In order to familiarize fans with some of the top names in the 2017 NFL Draft, Chargers.com will be highlighting top prospects by position each week leading up to the first day of the draft on April 27th.
Next up is a look at some of the premiere edge rushers according to pundits.
Weight: 259 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Nick Perry
The SEC is known as the premiere conference in college football, yet Derek Barnett made it look easy from the moment he stepped foot on Tennessee’s campus.
Barnett recorded 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss as a freshman, the latter of which ranked first in the SEC. He totaled 10 sacks once again as a sophomore to lead the Vols. However, most of all, it was his 2016 campaign that has NFL scouts buzzing.
As a junior, Barnett ranked sixth in the FBS with 12 sacks while also totaling 18 tackles for loss. In the process, he earned first-team All- American and first-team All-SEC honors. His most dominating performance came against Carolina when he sacked the quarterback a career-high three times.
There is a lot to like about the 6-3, 259-pound edge rusher, but he earns the highest marks for how he uses his hands. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein put it best, calling him a “championship hand fighter on college level. Hands are strong, fast, efficient and lethal. Punch-and-discard winner. As a rusher, swats are well-timed discarding tackle's punch attempt.”
Put it all together, with his high production in the SEC and innate ability as a technician, it’s easy to see why Barnett has a lot of buzz heading into the draft.
40-Yard Dash: 4.88 seconds
Vertical Jump: 31.0 inches
Broad Jump: 6.96 inches
Weight: 277 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Chandler Jones
Most draft experts have done away with evaluating players as simply defensive ends or linebackers. Often times, a 3-4 college OLB is drafted to play 4-3 end in the NFL, and vice versa.
However, when it comes to Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton, most scouts believe he is a prototypical 4-3 end who is best served staying in that role.
After serving as a rotational lineman his first two seasons at Michigan, Charlton broke out in a major way last year. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after leading the Wolverines with 9.5 sacks along with 13 tackles for loss. While his team came out on the short end of an epic matchup against Ohio State, he authored a signature performance with a career-high nine tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The 6-6, 277-pound Charlton combines freakish athletic gifts with a commanding presence. Notably, he boasts long 34 1/4th inch arms that he uses to out-leverage offensive linemen. However, he is still extremely raw and learning to put all his gifts together.
Overall, with proper coaching at the NFL level, many pundits project Charlton to be the next Michigan product to hit it big in the pros.
40-Yard Dash: 4.92 seconds
Bench Press: 25 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.0 inches
Broad Jump: 116.0 inches
School: Texas A&M
Weight: 272 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Julius Peppers
It would be one of the biggest draft day shockers in years if Myles Garrett is not the first name off the board on April 27. The Texas A&M star is projected to be selected first overall in virtually every mock draft.
Garrett burst onto the scene as a consensus freshman All-American after recording 11.5 sacks in his first season. He ranked second in the nation with 12.5 sacks and five forced fumbles as a sophomore while also adding 19.5 tackles for loss. Last year, he dealt with a nagging knee injury to still be named a first-team All-American by totaling 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
It’s not often someone draws comparisons to Julius Peppers, but it’s hard to watch Garrett and not think of the nine-time Pro Bowler. At 6-4, 272-pounds and blessed with freak athleticism and speed, Garrett can embarrass offensive tackles in a number of ways. Explosive off the snap, he is a blur around the edge with the ability to single handedly wreck a game.
As a result, some pundits believe it is not a matter of if Garrett will be an All-Pro, but when.
40-Yard Dash: 4.64 seconds
Bench Press: 33 reps
Vertical Jump: 41.0 inches
Broad Jump: 128.0 inches
Weight: 250 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Tamba Hali
Few players terrorize quarterbacks as ferociously as Takkarist McKinley, who emerged as one of the top Pac-12 players over the past few seasons.
After transferring to UCLA from Contra Costa College, the pass rusher made an immediate impact by posting 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss in a limited role. Given more responsibility as a junior, he started 12 games before breaking out in 2016. McKinley earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a senior, tallying 61 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks. His top game came against Utah when he logged three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Playing with an endless motor and a ton of heart, “Takk” is a coach’s dream who never takes a play off. His famed work ethic combined with pure speed and athleticism overpowered tackles at the college level. Still, pundits note McKinley has room to grow from a technical standpoint. As he evolves into a more complete presence off the edge, many believe he has one of the highest ceilings in the draft.
40-Yard Dash: 4.59 seconds
Bench Press: 24 reps
Vertical Jump: 33.0 inches
Broad Jump: 122.0 inches
Weight: 273 pounds
NFL Network Pro Comparison: Justin Smith
Few players dominated college football in 2016 more than Solomon Thomas.
As such, draft experts expect him to be one of the very first names off the board come draft day.
Thomas was a force all year long, capturing the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year as a redshirt sophomore. He paced the Cardinal with 61 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and notched eight sacks. He also earned praise for his ability to impact the game in ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet.
The Stanford star saved his best for last, putting on a clinic the last time he suited up in the college ranks. He earned MVP honors in the Sun Bowl, leading his team over North Carolina with multiple pressures, two tackles for loss and a sack.
Thomas has an infectious love for the game and an innate drive to be the best. Powerful and athletic, he has the ability to dominate as either a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker.
40-Yard Dash: 4.69 seconds
Bench Press: 30 reps
Vertical Jump: 35.0 inches
Broad Jump: 126.0 inches