TEAM NEED: The Minnesota Vikings already had a strong threesome in Griffen, Hunter and Robison and bolstered the group by adding versatile Datone Jones to a group that has a couple of developmental prospects in Weatherly and Dubose. It would take a player the Vikings don’t anticipate being on the board to add arguably to their biggest current position of strength considering that most roster configurations would have the team keeping four or five defensive ends.
POSITION ANALYSIS: This is a strong draft class, especially at the top. Myles Garrett appears to be a lock at the first pick, whether Cleveland keeps it and makes the pick or trades for even more draft picks in their current stockpile. Beyond that, there could be another three or four players who are defensive ends (clump them in with outside linebackers and call them edge rushers if you want), but this is a class that is going to produce quite a few NFL starters.
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, 6-4½, 272 – Third-year junior who started 29 of 36 career games, recording 145 tackles, 48½ tackles for a loss, 32½ sacks, seven forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…High school All-America…Was named team Defensive MVP as a freshman…Named Defensive MVP and captain in 2016…Freakish athleticism for his size and has rare explosiveness…Uses his hands extremely well and has multiple moves in his repertoire to set up left tackles…Flies off the snap and has the power and explosion to blow past blockers in an instant…Elite sack production against top competition…Will get too aggressive and take himself out of plays…Will take some plays off, which is maddening to coaches…Doesn’t always show the same intensity chasing down plays headed to the opposite side of the field…Ran a 4.64 40 at the Combine with 33 reps of 225 pounds, a 41-inch vertical jump and a 10-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: If there was any question as to whether he would be the No. 1 pick, Garrett worked out at his pro day and posted eye-popping numbers. First pick. Bank on it.
Solomon Thomas, Stanford, 6-2¾, 273 – Third-year sophomore…Started 19 of 27 career games…Blew up in 2016 with 62 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, one forced fumble and four fumble recoveries…High school All-America…Won the 2016 Morris Trophy, given annually to the Pac 12’s top defensive lineman…Doesn’t turn 22 until December…Has extremely good power and upper-body strength (see below)…Has a motor that never stops and tends to make big plays at the biggest time of games…Has an explosive first step and can gain an immediate advantage over blockers…A versatile player who lined up both inside and outside…A little undersized for NFL defensive tackles, so most teams will likely view him as a defensive end…His production was somewhat inflated because of the scheme that Stanford ran to open things up for him…Comes off the snap high and good offensive linemen can neutralize him if they get their hands into his chest…Ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine with 30 reps, a 30-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Ideally suited to be a base end in a 4-3 defense, he has the ability to be a fit in any scheme, but his lack of height will probably push him off of the defensive tackle spot and into a defensive end. A top-15 pick under a worst-case scenario.
THE NEXT LEVEL
Tim Williams, Alabama, 6-3, 244 – Fourth-year senior…Started just two games in his career, but was a major part of the defense the last two seasons, recording 50 tackles, 28½ tackles for a loss, 20½ sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Was arrested in September for carrying a handgun without a permit…Has the best burst of any defensive end in this year’s class and routinely gets blockers off-balance and on their heels…Has multiple pass-rush moves and will mix and match them well…Has good upper-body strength and uses his hands to jolt blockers…Will be a 24-year-old rookie…Doesn’t have mass or bulk and will find it harder to blow past NFL left tackles with the same regularity…Is small for a pure defensive end and hasn’t played much coverage in the pass game to serve as an outside linebacker…Didn’t lift at the Combine with a right shoulder injury, but ran a 4.68 40 with a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player similar in skill set to Bruce Irvin, he can be a scary pass rusher because of his explosive speed. But he will have to be in the right scheme to reach his full potential or be a dominant part-time pass-rush specialist. His talent is enough to make him a first-round pick with a ton of upside.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA, 6-2, 250 – Fourth-year senior…Played one season at Contra Costa (Calif.) Community College…Two-year starter who exploded on the scene in 2016, recording 62 tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery…Had a very rough childhood – grew up without a father and was abandoned by his mother…Had to withdraw from the Senior Bowl with a torn labrum…Is very strong at the point of attack and has very good explosion…Has long arms and routinely keeps blockers from getting into his body…Has good balance and explodes off the snap…Doesn’t consistently play as strong as he looks…Still raw in terms of technique and will need some refinement to his game…Didn’t help his cause by looking really stiff at the Combine in agility drills like the 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle, posting some of the worst times for edge rush guys…Ran a 4.59 40 at the Combine with 24 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Has the ability to be a star. He’s a first-round talent, but may have to find the right system to take best advantage of his skill set.
Taco Charlton, Michigan, 6-5¾, 277 – Fourth-year senior…Didn’t become a starter until 2016, recording 43 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss and 9½ sacks…Had long arms, prototype size and the type of frame that could add bulk and mass…Got steadily better every season that he played…Has extremely good closing speed and consistently finishes plays…Doesn’t have much in the way of variety in his pass rush and will need to improve technique…Comes out of his stance high and leaves himself vulnerable to get his legs cut out from under him…Doesn’t play with the same fire and emotion from game to game and even series to series…Ran a 4.92 40 at the Combine with 25 reps of 225 pounds with a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: An interesting prospect who can fit in any scheme, but scouts have very different opinions on him. Still, he’s someone likely will bite before the end of the first round. If he makes it to the second round, somebody may trade up to get him.
Charles Harris, Missouri, 6-2¾, 253 – Fourth-year junior…Two-year starter who had 117 tackles, 30½ tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in that span…Was an outstanding high school basketball player who didn’t play football until his junior year…Had both labrums surgically repaired in college…Has good burst and explosion off the snap…Has a quick first step, flashes his hands and has very good change of direction skills…Has a very good variety of pass-rush moves and mixes them up well to confuse blockers…Doesn’t have the size to play inside in the NFL and lacks ideal size to be a 4-3 defensive end…Has good burst, but doesn’t have sustained speed – his 60-yard shuttle was the worst among edge rushers at the Combine…Gets his legs cut out from under him too often…Ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine with 21 reps, a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: He had extremely good production in two different schemes at Mizzou. His size will be an issue to some teams, but, if he makes it out of the first round, he won’t last long.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Demarcus Walker, Florida State, 6-3¾, 280 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 164 tackles, 43 tackles for a loss, 28½ sacks (27½ of those coming in the last two seasons), eight passes defensed, eight forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Voted team Defensive MVP in 2015 and ACC Defensive MVP in 2016…First FSU player in 20 years to post back-to-back double-digit sack seasons…A player who is just as smart as he is talented and spends a lot of time in film study…Motor never slows up and he makes plays all the way to the opposite sideline…Has a big frame and has equally good upper- and lower-body strength…Is not elite in any of his traits and has physical shortcomings that will be harder to overcome in the NFL…Is not an elite edge rusher who dominates one-on-one battles…Needs to refine his technical fundamentals…Didn’t run or jump at the Combine with a left injury and didn’t help his case with just 18 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: A hard worker who gets the most out of his skill set, he likely will be a second-round pick because he works tirelessly to improve on his deficiencies, which are more than meet the eye just watching highlight tapes.
Carl Lawson, Auburn, 6-1¾, 261 – Fourth-year junior who missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL and six games early in the 2015 season with a cracked hip…In the final 20 games of his college career, he notched 47 tackles, 16½ tackles for a loss, 10 sacks and one forced fumble…A two-time captain…Will be a 21-year old rookie…A compact, powerful build that creates blocking problems for offensive linemen…Is extremely strong and proved that at the Combine (see below)…Is a physical, explosive tackler who has good closing speed on the ball…Was never used extensively in pass coverage, so his suitors may be limited…Doesn’t have ideal height or length…Once larger blockers smother him, he rarely gets away…Ran a 4.67 40 at the Combine with a position-best 35 reps, a 33-inch vertical jump and a 9-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: A tireless worker who maximizes his ability and gives his all on every play, he is a straight-line pass rusher who has significant high-end limitations, which will drop him into Day 2, but he won’t last long because his work ethic will win over some team in the second or third round.
Jordan Willis, Kansas State, 6-3¾, 255 – Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who started his final 39 games, recording 114 tackles, 39½ tackles for a loss, 25 sacks, seven passes defensed, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Tore both his right and left meniscus before becoming a starter at K-State…Tore a right thumb ligament as a sophomore…Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 and named Defensive MVP for the South team at the Senior Bowl…Has long arms and the type of physique to add more strength without sacrificing speed…Has a great motor that doesn’t idle often and he makes plays on both sides of the field…Has really good initial burst off the snap and gets an early advantage more times than not…Doesn’t have sustained speed and is seen as a pass-rushing one-trick pony…Doesn’t have great change-of-direction skills and will struggle when steered by blockers…Loops around the pocket too often and will take himself out of plays…Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 24 reps of 225 pounds, a 39-inch vertical jump (second-best among defensive linemen) and a 10-5 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player with a lot of heart who is likely to have a long NFL career, but doesn’t have the elite traits that others in this year’s class have, which will likely drop him into the very end of the second round or into the third.
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois, 6-3¼, 264 – Fourth-year senior…Two-year starter that had 96 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries…Tore a left elbow ligament in spring practice in 2014…Added 40 pounds of mass and bulk prior to his sophomore season…Has very good hand use and uses them effectively to ward off blockers…Has a nice combination of speed, burst and strength off the snap…Wraps up the player with the ball consistently and is a good finisher…Does not have ideal core strength or anchor strength and has pretty much maxed out how much bulk he can add…Hasn’t been asked to drop into coverage often, which could get teams that run a 3-4 to think twice…Doesn’t have elite closing speed and will loop around plays too often…Didn’t lift at the Combine with a left pectoral injury, but ran a 4.77 40 with a 29½-inch vertical jump and a 9-9 broad jump. PROJECTION: A player that gives maximum effort but doesn’t have the elite physical traits to be a first-round pick Likely will be a coveted player at the end Day 2.
OTHERS TO WATCH
Tarell Basham, Ohio, 6-3¾, 269
Fadol Brown, Ole Miss, 6-3¾, 273
Bryan Cox Jr., Florida, 6-3, 265
Keionta Davis, Tennessee-Chattanooga, 6-3, 271
Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M, 6-5¼, 266
Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic, 6-4, 266
Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova, 6-6¾, 289
Avery Moss, Youngstown State, 6-3½, 264
Ejuan Price, Pitt, 5-11½, 241
Derek Rivers, Youngstown State, 6-3¾, 248
Garrett Sickels, Penn State, 6-3½, 261
Deatrich Wise, Arkansas, 6-5¼, 272