A Scout’s Take on Several of the Top Edge Rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft

t-j-watt-in-cotton-bowl

T.J. Watt

The 2017 NFL draft is now less than a month away. The Green Bay Packers have a number of positional needs on their roster currently. Among those needs is the outside linebacker position or edge rusher.

Edge rushers can be prospects who played defensive end in college in a 4-3 scheme, but also have the attributes to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, which is what the Packers employ under Dom Capers.

The Packers also need some quality depth at cornerback, running back and at guard.

The odds are that fairly strong that the Packers will address those particular position groups in the first four rounds of the draft.

But it is yet to be determined what the pecking order will be. It depends on how general manager Ted Thompson and his scouting staff have set up their Green Bay draft board.

When it comes to looking at some edge rushing prospects who would fall into the category of where the Packers will be selecting in the draft, which is late in each round, I wanted to get some insight and expertise from one of the best in the business, NFL scout Chris Landry.

I had another opportunity to talk with Landry earlier this week on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show,  which was guest-hosted by Pat Donovan and Aaron Jacobson.

The Packers will have the 29th, 61st, 93rd and 134th picks in the first four rounds of the draft. I wanted to get a read on what edge rushers might fit in that area, especially in the first two rounds of the draft.

There are a couple of edge rushing prospects that the Packers will not have an opportunity to select, as they will be long gone by the time the Packers select with pick No. 29 in the first round.

I’m talking about Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, who will most likely be the first overall pick in the draft, along with Solomon Thomas of Stanford and Derek Barnett of Tennessee.

Landry has Garrett ranked at No. 1 on his horizontal draft board, while Thomas is ranked No. 3 and Barnett is ranked No. 8.

When I talked with Landry, I specifically asked about Charles Harris of Missouri, Tim Williams of Alabama, Takkarist McKinley of UCLA, Carl Lawson of Auburn and T.J. Watt of Wisconsin.

“Harris is an intriguing guy out of Missouri,” Landry said. “I think he’s as good if not better than Shane Ray.  He doesn’t test out as well, but he’s got great bend, great lean and great close. Good off-the-ball quickness. 253 pounds. Really good player.”

The 6’3″, 253-pound Harris played defensive end for Missouri. In the last two years for the Tigers, Harris had 117 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Harris was named second-team All-SEC in both 2015 and 2016. Harris ran a 4.82 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Landry has Harris ranked No. 30 on his horizontal draft board.

“Tim Williams of Alabama has got some off the field concerns or issues,” Landry said. “Really talented guy who is long and lean.”

When it comes to Williams, it’s a buyer beware situation, as Williams failed multiple drug tests at Alabama. That being said, in his last two years with the Crimson Tide, the 6’3″, 244-pound Williams had 50 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Williams was a second-team Associated Press All-American and All-SEC pick in 2016 when he primarily played defensive end. Williams also showed his speed for his size, as he ran a 4.68 40 at the combine.

Landry has Williams ranked at No. 31 on his horizontal draft board.

“McKinley is a guy who is really an intriguing athlete,” Landry said. “Has a torn labrum which has contributed to some of his problems off the field. But he’s got really great speed off the edge. He might be best as a 3-4 stand-up rusher. This guy was a 10.58 100 meter guy in high school. And he’s 265 pounds and he can really motor. He reminds a bit of Whitney Mercilus who came out a couple of years ago who is with the Texans.”

McKinley played defensive end at UCLA, but also has the potential to become a 3-4 outside linebacker due to his pass-rushing skills and speed.

McKinley, who goes 6’2″, 250 pounds, really stepped-up his play in 2016 with the Bruins, as he had 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and six pass breakups. That earned McKinley a first-team All-Pac-12 designation.

The former Bruin showed off his speed at the combine, as McKinley ran a 4.59 40.

Landry has McKinley ranked at No. 32 on his horizontal draft board.

takkarist-mckinley

Takkarist McKinley

“Carl Lawson is a really good player on third down,” Landry said. “He’s got power and explosion. I’m not saying he’s going to be as good, but boy,  he’s got a little of the qualities of that we saw with Dwight Freeney coming out of Syracuse.”

The 6’2″, 261-pound Lawson played defensive end at Auburn. Lawson has  a great year in 2016, as he had 30 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and one forced fumble. In his career as a Tiger, Lawson had 24 tackles for a loss and 14 sacks.

In 2016, Lawson was named first-team All-SEC and was a Freshman All-American in 2013. Lawson missed the 2014 due to a ACL injury.

Lawson ran a 4.67 in the 40 at the combine, plus had 35 reps in the bench press drill.

Landry had Lawson ranked No. 33 on his horizontal draft board.

“T.J. to me is a guy who is an outside backer who can be played down at nickel,” Landry said. “I see him as a guy who could go late first round. I think he’s got great athleticism. I mean he can bend and he can turn the corner. I think he’s got the ability to rush from a two or three point stance.”

I had the Packers selecting Watt in my very first mock draft, which I put out in early-February.

One big reason why the secondary of the Wisconsin Badgers had such an outstanding year in 2016 (except for the second half vs. Penn State in the B1G title game), was the play of the Front 7 of the Badgers.

Nobody was more prevalent in that regard than Watt, who goes 6’4″, 252 pounds. No. 42 had 63 tackles, 15.5 for loss, and 11.5 sacks in 2016, which garnered him second-team Associated Press All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Watt also met with the Packers at the combine where he excelled in a number of drills, including the vertical jump (37.0 inches), broad jump (128.0 inches), 3-cone drill (6.79 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.20 seconds). Watt also ran a 4.69 in the 40.

Landry has Watt rated at No. 39 on his horizontal draft board.

Landry also talked about four edge rushers who might be available when the Packers pick late in the second round with pick No. 61. The players are DeMarcus Walker of Florida State, Jordan Willis of Kansas State, Tarell Basham of Ohio University and Derek Rivers of Youngstown State.

“I think DeMarcus Walker is a more of a guy who is a late second-round value, the FSU product,” Landry said. “He’s a little bit of a tweener.”

In his career at Florida State, Walker had 182 tackles, 45 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, three forced fumbles and fumble recoveries.

Walker was named third-team All-ACC in 2015 (coaches) and then was named first-team All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation and first-team All-ACC in 2016.

Walker, who goes 6’4″ and 280 pounds, would need to drop some weight to play outside linebacker for the Packers. The former Seminole defensive end also needs to get stronger, as he only had 18 reps in the bench press drill. Walker did not do any other drills at the combine.

Landry has Walker ranked at No. 55 on his horizontal draft board.

“Jordan Willis of Kansas State is very intriguing,” Landry said. “I think he’s got really good athleticism and he plays with a great motor.”

Willis had 115 tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his career at Kansas State.

The 6’4″, 255-pound Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, plus was named first-team All-Big 12 and also third-team Associated Press All-American as a defensive end.

Willis excelled at the combine, as he ran a 4.53 in the 40, plus had a 39 inch vertical jump.

Landry has Willis ranked No. 56 on his horizontal draft board.

Jordan Willis

Jordan Willis

“Terell Basham of Ohio is a good player,” Landry said. “And the kid from Youngstown State, Derek Rivers, is really good value in the late-second or early-third.”

Basham, who played defensive end at Ohio, had 158 tackles, 41.5 tackles for a loss, 29.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and one recovered fumble in his career as a Bobcat.

The 6-4, 269-pound Basham was the Mid-American Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2016.

Basham ran a 4.70 in the 40 at the combine.

Landry has Basham ranked No. 57 on his horizontal draft board.

Rivers, who goes 6’4″, 248 pounds, played defensive end at Youngstown State. In his career in the FCS, Rivers had 173 tackles, 56.5 tackles for a loss, 37.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Rivers was named as a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection each of the past three seasons. Rivers was also named as a third-team Associated Press FCS All-American in 2016.

Rivers also had a fine combine, as he ran a 4.61 in the 40, had 30 reps in the bench press drill and had a 35 inch vertical jump.

Landry has Rivers ranked No. 86 on his horizontal draft board, but is quickly moving up in status, which is why Landry believes Rivers could be selected in the late-second or early-third round.

So what does all this information mean? It tells me that there is a real good chance that one of the eight players who Landry talked about in this story will be a Green Bay Packer. That will be especially true if the team decides to select an edge rusher in one of the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft.

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