Any team looking for EDGE rushers in the 2017 NFL Draft has to feel like it’s almost Christmas Day.
The outside linebackers and defensive ends who fit the loosely defined “position” of EDGE are plentiful this year. Historically so. So much so, in fact, that teams may elect to forego a talented prospect in round one or two in favor of a prospect at a different position, knowing that, after the first two to four guys are off the board, the drop-off the rest of the way down the line is slow and steady. That means there is going to be a wealth of talent outside pass rushers available come day three of the draft.
For teams like the Steelers, who have needs but no truly glaring holes, that’s a beautiful thing. Day three is when diamonds are found in mounds of filth. It’s when savvy general managers show their true abilities in talent evaluation.
And it’s when a team like the Steelers can find a stud with rough edges to mold into a future starter.
Avery Moss - Youngstown State
6’-3”, 264 pounds
Moss might just be one of the best-kept secrets of this draft. After watching him on tape, it’s nearly impossible to find anything he isn’t at least good at. He extends his arms when engaged with a blocker to keep him out of his frame, and uses very good hand placement to keep from being locked up. More often than not, he sets a solid edge in the run game. His feet are constantly moving and his legs keep driving. He sheds blocks well. He’s not insanely fast, but he plays very well in tight spaces and can flow down the line and through traffic. He’s good to very good in nearly every part of his game, except for an underdeveloped set of pass-rush moves.
So why, then, is he considered to be a fourth- to sixth-round pick? Undoubtedly, it has at least a little to do with an off-field incident in which he allegedly exposed himself to a fellow student while at Nebraska. He was kicked off the team, and later transferred to Youngstown State, where former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini thought enough of him to give him another chance. Once he finally grabbed a starting spot, he had an outstanding season: 59 tackles, 17.5 for a loss, 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.
There are two other factors that may be holding him back. First, Youngstown State is a small school. Second, he had himself a fine season, but played across the defensive front from Derek Rivers. It’s less a knock on Moss than it is evidence of just how good Rivers is. But think of Moss as the magician’s actual trick: while everyone is watching the sleight-of-hand that is Rivers, Moss is hiding in the magician’s other hand, and will reappear where no one expects him.
Maybe, just maybe, in Pittsburgh.
Ejuan Price - Pittsburgh
5’-11”, 241 pounds
If you’ve ever watched Price play, and you don’t love nearly everything about the kid, you don’t understand defense.
Yes, that’s an awful lot of hyperbole for a guy who is expected, like Moss, to go somewhere between the fourth and the sixth rounds. But the reality is that, if Price was about three or four inches taller, he’d probably go as high as the second round. He’s also missed a good deal of time due to a few significant injuries, which could make team wary.
I’ve taken to referring to Price as “Javon Hargrave Lite.” That’s because, from the snap of the ball to the whistle, he moves like a ball of energy trying to explode forth from inside a human being. But, like Hargrave, every move is deliberate and calculated, rather than chaotic. They play different positions, but their styles are very, very similar nonetheless.
If there is someone in the 2017 NFL Draft who will remind you of a young James Harrison, it’s Price. They have similar builds, similar pre-snap stances, and both have excelled despite what is considered by most to be far-from-ideal size. But like Harrison, Price plays hard, and uses his lack of height to his advantage with superior leverage. And you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in this draft who can bend the edge like Price. He has a nice set of pass-rush moves and countermoves, and the strength and speed to use them effectively, to the tune of 24.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
Deatrich Wise, Jr. - Arkansas
6’-5”, 274 pounds
If the Steelers are willing to take a late stab at a true boom-or-bust guy in the fifth, sixth or seventh round, Wise might be that guy.
He has outstanding physical traits: 6’-5”, 274 pounds, nearly 36-inch-long arms. He’s got the length and bulk to play multiple positions on the defensive front, including a hybrid linebacker-defensive end that could make it easy for the team to switch seamlessly between a 3-4 and a 4-3 front.
Unfortunately, his play doesn’t always mirror his stature.
He has plenty of good points: his bull rush is excellent, especially combined with his long arms, giving him the ability to put his body into the blocker, then extend his arms to knock his man off-balance. He also is capable of getting low despite his height, and gets under the blocker’s pads.
Unfortunately, consistency is a big issue for Wise, and it shows in all facets of his game. To top it off, he often plays stiff, putting him at a further disadvantage with leverage.
His pass rush is pretty much limited to that bull rush, and a little success from a speed rush at times, too. He simply lacks the flexibility to do much in the way of countermoves, and relies heavily on a successful first attack. His long stride hurts him here, too, as well as slow feet.
Finally, he struggles with play recognition, and often bites — hard — on play-action.
Still, his natural build and athleticism are intriguing, and could maker him a decent consolation prize of Price and Moss are both gone.
Between Moss and Price, though, it’s a tough call. Moss has a very polished, but somewhat unspectacular, game. Price is the ball of energy with a lot of skill, but some big injury concerns. Neither is a Myles Garrett or Derek Barnett, but both could be early contributors with the ability to grow into regular starters in a year or three. If I had to pick, I think I’d go with Price, giving him the home-town benefit of the doubt and the “it” factor he shows on film. But neither would be a bad choice.