NFL Draft

Kozora: 2017 NFL Draft Outside Linebacker Rankings

I didn’t get a chance to see every edge rusher but here’s each guy I’ve studied during the pre-draft process. Wanted to condense my overall thoughts on the prospects we’ve been talking about for the last couple months. And for those who wanted to see a personal mock draft, hopefully my personal rankings will suffice. This is all my own opinion, not where I think the player will actually go. Important distinction to make.

We’ll do the same for this year’s cornerback class tomorrow. Let me know your thoughts before.

1. TJ Watt/Wisconsin – 6’4/2 252

Legit talent, not just a name. Not a lot of experience but has a good pass rush IQ and uses his hands well for an inexperienced player. Good push/pull rush. High effort guy with enough functional strength and technique to hold the POA against the run. Boundary linebacker but played on the left and right side. Asked to spot drop some and physical in his reroute. Needs to counter and disengage sooner in his rush. Productive season, 15.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks. Junior, two years at linebacker.

Personal Grade: Mid-1st

2. Derek Rivers/Youngstown State – 6’4/1 248

Hard to find a lot of flaws in his game. From a small school, of course, but he played well in the Senior Bowl, a major test that he passes. Really nuanced hand use, able to string together moves, and his placement is solid. Sets a physical edge against the run. Want to see more snap to snap consistency with his effort but I don’t consider him lazy. Just a super talented guy who will quickly find out how much tougher the NFL is.

Personal Grade: Early 2nd

3. Carl Lawson/Auburn – 6’1/5 261

Good athlete, think he bends the edge well, with heavy hands. There is an injury history but he played in all of 2016, giving me some confidence. Three cone time was poor and a bit alarming. Didn’t have a lot of tackles but think he plays the run well and isn’t a loafer.

Personal Grade: Early 2nd

4. Jordan Willis/Kansas State – 6’3/6 255

Polarizing player. Great stats, tested off the charts, questions about his bend. Struggles to bend when he’s clean but does nice job to rip through contact. High IQ pass rusher who reads the tackles’ set. Productive everywhere he’s been. Great career in college, dominated in the Senior Bowl game. Three cone time surprised pretty much everyone (6.85). Uses length well.

Personal Grade: Mid-2nd

5. Charles Harris/Missouri – 6’2/6 253

Better on the field than he tested. Which is good, because he tested pretty poorly. Shows ability to dip and rip the edge and uses his hands well when kicked inside or stunting, showing power and a good swim move. Stays clean as a pass rusher. Great inside spin. Has to learn how to play without a two-way go, can’t use spin as often as he does. 4.82 40, 32 inch vert, 7.47 Combine three cone and per NFL Draft Scout, 7.35 at Pro Day.

Personal Grade: Mid 2nd

6. Tim Williams/Alabama – 6’3/1 244

Situational pass rusher. Great first step (1.64 ten split). Not heavy hands but a quick punch and stays clean. Not a one-note rusher, counters to the inside well and ability to get skinny. Uses length to overcome strength/frame issues. Some experience dropping into coverage. Has to condition self to become every down player. Off tje field concerns, including failed drug tests.

Personal Grade: Late 2nd

7. Tyus Bowser/Houston – 6’2/4 247

Underrated. Not the best sack production (22.5 in career, 8.5 last year) but spent a lot of time dropping into coverage. Fluid and natural moving backwards. Above average athlete. Needs to work on footwork to convert speed to power. Dip/rip is his go-to move. Needs to find a counter and show ability to two-gap against the run. 37.5 inch vert, 10’6″ broad shows explosion.

Personal Grade: Late 2nd

8. Tarrell Basham/Ohio – 6’3/5 269

No nonsense pass rusher. Speed to power guy. Heavy hands, able to collapse the pocket. Didn’t look comfortable going backwards and may want to lose some weight. Average athlete. Good sleeper. 14.5 TFL, 9 sacks last year. High effort player.

Personal Grade: Early 3rd

9. Derek Barnett/Tennessee – 6’3 259

Tested poorly at the Combine but was very sick night before/day of. Pro Day numbers were alarmingly just as bad. 4.92, 31 inch vert, reported 1.75 ten split at Pro Day. 4.88/1.7 at Combine. Shows ability to bend the edge and shows quick first step on tape. Great career, 33 sacks, surpassed Reggie White’s total. 13 of them in 2016. Tape vs test debate. Left school as a true junior.

Personal Grade: Mid 3rd

10. Joe Mathis/Washington – 6’2/1 266

Quiet draft season due to foot injury. Don’t believe he was able to test. Best OLB against the run in this class. Violent hands with a heavy strike and ability to stack and shed. Versatile, good IQ, played as a 3 tech in 2015 before standing up last year. Experience dropping into coverage. Powerful. Average athlete and probably never a dominant guy. Will get more pressures than sacks.

Personal Grade: Mid-3rd

11. Takk McKinley/UCLA – 6’2 250

Great length (34 3/4 inch arms) and straight line explosion (1.61 ten split). Productive despite playing through injury. 18 TFL, 10 sacks in 2016. Tight-hipped, 7.48 three cone. Pad level is a problem, plays too high. Can he win in multiple ways? May lose rookie year because of health.

Personal Grade: Late 3rd

12. Samson Ebukam/Eastern Washington – 6’1/7 240

Came on strong with a great Pro Day. 4.5 40, 39 inch vertical, 10’10” broad and 7.07 three cone. Quick first step and ability to flatten the edge and get upfield. Played all over the front seven and spent a lot of time in coverage. Fanatical effort. Good production and did well vs FBS teams (Washington St). High upside. Run fits need work, will overpursue and abandon his gap. Punch isn’t that strong. Speed guy. Some think he should move inside.

Personal Grade: Early 4th

13. Dawuane Smoot/Illinois – 6’2/7 264

Good length and frame (33 1/4 inch arms). Uses hands well, stays clean, and can bend the edge. Solid Senior Bowl week. Smart pass rusher. Average athlete at best, tested poorly (29.5 vert, 1.68 ten split, 4.77 40). Upside is limited but he’ll stick in the league.

Personal Grade: Early 5tb

14. Pita Taumoepenu/Utah – 6’1/2 243

Small frame, not much muscle. Near elite get-off. Skinny around the edge and stresses tackle’s pass set. Tremendous athlete with one of the top three cone times (6.91). Upside, still learning about the game, didn’t start playing football until senior year of high school. Not much starting experience. Lacks size/strength against the run. Trouble bending through contact, pushed upfield because he isn’t strong. Ceiling probably is third down pass rusher.

Personal Grade: Mid-6th

15. Tashawn Bower/LSU – 6’4/6 250

Looks the part. 33 3/8 inch arms. Top recruit out of HS but never panned out. Seven career starts. Asked to drop into coverage. Functional strength at the POA and plays with proper pad level. Good motor. Not a special athlete (4.82/1.66). 5.5 career sacks, three of those in one game. Backup and special teamer in the NFL.

Personal Grade: Early 7th

16. Ejuan Price/Pittsburgh – 5’11/3 241

Productive player, 23 TFL and 13 sacks in 2016. Better first step than how he tested. Flexibility around the edge. Wins is a variety of ways. Lacks height and tested in the tank (4.84 40, 31.5 vert, 9’9″ broad). Bad combo. Gets stuck on his rushes too often and physically overwhelmed. Injury history.

Personal Grade: Priority UDFA

17. Carroll Phillips/Illinois – 6’3/2 242

Looks the part (33 3/4 arms, 9 3/4 hands). Good first step, above average athleticim overall. (4.64/1.64, 7.06 three cone). Productive senior year, 20 TFL, 9 sacks on a bad team. Inconsistent pass rusher who disappears too often. Too often run up the arc, three cone doesn’t match flexibility seen on tape. Not much experience with his hand up. Seems to struggle mentally and could need a lot of coaching. Already 25 years old.

Personal Grade: Priority UDFA

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