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2017 NFL Draft position rankings: Top 5 defensive ends (Leo) before the NFL Combine

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We highlight and profile the top 5 draft-eligible defensive ends (Leo) for the 2017 NFL Draft.

We continue our post-Senior Bowl, pre-NFL Combine, breakdown of the top five prospects at each position. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve highlighted several positions. Today we take a look at the defensive ends, specifically the Leo position.

With the hiring of defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers are in transition converting their defense from the 3-4 of old, to the 4-3 under. Under the new scheme, changes are afoot, and one key position truly lacking elite talent is the defensive end Leo position, a position which sole purpose is to wreak havoc in the backfield as the primary pass rusher.

Going into the 2017 season, the 49ers have four potential Leo candidates in Aaron Lynch, Tank (A Series of Unfortunate Events) Carradine, Ahmad (Everlasting Bunny) Brooks, and Eli (Dude, Where's My Sack?) Harold, although I could also see the latter two as a Sam outside linebacker as well. Nevertheless, none of the current 49ers "Leo" prospects scream elite edge rush ability threatening to post double digit sack numbers any time soon, if ever. Moreover, with the new regime establishing themselves in the building, we will see if any one of the current "Leo" defensive ends make it through the roster purge.

Free agency is definitely a possibility to bring in new blood to strengthen competition or flat out replace what the 49ers currently offer on their roster. Some potential names thrown around such as the coveted Melvin Ingram, Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, Nick Perry, and Jabaal Sheard among others are a few of the potential free agents that may want to join the John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan show (John Lynch factor is promising). However, it's the new crop of a deep and talented rookie edge class poised to make their marks in the NFL, where the 49ers will likely do their due diligence in combing through the prospects determining if one of these pass rushers can become the premier edge defender on the 49ers' defense. I highlight the top five defensive ends (Leo) in play.

DE Myles Garrett, No. 15, 6'5" - 270 lbs., 4.57 40 - (1st) - Texas A&M

Garrett's 2016 season stats: In 10 games - 33 tackles with 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.

DE Myles Garrett is the top prospect in this years' draft class. Garrett brings a perfect blend of size, length, fluidity, speed, instincts, agility, power, and athleticism. A true disruptive force and an outstanding pass rusher both off the edge and inside (shows great awareness in stunts), Garrett is explosive (absolutely terrific first-step with speed of light explosion) with excellent flexibility, elite quickness, burst, and acceleration with insane closing speed and excellent backfield vision. He plays with excellent leverage, body control, and balance, adept at holding the point of attack and releasing with amazing change of direction skills, agility, foot quickness, and power. Has elite skills to engage and accelerate off blocks flattening off the edge with a purpose, and possesses elite balance and body control, exploding out of the arc with terrific bend, power, speed, and length.

Displays a variety of pass rush moves and is skilled converting speed into power. Displays an excellent ability playing front-side blocks at the point of attack utilizing his length (long arms) and power to successfully stack and shed showing a solid game setting the edge. Quickly destroys defending back-side blocks with his tremendous athleticism, length, and high-motored closing speed. Needs better development transitioning pass rush moves in order to win when countering. Garrett was hampered this season with an injury limiting his production (cut block), but when healthy he is an elite talent boasting a high football IQ with physical traits and superior athleticism capable of becoming a dominant playmaker - dare I say a generational type impact prospect - at the next level.

Round Projection: 1st

DE Derek Barnett, No. 9, 6'3" - 257 lbs., 4.76 40 - (1st) - Tennessee

Barnett's 2016 season stats: In 13 games - 56 tackles with 19 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 1 interception, 5 pass deflections, and 2 forced fumbles.

DE Derek Barnett is an extremely disruptive player excelling as a pass rusher with a motor always running hot and is relentless in pursuit with a nose for the quarterback (outstanding ball awareness). Barnett provides a solid combination of size, strength, agility, balance, and power. He fires off the line of scrimmage with excellent snap awareness and anticipation, but at times his aggressiveness gets the better of him (offside penalties). Displays decent burst off the edge winning with power and great technique with excellent bend and dipping of the shoulder getting underneath blockers flattening out with nice balance and body control finishing hitting with explosive power behind his pads.

Displays a good ability to play front-side blocks at the point of attack with a powerful punch (strong run defender), but needs consistency. Not overly athletic, but wins with technique, power, and unstoppable determination that helps him defend against back-side blocks when the ball goes away from him, although the lack of athletic ability and explosion at the next level could be an issue. Tremendous production in the SEC and broke Reggie White's school record for career sacks with 33.

Round Projection: 1st

DE Takkarist McKinley, No. 98, 6'2" - 265 lbs., 4.62 40 - (1st) - UCLA

McKinley's 2016 season stats: In 11 games - 61 tackles with 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 6 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 forced fumbles.

DE Takkarist McKinley is an amazing pass rush talent erupting off the edge displaying explosion, length (very long arms), quickness, agility, power, flexibility, strength, and athleticism. McKinley explodes off the line (elite first step) displaying tremendous quickness and closing speed with excellent bend off the edge. He utilizes great hand technique with a solid pop at the point of attack, quick to transition into his pass rush moves with smoothness winning with tremendous speed and power.

The former high school track athlete also possesses great balance, body control (excellent leverage and dip), and impressive change of direction skills, where coming out of the arc from his bend he is able to adjust with ease and take advantage of his athleticism and power, and has outstanding closing speed. McKinley shows the versatility to line up on both the right and left edge winning on either side. McKinley displays a high-motor always running hot and playing with an intensity attacking every inch of the field (superb effort), but he will need to gain more functional strength for the next level in order to be a more effective run defender setting the edges.

Round Projection: 1st

Jack/DE Tim Williams, No. 56, 6'4" - 252 lbs., 4.76 40 - (1st-2nd) - Alabama

Williams' 2016 season stats: In 14 games - 31 tackles with 16 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.

Jack/DE Tim Williams is an athletically gifted prospect with an explosive skill-set NFL teams desire with their pass rush specialists. The high-motored playmaker showcases superb athleticism, burst, speed, and bend off the edge playing with quickness and terrific suddenness covering a lot of area on the field. Displays good technique (relies a lot on athleticism alone), excellent burst and closing speed, amazing first-step off the line, exceptional balance, fair hands with great pop (violent hard punch) at the point of attack, quick to transition into pass rush moves, impressive change of direction skills, fair at stacking and shedding, and fair against the run. He also possesses great balance and body control, where coming out of the arc from his bend he is able to adjust with ease flattening and taking advantage of his length and athleticism. A fluid athlete with sound awareness, great agility stunting or twisting exploding with closing speed attacking the ball carrier hitting with explosion. Will need to show functional strength and improvement in the run game (inconsistent shedding from blockers).

Arrested for carrying a pistol without a permit on 9/29/16. Marijuana was also allegedly found in the car during the arrest; however, it did not belong to Williams thus resulting in no drug charges being filed. Apparently, driver of the vehicle (not Williams) took ownership of the marijuana and stated he was holding it for a friend named Brandon Chicken. Potentially significant off-field issues with rumors of multiple failed drug tests, and according to Charlie Campbell from Walter Football, "...substance-abuse issues similar to Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory". Moreover, according to Erik Galko from Optimum Scouting and Sporting News, he was told alcohol abuse in the offseason lead to character concerns for Williams. Needless to say Williams' background will undergo serious investigations.

Round Projection: 1st-2nd

DE Charles Harris, No. 91, 6'3" - 260 lbs., 4.74 40 - (1st-2nd) - Missouri

Harris' 2016 season stats: In 12 games - 61 tackles with 12 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 2 pass deflections, 1 fumble recovery, and 2 forced fumbles.

DE Charles Harris is an intense high-motored prolific pass rusher that comes from a list of great pass rush specialists from Mizzou - Aldon Smith (sad panda). The former high school basketball superstar displays excellent first-step quickness, tremendous instincts, impressive suddenness, and superb speed off the edge with nice closing speed. Harris shows great technique with active hands keeping them up avoiding containment, array of solid pass rush moves (love the spin move in either direction), great strength and balance, and can flatten off the edge with a purpose, as well as win pursuing the action from the back side (relentless in pursuit).

Although he lacks bulk (will need to gain more functional strength), Harris shows a good ability to stack and shed, and setting the edge in the run game, but needs more consistency playing with leverage. Harris is a bit stiff in space, but has decent fluidity moving all over the field; nevertheless, rushing the passer is his bread and butter.

Round Projection: 1st-2nd

A few Defensive End Leo prospects outside of the top 5 to keep an eye on:

DE Taco Charlton, No. 33, 6'6" - 285 lbs., 4.87 40 - (1st-2nd) - Michigan

DE Carl Lawson, No. 55, 6'2" - 253 lbs., 4.67 40 - (1st-2nd) - Auburn

DE Joe Mathis, No. 5, 6'2" - 256 lbs., 4.86 40 - (2nd) - Washington

Stats courtesy of College Football at Sports Reference, team pages, and 40 times are projections.