With the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine fast approaching, the Green Bay Packers’ personnel staff are hard at work assembling the team’s early draft board. General manager Brian Gutekunst must be viewing this year’s crop of pass-rushers with excitement, as the Packers appear in position to land one of a handful of very tempting prospects with the 12th overall pick in the draft.
While there is no guarantee that the Packers will use that pick on this position, the value and need appear to match up. While two players in particular appear to sit in a tier of their own above the rest, the next group of four could all be under consideration at 12 and might not last until the Packers pick again at 30 overall.
Here’s a quick look at six edge rushers thought by Acme Packing Company to be at the top of this year’s EDGE class and what to look for from each at the Combine in two weeks.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State
6-foot-4, 263 pounds
Nick Bosa stats
The likely #1 overall pick in this year’s draft is Bosa, who played only three games in 2018 before shutting his season down with a “core” injury, likely an abdominal issue. When on the field over the past two years, Bosa followed in his brother Joey’s footsteps as the premier pass-rusher in the country, and consistently occupied opposing backfields despite drawing frequent double-teams.
Bosa’s technique as a pass-rusher is what sets him apart from the rest of the class. He will probably test relatively well at the Combine, though not at eye-popping levels; it’s the tape that really distinguishes him from the next tier of players.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
6-foot-4, 258 pounds
Josh Allen stats
Like Bosa, Allen jumps off the tape. He also has more production at the college level, helped by a massive senior year. However, Allen is likely to test better at the Combine, so NFL teams near the top of the draft will have to weigh that against the players’ technique. Still, Allen is currently projected as a top-five pick, and appears unlikely to be available when the Packers are on the clock at #12 overall.
Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
6-foot-4, 265 pounds
Clelin Ferrell stats
Now we’re getting into the players who will reasonably be options for general manager Brian Gutekunst. Ferrell’s production as part of Clemson’s exceptional defensive line is obvious in the stats. He’s also built a little bit more thickly than some of these other players, which elicits questions about whether he will be able to drop in coverage to be a good fit for a 3-4 team.
In a sense, the questions about Ferrell seem similar to those that Nick Perry faced coming out of USC as a perceived “tweener,” stuck between a 3-4 and 4-3 fit. Perry posted a terrific workout at 6-foot-3, 271, however. Can Ferrell move that well? That will likely be the big question he’ll need to answer in Indy — watch him as much during linebacker drills (assuming he works out at that position as well as at defensive end) as you do on the conventional athletic tests.
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
6-foot-6, 252 pounds
Montez Sweat stats
For the Packers, Sweat has the benefit of playing in a multiple defense for the Bulldogs, lining up both with his hand in the dirt and in a two-point stance. The Michigan State transfer has been a monster for two seasons in the SEC, and he led the conference in TFLs and sacks in 2017. He’s got a huge frame, however, and can probably add some weight without much trouble. It should be fun to see how he tests in Indy — watch for good numbers in explosiveness drills like the vertical and broad jumps.
Jachai Polite, Florida
6-foot-2, 242 pounds
Jachai Polite stats
The shortest edge rusher in this group, Polite is built a bit like Clay Matthews was coming out of College; indeed, their weight is about the same and they have a similar tenacity and drive to reach the quarterback. Polite, who turns 21 in March, will face questions about being a one-year wonder and about his size, but he should put up excellent testing results and shows a knack for not just getting to the quarterback, but attacking the football as well to force turnovers.
Brian Burns, Florida State
6-foot-4, 235 pounds
Brian Burns stats
Unlike most of these other players, Burns arrived in college and made an impact as a true freshman, finishing second on the team in sacks. He sustained that through his three years, leading the team in TFLs as a sophomore and junior and accounting for more than a third of the Seminoles’ sacks last season.
However, the build is the big question here. He’s so lean that he looks almost like a big safety on the edge. Perhaps a similar physical comparison would be Leonard Floyd, who was the 9th overall pick by the Bears in 2016. Though he’s taller than Burns at nearly 6-foot-6, Floyd bulked up to 244 pounds by his combine and still ran well. If Burns can get near a similar number in Indy and still run well, that should help his case a bit.
One other thing Burns has going for him is his age. As a true junior, he’s just 20 years old and will turn 21 the week before the draft. That suggests that he is still growing into his body a bit and will be able to add some bulk to hold up on the edge on a more consistent basis moving forward.