Let’s get it out of the way.
Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is an absolute athletic freak of a man-child. He does things most human beings cannot fathom being physically able to accomplish. He ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds, with a faster 10-yard split than running back Devonta Freeman. He has a 41-inch vertical (higher than that of LeBron James) a 10-foot-8 broad jump and has nearly an 83-inch wingspan.
Not only that, he was probably one of the most pleasant interviews at the NFL scouting combine last week. He even went as far as saying he’d apologize to the Cleveland Browns when he met with them later that afternoon, after a joke video he made begging to be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys went viral.
Garrett is the best prospect in the 2017 NFL draft, and he will be out of reach for the Carolina Panthers at No. 8. In fact, it’s becoming ever more likely that he’ll be out of reach by No. 2.
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So what’s next? Here are some possibilities:
Taco Charlton, Michigan
Physically, Michigan’s Taco Charlton matches up to what the Panthers and general manager Dave Gettleman is looking for in an every-down edge rusher. He is 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, but was a little slow in his 40-yard dash at 4.92 seconds. Charlton’s length and bend are very intriguing, as is his tool belt.
“The thing that sets me apart is I’m versatile,” he said. “I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light. The thing about me, too, is look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything.
“My arsenal is wide. I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end, all of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Another solid option for the Panthers – maybe even at No. 8 – is Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. Impressive at the combine because he showed up to work out despite a pretty bad virus, Barnett ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash but weighed in a little smaller than a prototypical pass-rusher at 6-foot-3 and 259 pounds. (He weighed 265 before the stomach bug took its toll.) But Barnett is probably the best pure pass-rusher in the draft, and recorded 32 sacks in three years in Tennessee’s 4-3 scheme. His balance, flexibility and hand skills may make up for his shorter size, to some evaluators.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Probably the No. 2 defensive end (or defensive tackle) prospect in the draft, Jonathan Allen admitted that he was diagnosed with arthritis in his shoulders, which had already been surgically repaired before the condition was discovered. It definitely didn’t affect his play at Alabama, where he excelled in just about any spot along the line and got about half his snaps in 2014 and 2015 on the end, according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen maintains his health is not a problem in the short-term, telling reporters that doctors said any major issues won’t show up for 15-20 years.
The confidence and versatility displayed by Allen had to have Gettleman salivating a little.
“I like to think I’m a technician, that I can do a lot of things,” Allen said. “You want me to rush from a 3-technique; I can do it effectively. You want me to bend the corner on the outside; I can do it. I can play the run, I can play double teams, I can play above the tight end, the 6-technique, scoot and cut off blocks. I feel like I can do anything that I’m asked to do on the defensive line.”
▪ Stanford’s Solomon Thomas is a coach’s dream in terms of motor and intelligence. He’s a strong pick, but at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds with 33-inch arms he is trying to shake the reputation of a “tweener” – a player who doesn’t fit perfectly at defensive tackle or on the end. He doesn’t believe that he is, of course, and thinks he’s perfect as an edge man in a 4-3 scheme (even though he played in a 3-4 for the Cardinal). If the Panthers consider Thomas a “situational” guy, they won’t use a high pick on him because they just re-signed Mario Addison.
Thomas had perhaps the best quote of the combine when he said, very matter-of-factly, that “he wants to put the fear of God into (offensive linemen) on every play.”
▪ Another gifted prospect who was early on the defensive end radar is UCLA’s Takk McKinley. While a very efficient and athletic pass rusher (he had 10 sacks last season for the Bruins), McKinley played since 2015 with a bum shoulder and will have surgery Monday.
“Got an MRI,” he said. “Doctor was pretty much amazed that I played with it. Me, I just told my trainers at UCLA ‘Just tape me up, I’m ready to go.’ So why get surgery right before the combine? I mean, this is a dream come true for me. I’m here to knock it out.”
His estimated recovery time would be six months, which is a red flag for any team who’d need him in training camp.