NOTE: Click on each player's name for a full combine scouting report.
It will be an upset if Texas A&M's Myles Garrett is not the top defender picked in the 2017 NFL Draft. In fact, odds are pretty good the Browns will pick Garrett No. 1 overall. Word's finally getting around that Stanford's Solomon Thomas is worthy of a top-10 spot, as well; his combine performance could push him into the top five.
There are several other interesting storylines to watch, however, among the other top pass rushers in the draft class. Here's my list of edge players with the most to prove at this year's combine.
NFL teams are in a bit of a pickle when grading Williams. Do they grade him based on what he can become? Or do they watch the film from his college career and wonder if his motor will run hot enough to be a difference-maker at the next level? His workout will be considered disappointing if he doesn't prove to be among the most athletic rushers in the class. What might be even more important for him is the interview process, where he needs to show his football knowledge and answer questions about off-field issues. The combine might be more important for Williams than it is for any other prospect when it comes to determining draft status.
Charlton showed promise as a part-time starter for the Wolverines in 2014 and 2015. In his senior year, he exploded onto the scene to become a first-team All-Big Ten pick and one of the more coveted prospects in the class. Charlton could wind up reminding scouts of former top-five pick Ziggy Ansah with an excellent combine workout. With teams like the Bengals and Jets potentially in the market for pass rushers, Charlton could find himself a top-10 pick with a workout that provides a strong complement his 2016 film.
Yes, people expect more from this Badger because of his family ties (he's the brother of the Texans' J.J. and the Chargers' Derek). But that's the point -- Watt's big brother is one of the best defenders in the NFL, so attention, and high expectations, come with being in that situation. The way he finished up his junior season at UW also showed he has the tenacity and athleticism to make an impact as a pro. J.J. put on a show in Indy in 2011. T.J. has a shot to do very well and lock down a first-round slot in the process.
Willis was a productive strong-side end at the collegiate level, willing his way past overmatched right tackles. He won't have that luxury on Sundays, though. To be considered a late first-/early second-round prospect, Willis must show agility and speed to be a factor against wily pro veterans that won't cower to his bull rush. Proving doubters of his athleticism wrong would only bolster the reputation he's already built with his supreme strength and hustle.
Joining Willis in the race for a late-first-round draft spot is Walker. Scouts will be interested in his height and length, as well as whether he's twitchy enough to play standing up on a regular basis. Some of that will show during the testing, but watch for Walker (and several other top ends like Derek Barnett, Daeshon Hall, and Dawuane Smoot) to be led into linebacker drills at the conclusion of their session to evaluate their hip movement. If he performs well, it wouldn't be a shock to see him land with a team like the Patriots at the end of the first round as a versatile edge defender.