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2017 NFL Draft: BTSC Big Board looking at edge rushers

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A position focused look at what prospects project to get time as an edge rusher.

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The Steelers' clear priority for the upcoming draft is finding a pass rusher who can inherit the mantle of the only-seemingly immortal James "Deebo" Harrison. The pundits will tell you it's an unusually strong draft class at that position. I'm here to tell you it's an even more frustrating one.

There is one and only one truly elite prospect:

1:01

Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M - 6'4", 272 lbs. with 35-1/4" arms and 10-1/4" hands. A quote from our own Nicholas.Martin: "Myles Garrett is what people wanted Jadeveon Clowney to be. The way to describe him is if I gave Khalil Mack, Clowney's body and gave him the ability to the bend the edge. I don't need to say anymore about him." [Sigh] Here is the NFL scouting profile, which concludes with a comparison to Julius Peppers. Never mind the other links - why torture yourself?

If you follow the news at all you will know that Mr. Garrett is infinitely more likely to go as the #1 overall pick than he is to fall toward Pittsburgh at the end of the 1st Round. And for those who wonder about such things, the NFL Draft Trade Chart suggests that combining every pick in Pittsburgh's possession, including the Round 3 compensatory pick, would be equal in value to #10 or #11 overall.

I think we can write that one off.

The next bracket includes three very talented pass rushers who would only fit in a 4-3 scheme. Yes, one can argue that Pittsburgh might get more value out of taking the player and switching its scheme to match his talents. Let's not. That long shot isn't worth the electronic ink it would take to consider. The three players are:

N/A

Solomon Thomas, DL/Edge, Stanford - 6'3", 273 lbs. with 33" arms and 9-3/8" hands. Solomon Thomas is a smart, tenacious, workaholic who may or may not have that natural genius going around the edge. If Thomas can show some dip and the ability to play in space as an OLB, he gets an easy 1st-Round grade. If he's more of a defensive end, discounts will have to be applied... though he's talented enough to play with the system rather than just ignore. The process will reveal all. Here is a glowing NFL.com scouting profile. This New Year's scouting report ends with a Top-15 grade as a 4-3 defensive tackle/end hybrid - not at all what the Steelers would want. This January scouting report from a reliable Seahawks site emphasizes that Thomas is a SPARQ score wonder, and also views him as a Top 10-15 if he's treated as a 4-3 defensive lineman. Thomas does well with his strengths, using his size and power to bully smaller blockers while slipping away with good lateral agility, but the knock on him being polished is also what could hold him back in the NFL.

N/A

Jonathan Allen, DL/Edge, Alabama - 6'3", 286 lbs. with 33-5/8" arms and 9-3/8" hands. A pure 4-3 Defensive End with the ability to slide inside at play DT too. Not at all a fit for Pittsburgh, but so good at these roles that he might be worth the pick anyway. The distinctions between 4-3 and 3-4 systems have been slowly dissolving in any event, so it wouldn't be as big a leap in this year as might be true for a decade ago. It's all moot, however. Jonathan Allen is a Top 10 pick all day, every day, and I've seen him as the #1 overall on some outlying Boards. There are concerns that could lead to a drop: he does not get off the line fast enough and there are injury concerns. Six months ago, he was projected mid to late first round, but his late season performance has given him a bump in the eyes of the press. He's a real student of the game, and the Steelers would be lucky to have him, despite his not fitting mold as a real run stopping D-Lineman; more of a pass rusher, but he doesn't limit himself. Here's the NFL scouting profile if you want a link to look at.

N/A

Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan - 6'6", 277 lbs. with 34-1/4" arms and 9-3/4" hands. We had our hopes, but the Combine dashed them. Taco Charlton is a 4-3 Defensive End all the way. He looks like a very good one who deserves a Top 20 grade from a team like the Giants, but from a Steeler POV he's at best a Round 2 reach. Alas and alack. The NFL.com scouting profile pegs inconsistency and various intangibles as the biggest issues. The CBS scouting profile is similar, but considers him a pure 4-3 DE. This January scouting report praises Charlton's exceptional speed and the fact that he has a lot of untapped ceiling, ending with a Top 20 grade. This similarly thoughtful January scouting report ends with a late-1st grade due to his extremely raw skill set and questions about why he didn't appear on the scene until his Senior year. This late January scouting profile calls him an "ideal edge prospect" with "elite traits," but concludes with a Round 2 grade because of high pad level that particularly shows up on run downs. This January scouting profile from a Titans site agrees with the assets, drawbacks, and Round 2 grade. Here is another January scouting profile that, lo and behold, ends with an early Round 2 grade.

Next up: the first bracket of players who the Steelers could actually use. There is even an outside chance that they'll be available at 1:30... because all of them have some significant flaw that makes you go "hmmmm." The full Big Board descriptions follow, but here are the players and issues in a nutshell:

  • Derek Barnett. The most productive SEC pass rusher around with the sort of results that make you drool. He has a very well developed skill set too, with sophisticated moves, countermoves, planning, an awesome ability to dip under Tackles, etc. The problem? He's not God's gift to the world of athletes when compared against his peers, and the Steelers have focused heavily on raw athleticism since the ill-fated Jarvis Jones pick. OTOH, Barnett surprised many skeptics with how well he moved in space at the Combine and proved his Steelerness beyond all doubt by toughing his way through despite a serious illness. NOTE: Barnett is the least likely of the four to reach 1:30, but he might fall into the range where he could be snagged by trading up. Following the Trade Chart, the Steeler pick at 3:30 would be enough to reach Pick 1:25 or 1:26.
  • Charles Harris. Another incredibly productive pass rusher at the very highest level, with a fairly advanced skill set. He's had particular success with a great dip move around the edge and a spin counter move that brings actual oooohs and aaaahs to your lips. But he tested even worse that Barnett at the Combine. Far worse. And he did it in every category except the movement in space drills we expected him to flub. What the heck? The big question with Harris comes down to simple explosiveness. This style of player relies on having enough burst to make opposing Tackles fear a race to the edge. That is what opens them up to the spin move and other tools. In college he regularly flashed that burst. His testing belies that, and suggests that it came from anticipating the snap counts and other tricks. Which tool represents the truth, his film or his testing? The conflict leaves us in limbo with the experts loudly proclaiming both positions at the same time.
  • T.J. Watt. Watt played Tight End until last year, so his actual skill set is very basic. He came along rapidly but you have to assume it will require a redshirt year before he's fully up to speed. He has almost nothing in the way of polished pass rush moves and IQ that would begin to compete with either Barnett or Harris. But Watt has something that Barnett and Harris do not: hard numbers proving that he possesses the sort of native athletic talent Pittsburgh has so successfully searched for over the past few years. He fits the Shazier/Dupree/Burns profile much better than they do.
  • Takkarist McKinley. This is the prospect to really twist your brain. Everything about him contradicts itself. McKinley's film shows an almost complete ignorance of pass rush technique - despite three years playing this exact position at the high level UCLA program. McKinley's stat line reads like a game dominating success story - an outcome we all put down to phenomenal athletic talent that seems to leap of the film, and a motor that even Deebo might envy. But McKinley's Combine test results look less like that UCLA super-stud than something you'd expect from a chubby UCLA film student who dreams of making the next Star Wars - and he seemed unable to remember which way to go in several of the drills! Finally, McKinley just had surgery for a minor but nagging shoulder problem so there's no pro day chance to improve those results, and he won't be able to practice until June or July. If you can make heads or tails of that mishmash you're a better analyst than I am!

Those four are probably the main Steeler targets but I'll be darned if I can say which one is the favorite. My personal preference would be for Barnett or Watt, but that's only because I've seen the Steelers succeed with players who match those stereotypes. The preference says more about me than it does about the actual answer.

1:20

Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee - 6'3", 259 lbs. with 32-1/8" arms and 10" hands. Derek Barnett had an incredibly productive career in the SEC based largely on having one tremendous skill - a native ability to dip beneath opposing Tackles - combined with great hands, a knack for guessing snap counts, and top notch fundamentals across the board. Mike Mayock all but swooned over his "great football IQ" and his never stop, never quit, never be unavailable, all effort all the time approach to the game. He is a very advanced football player, and a truly tough kid. The downside? He's not the same miracle athlete as some of his peers. Thus Derek Barnett is an easy 1st-Round pick based on his exceptional floor, but his grade has to be modified a bit by the moderate ceiling; especially for the athleticism-obsessed Steelers. The Combine didn't provide a lot of clarity. On the one hand, he moved so well in space that Willie McGinest flat out said, "He can stand up and play in 2-point." Isn't that good news! On the other side, measured very meh in the explosiveness tests, which is what people were most concerned about. Yes, he was sick as a dog and simply showing up to try was a testament to his toughness. Rinse and repeat: Others might listen to agents and avoid doing drills after the long grind of getting poked, prodded, and underslept, but Barnett went through all of that and then did the drills despite a nasty virus and apparently a serious fever. Well done! But is he what the Steelers are looking for? The NFL.com scouting profile details the high floor but moderate ceiling features. Similar details emerge in the CBS scouting profile. This DraftWire scouting report ends with a Top 15 grade. This scouting report from our sister for the Jets comes in at Top 10.

1:20

Charles Harris, Edge, Missouri - 6'3", 253 lbs. with 32-3/8" arms and 9-5/8" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Charles Harris was a clear favorite in the Pittsburgh Edge Sweepstakes until the Combine, when he confused things in both directions. On the good side, he showed surprising movement skills in space. The words "smooth" and "natural" were used over and over, along with "natural", "easy" and "comfortable" in the LB drills. Willie McGinest's summary: "Charles Harris is making some money for himself." The bad? His hardcore SPARQ measurements like the dash, the vertical and the broad jumps were nothing short of awful, as in bottom 10% of NFL pass rushers. So which do you believe? Your eyes and the tape, or the numbers and data? About that tape... As summarized in this January scouting report, which compares him to Ryan Kerrigan, Charles Harris has real talent and willingness when it comes to run defense, and a ridiculous amount of foot speed, acceleration, and explosion that makes him terribly dangerous as a pass rusher. A hell of a bull rush too, a vicious spin move, and he's flashed the ability to dip around the edge. He does have a bad habit of play with a high pad level, which gets him washed out of running plays, and he has major areas in which he could improve, such as hand fighting. OTOH, that's what coaches are for, right? The NFL.com scouting profile has some nice observations about both the good and the bad, with a heavy emphasis on some questions about attitude and coachability that only an interview could really answer. If Harris is coachable, however, you could be looking at a guy the Steelers might even trade up to get. The Cowboys at 1:28 would be a likely obstacle, as expanded on in this late January scouting report from the same author. This December scouting report comes from an Arizona Cardinals site. This January scouting profile is a bit summary, but seems fair enough.

1:20

T.J. Watt, Edge/ILB, Wisconsin - 6'4", 252 lbs. with long 33-1/8" arms and massive 11" hands [Meeting at the Combine] T.J. Watt gets some pushback from people who think his stock gets unduly inflated because of his older brother J.J. To which we can collectively say, "Oh, poo." The family connection obviously means something - athletic talent does have a genetic component, which shows in T.J.'s length, fast hands, and basic strength. They were raised in the same household, which bodes well for his ability to be a pro's pro. T.J. also shows some decent technique that may come from informal coaching at the family Thanksgiving game (wouldn't that one be a sight!). Beyond those things it can be ignored. T.J. is a heck of a good prospect taken all on his own. His SPARQ score from the Combine testing was amazing, especially the important explosion and agility numbers. Mike Mayock believes "The easy comp is Clay Matthews." He also emphasized that Watt has a good get off, very strong hands, and is pretty darned good in space - all of which are going to improve since he is very raw, having played TE until a year ago. Super athletic; high character; smart; hard-working; but horribly raw. What team do we know that favors that profile?

The NFL.com scouting profile has little but good to say, describing a very high floor for a player who is "not very twitched up" - a concern that the Combine results negated. This gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Packers (and home state to the Wisconsin Badgers) is a good place to start. It projects him as a solid, consistent, 4-6 sack guy who will never let you down in other areas. This goes to a SteelersWire summary that's worth a read too. For a really detailed analysis, check out the 53-minute Matt Waldman video epic. This January scouting profile emphasizes Watt's superior ability to dip and rip around the edge, along with his physical strength, relentless motor, and "formidable" skill in run support, but ends with a Round 3 grade nevertheless because he seems to be excellent but not great. This brief scouting profile from Baltimore Beatdown also considers him good 3rd Round value. This nice scouting profile would agree - very solid with a high floor, but also a limited ceiling. This article discusses Mike Mayock's comparison to Clay Matthews. For a bit of deeper background I like this October article from Sports Illustrated. This February scouting profile ends with a 2nd Round grade. This Packers/Wisconsin-oriented scouting profile ends with a fringe-1st grade, as does this more enthusiastic and detailed scouting profile . This goes to a decent Jets-oriented scouting profile.

1:25

Takkarist McKinley, Edge, UCLA - 6'2", 250 lbs. with very long 34-3/4" arms and 9-34" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Keep an eye on this one! McKinley is an odd case for the Steelers because his college coach is Tom Bradley, the long time Penn State coach who later worked for West Virginia and regularly consulted for the Steelers in the meantime. The team knows Bradley enough to rely completely on his insider's view. We at BTSC obviously don't have that resource, but it seems likely that McKinley will have either a much higher or much lower grade for Pittsburgh than he will for other teams. McKinley's Combine measurements match up to neither his film nor the expectations. E.g., he was supposed to be super fast, looks that way on the film, and swears to having run a 4.4. In Indianapolis he ran a 4.59. Other tests were similarly off-kilter, and there will be no correction at his pro day because he just got shoulder surgery for a torn labrum he's played with for the past two years (3 month recovery time). The biggest and most legitimate question is whether he has that unique gift for bending around the edge. The weirdest thing is that he never seemed to even try it until the last game or two of the season. Nor does he have anything else that resembles a pass rush. He just wins a lot with pure, untutored effort. As this very fun 24-minute video scouting report puts it, he is "100% effort and a$$-whoopin' and chase with no real technique." On the plus side, he sets the edge very well and shows exceptional team-defense discipline. The NFL.com scouting profile loves his prospects overall, but does sound a cautionary note about McKinley's bend around the edge. This goes to a scouting report from November, and this to a Steelers oriented scouting report from mid-January. This January scouting profile emphasizes McKinley's ability to dip and bend, which is the major question mark that others have identified. Here is a scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins.

Think it gets easier from here? Wrong! The next tier of prospects is so close behind the first four that many of BTSC's best analysts actually like some of them better. I drop them "down" here only because their respective flaws are a tiny bit more obvious than the ones above. And I do mean "tiny." Once again, here are the pocket summaries followed by the full Big Board descriptions:

  • Carl Lawson. Lawson is Mr. Almost. His film is almost-great, but not quite because he always seems to almost but not quite get there. If you want pressures, he's your man. Sacks... not so much. His size is ideal at 6'2" and almost 260 lbs., but his arms are pitifully short and the film shows that he actually has some length related problems with getting off blocks. He had a spectacularly awful injury history, but managed to stay and play completely healthy for all of last year. His tests show excellent explosiveness and speed, but his maneuverability results were downright toxic. His technique seems to be irregular, but that could well be because he had three different coordinators in each of his three prior years. His leadership is unquestioned, and you can almost see his teammates swirling around him as their point man. It's almost enough to push him into the top four up above. Almost.
  • Joe Mathis. Big, strong, long, and boasting some of the best film in the nation - for all of six games, at which point he suffered a foot injury that cost him the rest of the year. And no, you can't look at last year's film or the year before, because he basically didn't play. In other words, Joe Mathis isn't a one-year wonder, he's a half-year wonder. And it was the first half of the year, when the opposition was weaker. But what a half-year it was...! I can't tell you how much we looked forward to getting some actual, hard data on Mr. Mathis - but then he DNP'd at the Combine and also at his pro day with the single exception of some outright amazing bench press numbers. So what are we supposed to think? We don't even know why he skipped those tests, except for statements that it has nothing to do with his foot. Huh? Rinse and repeat. Huh?? Mathis is scheduled to do some private workouts in April. His stock will rise or fall (for us) according to those results.
  • Derek Rivers. A small school wonder who dominated the opposition he faced. Yes, you can find games where he was merely good instead of great, but so what? Measure by the long haul and he has looked nothing short of fantastic. Measure by the flashes, and you get the same result. But he's done all that against Division II Tackles, not the kind of talent that Barnett, Harris, Watt, Lawson, and Mathis faced week in and week out, including at practice. How to put it... Rivers' film makes him look like a man among boys, but we all know that sometimes the smaller boys can make the bigger ones look like actual men when they really aren't. Yes, he killed the testing. But how much faith do you put in those numbers when the tape has to be discounted so far? Those speculations are why he's down hear at the almost-a-favorite tier instead of up above.
  • Tyus Bowser. About Rivers' SPARQ score? And Watt's? Tyus Bowser beat them both, and analytically he's sort of between the two. He played for Houston in college, which is a bit higher on the L.O.C. scale than Youngstown but hardly the SEC. And he's even more raw than Watt - a converted basketball player who only focused on football last year, rather than a converted offensive player with family connections on the defensive side that have undoubtedly enhanced his overall football IQ. Tight Ends with Bowser's profile have succeeded handsomely in the NFL. Can a pass rusher do the same? So his L.O.C., size, film, and football IQ are a notch lower than Watt's, but his athleticism is a little better. His L.O.C. and athletic scores are a little better than Rivers', but his film and football IQ are much less advanced. And he blows away everyone else on the athleticism scale, but he hasn't even started to produce against the kind of talent they faced, nor anywhere close to the level they displayed. And that all comes out in the wash to... what?

Based on what we outside amateurs can judge, any of those players would be great value at pick in the first half of Round 2. This makes them minor reaches at pick #30 of Round 1. In a normal year that would be entirely excusable, but in this class there are going to be some very impressive Safeties and Corners on the board at the same time - especially if the first four pass rushers are all gone when the Steelers pick. Any objective viewer (meaning me of course) would call those secondary players the clear BPA compared to this tier of prospects. But that ignores the need factor, and I have very little faith that players who ought to be picked around 2:10 are going fall all the way to 2:30, especially when they play such a high-demand position as Edge Rusher. If my top tier of pass rush prospects is gone, I think you have to assume that this second tier won't last until Pittsburgh's pick in Round 2. And that may change the weighted version of a BPA analysis.

Here are the full Big Board descriptions:

2:01

Carl Lawson, Edge, Auburn - 6'2", 261 lbs. with short 31-1/2" arms and 10-3/8" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] The big worries about Lawson have gone to his health. He tore his ACL as a sophomore, and last year had a hip injury that cost him six games. The news out of the Combine on this front was pretty good. Lawson said in his interview that he's been healthy for 18 months, and it is true that he played all of 2016. The downside of the Combine was some mixed testing. He came in with very short arms, which may have artificially inflated his best-of-class bench press numbers. A bit. The bigger concern was mobility. The NFL.com scouting profile is an interesting read because it assumes that what you saw in 2016 is what you will get in a fully healthy Lawson: "[A] linear player with natural power and aggressiveness, but a lack of flexibility could hamper his potential as an NFL rusher." He posted a hideous 3-cone time at the Combine, which tends to confirm that evaluation. So he's very strong and he bends okay, but he lacks a lot in the length department and his C.O.D. skills may be a serious problem. It should be noted that Lawson did look okay in the LB drills. Not great, but okay. Same thing with the jumps and other explosiveness tests. Okay, but just okay. On the plus side, it's clear that he is a tough guy and a gym rat who will excel in run stopping even if everything else fails to mature, and will fit just fine in a Pittsburgh locker room. His consistency issues can be attributed to 3 coordinators in the last 3 years (ouch).

This goes to a brief BTSC profile (the gif system being all fouled up). Here is the CBS scouting profile. This goes to a mid-January scouting report, which concludes with a Day 2 grade based on the injury concerns. This mid-January scouting report from DraftWire gives him a 1st-Round grade, noting "good but not great bend." This Cowboys oriented scouting profile concurs with the Round 1 grade. OTOH, this New Year's scouting report is a bit more critical, concluding with a 3rd-Round grade, and this January scouting profile agrees with that conclusion due to the "linear athlete" issue and his problems getting off blocks. This interesting PFF scouting profile notes some issues in run defense and ends with a comparison to Cameron Wake.

2:01

Joe Mathis, Edge, Washington - 6'2", 255 lbs. with long 33" arms. [Meeting at the Combine] First things first - here is the early process BTSC Scouting Report from Nicholas.Martin. You should also start your study with this equally good and equally early scouting report from the well respected Jon Ledyard. Both argue that Mathis is an extremely well rounded and productive pass rusher, whose absence from an injured foot made a huge difference to a very good defensive unit. And it's not just those two. Here is a gushing youtube film review by Matt Waldman, an admiring scouting report from New England, and he has been in the Bleacher Report Top 50-75 for months. For a totally different view, see the NFL.com scouting profile, which considers Mathis a somewhat plodding power player who lacks the athleticism to play in space. So the bottom line comes down to a lot of unknowns. How much dip does he really have around the edge? There's a lack of film to tell us. How fast is his first step compared to some of the freak athletes we're comparing him to? How does he fit on the scale of pure explosiveness? Can he play in space?

The film is missing because  got hurt after 6 wildly successful games as a 2016 starter - his only ones. The early reports suggested that it should have cleared up around the new year. In January he said that it was "100% healed". But then he did not participate in the drills at either the Combine or his pro day with the exception of an extraordinary bench press (32 reps with those long arms!), a number that would have ranked first among linebackers at the combine and eighth overall. He plans to hold an individual workout in April, which we will eagerly await because drills like the 3-cone and short shuttle will help to answer the C.O.D. questions, while the vertical and broad jumps will speak to his explosiveness.

2:01

Derek Rivers, Edge, Youngstown - 6'4" 248 lbs. with 32-3/4" arms and 9-3/8" hands. [Meeting at the Senior Bowl and Combine]A consistent player with good burst, dip, and heavy hands. Rivers put up stellar numbers across his last 3 years, averaging 12 sacks a year. He has shown lapses in gap awareness and had difficulties in the run game. There are concerns about his agility and length which could make the transition to the NFL a bumpy one when combined with questions about his ability to counter a good running OL. His NFL.com scouting profile paints him as backup player with the potential for more. OTOH, he looked awfully good during the Senior Bowl practices... Bottom line: Rivers has the physical tools and looked good at the Senior Bowl, but small school pass rushers carry a lot of risk because the level of competition shows up even more here than at other positions. This January scouting profile from a Browns site quotes a physical comparison to Connor Barwin. This admiring, gif-supported February scouting profile from a Dallas fan ends with a Round 2 grade. Here is a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants.

2:12

Tyus Bowser, Edge, Houston - 6'3", 247 lbs. with 33-1/4" arms and 10-1/8" hands. As discussed in the NFL.com scouting profile, Tyus Bowser is an edge rusher with tremendous natural tools when it comes to explosiveness and bend around the corner. He killed the Combine to prove it: his SPARQ score was in the top 5% of all NFL pass rushers, and is #1 in this year's class. The issues are that he's new to the game and thus very raw when it comes to actual technique. His first love was basketball, which pretty much guarantees that he can play in space. It's an intriguing combination that could put him right on the edge of consideration for the Steelers pick at 2:30, and almost a favorite if they do not address the position until Round 3. Note that there may be a red flag related to missing games from a broken bone suffered in a fight with his teammate. This goes to a nice article on his Senior Bowl successes from a Saints point of view. This goes to a solid scouting profile from our sister site for the Jets, which ends with a Round 2 grade even before the Combine. This pre-Combine article from Baltimore Beatdown agrees: 2nd Round.

But wait, there's more! This class isn't strong because of talent at the top. As noted above, there's only one really elite Edge guy in the whole pool, with his closest competitors being best suite for a 4-3 system. But it is a class with a lot of depth. The foregoing tier described the prospects who'd be minor reaches for a Round 1 pick and likely bargains at the end of Round 2. The next group are the ones who are actually likely to be there at the end of Round 2. They're good prospects, but there is a distinct step down from the ones we've looked at up to now.

  • Tarell Basham. See Rivers and Bowser, but with even more risk. Basham played for Ohio, not Ohio State. His athletic testing was superb; his measurables are ridiculous (especially the apelike arms); and he dominated the MAC about as thoroughly as you can. But was he truly a man among boys, or just a bigger boy abusing the smaller ones? If the first, he's a brilliant steal on the edge of Round 3. If the second, he belongs deep in the pool for Day 3.
  • Dawuane Smoot. Dawuane Smoot really, really ought to be up with the Tier 3 guys, or maybe even the Tier 2 ones... But. The bottom line is that he's got all the physical tools and he's played against good competition, but whenever he had the chance to show something against an elite Offensive Tackle, it wasn't Dawuane Smoot who came away with a burnished reputation. What would we think about Rivers, Bowers, or Basham if they'd played a few top Division I tackles and gotten mauled? That's pretty much the situation we're looking at with Dawuane Smoot.
  • Demarcus Walker. He's a 280 lb., 4-3 defensive end. Right? Not a fit for the Steelers. Right? So why the heck did they interview him? Could he really be the next Lamarr Woodley?
  • Devonte Fields. Remember the book on Martavis Bryant? $100 physical skills tied to a $.50 off-field brain? Enter Devonte Fields. Very few prospects have flashed more dominance, nor more immaturity-based red flags to scare you away. Boom or bust all the way.
  • Carroll Phillips. Yes, he's fast. Yes, he's slippery. And yes, he's the size of Ryan Shazier rather than the much larger specimens who fit an OLB profile. He has some room to grow but that's an awful lot of projection.
  • Tim Williams. The Alabama pass rusher who looked like a get-at-the-QB god on film. Except he was playing behind one of the best defensive lines in the history of college football. Except he is rumored to have Randy Gregory level problems with the Evil Weed. Except that Alabama regularly took him off the field for sub packages, supposedly because he couldn't understand what was going on. Except the Combine showed nothing like the sort of athleticism we though we saw on film. That's a pretty exceptional number of "excepts", isn't it?
  • Jordan Willis. Here's a player you can really like. High motor. High effort. High football IQ. Truly fantastic explosiveness, both on film and in the testing. Maneuverable enough in space to drop into a zone. But there is a problem. Every piece of film you watch, and every analysis you read, confirms that he simply lacks the key ability to dip and turn the corner even when his speed has earned him the edge. Add his measurable explosiveness to Charles Harris' spin move and you'd have a Top 10 talent. But you don't. Willis smells an awful lot like the sort of prospect who will not... quite... succeed on the edge, and will then make a startlingly good career as something like a 3-4 ILB in the Timmons mold or even more likely, a Belichek puzzle piece. I.e., he's a player you can really root for, but not the best prospect for what Pittsburgh needs at the moment.
  • Ryan Anderson. Same verdict as the one for Willis, with far better film and somewhat less athleticism. I will bet money here and now that Ryan Anderson will, barring injury, have a long and solid NFL career. The odds in his favor are huge. Everything about him screams "Football Player!" But the odds that he'll carve out that career as a pass rush specialist? They're not so good, to say the least.
  • Daeshon Hall. Almost a model of the "elephant OLB" profile. I actually like this sort of player, and the Ravens have made good use of them over the years, but it's not a profile that Pittsburgh has adopted and certainly not the profile you think of as an Heir to Deebo. He's the longest shot in this tier.

After those you drop to another level, at which point we would start to be viewing the draft as a miss. I will let the Big Board descriptions speak for themselves down below.

The bottom line here is simple and frustrating at the same time. There are no semi-realistic pass rushing options in the late 1st who are good enough to make you cry DeCastro-ish or even Dupree-ish tears of triumph if they happen to fall to Pittsburgh at 1:30. Nor any that seem to be worth trading up, with the possible exception of Derek Barnett if you squint away some of the mediocre test scores as "good enough." After all, the teams Pittsburgh would want to leap over are the Cowboys and Packers, who pick right in front of us at 1:28 and 1:29. A 4th and 5th round pick would do it... but would it be worthwhile? Instead of some real dream picks there are four options that would provide solid value at 1:30 and another four or five who'd be minor reaches. Those "reaches" would of course be fabulous value at 2:30, but who ever heard of talented pass rushers falling in the draft to the point where good teams get a steal? It just doesn't happen.

That leaves a thick tier of players who would be solid value at 2:30 but have enough flaws to really worry a fan who sees the lack of pass rush as Pittsburgh's single biggest weakness. The reliable options have a distinctly limited ceiling, and the high-ceiling options have massive and obvious risk factors that could make them complete busts. This, combined with the inevitable diamond in the rough in the lower rounds, makes this year a tough class to pick from.

It's never easy, is it? That's probably why Kevin Colbert gets paid the big bucks.

2:24

Tarell Basham, Edge, Ohio - 6'4", 269 lbs. with very long 34-1/4" arms and 10-1/4" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Tarell Basham is on of the small-school pass rushing phenoms of this year's class, and earned a solid Round 2-3 grade from Mike Mayock. "He can really play." The CBS scouting profile describes Basham as "a man among boys" in the MAC who simply overwhelmed opposing tackles with his speed, explosiveness, and bend around the edge. Like Javon Hargrave last year, the question is whether small school triumphs will translate to NFL success. This less-optimistic December scouting report from our sister site for the Jets also questions Basham's ability to play in space, thus justifying a Round 6 grade. Here is an article from his hometown paper.

2:24

Dawuane Smoot, Edge, Illinois - 6'3", 264 lbs. with 33-1/4" arms and 9-1/4" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Slippery, quick, and what every offensive tackle would describe as ‘a pain in the butt'. Dawuane Smoot's tape has all the assets you look for: a tremendous first step, that much-desired ability to dip around the edge, good strength, the size to hold up against the run, and the ability to convert speed into power. But he's also as raw as can be, and athleticism alone won't do the trick in the NFL. The interviews will be a big key for Mr. Smoot. If he's got the right internals, there's little doubt that he will become a star once the coaches get done remolding his game. "If." We, of course, can't be sure of that. Regardless, he will also require a redshirt rookie year while he struggles to learn his trade - and will no doubt fail a lot in the meantime. Mike Mayock acknowledged all the raw talents, but also noted that he's been mauled whenever he ran up against big, powerful Tackles - which is all he'd face in the NFL. Smoot is another prospect whose SPARQ tests don't remotely resemble the things that people saw on film. The numbers show zero explosiveness and slow feet; exactly the opposite of what Mayock and others report. Speaking of which... The CBS scouting profile is lukewarm. So is the NFL.com scouting profile, though the drawbacks it describes all fall in the category of "coachable problems if the student can learn." This goes to a mid-January scouting report, and this link goes to a second scouting report (comparing him to a raw Tamba Hali).

2:24

Demarcus Walker, Edge, Florida State - 6'4", 280 lbs. with 33" arms and 10-1/2" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Walker has sometimes flashed all-star talent, but usually in a more lineman-like way. He's probably a 4-3 guy and nothing else, but we will continue to hold out hope until we know for sure whether he can play in space as an OLB. The Combine didn't help since he didn't do any of the drills. This goes to a thoughtful New Years scouting report. This late December, gif-supported scouting report concludes with a Round 2-3 grade as a standup OLB, which would suit Pittsburgh well. This New Year scouting report considers Walker a fringe-1st prospect, but only as a 4-3 defensive end with the ability to drop down inside every once in a while.

3:01

Devonte Fields, Edge, Louisville - 6'2", 236 lbs. with 32-3/8" arms and 9" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] Devonte Fields reminds me Martavis Bryant as a prospect. He has that same kind of astonishing athletic skill and flashes of genius, combined with so much off field smoke that it makes you pause. Round 1 talent below the neck, UDFA above it. But when he's on... wow. The NFL.com scouting report lays the pluses and minuses out very nicely, concluding that the physical talents are all there but the amount of "football character" may not be, and without that his prospects would be very grim indeed. The CBS scouting report is a bit less clear, but seems to be hitting the same points: the physical talent is there, but that doesn't mean he will live up to his athletic potential.

3:01

Carroll Phillips, Edge, Illinois - 6'3", 242 lbs. with 33" arms and 9-3/4" hands Dawuane Smoot's running mate at Illinois, Phillips is a good bit smaller and maybe even a little quicker. His NFL.com scouting profile points to a player that isn't ready for the NFL as of yet.  He needs to learn to use his hands more effectively and might not be much use setting the edge unless he can put on some weight.

3:01

Tim Williams, Edge, Alabama - 6'3", 244 lbs. with 32-3/4" arms and 9-1/4" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] He came into the process with a reputation for being a really great edge rusher with all the speed and dip around the edge you could want. Closer study led to some questions. Then came the swirling rumors about potential problems with the Evil Weed and the ever more common analogies to Randy Gregory. Then he looked decidedly average at the Combine, with mediocre scores across the board. Some guys just have a Steelerish vibe to them. Tim Williams does not, at least when it comes to what's reported for people like you and us. Here is a gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Packers.

3:01

Jordan Willis, Edge/ILB, Kansas State - 6'4", 255 lbs. with 33-1/2" arms and 9-7/8" hands. The NFL.com scouting profile could not laud a player's heart and character any more, but the weaknesses are pretty damning compared to what the Steelers are looking for. "[A] straight-liner mover... Very deliberate... one-speed rusher lacking dynamic qualities to turn corner for tight loops." This BTSC article by Steel34D pointed to exactly the same issue: problems flattening the arc. His stock went up a good bit when he set the 2nd-highest SPARQ score at the Combine (behind only Tyus Bowser), with results measuring in the 94th percentile of all NFL Edge guys - a pretty elite group to begin with. Even better, those scores included both the explosiveness tests like jumps, and the mobility ones like the 3-cone drill and the short shuttle. Mike Mayock particularly praised his very strong hands, and said he "does everything well." Here is a February scouting profile from our sister site for the Falcons. This solid article from a Miami area paper examines Willis' playing style and his admiration of Cameron Wake. This goes to a nice scouting profile from FalconsWire. Here is a scouting profile so odd I almost threw it out; the author praises Willis' ability to dip, while questioning his explosiveness: exactly the opposite of everyone else. YMMV. This Patriots-oriented scouting profile is much more in line with BTSC's own film watchers: "Despite his amazing results at the Combine, I did not see a player who played to those athletic traits on a consistent basis. I was shocked at his 3-cone and shuttle times because on tape he does not have good change of direction and bend. In the games I watched, I saw a guy who struggled to bend the edge because of his tight hips..." This scouting profile from PFF deserves to be quoted too: "There was no more productive edge player in our grading system than Willis, but when forced to go up against quality competition at the Senior Bowl practices he was one of the lowest-graded." This post-Combine scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants considers Willis a solid mid-round possibility.

3:12

Ryan Anderson, Edge, Alabama - 6'2", 253 lbs. with short 31-1/2" arms and 9-3/8" hands [Meeting at the Combine] A really solid "other guy," but not the one who will force opposing offensive coordinators to game plan around his threat. Very high floor, but the ceiling isn't that far above it. Anderson is a very good but not great pass rusher, an excellent run defender, a team leader, and all those other good things, but he also suffers from the "Alabama Problem" of having such great coaching and so many stars around him that it raises questions about whether he'll improve as much as other college players might. Really bad at flattening the arc, which is a major flaw in someone expected to be a pass rusher. His very short arms and seriously awful 40 time support a lower grade too, though he's expected to do a bit better on the SPARQ type tests when he performs at the Alabama pro day. The NFL.com scouting profile is a great place to start if you want to do more research.

3:12

Daeshon Hall, Edge/DL, Texas A&M - 6'5", 265 lbs. with absolutely absurd 35-5/8" arms and 9-5/8" hands. People sometimes like to talk about the "elephant OLB" who's sort of a hybrid between a 3-4 defensive end and a 3-4 OLB. This year's prototype for that position is Daeshon Hall, who needs a huge amount of coaching but seems to have exactly the right kind of physical talents to walk that line. A 4-3 Defensive end that's big enough to work in a 3-4. Memories of Ziggy Hood spring to mind, when thinking of an athletic, pass-rushing, DE plugged into the Steeler's defense. Hall is a tenacious pass rusher, able to split two blockers using his size, strength and athletic ability. Consistency is an issue as his stellar 2015 season was tempered with a disappointing 2016 run. The question is whether the Steelers would want a player of that description. The odds favor more of a true, Edge-rushing OLB. Mike Mayock called him an "underrated player [who] sets a great edge... Not as gifted as some, but a good player you can't ignore." This goes to an informative NFL.com scouting profile. This gif-supported scouting report ends with a Round 2-3 grade. This very brief scouting profile had him as an early-2nd back in February. Here is a combination article/interview with a local newspaper.

3:24

Trey Hendrickson, Edge, Fla. Atlantic - 6'4", 266 lbs. with 32" arms and 9-7/8" hands. Per Mike Mayock: "The runaway winner of Player of the Week at the East/West Shrine Game... I think he's a Top 100 player even in this draft." The NFL.com scouting profile adjusted itself to include that performance: "More of a second-effort sack man than a quick-win specialist, but he did show some edge rushing ability at the Shrine Game practices that didn't flash as often on tape." This goes to his Shrine Game interview. Here is a February scouting profile that agrees with the "underrated" and "Round 3" conclusions.

4:16

Josh Carraway, Edge/ILB, TCU - 6'3", 242 lbs. with exceptional 34-1/4" arms. The NFL.com scouting profile seems to be in line with the general consensus that Carraway is a brilliant athlete who has the physical tools to succeed, but needs some good coaching and strength training to get him revved and focused. The sales pitch is that he came off as a "wow" athlete in college, but never developed that sense of being a scary engine of destruction. The Combine pretty much ruined that narrative. He may have arms like an ape, but his explosiveness in the tests was almost pitiful, and enough to peg him into the bottom quarter of the NFL from a SPARQ score perspective. OTOH... Mike Mayock suggests that he projects better as an ILB: "a 4-3 Will LB who can jump into your sub package and come off the edge.... [and who] really understands speed to power." Sort of like a minor league version of Haason Reddick?

4:16

Ejuan Price, Edge, Pittsburgh - 5'11", 241 lbs. with 32-3/4" arms and big 10-1/4" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] A true terror in college who doesn't have the length people look for in the pros. Can he carry the success into the NFL and be the next undersized pass rusher in the mold of James Harrison? Or will he be another in the long line of casualties who discover that those standard physical prototypes are used for a reason? Note that muscle injuries from a few years ago mean that Price is a 6th-year senior and will be a 24 year old rookie. That's a bit older than Tomlin prefers, and also raises some medical red flags. It doesn't help that he tested poorly, with SPARQ scores in the bottom 20% of the NFL. This goes to the CBS scouting profile, which ends on a 5th-Round grade despite its comparison to Elvis Dumervil (who was, admittedly, a Round 4 pick). The NFL.com scouting profile compares him to James Harrison for burst and explosiveness, but seems to doubt whether he can develop the same kind of dip that turned Deebo's lack of inches into a pass rushing asset. This February scouting profile continues the analogy to Harrison, emphasizing Price's quick-twitch athleticism and burst, but also notes some stiffness. This February scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants goes back to Elvis Dumerville as the comp. This fun article examines the overblown height issue, an argument that will be well received by many on this site since Price actually has lengthy arms (the kid's built like a gorilla).

5:01

Hunter Dimick, Edge, Utah - 6'3", 266 lbs. Hunter Dimick plays a great game. He's a very good technical pass-rusher, and reliable run-stopper as well. I'd like to gush about how he would be a great Steeler, playing tenacious, hard-nosed football, but he doesn't fit with the athletic freaks Pittsburgh has stacked in the Linebacker core, and I'm not sure if he could survive a scheme change. His attention to detail and size might find him a place as a DE, but it's hard to see him any sooner than the 4th round. Probably 5th round choice, unless his measurable really pop. Check out some of the scouting reports on him if you get the chance, could be a great hidden value in the later rounds.

5:01

Noble Nwachukwu, Edge, West Virginia - 6'1", 268 lbs. with 33-1/8" arms and 9" hands. The NFL.com scouting profile describes a serious young football player with good explosiveness, twitch, acceleration, and even some bend around the edge. What's missing is length, which he can't do anything about, and enough technique to get around the physical limitations, which he's yet to learn. His assets got him a lot of attention in 2015, but he did less well in 2016 because opposing tackles made some adjustments that Nwachukwu never learned to counter. It would be interesting to see his SPARQ scores if he dropped 10-15 pounds... Gets two thumbs up and more for his character on the field, off the field, and in the locker room.

5:16

Vince Biegel, ILB/OLB, Wisconsin - 6'3", 246 lbs with 32-3/8" arms and 9-1/8" hands.. [Meeting at Pro Day] An ILB prospect on the line between run-stuffing Buck and edge-setting OLB. Tremendous football character but the pass rush skills are missing. Would double as a fabulous special teams player. Joined T.J. Watt for dinner with Colbert and Tomlin after their pro day. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile.

7:01

Samson Ebukam, Edge, Eastern Washington - 6'1", 248 lbs. Samson Ebukam sounds like he could be a player that could be worth a late-round flyer. Our own Nicholas.Martin wrote up a draft profile describing him as a pass rush specialist that could someday turn into more. His lack of size and the lower level of competition makes him a candidate for making a sharp rise at the combine if he can impress but problems with discipline against the run and other physical and technical deficiencies could keep him in the late rounds regardless. His CBS draft profile makes it sound like his major problems are his size and a lack of fine body control.

7:01

Peter Kalambayi, Edge, Stanford - 6'3", 245 lbs. Peter Kalambayi interviews well and played well at times. He rarely seems to be the first to make a hit and often ends up on the ground before the ball carrier. It may be he's not fast enough, it maybe he's not strong enough, but it doesn't sound like his skill set becomes anything more than a situational or depth. Take his scouting report with a grain of salt. 14.5 sacks is good but doesn't qualify him as a ‘sack machine.'

7:01

Lewis Neal, Edge, LSU - 6'2", 264 lbs. The NFL.com scouting profile has a late Day 3 grade based on the conclusion that he is a "marginal threat as a rusher off the edge." Ouch.

7:01

Pita Taumoepenu, ILB/Edge, Utah - 6'1", 240 lbs. After moving to the US from Tonga, Pita started playing football in his senior year of high school. Very fast and good in coverage, but significantly undersized for an Edge player. He's another one who might do better if moved to the Mack, where speed and coverage skills would be even more important, with his pass rushing prowess serving as a bonus. There is a brief scouting profile in this article (spot #51). This guy showed some good explosiveness as a pass rusher. This CBS article is on point.

7:16

Tashawn Bower, Edge, LSU - 6'5", 250 lbs. with 33-3/8" arms and 9-7/8" hands. [Meeting at the Combine] A late round pass rusher who has shown flashes, but never forced his way onto the starting lineup. A typical end-of-the-draft pick who might develop into something surprisingly good after a year on the practice squad. He came off the field on 3rd downs, which is not a good sign. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile. This links to an article from the local New Orleans newspaper.

7:16

Austin Calitro, Edge, Villanova - 6'0", 250 lbs. [Meeting at the EW] Currently not on most draft sites radar. He was one of two defenders that the Steelers met with at the East/West game. You can see his highlight video on this linked BTSC article.

7:16

Ken Ekanem, Edge, Va. Tech - 6'3", 257 lbs. with 32" arms and 10-1/2" hands.  Ken might provide some late round padding as an outside linebacker. More likely a practice squad player or special teams contributor, going by his stats. A poor showing at the Combine didn't help. Check out his highlight film and see if you agree that his speed is there when he's playing well, but he needs to be consistently fast and he needs polish. Good candidate for a small combine bump.

7:16

Garrett Sickels, Edge, Penn State - 6'4", 249 lbs. First impression is that he's underrated. It's hard to see a lot from him, because he doesn't get a lot of coverage except from the local press. That being said, he put up some decent stats, performed on a good team against good teams, and his highlight reel (took me three tries to find it) looks pretty good. Let's see how his combine numbers are before assuming he will even get drafted, but from the little I've seen, he's undersized, but plays with a big heart. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile, which describes a player with good bend but poor explosiveness and strength.