Draft Focus: 3 Potential First Round Edge Rushers
Last week I took a look at the top prospects at one of the Ravens’ biggest positions of need on the offensive side of the ball. For this article, I wanted to highlight some of the top prospects that may be available in the first round to address what is arguably the Ravens biggest overall need: pass-rusher. More specifically the Ravens need to find an OLB that can be a consistent threat off the edge. Myles Garrett is looking like a lock to go #1 overall to Cleveland, which is a bit of a scary prospect because he is immensely talented, but after him there is really no consensus as to who are the best remaining edge-rushers in the draft. A number of different prospects including Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett, Tim Willliams, Carl Lawson, Derek Rivers, Charles Harris and Takk McKinley have all been mentioned as potential first round draft picks so I decided to pick 3 that intrigue me as potential options at #16 overall.
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Taco Charlton, #33, Michigan:
One of the things that immediately jumps off the screen when watching Charlton is his size and strength on the edge. Listed at 6’6, 277 he has ideal size to set the edge and the length to give offensive tackles problems when he is rushing the passer. He could potentially even be used as a DE in the Ravens hybrid defensive front.
Taco uses his length and hands very well and demonstrates sufficient speed and bend to run the arc and get to the QB.
He doesn’t have elite first step quickness, but he has a pretty nifty spin move that is a highly effective counter.
Against the run, Charlton is a bit more inconsistent than I would like to see from a player with his physical attributes. At times he will set the edge exceptionally well, and he displays the ability to be highly disruptive.
However, he can be fooled by mis-direction and counter plays at times which is an area that will have to be improved in the NFL.
Overall, Charlton has all the attributes one could desire in a first round pass-rusher. He may not have elite athleticism, but for his size his combine numbers were adequate. He may never be the type of player that leads the league in sacks as he does not possess elite quickness of the edge. However, he should be a consistent pass-rushing presence in the NFL that can get 7-10 sacks a year while being a strong run defender.
Derek Barnett, #9, Tennessee:
Another highly rated pass-rusher in this draft class, Barnett has been one of the most productive edge rushers in college football over the past 3 seasons. Barnett does not have elite size or athleticism but he does have excellent quickness and he displays powerful and technically sound hand usage. He was asked to drop in coverage a decent number of snaps at Tennessee and showed reasonable proficiency in this area. Against the run, Barnett flashes playmaking ability but his aggressiveness can be used against him.
Barnett’s greatest attribute is probably his quick feet and balance, which combined with strong hand placement, allows him to bend the edge well.
Because of his lack of elite first step quickness, he often tries to gain an advantage by timing the snap which in some cases leads to easy sacks, but also leads to offsides penalties. Here’s an example of the snap timing.
Barnett does not have a strong counter move or bull rush which may also be problematic at the next level. However, Barnett’s prowess on the edge allows him to set up blockers and use a quick inside move to generate pressure with some consistency. Here, he is rushing against an OG, but the concept is the same. If he could learn a reliable counter, it will allow him to create pressure even when unable to immediately win with quickness.
The number of splash plays and overall level of production demonstrates Barnett’s potential to be an impact pass-rusher in the NFL, but the average athleticism and size combined with a somewhat small arsenal of pass-rush moves raise questions about how well his game will translate.
Derek Rivers, #11, Youngstown State:
Rivers may not be a name that is familiar to everyone, but he is has a rare combination of athletic traits, impressive film, and production in college that suggests he can become a successful NFL pass-rusher. Coming from a small school, it’s easy to downplay the production, but we have seen small school pass-rushers come into the NFL and be highly successful, Demarcus Ware and Khalil Mack immediately come to mind. Let’s take the comparison a step further and look at these players’ Combine numbers.
HT WT 40 10 3 Cone Vertical Broad
Demarcus Ware 6’4 251 4.56 1.62 6.85 38.5″ 122″
Khalil Mack 6’3 251 4.65 1.56(u) 7.08 40″ 128″
Derek Rivers 6’4 248 4.61 1.61 6.94 35″ 125″
When I turned on the film I saw that the athleticism absolutely translates to the playing field. Rivers has an explosive first step and enough bend to consistently generate pressure off the edge.It’s pretty easy to see there are a lot of similarities. Now, you might be thinking, there is a lot more to being an elite pass-rusher than being athletic and this is 100% correct. But what these numbers do indicate is that Rivers has the athleticism to not only succeed in the NFL, but to potentially play at a very high level.
This is especially true when Rivers is in a wide alignment. The OTs he is facing at the FCS level just don’t have a chance against his speed.
His game is not just about speed, either. Here, Rivers is matched up against a tackle from a Power 5 school and absolutely puts him on his heels with a bullrush.
This ability to convert speed to power is a skill that often separates the best pass-rushers from the rest. In this next play, the force generated through impact combined with excellent pad level is a very difficult combination for opposing pass blockers to deal with. When Rivers adds 5-10 pounds to his frame, this weapon will become even more powerful.
Taken together, I think Rivers may have the most upside of any edge rusher outside of Myles Garrett in this draft class. He has all the physical tools necessary and is technically sound when rushing the passer. There is still room for him to grow as well as he can fill out his frame and work on a counter move. Some may consider him a risky pick in the first round, but I see a player who is ready to come in and contribute right away.
Overall, this class of edge rushers is very deep although the number of true blue chip prospects may start and end with Garrett. There is going to be some risk involved with most of them. Charlton may have one of the higher floors, but his ceiling is also not as high as some others in this class. Barnett has a lower floor and higher ceiling. With Rivers I think there is immense upside, but there are legitimate questions about the level of competition he faced at the collegiate level. When all is said and done, I think we will see anywhere between 4-6 edge rushers taken in the first round which may set up some teams in the second round to get great value. A team like the Ravens could even draft edge rushers in the first two rounds and I wouldn’t bat an eye. With the draft coming up in only 3 weeks, it will certainly be interesting to see how the Ravens go about addressing one of their biggest needs.