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2017 NFL draft rankings: Top 10 edge rushers

An outstanding class Miami must take advantage of in the early rounds.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M
Garrett pass rushing off the edge against Tennessee.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 edge-rushing draft class holds many options for the Miami Dolphins in the early rounds. The Dolphins aren’t desperate for an edge rusher the way they are for a linebacker, but it remains a pressing need for the future. Star edge-rusher Cameron Wake is beloved in Miami, but reality must set in for the front office sooner rather than later. He’s 35 years old, and has already came back from one major injury. Another may end his career.

While nothing is guaranteed in Miami’s best-player-available strategy, edge rusher certainly fits that description.

Edge rusher is categorized as 4-3 defensive ends, or 3-4 outside linebackers.

Honorable mentions: Daeshon Hall (DE), Texas A&M; Trey Hendrickson (DE), FAU; Keionta Davis (DE), Chattanooga; Josh Carraway (OLB), TCU; Devonte Fields, (OLB) Lousiville; Bryan Cox Jr. (DE), Florida; Ejuan Price (DE), Pittsburgh; Dawuane Smoot (DE), Illinois; Ryan Anderson (OLB), Alabama; Tarell Basham (DE), Ohio.

Just outside of the top 10: Derek Rivers (DE), Youngstown State; Carl Lawson (DE), Auburn; Tyus Bowser (OLB), Houston.

10. T.J. Watt (OLB), 6’4” and 252 pounds, Wisconsin: Yes, in case you didn’t know by now, T.J. Watt is the younger brother of J.J. Watt.

Watt lives up to his family’s name by having an endless motor that will outwork most players in the league. As a 3-4 OLB for Wisconsin, he comes off the edge as a blitzer more than a natural pass rusher. He stays low while keeping his body stationary, and engages/disengages blockers without lunging. He is always balanced and squared when attacking his assignment. He has elite awareness and vision, always diagnosing the play before it happens. As successful as he was pass rushing (11.5 sacks in 2016), he’s an even bigger success in run defense. He disengages and explodes into the backfield to make the tackle for loss. He’s a strong, tough guy who makes your defense nastier. He lacks a pass-rushing repertoire, and needs to improve bend and flexibility when turning the edge. Watt is not as quick-twitched and explosive as some of the top edge rushers, but his timing and tenacity prevails most of the time. He’s a bit raw and between positions. He’ll need to learn how to be more of an edge rusher to solidify his status as a 3-4 OLB/edge rusher and reach his potential. There’s no question he has ability to be great, but he certainly is rawer coming out of college than J.J. was.

T.J. Watt won’t be elite like J.J. Watt, but he’ll still be great as an 3-4 OLB who has success pressuring the QB. I don’t like him as a fit for Miami’s scheme, but he will make another team very happy. He’s a late first-round pick.

9. Tim Williams (DE/OLB), 6’2” and 244 pounds, Alabama: Williams was one of college football’s most recognized names on defense, but buyer beware.

Williams has a long, strong body and a compact, athletic frame – he just looks like a football player. As one of the quickest-twitched athletes in the draft, he uses a fantastic first step to explode off the snap and beat offensive lineman before they could even get positioned. He’s versatile in the way he rushes, by standing up or using his hand in the ground, which shows he can be groomed into a 4-3 DE if a team wanted. His ability to adjust and get underneath tackles is special, but his speed and violent hand usage is what wins him battles. Williams possesses a good repertoire of moves, but his speed to power conversion is what impresses most. He is polished as a pass rusher, but needs to improve on defending the run. Alabama used him mostly as a sub-package player, which raises questions about how fresh he’ll be with a high amount of reps. He’s a bit undersized and many question if he can hold up in run defense. There’s been concerns raised about his football I.Q. and understanding of the game. A lot of scouts with inside scoop say he needed things to be simplified for him to understand schematics. His off the field issues and underwhelming combine performance hurt his stock. His ceiling is high, but it’s uncertain if he can reach it.

His ceiling is as a 3-4 OLB, but I don’t doubt his ability as a 4-3 DE with proper coaching. Miami could take him at 22, but his fit schematically would be too uncertain for me to feel comfortable about. The Dolphins can’t afford to take project-players in the first round with the holes the team has, especially after going through the Dion Jordan nightmare.

8. DeMarcus Walker (DE), 6’3” and 280 pounds, Florida State: Walker had a tremendous career for Florida State.

His strong and thick body is difficult to deal with in pass rush, and he’ll win with outstanding power at the next level. He shows high football I.Q. and awareness to make contributions to the play, even if it’s not a sack. He’s schematically versatile, and can be moved inside and outside without any dip in production. Walker does most of his work using power on the inside, but still needs polishing on outside rushing and winning the edge. His powerful, quick hands will win many battles off the snap. He’s an exceptional tackler, and if he gets to a quarterback’s radius, they’re sacked – very rarely will they escape. Walker gets stuck on blocks too often, and needs to learn how to counter or shed without using power. Walker is not quick twitched or agile, and lacks change of direction ability. His inconsistency is what befuddles many, as he’ll make a big play, then vanish for an extended time. He’s a guy who will have to battle and use nastiness to win at the next level, since he’s an average athlete with limited flexibility.

Walker has a chance to be a productive 4-3 or 3-4 DE, which is rare. He needs coaching, but he has a chance to be a very good defensive end at the next level. On the contrary, I don’t think he’ll ever be a top pass rusher in the league. Expect him to be chosen in the second round, which would be a nice pick for Miami.

7. Jordan Willis (DE), 6’4” and 255 pounds, Kansas State: Willis has seen his stock dramatically rise into first-round considerations after his impressive combine.

He’s a long, rangy athlete who possesses great size, length and strength. His strong hands allow him to gain inside leverage against blockers, and shed them quickly. Despite his strength and size, he’s a guy who wins with speed, showing outstanding closing speed to the target in the backfield. Willis has great snap anticipation to beat lineman around the edge and get underneath blockers, though he’s inconsistent with it. His high motor and tenacity will set an example for the rest of your defense – similar to the way Cameron Wake sets the tone for Miami. He’s a player who won’t commit dumb penalties, and shows high awareness off the snap when diagnosing plays. He needs to improve his pass-rush strategy. Too many times he tried to win by speed-rushing oppose to using his strength and counter moves. He shows an impressive spin move to redirect inside, but doesn’t use it often enough. Willis plays too high at times, and needs to improve his bend to win the edge consistently. Despite his great frame, he inexplicably gets blocked out of the play too often – especially in run defense. His occasional lack of balance is concerning, hitting the ground far too often. Half of his sacks were coverage sacks, which may taint his overall production.

Despite his first-round projection, I think he’s a second-round talent. He’s slightly beneath Charles Harris, though their potential is close. I wouldn’t be thrilled with reaching for him at 22 with the other holes on the roster. If Miami can wait until the 54th pick without another team selecting him beforehand, they could come away with a steal

6. Charles Harris (DE), 6’3” and 253 pounds, Missouri: Harris has the tools to be a great defensive end in the NFL.

He has a strong upper body and two tree trunks for legs, giving him a massive frame. Harris has an elite first step and times the snap flawlessly. Not many running backs or tight ends can handle him one-on-one, and it’ll likely take a double team to stop him from reaching the quarterback. Harris shows a nice arsenal of moves – especially a fantastic spin move to get off blocks, but he needs to use his hands for affectively. He’s not the fastest athlete, but has quickness that can win inside and outside. His combination of size, strength and quickness gives him a huge ceiling – if he’s polished in run defense, there’s no telling how good he can be. He needs to improve on decision making. He often shot the inside gap over aggressively, leaving huge holes on the outside for running backs. His closing speed in space isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, and he’ll occasionally over-run his target. Harris needs to convert speed to power more often, and avoid only using the snap count as an advantage. He has the frame and arsenal to be a very successful defensive end, but he won’t come in and dominate from the start. Harris isn’t as fast at Jordan Willis, but he’s more powerful and explosive off the snap.

Harris is a first-round talent who could be a perfect fit for the Dolphins – especially if they trade back and still grab him. He could learn behind the talented defensive line in Miami, without being expected to put up huge numbers in his first year. The problem is that Miami has holes in other places on the roster. It seems like Miami is leaning toward linebacker or guard oppose to a somewhat-raw defensive end in the first round.

5. Takkarist McKinley (DE/OLB), 6’2” and 250 pounds, UCLA: McKinley is a raw talent with a Pro Bowl ceiling.

He’s freak athlete who is one of the fastest edge rushers in the draft. He can rush by standing up or by using his hand in the dirt, showing he’s scheme versatile. McKinley’s quick-twitch movement off the snap allows him to win with speed and bend around the edge. In addition to rushing the edge, he also is a good blitzer from the inside as a linebacker too. He finds ways to stay skinny on blitzes in disguised coverages, showing off the type of athlete he is. His motor runs consistently high – his effort never lacks on any play. McKinley took on many double teams throughout his career, and made teams pay who attempted to block him one-on-one. He’s a raw player who needs coaching, but he shows terrific awareness on how to break through tough assignments. An underrated aspect of his game is his ability to contribute in run defense. McKinley was great in disengaging blockers and making plays at the line of scrimmage. His athletic upside solidifies his first-round stock. He has a strong, athletic frame but is a bit undersized, lacking height and length. Despite his great speed and strength, he is a step slow to the quarterback too often. He still needs to polish his counter moves to disengage off blocks in pass rushing. McKinley must keep his pad level low to do a better job of converting speed to power. Medical issues are a bit of a concern.

The obvious themes are his raw ability with athletic upside. If he is properly coached, he has one of the highest ceilings of any edge rusher in the draft. If he’s there at 22, the Dolphins would have a tough decision to make. Do they take a guy who may not be successful right away with the other holes on the roster? I think if they decide to look at DE at 22, McKinley is one of the realistic options that makes sense. If they choose him, it’d be a great pick.

4. Taco Charlton (DE), 6’5” and 277 pounds, Michigan: Charlton is a beast when he wants to be.

His rare size, strength and length make him a matchup nightmare. He has a huge frame and is well-proportioned throughout his body – he doesn’t carry any extra, unwanted weight. He possesses a rare upside that not many edge rushers have coming out of college. His outstanding instincts allows him to jump the snap and diagnose the play very quickly. His explosive first step combined with his initial push forces lineman backwards and off balance. He frequently bull-rushes lineman into the quarterback, blowing up pass plays before they even develop. His motor is inconsistent, but when he gives a full effort, he plays with a relentless hunt for the quarterback. He takes on double teams well, though there is area for improvement to use his counter moves more efficiently. Charlton has great waist bend and athletic ability that allows him to dip around the edge very smoothly without wasted motion. There were a lot of good games where he dominated – the game against Ohio State was impressive – but there were few games where he was inactive and stuck on blocks. His pass-rushing repertoire is still a bit raw, and he needs to avoid only relying on power to win battles. He’ll need to be coached on how to use his hands more violently. Charlton is a great athlete, but he lacks elite quick-twitch reaction and change of direction.

Charlton struggles with consistency. He’s either unstoppable, or average. He needs veteran leadership to pull the best out of him, but his upside is through the roof. Similarly to McKinley and Harris, Charlton seems like a perfect fit at 22. It’ll be a tough choice for Miami to choose him based on upside and potential. Linebacker is a huge need, but owner Steven Ross, a Michigan fanatic, will have a huge influence in the final say.

3. Derek Barnett (DE), 6’3” and 259 pounds, Tennesee: Barnett is a thick, stout edge rusher who set records at Tennesee.

He has nice size and length to compliment his thick frame. Most of it is muscle and lean mass, though there is some unwanted weight that I’d like to see him drop to become quicker. He’s schematically versatile, having experience in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses. He uses his hands as a weapon, jabbing defenders back off balance. He shows good quickness and timing off the snap, before using impressive power to push defenders out of the way. His balance and flexibility to win the edge is impressive for someone who carries a wide frame like he does. He’s very refined as a pass rusher and incorporates counter moves with power. He’s one of the most powerful athletes in the draft. His motor runs high, but his passion runs even higher – he’s a guy who can ignite your team by example of never giving up on a play. Barnett’s ability to make plays in run defense shows his fluidity as an athlete in space. His tape against Cam Robinson showed how impressive he can be against top talent. He needs to avoid relying on snap count to gain an advantage. He was too often called for offsides penalties. I wasn’t impressed with his constant strategy to rush outside. It shows he doesn’t know how to counter inside. He isn’t an overwhelmingly explosive athlete, and struggles to bring down quarterbacks who can scramble well. His hips are stiff and he needs to improve his lateral movement. His love for football is extraordinary.

He’s not perfect, but he’s more polished than most edge rushers. He’s a terrific talent, but the lack of explosion could be concerning. I don’t think it’s a major concern though, and would strongly consider picking him at 22.

2. Solomon Thomas (DT/DE), 6’2” and 273 pounds, Stanford: Thomas is a top five pick in the draft.

He’s a big, physical monster who plays with elite strength. He’s a rare athlete who can flourish as both an edge or interior lineman. His closing speed is impressive for a guy who has such a massive frame. He shows an elite first step, blowing past the lineman before they get their feet set. Thomas utilizes his hands to disengage blockers quickly, requiring a double team on most of the snaps in the game. He’s able to read plays very quickly, staying disciplined in his decision making. He rarely is met at the line of scrimmage, and will attack the quarterback relentlessly throughout the game. Thomas isn’t much of a bender or flexible rusher around the edge, and still is a bit raw in pass rushing. He’s fast and quick twitched, but lacks ideal length and height as an edge rusher. He relies too heavily on the snap count at times, causing him quite a few offsides penalties. There aren’t many flaws in his game, and he’s an immediate starter for any team.

He’s one of the top players in the draft, and won’t be available for the Dolphins at 22 without trading up.

1. Myles Garrett (DE), 6’4” and 272 pounds, Texas A&M: Garrett is expected to be the number one pick overall, barring a drastic change.

His lengthy, athletic build is combined with a powerful, compact frame. He’s a freak athlete who can stand up or rush with his hand in the dirt, equally effect. His outstanding quick twitch ability allows him to jump the snap and bulldoze his way through lineman. Not many athletes can outrun Garrett in the backfield, showing excellent closing speed. He’s not afraid to get nasty and use his hands to battle through blocks until the whistle blows. His bend and speed combination allows him to win the edge using his flexibility to get underneath tall lineman. His lower body explosion allows him to convert speed to power flawlessly. Garrett has high football I.Q. and awareness by batting balls down, or affecting the quarterback’s vision. His numbers don’t quite stack up to his ability, and he failed to take over primetime games like one would expect. He can win with speed, power and counter moves, but his pass rushing arsenal isn’t completely polished yet, and was too often washed out of plays. His timing with his jump off the snap is inconsistent. Garrett needs to improve on rushing with purpose, instead of trying to use natural talent to run straight into a metaphorical wall.

He’s an elite pass rusher. Don’t let his weaknesses cloud judgment – they’re mental mistakes that can be corrected. Miami has no shot in getting him unless they mortgage the future.