Draft's dearth of edge rushers puts pressure on Packers
INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s get this qualifier out of the way first: Bradley Chubb is the pass rusher atop most scouts' wish lists entering the NFL draft. Just the name, really, says it all. Chubb. Thing is, the North Carolina State defensive end has the game to match.
What could Chubb do for the Green Bay Packers? Look at his 20 sacks and 44 tackles for loss the past two seasons. At 6-4 3/8, 269 pounds, Chubb is package-ready for the NFL.
“I try to take Khalil Mack and Von Miller,” Chubb said Saturday at the NFL combine, “and put them into one person.”
There is, of course, one tiny problem.
The Packers are hardly the only team needing pass rushers. And they’re picking 14th in the draft. Even if an uncommon influx of quarterbacks pushes talented defenders down the board, Chubb figures to be long gone before general manager Brian Gutekunst gets his turn on the clock.
“Chubb is a no-brainer in the top five,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said.
That doesn’t mean the Packers will be out of options at No. 14. The trouble, if they address their greatest positional need with their first pick, will be choosing the right one.
Marcus Davenport, an edge rusher out of the University of Texas-San Antonio, has the raw athleticism. He used to chase rabbits around his childhood home in Nebraska. Once, he even caught one. “He ran into the wrong area,” Davenport said. He was 8 years old.
A former wide receiver, Davenport (6-5 ¾, 264 pounds) wants to show scouts he’s a freak athlete. He isn’t lacking confidence. Before the combine, Davenport said, he made a $50 bet with Chubb, his workout partner. Whoever impresses scouts more this week – however that’s calculated – gets a little richer.
“Marcus Davenport is intriguing to everybody,” Mayock said. “People can’t wait to watch him play.”
Harold Landry has the stats. In his past 20 games, the Boston College senior has 21.5 sacks. An ankle injury derailed his senior year, holding him without a sack in his final two games. Eventually, his season ended in October. Before then, Landry (6-2 3/8, 252) had five sacks in his first six games, including three against Virginia Tech one week before his initial injury.
He doesn’t lack for confidence, either.
As he stepped to a podium Saturday inside the Indiana Convention Center, Landry was asked who he believed was the best pass rusher in this draft. It’s a common if cliché question frequently heard around the combine. Landry used it to send a message.
“I am,” he said. “I think nobody in this class has a first step like mine, a bend like mine, and a burst to the quarterback like me. Now, I’m not saying that I’m perfect, and there’s plenty of things I can improve on in my game. But in this draft, I do believe I’m the best pass rusher.”
Arden Key has some explaining to do.
He was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of high school. After a monster sophomore season at LSU (11 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss in 11 games), Key was cruising to the NFL draft’s first round. Then, one year ago, he took a sabbatical. Left the Tigers' program for four months. His weight shot up to 270 pounds. He returned in time for the season, but finished with four sacks in 2017.
Teams are going to have some off-field questions. Key, who at 6-4 7/8 weighed an undersized 238 pounds this past week, was asked Saturday what he wanted them to know about himself.
“No comment,” Key said.
Or as Mayock said: “I’m concerned about a lot of things with him. Because he’s a gifted kid, and there aren’t many edge rushers. And everybody wants one.”
There will be pass-rushing prospects at No. 14. Most are equal parts appealing and flawed. Last year, there were eight edge rushers taken in the first round. Almost 20 went in the entire draft. It was a bloated class.
Mayock believes teams were preparing for what was to come this spring.
This class, Mayock said, is much leaner. It’s not a great year to have the Packers' greatest need.
“You’re kind of reaching this year on the edge class,” Mayock said.
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So maybe the Packers get creative. One option to consider, perhaps the most intriguing, is listed as an inside linebacker.
That’s not a misprint.
In a deck of cards, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is the joker. He’s an off-the-ball linebacker, adept with plugging run lanes and dropping to cover. He’s also 6-4 1/2 and 253 pounds with 34 1/2-inch arms and an impressive 83-inch wingspan, dimensions that fit the build 3-4 defenses prefer for outside linebackers. Though he wasn’t a full-time pass rusher with the Hokies, Edmunds’ film shows an ability to reach the quarterback. He had 4.5 sacks as a sophomore, and 5.5 last season as a junior.
Then he left school with one year of eligibility remaining, leading to something else Edmunds is: only 19 years old. Four days after the draft, he’ll turn 20. In theory, coaches can mold his game however they want.
“I feel like I’m just a playmaker,” Edmunds said. “Wherever they want to put me at, I feel like I can make plays. So it will be up to them (where I play). Then hopefully I can help the team out, and make an impact to the team.”
It’s hard to predict which pass rusher the Packers might find most appealing. They are in the midst of a defensive transformation, adding a new coordinator for the first time in nine years. Mike Pettine’s scheme is defined by its flexibility. He runs a multiple system, which could give the Packers room to select the most talented edge rusher on their board, rather than the best system fit.
One trait sure to suit Pettine’s defense is versatility. He already has hinted at using Clay Matthews in multiple roles.
“When you can move guys around and trade jobs,” Pettine said earlier this offseason, “not just within a game but week to week (it helps). Because a big part of offense is identifying who the rushers are and what positions they’re playing. When you have guys like that, the creative part, you can do a lot more with those players.”
The Packers could do a lot with Edmunds. Most important, no matter who they draft, will be upgrading their pass rush.
They have less than two months to decide which player does that best.