Everyone knows that one of the most important parts of today's game is getting after the quarterback, and the best way to do that is with talented edge rushers. Coming out of college, these players are categorized as either defensive ends or 3-4 outside linebackers, but in reality they're doing the same thing - trying to make life miserable for the quarterback. This is a talented group of edge rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft, with more than a handful of players ready to impress in Indy who could interest the Eagles in April's draft.
For a primer on what each category below means, check out the running back preview which offered a full explanation. The Mr. Average chart will give you a snapshot of what the average prospect drafted at his specific position has looked like over the span of the last five years to give you some context when the numbers from Indy start pouring in.
Top Pick: Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
This is a no-brainer. Garrett could potentially be the No. 1 overall selection. He's big (6-5, 255 pounds), extremely athletic, and was very productive (31 sacks and 47 tackles for loss in just three seasons). He comes from an athletic family. His sister, Brea, is a shot putter for the Aggies. His brother, Sean Williams, was a first-round pick in the NBA. Last, but not least, his mother, Audrey, was an All-America sprinter in college. Garrett has all of the traits you look for in a dominant presence off the edge. He is the real deal.
Workout Warrior: Takkarist McKinley (UCLA)
McKinley has played for more than a year with a torn labrum in his shoulder, but that didn't prevent him from playing at a high level as a two-year starter for the Bruins under former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. McKinley is expected to test very well in Indianapolis. He's a high-upside rusher because of his athleticism, explosive first step, and his non-stop motor. I'd like to see him play more to his listed size of 265 pounds, and he needs refinement with his hands as a pass rusher. However, I expect the senior to be one of the most impressive testers in the front seven. Other gym rats to keep an eye on are Charles Harris of Missouri (see more on him below) and Ejuan Price from Pitt.
Stopwatch Shocker: Dawuane Smoot (Illinois)
At 6-3, 255 pounds, Smoot isn't the most intimidating physical specimen off the edge. Many analysts don't see him as an explosive athlete, with rumored times hovering in the 4.8-range in the 40-yard dash. However, Smoot flashes top-end burst and athleticism on tape. He arrived at Illinois as a 230-pound track athlete. He competed in nationals in high school in hurdles as well as the shot put and discus. With that background, I expect him to surprise people with his times.
On the football field, Smoot displays highs and lows as a pass rusher. He can win in a wide variety of ways with his hands, but will then disappear for stretches against top competition. He's one of the more mystifying defenders in this class.
Who else could surprise with their times from this group? Ohio defensive end Tarell Basham could run better than people think. He had his share of moments at the Senior Bowl and is a really smart pass rusher. I'd also keep a close eye on former Miami Hurricane Al-Quadin Muhammad, who stood out to me when watching him as a sophomore in 2015. He was thrown off the team in the summer and spent the 2016 season preparing for the draft.
Trust The Tape: Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M)
Hall should be known as much more than just "the guy playing on the other side of Myles Garrett." At 6-5, 265 pounds, the Seattle native is a really strong run defender and I like his versatility as a pass rusher. He can with his hands and shows the ability to transition from speed to power off the edge. He is a big-bodied prospect who showed really good flashes early in the week at the Senior Bowl. Overall, Hall is a well-rounded defender who projects as a solid starter as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but I don't think his athletic scores will be all that eye opening when it's all said and done out in Indianapolis.
Will Kill The Drills: Ryan Anderson (Alabama)
Anderson is undersized and he's not the most explosive athlete in terms of first-step quickness, so I don't think he'll test well in the timed drills. I do think, however, that he'll perform admirably when it comes to the position workout. At 6-2, 258 pounds, Anderson played both with his hand in the dirt and standing up in Nick Saban's defense for the last four years. He is a very good run defender. He's also a very smart coverage player, and is more comfortable moving in reverse than most of his peers. Anderson is working out with the linebacker group, but I expect him to look natural dropping and also in the bag drills as a pass rusher.
Most To Prove: Tim Williams (Alabama)
There's no debating that Williams is one of the most physically gifted players at this position. His first step is outstanding. His closing speed will drop your jaw to the floor, and he can transition from speed to power as well as anyone. He's got two questions he has to answer, and one is significantly more important than the other. First, can he prove that he can add weight to his 6-3, 245-pound frame to continue developing physically against the run as a point of attack defender? Secondly, and this is the more important part, he'll have to prove to teams that he's trustworthy off the field. During Training Camp of 2014, Williams was suspended along with two other teammates for a violation of team rules and missed 21 practices that summer. He was then arrested last fall and charged with a misdemeanor for carrying a pistol without a permit. Proving that this pattern of behavior is behind him will be the biggest objective on Williams' plate this week.
Most Productive College Player: Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
No player at his position posted more sacks in his career than Derek Barnett (32), and he did it in the SEC. At 6-3, 265 pounds, Barnett is another player like Smoot who I believe could surprise some people with how he tests. On film, he's a player who took over games at times because of his motor, hand use, and first step. With 198 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, and those 32 sacks, Barnett's résumé speaks for itself. I expect him to be a first-round pick in April.
Best Story: Charles Harris (Missouri)
I could have easily picked Harris as my "workout warrior," but I wanted to be sure that I got to tell a brief version of his story as well.
Harris was a high school basketball player who didn't touch football until his junior year. Still, he earned a scholarship to Missouri and redshirted his first year. After sitting behind future NFL players like Shane Ray and Markus Golden, he jumped into the spotlight and became one of the most disruptive forces in the SEC. What stands out about Harris is not only his athletic ability, but also his hand use. He wins in a number of ways as a pass rusher, utilizing a well-timed spin move, a club-rip, a swim, a hand swipe, a chop, a long arm, and other pass rush techniques to beat offensive tackles. His ability to hand fight shouldn't be a surprise, however, when you dig into the Kansas City native's background.
Harris was tired of being picked on and getting into fights in his neighborhood, so he took up boxing in his youth. That experience played a huge part in his development on the football field, not just from a mental toughness standpoint, but also when it came to anticipating contact and hand-eye coordination as a pass rusher. I'd put my money on Harris being seen as a "riser" after the Combine.
Philly Connection: Devonte Fields (Louisville)
Fields grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and was a first-team All-ACC pick with the Cardinals this past year, so what's his connection to Philadelphia? Well, before Fields went to Louisville, he was a freshman All-America at TCU back in 2012 and had the makings of a future top-10 pick. He ripped up the Big 12 to the tune of 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman. Who did he see in practice every day? None other than Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who told me that Fields was his first introduction to a pro-level pass rusher. Fields had a huge impact on Vaitai's development in his true freshman season with the Horned Frogs as a backup offensive tackle. Off the field issues resulted in Fields' getting kicked off the team at TCU. He'll have plenty of things to answer for in Indianapolis to help gain the trust of teams during the draft process.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.