The "Triple Take" team breaks down of the edge rushers. In this installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the edge rusher position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
The opinions of these Steelers Radio Network personalities do not reflect the views of the Steelers organization.
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Dale's Take ...
Edge rushers come in all shapes and sizes and that makes sense since it's now a term used to describe both defensive ends and outside linebackers. Essentially, it's anyone who regularly rushes the passer off the edge.
And though T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett both have that responsibility, they look different.
This year's edge class is deep and talented. We could see as many as seven or eight selected in the first round.
#5 - Nolan Smith, Georgia (6-2, 238 lbs.) - You want speed screaming off the edge? Smith has that. He ran a 4.39-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's slightly undersized, but with a 41.5-inch vertical jump and 10-5 broad jump, he's explosive. Smith is coming off a torn pectoral muscle that ended his 2022 season after eight games, but he showed he's healthy at the Combine. Some teams might also consider him an off-ball linebacker. But he's intriguing coming off the edge.
#4 - Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (6-5, 272) - Though never a starter at Iowa, Van Ness played like a starter. In two seasons, the redshirt sophomore recorded 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. He tore up the Combine, posting a 4.58-second 40 and looking good in the agility drills. He also blocked two kicks in college. He is very much in the Garrett, 4-3, edge rusher mold.
#3 – Myles Murphy, Clemson (6-5, 268 lbs.) - Another long, lean pass rusher off the edge, Murphy recorded 13.5 sacks the past two seasons for the Tigers and had 11 tackles for a loss in 2022. He's behind the line of scrimmage a lot. Does well on games and stunts, but also can beat an offensive tackle straight up. He needs to be more consistent, but he just turned 21, which is intriguing.
#2 - Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (6-6, 271 lbs.) - A long defender with nearly 36-inch arms, Wilson can make life difficult on offensive tackles. Started out at Texas A&M before transferring to Texas Tech. He had 61 tackles, including 14 for a loss, and seven sacks in 10 games in 2022 before being shut down because of a foot injury. A big man for a big-man's game.
#1 - Will Anderson, Alabama (6-3 ½, 253 lbs.) - Was more productive in 2021 than he was in 2022, but it's hard to follow up a 17.5-sack season like he had two years ago. Still had 10 sacks in 2022. He ran a 4.6-second 40 at the Combine, which is more than fast enough for a player of his talents. Anderson is best suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he also could just play defensive end, as well, and could be the first defensive player off the board.
Mike's Take …
One of the dilemmas associated with constructing a championship-caliber NFL roster is you can never have enough quality edge rushers.
The good news is help is on the way. Plenty of help, as it turns out.
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, noticed that early in the off-season evaluation process.
"I've been asked what the deepest positions are in the game," Nagy observed prior to this year's Senior Bowl. "I've been saying running back but it might just be this edge group."
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah has assessed this year's edge rusher class as "outstanding."
#5 - Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (6-5, 272) - There's a lot like about one of the key pieces of what was an outstanding Iowa defense in 2022. Van Ness told NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales he loves defending against the run, particularly lining up across from someone and "blowing him up." He's also rushed over guards as well as off of the edge. And he's a former hockey player. Jeremiah thinks Van Ness is a "bull in a china shop."
#4 - Nolan Smith, Georgia (6-2, 238 lbs.) - It's not about the numbers at Georgia, where there are so many players and where they're rotated by the Bulldogs accordingly. It's about potential, and Smith oozed that at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis when he posted a broad jump of 10'8" and a vertical leap of 41.5" and was officially clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40 yard dash. Such athleticism traditionally gets scouts' attention. Now that he's back from a torn pec that limited him to eight games in 2022, Jeremiah thinks Smith is a Top 20 pick.
#3 - Keion White, Georgia Tech (6-5, 285 lbs.) - White didn't run at the Combine but he passed the eye test during on-field workouts, as he does when he plays. "He is smooth and easy with what he does at that size," Jeremiah said. That includes dropping into coverage and running with running backs as well as the traditional edge rusher stuff. NFL Network analyst Charles Davis likened White to Travon Walker, last year's first-overall pick, because of how fluidly White moves at his size.
#2 - Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (6-6, 271 lbs.) - Wilson didn't run or drill at the Combine but his 84.5-inch wingspan was nonetheless impressive. He's coming off a foot injury but expects to be a participant at Tech's Pro Day in late March and does not lack confidence. "I feel like I'm a different pass rusher than most, you know," Wilson said in Indy. "I'm not just committed to power. I feel like I could do power and speed and you know, be effective inside and outside really just being that dominant dude on the field each and every game."
#1 - Will Anderson, Alabama (6-3 ½, 253 lbs.) - He'll arrive at his NFL destination sooner rather than later and with a lot of baggage. That'll consist mostly of honors and recognitions, including two Bronko Nagurski trophies (best defensive player), a Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player), a Lombardi Award (player who best embodies the values and spirit of Vince Lombardi) and a Lott IMPACT Trophy (defensive player recognized for integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity). Anderson is also a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Do we really need to know more than that?
Matt's Take ...
There is star power and depth in this edge class.
This position group might be the freakiest from an athletic perspective of any in the draft. There are players with immense upside in this group of edge defenders, many of which with rare length and athletic measurables.
Don't be surprised if several players from this group emerge as stars at the next level in the next few years.
#5 - Will McDonald IV, Iowa State (6-4, 239 lbs.) - McDonald only did the jumps at the Combine, but those scores were excellent and overall, he projects as an elite athlete. McDonald didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school and got to Iowa State as a very lean and undersized recruit. But he was too disruptive for the Cyclones to keep him off the field and while McDonald still has a narrow lean frame, his progress as a player over a short stretch of time is extremely impressive. McDonald has very quick feet, an excellent get off, and plays with great bend and flexibility. He isn't overly powerful, but gets away with it because of his effort, violent take-on abilities, and great balance and leverage. And McDonald should continue to get stronger. He is a pure edge rusher that fits best in a 3-4 front and a very enticing one at that.
#4 - Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (6-5, 272) - Van Ness is a bully. While he is extremely athletic and his testing numbers are excellent, on tape, he mostly wins with brute force and running right through his opponent. While that is a great start for the NFL, he absolutely will need to refine the technical aspects of his game. But what about once that does happen? Van Ness has long arms, huge hands, and a big powerful body for an edge defender and already shows the capability to line up over guards and centers. Van Ness looks as though he could add more weight and if he learns the finer points of the position, he could really hit big in the league. In the meantime, Van Ness' bull in a China shop routine should provide plenty of value.
#3 – Myles Murphy, Clemson (6-5, 268 lbs.) - Although Murphy only did the bench press at the Combine, he has a very similar profile to last year's first overall pick, Travon Walker. He is a power end that can line up and down the line of scrimmage. Walker is long and powerful and displays a good motor snap after snap. He eats up a lot of ground with his long strides and is quick to close. Murphy is still somewhat of a work in progress with his pass-rush plan and moves. But Murphy has more than enough from a traits perspective to contribute quite a bit right away as he further learns his craft.
#2 - Tyree Wilson, Texas Tech (6-6, 271 lbs.) - Wilson didn't test at the Combine (other than the bench press) but projects as an exceptional athlete with bend, explosion, speed and change of direction skills that are just uncommon for someone with Wilson's height and weight. But Wilson's most impressive attribute is probably his rare length. His arms measured 35 5/8", making it very difficult for blockers to get their hands on Wilson before he initiates contact. A foot injury ended Wilson's final college season prematurely, but his production in 2022 was excellent and the best is yet to come with this young man.
#1 - Will Anderson, Alabama (6-3 ½, 253 lbs.) - Anderson has been a dominant player since setting foot on Alabama's campus and quickly became a household name in the college football scene. Anderson has an extensive list of accolades and is the reigning back-to-back Bronko Nagurski Award winner as the nation's top defender. He has 27.5 sacks over the past two years. Anderson has a great build for the position with long arms and terrific bend and movement skills. He has very light feet but heavy hands. Anderson isn't the type of edge defender to kick inside and is best off lined up outside of the tackle. His resume is nearly impeccable.