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2017 NFL Draft position rankings, Pre-NFL Combine: Top 5 outside linebackers

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We breakdown the top 5 draft-eligible outside linebackers for the 2017 NFL Draft. Previous rankings: QB | ILB

We are now waiting for the 2017 NFL combine. This gap of events allows for us to arrange our draft boards and compare prospects. It is a great time to create position rankings; comparing oranges to oranges before they are competing side by side at the combine. This is a ranking of the 3-4 Outside Linebackers (Presuming the Niners keep the 3-4 scheme). This list could change after the Combine and Pro Days, but is helpful for both events.

The edge rushers in this draft class are good, there are no two ways about it. It would not be surprising if all these players were selected in the 1st round. There are other prospects with red flags that could also creep into the 1st round. This is a list of the top 5 in this talented group.

5. Charles Harris OLB Missouri 6’3” 235 lbs

Harris is an experienced pass rusher that uses a variety of moves to pressure the QB. He has a good “get off” to get downfield of the tackle and turn the corner. His liability is in the run game, while he is willing to chase the ball down across the back side he can be swept up by the larger offensive linemen. He could stand to tack on mass, this could help him hold contain or at least stack and shed more effectively. Harris has shown athleticism with fluid hips and active feet but not consistently. This could be due to the fact he is mostly asked to set the edge or rush the passer, I will be watching his linebacker drills at the combine intently to see how well he moves in space.

4. T.J. Watt OLB Wisconsin 6’5” 245 lbs

T.J. has good length and athleticism for the position. He shows surprising strength at 245 lbs, being able to set an edge against the run. Uses good hands and a relentless pursuit of the ball to rush the passer. Has a quick first step to set tackles on their back foot before ever making contact. Watt looks agile in space and could stand up and play inside linebacker on coverage downs. Watt is only a one year starter due to injury and roster depth at Wisconsin. Has not played much football at the position and could benefit from some time off field adding bulk. Overall he is a naturally aware defender that could play half a dozen positions on the field.

3. Derek Barnett OLB Tennessee 6’3” 265 lbs

Barnett is a Tactician when rushing the QB. He can use his hands beautifully in the trenches, uses a variety of pass rush moves and never ceases in his pursuit of the ball carrier. He is the most polished pass rusher in the class and could have the lowest learning curve going into the NFL. The knock on Barnett is his athleticism. He does not have elite quickness when the ball is snapped nor does he look quick when he changes direction. While he is a hyper productive college player he has a lower ceiling than McKinley and Garrett. This hardly means he won’t be a productive pro but it does effect his draft stock.

2. Takkarist McKinley OLB UCLA 6’2” 265 lbs

McKinley is quickly moving up draft boards and Im just putting him at 2nd now instead of 3 weeks before the draft. McKinley is explosive and can turn the tightest corner to get to the QB in this draft class. He has an explosive first step, this acts as an effective pass rushing move in and of itself. He is slightly undersized, this makes his effective bull rush surprising. The reason I have moved him up the board is his motor. It runs all game long. His combination of speed, sneaky power and a relentless pursuit of the ball make me hope the Niners trade the second overall pick and draft McKinley later in the first round. He looks like a player that could make a splash at the combine. I want to see him on two feet, being asked to change direction in combine drills. Overall a prospect that will keep climbing draft boards.

1. Myles Garrett OLB Texas A&M 6’5” 270 lbs

We all know who Myles Garrett is at this point. He is a rare physical specimen. His speed and athleticism are off the charts at his height and weight. He makes football look easy. Garrett possess the ability to make other players on the field look like children. He has improved his run defense, showing his ability to be coached and improve his skill set. He is going to be the first defender taken in the draft. The only concern I have for Garrett is that he has not risen to the occasion and made a sack when his team needed it the most. In the Tennessee game, Tennessee came back and scored two touchdowns in the last three minutes of the game and scored in overtime. If the defense could have stepped up and made a play the game would have been over, but no one did. This is a mild concern but that is all I can come up with. He is impressive.