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Ranking the draft’s best EDGE defenders heading into the NFL Combine

This is a great EDGE class however you line them up

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Texas Christian Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL Scouting Combine is nearly here, which is a huge event in the NFL’s calendar. But while every position group attends and works out, it doesn’t carry the same weight for every position. For instance, while a running back turning a 40 yard dash in the 4.2’s is exciting, the traits that make a great back aren’t easily measured by a stopwatch.

For the EDGE position, however, the combine carries quite a bit of weight. The fact of the matter is that it is very rare for a pass rusher without elite traits to be consistently successful in the NFL. That is why most of the best pass rushers in the NFL were drafted in the first round — that is where teams take elite athletes at high-leverage positions.

The New York Giants had the second-fewest sacks in the NFL last season, which was actually an improvement after how they started the season. And while a big part of that was their porous secondary, they also need to add another consistent pass rusher to Olivier Vernon.

  1. Nick Bosa (Ohio State) - The younger Bosa has been the consensus top prospect in the draft since the season began, and probably before. Joey had a disappointing combine performance (read: Didn’t run 40 yards fast enough), but went on to tear up the NFL in his rookie year. Nick might be more advance and a better athlete than his brother was coming out. The combine will be our first chance to get a look at him since he left school after suffering a core muscle injury during the 2018 season.
  2. Josh Allen (Kentucky) - Unlike Bosa, few were talking about Allen at the start of the season, but after an exceptional year he has rocketed to the top of draft boards. Allen is a great pass rusher, strong run defender, and has the movement skills to play off-ball linebacker as well. He too should be off the board in the first five picks.
  3. Jachai Polite (Florida) - This could change after getting a look at the EDGE class in its entirety at the scouting combine, but Polite might have the best pass rushing tools of any EDGE this year. He is undersized at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds (unofficial), but he is electric rushing off the edge with speed that reminds of a younger Osi Umenyiora. Polite is more than a speed rusher, with a good set of moves to compliment his speed and plenty of dogged physicality taking on blockers. He can be overwhelmed by bigger linemen, but it didn’t stop him from having a very productive (19.5 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 4 passes defensed) junior campaign.
  4. Brian Burns (Florida State) - A long and lean pass rusher (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), Burns has few weaknesses in his game. He is thin for an EDGE, but good technique, planning, and a strong lower body keep that from being an issue. Burns has a diverse set of pass rushing moves to win with technique while his long strides and flexibility let him run past most tackles. If there is a knock on him it is that his first step isn’t exactly “explosive” and (though it is easier said than done) if a blocker can lock on to him, his weight can be an issue.
  5. Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) - Ferrell is a “classic” 4-3 defensive end, and his ability to stand up and rush from a two point stance is a bit of a question. He has good length and size at 6-foot 5, 260 pounds and is a solid athlete. Ferrell can win with power or technique and always seems to have a plan for how to attack an offensive tackle. Add to that his motor and play strength, and the result is a talented and well-rounded EDGE.
  6. Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) - Sweat had the misfortune to land in such a deep and talented draft class, as he would probably be in the top two of a “normal” EDGE class. He is long, strong, and has an explosive first step, all of which he put on display in Senior Bowl practices, when coaches had to limit his reps because he was beating tackles so badly. Sweat could rise up this list after a good showing at the combine, where he will need to show that he can move fluidly and has the lateral agility to bend a tight arc to the quarterback — as well as be more sudden out of a two point stance.

Honorable mentions

Christian Miller (Alabama) - It is a measure of just how good the Alabama defense was in 2018 that Miller could fly under the radar. But with just one season of production and missing the Senior Bowl with an injury, he as has done just that. At 6-foot 3, 240 pounds and experience in a very similar system, Miller doesn’t have any schematic limitations for the Giants. He doesn’t have the coveted “explosive” first step, but he does have good quickness (hampered by a curious false step from a two point stance) off the snap, and a good repertoire of moves to beat tackles. The NFL will want to investigate his medical red flags and a good showing at the combine could be a good boost to his draft stock.

Chase Winovich (Michigan) - Experienced, well-coached, and smart, Winovich is going to earn more than a few fans among NFL coaches. He isn’t explosive off the snap (though he isn’t slow either), nor is he particularly fluid around the corner. But he is still a good athlete with a non-stop motor and a strong understanding of the game from a technical perspective. He might not have the ceiling of the other players on this list, but he should see snaps early and is the kind of player coaches will struggle to take off the field.

Joe Jackson (Miami) - Jackson probably would have been a bigger name had he been able to come out after the 2017 season rather than 2018. He had a more productive season, but didn’t always look to have the same juice he did the year before. That being said, when he flashes, he is an exciting rusher who looks like a well-rounded EDGE. He might benefit from dropping a bit of weight, which would hopefully be more consistently quick and improve his play from a two point stance. That being said, he has added a lot of weight very quickly as he matured since coming to Miami (30 pounds in three years), so simply “owning” his grown man body could help him move like he did as a sophomore. Jackson will be another player who could significantly boost his stock with a good showing at the Combine.