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2017 Scouting Combine Preview: Deep group of pass-rushers goes under the microscope

As we begin preparations for next week’s Combine, we start by looking at a handful of EDGE players who can clarify their draft stock at Lucas Oil Stadium.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers should have any number of talented pass-rushing prospects to choose from when they go on the clock with the 29th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

For that matter, the same should be true when Ted Thompson’s team finds itself making a decision at 61, and even at 93.

Overall, the group of edge rushers (players who can feasibly play either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker) appears to be quite strong this season, and there are a number of players who should be intriguing prospects for the Packers on the first two days of the draft. However, a few in particular will be looking for good testing results at the NFL’s Scouting Combine next week.

Here, we’ll examine a few players who could be tempting targets for the Packers and whose Combine results will be worth keeping a close eye upon as they vie for consideration among their peers.

Derek Barnett, Tennessee

Barnett is just 20 years old, and is coming off his true junior season. Listed at 6’3” and 265 pounds, he would have excellent size for a 3-4 linebacker. He has also produced consistently in his three years at UT, recording at least 10 sacks each year for a total of 33, which broke Reggie White’s school record.

However, if he wants to remain in the first-round discussion, Barnett will need a good workout at Lucas Oil Stadium. One of the big knocks on him is that “he’s not very explosive off the ball,” according to an AFC scout via’s Lance Zierlein. Therefore, he would benefit greatly from a good workout, with his 10-yard split in the 40-yard dash as well as his vertical and broad jumps being put under the microscope.

Haason Reddick, Temple

A big question about Reddick next week will not be so much his on-field workout — he is expected to run fast and be explosive — but rather his measurements in conjunction with that workout. Reddick played defensive end for the Owls, but it will be tough to see him line up there at his listed weight of 237 pounds.

If Reddick can add 8-10 pounds by next week and maintain his athleticism, that may convince teams to continue looking at him as an edge rusher rather than an off-the-ball linebacker. He should hold value either way, and should be in the discussion for a late day-one pick, but his position may be dictated by his measurements.

T.J. Watt, Wisconsin

Keep an eye out on APC for more on this local product shortly, but to make it quick, Watt needs to show that his athleticism can match the great production he posted in 2016. The converted tight end racked up 11.5 sacks as a redshirt junior, but he will be unlikely to crack round one without a truly impressive set of testing results.

Takkarist McKinley, UCLA

This is not a player who necessarily needs to prove his athleticism; on the contrary, he is widely expected to put on an impressive show on the Lucas Oil turf next Sunday. If he does, he could vault himself out of the bottom part of the first round and land somewhere in the teens - or higher.

Carl Lawson, Auburn

One of the keys for Lawson, a redshirt junior, will be his medical exams. He lost all of his true sophomore season to a torn ACL, then played just five games in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore. When healthy, he’s an effective player, recording 9.5 sacks in 2016, and scouts seem to favor his physical tools over those of Barnett.

Charles Harris, Missouri

Harris falls more in the “expected to test well” category, as his explosiveness off the ball is often cited as one of his greatest strengths. His age and tools make him an immediate candidate to help out as a situational pass-rusher, while growing into a role as a run defender. Look for Harris to run well and put up one of the more impressive combine performances from an edge rusher.

Other names to watch

I’ll be taking a close look at a handful of other EDGE prospects next week in Indianapolis, with a few notable names being potential fits for the Packers in the middle rounds:

Ryan Anderson, Alabama
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
Jojo Mathis, Washington
Derek Rivers, Youngstown State
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois