Philadelphia Eagles Draft Preview: EDGE Rushers

Sep 3, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes on Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman RJ Hollis (74) at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 3, 2016; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes on Hawaii Warriors offensive lineman RJ Hollis (74) at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The NFL draft is rapidly approaching and April 27th will be here in the blink of an eye. Between now & then, the Eagles will be finalizing their draft boards: ranking players based on talent, production, potential, intangibles, scheme fit, etc.

Over the coming weeks, we will be doing the same thing. Each week leading up to the draft, Ben Solak & I will rank the prospects of a certain position based on fit for the Eagles. We will discuss & debate the players before finalizing the order; in the same way the Eagles personnel department is currently doing.

By the time April rolls around, we will have scheme-specific rankings for each position, which will provide some clarity on the Philadelphia Eagles Big Board as a whole. Thus far, we have covered the following position groups:

Running Backs

Wide Receivers

Tight Ends

Offensive Tackles

Interior Offensive Line

This week, we’ll head to other side of the trenches and talk edge rushers.

Mike’s Rankings

  1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
  2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford
  3. Charles Harris, Stanford
  4. Carl Lawson, Auburn
  5. Jordan Willis, Kansas State
  6. Taco Charlton, Michigan
  7. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
  8. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
  9. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  10. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State

Ben’s Rankings

  1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
  2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford
  3. Charles Harris, Missouri
  4. Carl Lawson, Auburn
  5. Joe Mathis, Washington
  6. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
  7. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
  8. Taco Charlton, Michigan
  9. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  10. Tim Williams, Alabama

The Discussion
MC: Edge rushers, probably more than any position other than quarterback, lead to debates among evaluators. The ability to affect the passer is second only to the ability of the passer in determining the success of a team in the NFL. In Philadelphia, Jim Schwartz prefers to affect the passer with his defensive front.

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He employs, as we know, a wide nine most commonly to do so. Last year, an inability to get consistent pressure exposed a weak secondary. We saw it time and time again: a clean pocket allowed passers to pick apart the Eagles through the air. It is inarguable, in my opinion, that improving the pass rush is one of the two biggest needs on the Eagles roster right now.

So who do we like? Obviously we agree on Garrett, Thomas, and Harris. Garrett is an elite talent on the edge and a physical monster. Thomas is a versatile piece that can move inside on third downs. Harris is a polished rusher who can win in several ways. We start to differ after these top three…so tell me, how is Joe Mathis a 4-3 DE and not a LB in an odd-front?

BS: Short answer: he’s just that good. Long answer: though he played 3-4 OLB in Washington, he wasn’t asked to drop into coverage nearly as much as a 3-4 OLB would in the NFL. He was recruited out of high school as a 4-3 DE, and with a 6-2 256 lb frame, he’s only 13 pounds lighter than Brandon Graham at the same height. He can definitely add weight, too.

On tape, I would say only Carl Lawson and Charles Harris have the arsenal of moves Mathis flashes when rushing the passer. His speed-to-power is filthy good. His hands are active and heavy. His bend is NFL-caliber. He’s one of the Top 5 run defenders in this class. Period.

The only issue is injury history. Mathis has only put together a half-season of solid film over the past two years. The best ability is availability, and if he doesn’t see the field, he’ll never be worth his draft stock. If he does, he’s a Round 1 talent.

I’ll exchange my EDGE5 for your EDGE5. I have never once drunk the Jordan Willis Kool-Aid. I just see him overshoot the QB so often given his lack of bend. I’d be really worried giving him anything about a Day 3 selection.

MC: Yeah I figured this is where you would start out. I promise this isn’t just a reaction to his obscene NFL combine numbers. For what it’s worth (which is not as much as his game film, by the way), his combine testing & size are comparable to former Eagle Jevon Kearse.

It wasn’t just the testing either. Nearly unanimously “expert” opinion opined his great day in the drills. He had a very productive career at Kansas State to accompany his obvious athleticism. In his senior season, he totalled 17.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks on his way to being named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

I like four year collegiate athletes who play for “old school” coaches. Four-year athletes who played for guys like Bill Snyder or Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno…those guys don’t “get fat” when they start getting paid. They get after it in the NFL.

On film, though, he is far from a polished pass rusher. He plays upright and can be stiff in his lower half. He needs to work on the hand-to-hand combat aspects of defensive line play. Technically, he is not where he needs to be. But those tactical areas can be improved upon in the NFL.

I’ll take a chance on a four year contributor, and three year starter, for Snyder’s Wildcats. He didn’t lose a year to redshirting or poor medicals. He played as a freshman and contributed on special teams as well. That level of competitive experience is valuable

Think about it this way…what was the big knock against Derek Barnett? His athleticism doesn’t match his production. If Barnett had put together the workout in Indianapolis that Willis did, he’d be a top 10 pick no doubt. Speaking of which, let’s jump around a little bit because Barnett has been linked to the Eagles at 14th overall, of late. We obviously value him similarly…your thoughts?

BS: Euch. When I watch Barnett’s reps, I can tell within half a second if he has a chance for a successful rush. He’s explosive out of his stance, no doubt–but his speed off the edge is augmented by his ability to anticipate the snap count.

Don’t get me wrong: that’s a fine tool to have. But if Barnett can’t beat the OT to the set point with a combination of initial explosion, first-step quickness, and snap anticipation, he’s basically dead in the water. No developed counters, no speed to power, no NFL-caliber hand usage.

Sure, give me a productive, explosive, and flexible edge rusher in Round 2. But unless he takes real well to NFL coaching, I don’t envision Barnett ever being a double-digit sack guy in the NFL.

Now, as far as his fit in Philly goes, I could see him having success in the Wide-9 alignment. That being said, the Eagles really didn’t play too much Wide-9 last year. Was that because of personnel? If so, Schwartz may be looking for a hot rusher like Barnett to move the Eagles’ defensive line into his preferred system. But, if Schwartz is moving on from his oft-maligned alignment, Barnett loses efficacy the closer he goes to the OT.

He’s a prospect to keep an eye on for Philly going forward, no doubt. However, in a talented class of EDGE defenders, I just don’t think he’s a Round 1 selection.

Speaking of a deep, talented: let’s wrap this up with a mid- to late-round guy you’d like to see Philly take a flier on. I’ll do the same.

MC: I am going to go with someone not on our lists. EDGE rusher is the second most important position on the football field behind quarterback, in my opinion. The guys on our lists are all likely to be gone by the end of the third round. So I’ll give some attention a guy not listed above in Villanova product Tanoh Kpassagnon.

The pre-combine process saw Tanoh receive a lot of attention among draft analysts following his Senior Week weigh-in. With a hundred years to work, Michelangelo couldn’t have carved from granite a better built NFL edge rushing prospect. At 6’7” and 289 lbs, he has 35 ⅝ “ arms.

That is the capacity for incredible leverage for a rusher. The unfortunate part is that his game film and performances in both Mobile & Indianapolis have led to questions about his potential. While he has good initial burst off the line, he does not yet have a number to moves at his disposal. He also could stand to add some weight to his frame: in order to turn himself into a three down contributor.

He is an incredibly smart kid. He was a dual-degree candidate at Villanova (finance & accounting). He was a team captain. High character combined with a prototypical rushing body & raw talent will naturally lead to a lot of NFL suitors.

The key will be for a team to get his function to match his form. Working with NFL strength & conditioning coaches as well as improvement in his technical rushing game could see some team land a project that could become a great to elite pass rusher in the fourth round.

Who were you thinking about?

BS: My guy was Tarell Basham, the DE out of Ohio. I really love the product this kid puts on the field. I think he’s a polished pass-rusher with a skill set the translates to the NFL. He’s a solid athlete with a 4.7 40yd dash (1.61 10yd split), a 4.35s short shuttle, and a 9’11 broad jump. Those explosiveness and stop/start numbers are really encouraging. His size also fits the bill: 6’4, 270 lbs, with 34 ¼” arms and 10 ¼” hands. Excellent.

He doesn’t have the greatest explosiveness on tape, but he defends against the run with intelligence, discipline, and strength; he rushes the passer with a nice motor, power, and decent short-area quickness.

I think NFL coaching will help him get the most out of his long arms and help him develop his swim and his rip. A Round 3 value on my board right now, he’s the sort of player the Philadelphia Eagles could invest in if there’s an early run on the top DEs.

Next: Eagles Should Consider Signing Colin Kaepernick

The Big Board
  1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
  2. Solomon Thomas, Stanford
  3. Charles Harris, Missouri
  4. Carl Lawson, Auburn
  5. Takkarist McKinley
  6. Taco Charlton, Michigan
  7. Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
  8. Jordan Willis, Kansas State
  9. Joe Mathis, Washington
  10. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
  11. Tim Williams, Alabama
  12. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State