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Draft position breakdown: Edge rushers

Posted Apr 15, 2017

Don't be surprised to see a handful of edge rushers go off the board within the first 25 picks. This year's class is that good.

Myles Garrett and T.J. Watt
1. MYLES GARRETT, TEXAS A&M

HEIGHT: 6-5 - WEIGHT: 272
ARM LENGTH: 35 1/4 inches - HAND SIZE: 10 1/4 inches
40: 4.64 seconds - BENCH PRESS: 33 reps

Garrett is perhaps the best edge-rushing prospect since fellow Texas A&M product Von Miller in 2011. Miller went No. 2 behind Cam Newton that year. Garrett shouldn't have to wait even that long.

An injury to Garrett's lower leg cost him two games and nagged at him throughout the 2016 season. That depressed his production a bit; he had 8.5 sacks in 11 games after posting at least 11.5 sacks in each of his first two years. In spite of the injury, he still posted 15 tackles for losses and forced a pair of fumbles.

Garrett's wingspan of 82 5/8 inches is longer than that of any other edge rusher likely to be selected in the first two days of the draft. With his upper-body strength and ability to create leverage, he uses this attribute exceptionally well.

2. SOLOMON THOMAS, STANFORD

HEIGHT: 6-3 - WEIGHT: 273
ARM LENGTH: 33 inches - HAND SIZE: 9 3/8 inches
40: 4.69 seconds - BENCH PRESS: 30 reps
SHORT SHUTTLE: 4.28 seconds - THREE-CONE DRILL: 6.95 seconds

Thomas played just two seasons at Stanford, but maximized them, racking up 11.5 sacks and 25.5 tackles for losses during the last two seasons.

His raw strength and ability to apply it separate him from the rest of this class. He has enough speed to win one-on-one matchups by going outside, but some of his best work comes when he works the inside shoulder of the tackle. He has the athleticism to go low and inside while maintaining his momentum.

It will be fascinating to see how the team that drafts Thomas plans to use him. If he adds 10 pounds to his frame, he could go inside in pass-rush situations. If he maintains his speed with some extra bulk, he could be a devastating interior force.

3. DEREK BARNETT, TENNESSEE

HEIGHT: 6-3 - WEIGHT: 259
ARM LENGTH: 32 1/8 inches - HAND SIZE: 10 inches
40: 4.88 seconds
SHORT SHUTTLE: 4.44 seconds - THREE-CONE DRILL: 6.96 seconds

If you're hung up on workout numbers, Barnett's 40-yard dash time might raise an eyebrow. The numbers that matter for Barnett involve on-field production; he averaged one sack per game in the last two seasons and broke Hall-of-Famer Reggie White's school record for sacks.

What sets Barnett apart from other edge rushers in the class is work against the run; he is perhaps the best in his position group at reading runs as they develop and not being caught out of position.

Barnett is an old-school player. He is not vocal or demonstrative; he just goes about his work and plays with the same energy in the final two minutes as he does when the game begins.

4. T.J. WATT, WISCONSIN

HEIGHT: 6-4 - WEIGHT: 252
ARM LENGTH: 33 1/8 inches - HAND SIZE: 11 inches
40: 4.69 seconds - BENCH PRESS: 21 reps
SHORT SHUTTLE: 4.13 seconds - THREE-CONE DRILL: 6.79 seconds

In a single season as a starter, Watt provided the power that made Wisconsin's defense go, finishing the 14-game campaign with 15.5 tackles for losses and 11.5 sacks, making him a certain bet to join older brothers J.J. and Derek at the next level.

The only concerns regarding Watt involve his health and his lack of college experience. He did not play at all at Wisconsin until 2015 after a right knee injury wiped out his redshirt freshman season of 2014. He also had a left-knee issue during the 2015 offseason.

5. TAKKARIST McKINLEY, UCLA

HEIGHT: 6-2 - WEIGHT: 250
ARM LENGTH: 33 3/8 inches - HAND SIZE: 10 1/4 inches
40: 4.59 seconds - BENCH PRESS: 24 reps
SHORT SHUTTLE: 4.62 seconds - THREE-CONE DRILL: 7.48 seconds

A two-year starter for the Bruins, McKinley exploded last year with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for losses. Both of those tallies exceeded his combined totals from the previous two seasons.

McKinley is one of the toughest defenders in this draft. He's also one of the best at adapting as the play progresses, and he will quickly get his arms up to try to break up the pass if he can't get to the quarterback. His 10 passes defensed in the last two years are a testament to that ability and his mindset of making plays any way he can.

REST OF THE TOP 15

6. Taco Charlton, Michigan
7. Charles Harris, Missouri
8. Tarell Basham, Ohio
9. Tim Williams, Alabama
10. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
11. Carl Lawson, Auburn
12. Jordan Willis, Kansas State
13. Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
14. Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic
15. Tyus Bowser, Houston

BRONCOS EDGE-RUSHER OUTLOOK

Even after the retirement of DeMarcus Ware, the Broncos are still in outstanding shape here, with Von Miller and Shane Ray set to be one of the league's best duos and a starting-quality reserve in Shaquil Barrett who should receive plenty of snaps this season giving each of them some rest.

With Ware now out of the mix and Dekoda Watson off to San Francisco on a free-agent deal, the Broncos signed former Saints outside linebacker Kasim Edebali on March 13. Edebali is poised to assume Watson's role as a special-teams contributor who can provide an occasional burst in the pass rush when needed.

Overall, the Broncos appear set. Barrett and Ray aren't due to become unrestricted free agents until March 2019, and the Broncos have a fifth-year option on Ray that would keep him in Denver for the 2019 campaign. But if the value is there, it would be no surprise to see the Broncos add to their stable.

TEN-YEAR HISTORY: EDGE RUSHERS DRAFTED BY BRONCOS

No position is more coveted on defense, and that bears itself out in the Broncos' recent draft history. The team has picked four edge rushers in the first round in the last 10 drafts.

2007: Jarvis Moss, Florida - Round 1, No. 17 overall
2009: None
2009: Robert Ayers, Tennessee - Round 1, No. 18 overall
2010: None
2011: Von Miller, Texas A&M - Round 1, No. 2 overall
2012: None
2013: Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky - Round 5, No. 146 overall
2014: None
2015: Shane Ray, Missouri - Round 1, No. 23 overall
2016: None