2018 NFL Combine EDGE Defender Preview

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]The 2018 NFL Combine is upon us and we are eagerly waiting to see how a bunch of physical specimen perform athletic tests in their underwear. These results are not the be all end all, but they help substantiate what we have already evaluated on the film, while also providing additional information that may lead us to go back and look at a prospect’s tape a bit more. Jordan Willis out of Kansas State, who was drafted in the 3rd round by the Cincinnati Bengals, was a prime example of that last year. I have been tasked with evaluating the EDGE group for the 2018 Inside The Pylon Draft Guide and for some of these prospects, the combine is critical to how high they may be drafted. While there isn’t a transcendent, Myles Garrett type of prospect in the 2018 EDGE group, there are plenty of talented players that can get after the quarterback and set the edge vs the run. The below EDGE defenders are my current top 15 at the position, listed in order. 

1. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

2017 Stats: 72 tackles, 23 TFL, 10 sacks

The consensus top pass rusher on the board, and one who is routinely mocked to the Indianapolis Colts at #3, can be a day one starter in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, while possessing the ability to maintain excellent explosiveness from both a 2-point or a 3-point stance. I expect him to do really well in the agility drills like the three-cone drill and the 20 yard shuttle. His excellent use of mental processing to key & diagnose blocking schemes is juxtaposed with incredible burst/initial quickness to make him very dangerous. He still must work on his bull-rush technique as well as his lateral balance through contact to maximize his immense potential. He is a shoo-in to be a top 10 pick come April’s draft.

2. Harold Landry, Boston College

2017 Stats: 38 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks (In 8 games)

Landry’s 2017 tape left a lot to be desired after leading the FBS with 16.5 sacks in 2016. There is a reason for that: Landry played with an ankle injury, and for a guy who relies on his ankle flexion and ability to put significant weight on that joint to be effective, it’s clear why his impact was hindered. After backing out of the Reese’s Senior Bowl, the combine proves to be a good place for Landry to reestablish the hype from last off-season. If fully healthy, I expect Landry to be one of the best in the short shuttle, while also finishing near the top in the three cone. Medicals will also be important, since his ankle was such a burden last season.

3. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

2017 Stats: 42 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 7 sacks

Hubbard is a versatile pass rusher, but he’s also a sound run defender. He’s relatively new to playing in the trenches, as he was recruited by Urban Meyer to play safety, but grew so well into his body and maintained his high athletic ability, that he made the transition to DE. Possesses very good overall explosiveness, times the snap very well, and has a ridiculous ability to plant his foot and change directions, which make him dangerous on Stunts/Twists. Hubbard is going to have a good combine and he will be a very sound assignment player in the NFL, who will earn sacks through technique and competitive toughness. 

4. Arden Key, LSU

2017 Stats: 33 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4 sacks (In 8 Games)

No player has more to gain from the 2018 NFL Combine than Arden Key. Due to a few different off the field issues, the interview portion of the combine is absolutely critical for Key. He took a leave of absence from LSU, which will have to be explained, and there are questions about his love for football. His weigh-ins will be very important as well, since he reportedly added 30 lbs going into 2017 and he didn’t play nearly as well (especially as a pass rusher) as he did in 2016, albeit he was dealing with a shoulder injury. Teams will have to know what his playing weight was and he must show these teams he isn’t the next “Randy Gregory,” but the first Arden Key. On tape, one can’t deny his 2016 burst, lateral agility, flexibility, and overall relentless nature (when he wants to use it). If he can show teams his love for the game, along with his excellent athletic ability, he can raise his stock significantly, but the question marks are there.  

5. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

2017 Stats: 62 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Georgia LB Roquan Smith and rightfully so, but I do feel like evaluators are sleeping on his teammate Lorenzo Carter. Carter has a chance to destroy the combine. He has shown the range/pursuit, straight line speed, natural quick twitch athleticism, while standing at 6’6” and 242 lbs. Carter is a name to monitor throughout the combine, due to his athletic profile and explosive nature. He is very versatile, showing the athletic ability to move fluidly in space, while having the explosive nature/ability to initiate contact, with good leverage for 6’6”, and he uses his length/lateral quickness to elude blocks. I can see him shooting up draft boards in the next month. He isn’t a finished product and he must improve his overall play strength, lower body drive, and his ability to stack and shed blockers at the point of attack when he isn’t rushing the passer in order to fully live up to his physical gifts.

6. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Oklahoma, 2017 Stats: 75 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks

Okoronkwo is relatively short for the position, but has very good length and he can get after opposing QBs with excellent athletic ability, change of direction, and very good flexibility. He flashes inside counter moves and the ability to adapt mid rush. He will have to become stronger taking on blocks and he must improve his hand placement/usage, while showing a better ability to diagnose blocking schemes at the next level. He is in a good spot to improve his stock in Indianapolis, as he could really do well in the 40 yard dash, vertical, and broad jump portions.

7. Josh Sweat, Florida State

2017 Stats: 56 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks

Sweat could prove to be the biggest riser of the bunch in Indianapolis. There are reports that he could run in the 4.5s at 6’5” 250 lbs, which really is something special. If you watch his 2017 tape, you can see the backside pursuit and speed he really does possess. I would imagine that Lorenzo Carter would clock in faster, but we shall see! I can also see Sweat doing very well in the broad and vertical jumps. Sweat was highly recruited out of high school, but a terrible dislocation of the left kneecap and torn ACL befell him during his senior year. He has also had one clean up surgery on his left meniscus since then, so his medicals will be the most important aspect of the combine. He plays with good fluidity in his hips to turn at the top of the arc, while also possessing very good lower body strength to anchor and powerful hands to jolt lineman. While his mental processing and feel for the game is good, he had the slowest snap timing of any defensive lineman I have evaluated this year, so that must improve.  

8. Marcus Davenport, UTSA

2017 Stats: 55 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks

Big draft media has been gushing over Davenport since the lead up to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. His week down in Mobile was underwhelming to say the least, though. He may look like a prototypical EDGE prospect, but his skill-set is not top 10 worthy. A lot of his college production was him running through smaller school tackles, or even tight ends, to make big plays off brute strength, which is not translatable. He tried this several times against Alex Cappa in Mobile and it did not work well for him. He must focus on hand placement, lowering his pad level, and learning to string pass rush moves together to defeat professional offensive lineman. I have a late second round grade on him, as opposed to a top 10 grade, due to the fact that he is raw and he needs to refine his technique vs the run and pass. If Davenport lands with the right coaching staff, he could turn into something very dangerous, but development will be needed for him to be a consistent 3 down player. As for the combine, I don’t expect Davenport to win any of the athletic testing drills, but he will be a storyline to follow throughout the week.

9. Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest

2017 Stats: 43 tackles, 17 TFL, 7 sacks

Ejiofor has one of the most mature pass rushing repitore’s of any EDGE prospect in the class. He utilizes effective swims/armovers, power swipes/club, shoulder dip/rip, push-pulls, and has incredibly active hands to shed pass blocks, while showing an excellent ability to adjust on the fly and adapt to put himself in an advantageous position. Showed a very good inside spin move, where he dropped his weight and made tackles over pursue, while clubbing them with his backside forearm and releasing from the point of attack to wreak havoc on the pocket. He was effective as an inside pass rusher from the 3 technique spot in obvious pass rushing situations, while showing a good ability to flex at the top of the arc on the edge. Has a relentless motor that doesn’t stop. What he did lack as a pass rusher was top end explosiveness and the ability to bull-rush through a lineman. He could also stand to improve vs the run, especially against down blocks and power/counter concepts. I don’t expect him to “wow” anyone at the combine with speed or explosiveness, which may result in a team getting a pass rushing gem a bit later than expected. You can read my NFL Draft Spotlight on Ejiofor here.

10. Kemoko Turay, Rutgers

2017 Stats: 60 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks

Turay opened up a lot of eyes down at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. I watched a play on the second day of the North Team’s practice where he showed incredible ankle flexion to bend the edge and win the rep. After going through the tape, I see the initial quickness, change of direction, and lateral agility that make him intriguing, while also witnessing flashes of dip/rips, chops, and push-pulls that were very effective (although I feel this has to be more consistent). I saw a lot of concerns as well, though. The flexibility wasn’t as apparent on tape and he really struggled to take on blocks and play the run. His anchor left a lot to be desired and he really struggled taking on pullers on the edge. With all that being said, Turay intrigues me; he he has good movement skills in space, good overall explosiveness, and has flashes of good hand technique. Rutgers misused him as a pass rusher last season and injuries will have to check out (significant shoulder issues), but Turay can build upon an already impressive offseason. I feel he could do well in the 10 yard splits and three-cone. Plus… he’s a Jersey guy like me, so you know.

11. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Toledo

2017 Stats: 66 tackles, 20 TFL, 8.5 sacks

“Ola” has excellent burst off the line of scrimmage to really challenge tackles pass sets on the edge. A 1-gap penetrator who can convert speed to power and plays with extreme physicality. Uses very good balance and flexibility to get up the arc through contact, while maintaining speed through tight angles, and applying pressure off the edge. Lacks ideal length and can play with tunnel vision, while guessing too often in the run game, which leaves his responsibility exposed. I don’t expect him to do particularly well in the 40 yard dash, but he has a chance to do very well in the 10 yard splits. His measurements will be important as well.  

12. Dorance Armstrong, Kansas

2017 Stats: 63 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks

Length and athletic ability are synonymous with Armstrong. He has very good burst and excellent flexibility, with very active hands to disengage. Armstrong can put his athletic ability on display at the combine. He has a chance to finish near the top of the EDGE group in the 40, three cone, and the short shuttle. Armstrong will really need to improve his play strength and ability to take on blocks at the next level, though. He struggled mightily against the run, while showing a precarious tendency to not be assignment sound. There were reports that Armstrong played through a slightly torn right ACL in 2017, which could explain his lack of production. If this is true, his medicals will really need to check out. If all goes well for Armstrong, he could really boost his stock with the athletic profile he possesses.

13. Chad Thomas, Miami

2017 Stats: 41 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks

He has ideal size to be a 4-3 end, while providing a good ability to stop the run by setting the edge and anchoring well in 1 on 1 situations. Times the snap well and uses a good rip move to get up the arc. His lateral agility and short area quickness are very impressive for his size. Has limited flexibility to consistently corner and he struggles with a high pad level, while being relatively raw in his pass rushing plan. He must learn to use his hands and string moves together in order to disengage from blocks and maximize his physical gifts. I don’t expect him to shoot up the boards due to athletic testing.    

14. Jeff Holland, Auburn

2017 Stats: 45 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks

Not a player who will raise a lot of positive eyebrows at the combine, as he carries a somewhat portly frame. He is only a solid athlete and doesn’t have very good athletic traits. What he does win with his physicality, football intelligence, gap responsibility, and a very violent use of hands. He can be a 3-4 SAM linebacker, who can set the edge and take on blocks, while maximizing his hand usage to win in 1 on 1 situations.    

15. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

2017 Stats: 20 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks

While I feel like his teammate, Jayln Holmes, is much more suited for an event like the combine, I have Lewis ranked higher on my current rankings. A smart run defender that is assignment sound, with excellent eye discipline and incredibly violent hands at the point of attack. His upside is limited because he is only a solid athlete, but he makes up for that with very good play strength, competitive toughness, and an ability to shed blocks at the point of attack. Has a chance to finish near the top of the bench press category for EDGE prospects, but I don’t expect him to win any of the other athletic testing events. 

There are a bunch of intriguing prospects here, who drastically vary in their skill-sets. I told myself, if I am going to put a piece together, I will have to put my money where my mouth is and rank the top performer for each event. I will only use a name one time. Whoever is listed as an EDGE or DE according to NFL.com participants are in play for the events, so here it goes:

40 Yard dash: Lorenzo Carter (Georgia)

10 Yard Split: Darius Jackson (Jacksonville State)

Bench Press: Da’Shawn Hand (Alabama)

Vertical Jump: Josh Sweat (Florida State)

Broad Jump: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma)

Short (20 yard) Shuttle: Harold Landry (Boston College)

60 Yard Shuttle: Uchenna Nwosu (USC)

Three Cone: Bradley Chubb (North Carolina State)

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Nick Falato wrote this article, follow him on Twitter @nickfalato. Check out his other work here, including a look at USC quarterbacks of the past and how it applies to Sam Darnold, and evaluations of the Los Angeles Chargers‘ and New York Giants‘ 2017 NFL Drafts. Follow Nick on Twitter @nickfalato.

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