Lucas Oil Stadium featured linebackers and defensive linemen Sunday at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, and they put on quite a show.
The draft’s best player only further established himself as such with one of the most dominant combine performances in recent memory. A defensive back participated with linebackers, and he’s coming back for more on Monday. An NFL star’s brother showed up huge on the big stage as well.
We’ll be looking at these developments and more as we highlight the best of the best from Sunday’s action in Indianapolis.
1. Myles Garrett is a shoo-in for No. 1 overall pick
Before he ever got to Indianapolis this week, former Aggies star pass rusher Myles Garrett was the No. 1 player on most big boards. Based on what he did in his tenure at Texas A&M, it was clear Garrett has the physical tools and intrinsic skills to excel at the next level.
He also has the confidence to back all of that up.
Myles Garrett 'I feel like I'm the best player in the draft' pic.twitter.com/v7n0lMr5ws
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 4, 2017
What he did at the combine only solidified his status as the top dog heading into the 2017 NFL Draft. Starting with his eye-opening 33 reps on the bench on Saturday, Garrett showed scouts he’s a physical freak of nature. This was only further amplified when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, which is ridiculously fast for a man weighing in at 272 pounds.
Speaking of ridiculous, he leaped out of the building afterwards.
Garrett followed up his insane vertical with a broad jump of 128 inches, which was the second-highest among defensive linemen at this year’s combine.
We didn’t need any of this information to know Garrett was a physical freak of nature — he proved it time and time again throughout his three-year tenure at Texas A&M. But having the tape to back up these numbers, Garrett has proved himself to be a gimme at No. 1 overall.
The Browns would be absolutely crazy to do anything other than take him first overall when the draft kicks off in Philadelphia this April.
2. Charles Harris looks to be next big-time Missouri pass rusher
The upcoming draft is full of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Garrett obviously leads the class, and guys like Solomon Thomas (more on him momentarily) and Jonathan Allen deservedly receive plenty of fanfare.
One of the players not mentioned as much is Charles Harris out of Missouri — a school that puts out exceptional talent at this position on a regular basis. Harris looks to be following in the footsteps of Aldon Smith, Shane Ray and others whose skills have translated well to the pro game.
Though Harris didn’t post jaw-dropping numbers in any of the drills Sunday, he didn’t do anything that will hurt his stock either. Most impressively, his work on the field had scouts oohing and ahing.
Charles Harris is having a really good field workout.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 5, 2017
— Charles Davis (@CFD22) March 5, 2017
The past two years at Missouri, Harris racked up 17 sacks and 30.5 tackles for a loss. He explodes off the line of scrimmage, and at 6-foot-3, 253 pounds has the size to potentially thrive in any defensive front as an edge pass rusher.
3. Solomon Thomas is a lock as a top-10 pick
Because Solomon Thomas played for Stanford, which competed in many late-night games for those on the East Coast, he’s not as well known as some of the other top defensive linemen in this year’s draft.
But the former Cardinal star is sure to have NFL scouts and executives positively drooling over his potential. He was downright unblockable last year at Stanford playing inside, tallying 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. And because of his versatile skill set and size, he could play anywhere on an NFL line depending on the situation.
Thomas put on a show during the measurable drills, posting numbers that rival or better long-time Kansas City Chiefs star Justin Houston.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 5, 2017
He then looked smooth as silk on the field, proving he’s more than just a burly force in the middle. He projects well as a 3-4 defensive end and could be a dominant pass rusher from that position, though he can certainly play in a 4-3 scheme.
Nobody should be surprised whatsoever if Thomas ends up being selected in the top five this April, and he’s certainly established himself as a lock for a top-10 pick.
4. T.J. Watt has the juice to follow in J.J.’s footsteps
It’s got to be tough trying to break into the NFL when you are the younger brother of one of the game’s best players. That’s the tall task T.J. Watt is faced with overcoming this year after spending the past few years at Wisconsin, but he is clearly up to it.
The former tight end is now a fast-rising prospect at outside linebacker or defensive end. He spoke to reporters at the combine about his best quality, which has nothing to do with his physical abilities.
“What I bring is just my work ethic,” T.J. said, per the Associated Press. “I know it’s a cliche, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop. I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give a team everything that I have.”
This is certainly something that runs in the family, as his older brother has proved time and time again with the Houston Texans.
Sunday, Watt was electric on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, posting a 4.6-second 40-yard time and top-three marks in both the vertical and broad jump.
Watt vs. Watt
Watch T.J. run against J.J. in this simulcast from the #NFLCombine.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) March 5, 2017
Watt also looked fluid on the field and earned some high praise from NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who compared him to Clay Matthews.
Another person who made a point of lauding T.J.’s performance Sunday was none other than his high-profile big brother, who used one word to describe it.
While it might be a stretch to say Watt deserves a first-round grade, he could end up being a steal in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
5. Jabrill Peppers doing everything right
NFL teams aren’t exactly sold on where Peppers will end up playing on Sundays. Some people have said he’ll be a better offensive player than defender.
I've talked to two NFL teams this week in Indy who view Michigan's Jabrill Peppers as a better offensive player than defensive player, FWIW.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 5, 2017
Others who see him on defense think he’ll be a better linebacker than safety.
Peppers has made it clear where he stands on the argument, saying he’s clearly a safety (more on that here). This scribe sees him fitting in as an in-the-box safety who specializes in locking up tight ends in the passing game while chasing down running backs from the back side against the run, with some well-timed blitzes in between.
One thing that will surely impress NFL decision makers, no matter where they think he’ll fit in best, is his willingness to do whatever it takes to show off his wares. Sunday Peppers worked out with linebackers, not surprisingly posting the fastest 40-yard time of anyone in his position group. He also posted top-five marks in the vertical and broad jump, showing off his explosion and burst.
Jabrill Peppers, based on his combine:
– Runs faster than Antonio Brown
– Quicker than DeSean Jackson
– Jumps higher than A.J. Green pic.twitter.com/OqfyZYbwyg
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) March 5, 2017
Peppers told the guys on NFL Network that he’ll run and jump and do all the drills again Monday with the defensive backs, if they’ll let him.
Simply put, he’s showing teams he’s not going to back down from any challenge. And that’s something everyone in the NFL loves to see from a young player.
6. Haason Reddick solidifies status as an elite speed linebacker
Interestingly, Reddick — a 6-foot-1, 234-pound defender — was working out with defensive ends Sunday. The reason for this is that he was a defensive end at Temple.
He won’t be at the next level, and he could very well end up being featured as an inside linebacker in the NFL. A likely first-round pick, Reddick put on a show Sunday at the combine after putting up a solid 24 reps on the bench the day before.
He posted the fastest time of any defensive lineman with an official time of 4.52 seconds in the 40 (not much slower than Peppers ran with the linebackers). Reddick also had the third-highest vertical (36.5 inches), the longest broad jump (133 inches) and was just outside the top five in the three-cone drill, which tests short-area burst and agility.
While it’s too early to say he’ll be the next Ryan Shazier, Reddick has the same type of speed and burst and could become an impact NFL linebacker in short order.
7. Charles Walker could be mid-round steal
Former Oklahoma Sooners defensive tackle Charles Walker opened up some eyes Sunday with his speed, running a sub-five-second 40. The reason for this is that we’re talking about a 310-pound human here, so his 40 time was very impressive indeed.
Also impressive is the fact that Walker caught a bulked-up Jim Tomsula off guard. He actually pushed off the defensive line coach in an on-field drill, which was a pretty funny scene.
— Nate Feken (@TheGreat_Nate) March 5, 2017
One of the big issues Walker must deal with at this time is his decision to leave Oklahoma during the middle of the 2016 season after suffering a concussion. Thankfully he’s been medically cleared and deemed good to go, but the perception he quit on his team could be hard to overcome.
A player with the potential to become a dominant trench warrior at the NFL level, Walker will likely slip into the middle of the draft. If he remains focused, however, and concussion-free, then Walker could become one of the draft’s biggest steals.
8. This draft is just loaded with defensive front-seven talent
We barely mentioned Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, who is a likely top-five pick.
There were many players we didn’t even mention. Derek Barnett out of Tennessee, Tim Williams out of Alabama, Taco Charlton out of Michigan, Auburn’s Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley — the list goes on and on.
Sunday showed us that this group of defenders is going to bring even more speed to NFL defenses than ever before, with 37 players running a sub-4.8-second 40.
While the upcoming NFL Draft is short on talent at big-time offensive positions like offensive tackle and quarterback, it certainly isn’t lacking defensive depth and top-notch playmakers. Teams in need of front-seven talent are just giddy about this upcoming crop of defenders, and to be honest so are we.