Combine Preview: DL, LB

By Jared Stanger

Group 7, 8, and 9 of the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday and will have their primary field testing on Sunday. This consists of two groups of DL, and one of LB’s.

This will be the much-hyped 2017 Edge group. A group that draft media really has zero consensus on after Myles Garrett. We’ve got athletes with no production, we’ve got producers without outstanding traits, we’ve got big-bodied DE/DT tweeners, we’ve got undersized DE/LB tweeners, and we’ve got guys that are just straight up B- across the board. It’s either a mess or a pass-rushing smorgasbord.

Let’s start with the big boys. Jonathan Allen is somewhere top 3 picks, depending on if someone wants a QB. Solomon Thomas should be somewhere top 10. After starting the year very near the top of many big boards; Malik McDowell has been in a bit of a free fall…no production, missed three games, talk of character redflags. And Tanoh Kpassagnon is the biggest of the bunch, with good production at a small school and rumored excellent athleticism, but lacking great edge traits. Arguably all four of these could/should play predominantly interior DL at the next level.

The smallest of the small-bodied guys is Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Price. We’re talking sub 6’0″. And that size deficiency was evident pretty much anytime an opponent double-teamed Price with as much as a RB/TE chip. But he was 5th in the country in sacks. Haason Reddick is almost assuredly a stand-up LB in the NFL, but he’ll go to Indy in the DE group. Same story for Pita Taumoepenu. This group should test very well, however.

Demarcus Walker and Jordan Willis were guys with a ton of production that many don’t expect to test well. Dawuane Smoot had a dip in production under Lovie Smith’s coaching, but should test above average.

The best athletes from the 7th and 8th DL groups should be: Myles Garrett, Solomon Thomas, Haason Reddick, Takk McKinley, and Charles Harris. I’ve got Jordan Willis as the sleeper to sneak into the top 5 Edge in SPARQ.

Then, there are also guys that will test as LB’s on Sunday, but could play some hand in the dirt DE as pro’s. This is the Ryan Anderson, Tyus Bowser, Jojo Mathis collection. Of those three, Mathis feels the most mis-placed off the ball, as his 260 lbs and pass-rushing traits deserve to be in the DL group. Bowser is correctly placed, but should get 3rd down passrush reps wherever he gets picked.

The rest of the traditional LB’s would feature great testing from Jarrad Davis and Reuben Foster if they were healthy enough to compete. Bowser is a very nice athlete and should perform well across the board. And Zach Cunningham should have a great day.

Overall, it’s not a great group of standup LB’s this year, and certainly not very deep.

Speaking of the groups more challenged of talent…this is a bad year at DT. It makes some sense that it is bad after the quality we saw in 2016, but still. It’s especially rough for interior passrushers.

I think the DT passrush group (outside of the aforementioned DE with DT versatility) begins and ends with five names: Davon Godchaux, Jaleel Johnson, Vincent Taylor, Treyvon Hester, and Chunky Clements. And one of those is kind of a flyer-only based on flashes of upside.

But there are another handful of names that have shown potential to be solid rotational DT. I like Dalvin Tomlinson as a run-stuffer. Both Notre Dame DT (Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones) hold some intrigue if allowed time to learn on the bench. Similar line of thinking on Nazair Jones. Carlos Watkins had a very productive year, but watching his tape I always ended up wondering if he was often just in the right spot to clean up the work done by Clemson teammates: Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins.

In terms of elite DT athletes…I don’t have a great sense that any are like Dontari Poe level athletes. I think Jaleel has shown the most raw athleticism of the group. But the sleeper has got to be Elijah Qualls. The former fullback with tumbling skills could do crazy things in agility and jumping tests.