run-stop percentage and missed 10 tackles. He led the nation with four blocked kicks. The Combine times show an explosive player with a strong motor and a thirst for the quarterback. He destroyed offensive tackles and had success rushing inside and outside. He’s got short arms and needs to get stronger if he’s going to be anything more than a third-down rusher.
Jo Jo Mathis, Washington (6-2 1/8, 266; DNP testing due to late-season foot injury): In 34 career games in his first three seasons, Mathis had four sacks and eight tackles for losses. In the seven games before his senior season was cut short by a foot injury that required surgery, he had five sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses. When he played, he was tremendous. Mathis ranked second in pass-rushing productivity and fourth in run-stop percentage. He didn’t miss a tackle, either. However, the one-year wonder history and injury problems are knocks. Mathis wins with physicality and not athleticism. He is a tremendous bull rusher and uses his power to be a consistent winner against the run. The Packers prefer power rushers so he could be a fit. He went from 24 bench-press reps at the Combine to 32 at pro day. Can he stay healthy? Can he improve his quickness? Those questions will define his career.
Deatrich Wise, Arkansas (6-5 1/4, 274; 4.92 40; 4.36 shuttle; 7.07 3-cone): Wise started only 10 games in four injury-plagued seasons but recorded career totals of 16.5 sacks and 23 tackles for losses. Eight of the 10 starts came as a senior, when he had a career-high 49 tackles and added 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses despite playing through a broken hand sustained in the opening game. Wise ranked 24th in pass-rush productivity and 11th in run-stop percentage. He missed only two tackles. He was at his best as a junior, when he had eight sacks, 10 TFLs and three forced fumbles while starting zero games. Wise has 35 5/8-inch arms and big hands to keep blockers at bay. He’s got a chance to work at the elephant position. Deatrich Wise Sr. was drafted by the Seahawks in the ninth round in 1988 and played two seasons in the Canadian Football League and four seasons in the Arena Football League.
Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M (6-5 1/4, 266; 4.76 40; 4.38 shuttle; 7.03 3-cone): Overshadowed by Garrett, Hall put up solid numbers. During his last three seasons, he rang up 16 sacks, 33.5 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles. As a junior, he had seven sacks and 14.5 TFLs; as a senior, he had 4.5 sacks and 13 TFLs and added 12 hurries. Hall ranked only 30th in pass-rushing productivity, 27th in run-stop percentage and tied for the most missed tackles with 11. Hall has 35 5/8-inch arms. If he can gain some power and learn to use those arms to their full advantage, he could become a solid contributor.
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois (6-3 1/8, 264; 4.77 40; 4.39 shuttle; 7.18 3-cone): Smoot was third-team all-Big Ten as a senior with five sacks, 10 hurries, 15 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles. Smoot ranked 22nd in pass-rush productivity, 26th in run-stop percentage and missed 10 tackles. Terrible run defense and so-so athleticism are going to cost him in the draft. You can tell he was coached by former NFL coach Lovie Smith, because he’s got a pass-rushing toolbox. Smoot was a consistent playmaker for the Illini, with 16.5 career sacks and 38.5 career tackles for losses ranking in the top 10 in school history. He was honorable mention all-Big Ten as a junior with eight sacks, 15 TFLs and three forced fumbles. In high school, he was a 225-pound hurdler.
Hunter Dimick, Utah (6-3, 268; 4.75 40; 4.13 shuttle; 7.15 3-cone): Dimick was a surprise Scouting Combine snub after leading the Pac-12 Conference with 14.5 sacks and 20 tackles for losses. Those figures ranked third and 10th, respectively, in the nation. He ranked 18th in pass-rushing productivity, 15th in run-stop percentage and missed seven tackles. All of that pass-rush production came from the left side, meaning he was beating college right tackles. Scouts were blown away by his shuttle time, which matched Watt for the best in this class, because it didn’t show up on tape. His staggering 38 reps on the bench press ranked No. 1. That did show up, whether it as bull rushing the quarterback or re-establishing the line of scrimmage vs. the run. His motor showed up, too, and he was a tireless performer with a huge weekly workload. His 31-inch arms and 8 7/8-inch hands might not make him a consideration; the smallest hands for any outside linebacker taken by Thompson are 9 1/2 inches and only Bradford had shorter arms.
Carroll Phillips, Illinois (6-3 1/4, 242; 4.64 40; 4.37 shuttle; 7.06 3-cone): As a senior, Phillips became the Illini’s first first-team all-Big Ten selection since 2011. Among his 56 tackles were nine sacks and 20 tackles for losses. The TFLs count is tied for fifth-most in school history, and his 19 solo TFLs ranked second in the nation during the regular season. He added three hurries and one forced fumble. Phillips ranked 23rd in pass-rush productivity and 17th in run-stop percentage. It was from-out-of-nowhere production for a player who had a combined total of three sacks and 5.5 TFLs the previous two seasons. At this point, he’s a third-down edge rusher who will rely on speed to get around the corner. Rather than being consumed by the streets of Miami, Phillips found a mentor and a job at a mortuary. He is cousins with rapper Luther Campbell. He’ll be 25 in September.
Avery Moss, Youngstown State (6-3 3/8, 264; 4.79 40; 4.43 shuttle; 7.25 3-cone): Moss started his career at Nebraska, taking a medical redshirt as a freshman in 2012 and then tallying 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for losses in 2013. However, in January 2014, he was banned from campus due to indecency charge. Moss fought the ruling for a year before transferring to Youngstown State in January 2015. After making a minimal impact as a junior in 2015, Moss made a big impact as a senior. He was named first-team Ohio Valley Conference with 10.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles. PFF only charts games involving FCS schools so Rivers’ numbers are incomplete. In his limited sample size, he ranked a dead-last 31st in pass-rushing productivity but 14th in run-stop percentage. While he didn’t test well he’s got 34 1/2-inch arms, huge hands, a good first step. His bench press (14 reps) was the next-to-worst by any front-seven player at the Combine.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, Northwestern (6-3, 258; 4.72 40; 4.40 shuttle; 7.26 3-cone): Odenigbo tallied 10 sacks, 12 tackles for losses, six hurries and two forced fumbles as a senior to earn all-Big Ten second team. He ranked 15th in pass-rushing productivity but just 30th in run-stop percentage. After playing only one game as a freshman in 2012, Odenigbo registered 23.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles in four seasons. Almost half of his career total of 61 tackles came behind the line of scrimmage. He’s not a great athlete but he’s quick off the ball, plays hard and has some power to jolt his blocker. He was mentored by Dean Lowry, a relationship that continued as Lowry played his rookie season in Green Bay. His “little” brother, Tito, is a 290-pound defensive tackle for Illinois. They are the sons of Nigerian immigrants.
Keionta Davis, Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-3, 271; 4.72 40; 4.62 shuttle; 7.64 3-cone): Davis was a two-time FCS All-American, including first-team honors as a senior, when he was named the Southern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. In 2016, he led the league with 10.5 sacks while tallying 44 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses, seven hurries and seven passes defensed. For his career, he piled up 31 career sacks — including a career-high 13.5 as a junior — and forced eight fumbles. Davis’ times could take him off the board but his vertical was 37 1/2 inches and he put up 30 reps on the bench — an impressive number with 34 1/4-inch arms. There’s some tools for a move to the elephant position, which is why we didn’t discard him from this list.
Samson Ebukam, Eastern Washington (6-1 7/8, 240; 4.50 40; 4.34 shuttle; 7.07 3-cone): Ebukam was a first-team FCS All-American as a senior. One of six co-captains, Ebukam had a team-high 9.5 sacks and contributed 71 tackles, 15 tackles for losses, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, eight quarterback hurries, two passes broken up and an interception. PFF charts only FBS games, so Ebukam’s rankings of 27th in pass-rushing productivity and 16th in run-stop percentage come in limited snaps. Playing as a stand-up rusher, Ebukam finished his career with 24 sacks. Also at his pro day, Ebukam had a vertical jump of 39 inches, a figure beaten only by Garrett and matched by Willis. Ebukam was born in Nigeria, where he spent his first nine years with his six siblings. The family made it to the United States one child at a time over the span of eight years. Ebukam visited the Packers, though they’ve never had much interest in speed rushers.
Tashawn Bower, LSU (6-4 3/4, 250; 4.82 40; 4.37 shuttle; 7.20 3-cone): If Bower gets drafted, it might be because of his final collegiate game. Of his 5.5 career sacks, three came against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in LSU’s bowl game rout of Louisville. Mostly, his forte has been stopping the run as a career backup. In 40 career games, Bower started only seven times and recorded 60 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses. In limited snaps, he ranked 19th in pass-rushing productivity and 18th in run-stop percentage.
Ryan Watson, Air Force (6-2 3/4, 249; 4.61 40; 4.60 shuttle; 7.12 3-cone): Watson had seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses during his first three seasons. As a senior, he had nine sacks and 11 tackles for losses. He ranked 27th in pass-rush productivity but 16th in run-stop percentage. The Packers brought in Watson for a visit.
Pita Taumoepenu, Utah (6-1 1/4, 243; 4.67 40; 4.33 shuttle; 6.91 3-cone): Taumoepenu rates as one of the best pass rushers in Utah history with 21.5 sacks. He had 20.5 sacks, 23.5 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles during his final three seasons. He was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team as a senior with his nine sacks, 12 tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and four pressures. He ranked 26th in pass-rushing productivity and run-stop percentage. Taumoepenu was born in Texas but moved to Tonga with his grandparents when he was 6 months old to experience his culture. He was good enough to join the country’s U-20 national rugby team. His first time playing football was as a high school senior.
Josh Carraway, TCU (6-3, 242; 4.74 40; 4.44 shuttle; 7.20 3-cone): A part-time starter as a sophomore, Carraway blossomed into a two-time all-Big 12 first-team selection as a junior and senior. As a junior, he tallied nine sacks, 11.5 tackles for losses and one forced fumble. As a senior, he had eight sacks, 11 tackles for losses, 49 tackles, five hurries and one forced fumble. It was all-or-nothing production, though. Carraway ranked 29th in pass-rush productivity and a dead-last 31st in run-stop percentage. At this point, he’s only a designated pass rusher.
Potentially off the board
Alabama’s Tim Williams (4.57 shuttle and off-field concerns) and Ryan Anderson (7.73 3-cone), UCLA’s Takk McKinley (4.62 shuttle), Missouri’s Charles Harris (4.82 40, 4.42 shuttle, 7.47 3-cone), Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker (4.88 40; 4.71 shuttle; 7.91 3-cone make him unfit even for the elephant position), Louisville’s Devonte Fields (below-average testing numbers at 236 pounds), Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Price (5-foot-11), Mississippi’s Fadol Brown (4.94 40), Florida’s Bryan Cox (4.89 40 and all-around poor numbers), West Virginia’s Noble Nwachukwu (4.83 40 and all-around poor numbers), Penn State’s Garrett Sickels (4.90 40 and all-around poor numbers), Virginia Tech’s Ken Ekanem (4.88 40 and all-around poor numbers).
Williams, Anderson, McKinley, Harris and Walker are considered top prospects, with Harris, McKinley and Williams first-round options. Since we obviously aren’t aware of Green Bay’s board and if we’re overvaluing the draft history, their resumes are below:
Charles Harris, Missouri (6-2 3/4, 253; 4.82 40; 4.42 shuttle; 7.47 3-cone): Junior. Harris finished second on the team with 61 tackles, which included team-leading figures of nine sacks and 12 tackles for losses to earn first-team all-SEC. The 61 tackles were most among SEC defensive linemen. He added 10 hurries and two forced fumbles. Harris ranked 13th in pass-rushing productivity but just 28th in run-stop percentage. He missed only five tackles. The two-time all-conference selection finished his career ranked seventh in Mizzou history with 18 sacks and 11th with 34.5 TFLs. Harris is an interesting case. He is considered a first-round pick by many but his testing numbers could take him off the board. Remember, all but Perry ran the shuttle in 4.37 or faster and all of the picks ran the shuttle in 7.34 or faster. Harris loses on both, and his 21 reps on the bench and 32-inch vertical aren’t anything special (as was the case with Perry’s 35 reps and 38 1/2 vertical). That’s not to say Harris isn’t a good athlete. Before deciding to play football at Missouri, he committed to play basketball at Missouri Western.
Takk McKinley, UCLA (6-2, 250; 4.59 40; 4.62 shuttle; 7.48 3-cone): McKinley is another interesting case. His shuttle and three-cone times might take him off Green Bay’s board, but his 40 time was excellent. So was his production. McKinley was named a first-team all-Pac-12 performer as a senior. He did a little of everything with 61 tackles, 10 sacks, 18 tackles for losses, six passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three hurries. McKinley finished second in the conference in tackles for losses and third in sacks. He ranked 12th in pass-rush productivity and eighth in run-stop percentage despite playing with a torn labrum. He waited until after the Combine to have surgery, which could put his availability in doubt to start camp. “I'm here to get the quarterback. The league now is a passing league. They need young guys who can get to the quarterback and I feel I'm the best pass-rusher in this draft class to do that.”
Tim Williams, Alabama (6-2 7/8, 244; 4.68 40; 4.57 shuttle; 7.36 3-cone): Our hunch is Williams’ shuttle time and reports of failed drugs tests at Alabama would take him off Green Bay’s board. Williams was first-team all-SEC and an All-American as a senior, when 16 of his 31 tackles came behind the line of scrimmage. Williams had nine sacks as part of those 16 tackles for losses, along with two forced fumbles and 12 hurries. Williams was the best all-around player in the two PFF metrics. He ranked fourth in pass-rushing productivity and first in run-stop percentage. Plus, he missed only four tackles. Williams contributed 10.5 sacks and 12.5 TFLs during a breakout junior season.
Ryan Anderson, Alabama (6-2, 253; 4.78 40; DNP shuttle; 7.73 3-cone): Anderson was first-team all-SEC with a senior campaign of 61 tackles, nine sacks and a team-high 19 tackles for losses. He added 10 quarterback hits and four forced fumbles. That gave him career totals of 19 sacks, 39.5 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles. Late in 2016, Tide coach Nick Saban said his elite defense was “hateful.” Said Anderson: “We hate everybody on the other team. Everybody that lined up across from us, we hate you. We are going to try to kill you.” Anderson played outside linebacker in the Tide’s 3-4 but Saban thought he could play inside. Anderson finished 15th in pass-rushing productivity but seventh in run-stop percentage. He missed seven tackles.
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State (6-3 5/8, 280; 4.88 40; 4.71 shuttle; 7.91 3-cone): Walker wasted no time in embarking on becoming a consensus first-team All-American. In the opener against Ole Miss, he piled up 4.5 sacks — all in the second half. For an exclamation point, he had four tackles for losses in the Orange Bowl against Michigan. By season’s end, Walker posted 16 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses among 68 tackles. Still, he ranked only 24th in pass-rushing productivity. He was ninth in run-stop percentage and missed seven tackles. He added three forced fumbles, four additional hurries and a game-clinching blocked extra point vs. Miami to capture ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Walker was second-team all ACC as a junior with 10.5 sacks, 15.5 TFLs and four forced fumbles. His four-year total: 27 sacks, 41.5 tackles for losses and eight forced fumbles. A butt-kicking edge defender and interior rusher — how the Packers used Jones — make sense, if the Packers somehow can overlook the putrid testing numbers.
The bottom line
This is a tremendous group of edge defenders, which Green Bay needs to hit at least twice. If the Packers miss out on Watt at No. 29, the sweet spot might be the second, third and even fourth rounds. Lawson’s injury history and complete disregard for run defense are major issues in making him a first-round pick. Willis is poor in space and might be better as a 4-3 end than a 3-4 outside linebacker. Beyond the first round, Rivers, Biegel and Basham have upside. Bowser brings versatility. Mathis brings the thunder. Hendrickson brings the lightning. Charlton, Wise and Hall could fill the elephant role.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.