Since 2000, just 11 edge rushers have registered double-digit sacks as rookies, and many of those prospects remain among the best in the league. This class may not have that level of an immediate contributor but Myles Garrett and a few others will eventually get there.
Here’s what to expect from this year’s crop of rookie edge rushers given their current skill sets and fits within their new teams.
1. Myles Garrett, Cleveland
Projection: Garrett will immediately step into a starting role in Cleveland, playing opposite Emmanuel Ogbah in the Browns new 4-3 defense. He’ll be the hands down best pass rusher on the team, but will likely have to make some noise before teams starting game-planning for the rookie.
Garrett is an incredible athlete with all the traits you want, but he’s not as polished with his hand usage or pass rush attacks as Joey Bosa was last year. Playing the amount of snaps he’ll likely play, Garrett could have impressive production, but I’ll be surprised if he hits the 10.5 mark Bosa posted last season.
Garrett’s year three impact is potentially bigger than Bosa’s due to his ceiling, and 6-8 sacks for a rookie should never be considered a disappointment.
Sack Prediction: 7-8
2. Solomon Thomas, San Francisco
Projection: This is a tough one. Thomas has an incredible motor and powerful hands but he only played off the edge in situations at Stanford and is still very raw in terms of developing a plan for how to work a tackle in space 1v1. Thomas’ motor runs hot and he’ll get some sacks off effort and power, but his best production may come as an interior rusher on long and late downs, if San Francisco chooses to use him that way.
New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh comes from Seattle, where Michael Bennett dominated in a versatile inside-out role. I’d expect similar usage from Thomas at least early on, whose long term projection is much better than his year one impact will likely be.
Sack Prediction: 5-6
3. Derek Barnett, Philadelphia
Projection: One of the youngest players in the draft, Barnett is an excellent cornering pass rusher with good bend, but I didn’t see consistent explosiveness from him on tape, which could hurt his ability to win the edge as consistently as he did in college.
Four games a year he’ll be playing against two of the best left tackles in football in Trent Williams and Tyron Smith, as Brandon Graham will undoubtedly line up at left defensive end once again this season. The Eagles also have a pretty loaded room at the position, with Chris Long and Vinny Curry currently ahead of Barnett on the depth chart.
When examining the best rookie seasons since 2000, I’ve found that the most successful early pass rushers were typically athletic freaks, or had one go-to move (usually an inside counter) that they consistently won with. I’m not sure Barnett has the athletic gifts to make his one move dominant, but if he adds a counter and cleans up his frame to hopefully improve explosiveness, I’d expect bigger things down the road in his career.
Sack Prediction: 4-5