Now that the 2017 NFL Draft has concluded, the analysis continues in projecting these prospects to the next level, especially during their rookie years. I’m building a series looking at the five biggest early impact contributors among each position group, including today’s focus on five edge defenders amidst a deep class that could blossom as pass rushers early on.
The players are listed in order from the most to least impactful rookies among each position group. It’s splitting hairs in some cases, but I figured it will give us another fun element to look back on when the season ends.
1. Myles Garrett, EDGE, Cleveland Browns
Garrett has all the traits of an early contributor off the edge, including an easy path to a starting spot, elite athleticism, and a front seven with enough talent to not leave him in isolation. He’ll likely rush against left tackles with his hand down to begin his career, but Garrett could eventually move around and work from either end of the line of scrimmage.
Garrett will likely win by converting speed-to-power and with outside speed rushes, a good two rush combination for a rookie to have. His hands and counter moves could stand to improve, but Garrett’s year one impact will still be solid despite his unfinished skill set.
2. Charles Harris, EDGE, Miami Dolphins
Harris likely won’t play a high snap count, but he should be heavily utilized as a long and late downs edge rusher opposite Cameron Wake while Andre Branch kicks inside next to Ndamukong Suh. Harris has the explosive first step and ready-made spin move to win speed-counter attacks off the edge.
If Harris can refine his hands some an add the occasional power rush, he’s got the best chance to compete with Garrett for the rookie lead in sacks, especially given the fact that one of the most fearsome rushers in the league will be lining up on the other side of him.
3. Tarell Basham, EDGE, Indianapolis Colts
In a vacuum I wouldn’t have Basham on this list, but I struggle to see who will keep him out of the lineup in Indianapolis. Jabaal Sheard and John Simon may start the season at outside linebacker for the Colts, but Basham is at worst the first edge rusher off the bench, and his explosiveness and violent playing style should get him plenty of run on passing downs.
Few teams in the league have been worse at impacting the quarterback with edge pressure than Indianapolis over the past few years, which should make them excited to see what they’ve got in Basham. I don’t think the former Bobcat is a finished product, but he might just be the best pass rusher in Indy by the end of the season.
4. Taco Charlton, EDGE, Dallas Cowboys
It’s tough to predict exactly what Dallas’ defensive end situation will look like, as Charles Tapper readies for what will essentially be his rookie season, and Demarcus Lawrence attempts to return from his second back surgery. David Irving looked like an animal down the stretch last season, and he and Charlton could be the Cowboys starters in base personnel.
I’d expect Charlton to rush from both sides as an every down player despite the depth at the position, and he should produce at a decent level even as a rookie. Charlton doesn’t have a particularly high ceiling, but he should be able to work his way into five or six sacks if his role plays out as expected.
5. Tim Williams, EDGE, Baltimore Ravens
Williams is an explosive pass rusher who will likely be used in a rush-heavy role while he adds muscle to his frame and develops as a run defender. A quick first step, active hands and the mental processing to know when to deploy explosive counter moves are vital aspects for successful young pass rushers, and Williams shows all of these things in abundance on tape.
I don’t think he’ll be an every down player at any point during his rookie season, but he’s more polished as a pass rusher than Tyus Bowser, and is much more dangerous as an edge-rushing threat than Z’Darius Smith or Matt Judon.