As we head toward the 2017 season, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks examines what could be in store for 11 notable rookies on the defensive side of the ball.
Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
No. 1 overall pick, Round 1, Texas A&M
Best-case scenario: The No. 1 overall pick quickly masters a few advanced pass-rush techniques to enhance his potential as an ultra-athletic sack master. Garrett not only gives the Browns a legitimate rush presence on the quarterback's blind side, but he teams with Emmanuel Ogbah to give coordinator Gregg Williams a nasty 1-2 combination off the edges.
Worst-case scenario: Garrett could find it tougher to create consistent pressure as a pro when offensive tackles start sitting on his fastball (speed rush). If he fails to quickly develop effective hand-to-hand combat skills as a rookie, Garrett might be a "boom or bust" producer as a first-year starter.
Projected stats: 35 tackles, eight sacks and three forced fumbles.
Solomon Thomas, DE, San Francisco 49ers
No. 3 overall pick, Round 1, Stanford
Best-case scenario: Thomas has the tools to be one of the best pass rushers in this class, as a crafty quarterback hunter with cat-like quickness and violent hands. The No. 3 overall pick quickly finds his groove as a versatile edge defender on a defense that shows plenty of promise with a host of young, athletic players along the front line.
Worst-case scenario: The NFL's antiquated rule preventing Thomas from participating in summer workouts puts the rookie behind the eight ball heading into the season. Without a great feel for where he fits in the 49ers' scheme, Thomas could spend the first half of the season acclimating to the pro game before settling in as one of the team's top young playmakers.
Projected stats: 40 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Jamal Adams, S, New York Jets
No. 6 overall pick, Round 1, LSU
Best-case scenario: The Jets' new defensive leader quickly emerges as one of the league's best all-around safeties as a first-year starter. Adams not only makes a handful of splash plays roaming between the hashes as a deep-middle player, but he also makes his presence felt as a box defender capable of punishing runners and quarterbacks in the backfield. On a defense that's tasked with carrying a squad that lacks offensive firepower, Adams could parlay extra reps into a Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Worst-case scenario: The Jets' decision to usher in a youth movement on both sides of the ball could lead to a number of blown coverages and missed assignments that prevent Adams from maximizing his talents as a disruptive defender. Without a trusty veteran among the front seven to handle the leadership responsibilities, the Jets' young defense -- and their budding star player -- could have a tough time coming up with enough big plays to validate Adams' selection as a top-10 pick.
Projected stats: 92 tackles, four interceptions and two sacks.
Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints
No. 11 overall pick, Round 1, Ohio State
Best-case scenario: The Saints need Lattimore to play up to expectations as their possible CB1. The Ohio State product has the speed, athleticism and agility to thrive in the role, which will help the Saints' leaky defense compete in a division littered with premier quarterbacks and elite pass catchers. If Lattimore can quickly grow comfortable in his role, he should be able to help the Saints' secondary neutralize the WR1s and vertical playmakers who have torched the unit the past few years.
Worst-case scenario: Despite having all of the tools to be one of the elite cover corners in the league, questions concerning Lattimore's injury history and lack of game experience kept some coaches from fully embracing his potential as a top prospect. If Lattimore's unable to shake the injury bug or his lack of reps as a collegian leads to a steep learning curve in Year 1, the Saints' suspect secondary will remain a huge concern for Sean Payton throughout the season.
Projected stats: 65 tackles, 12 passes defensed and two interceptions.
Haason Reddick, LB, Arizona Cardinals
No. 13 overall pick, Round 1, Temple
Best-case scenario: The ultra-versatile Reddick quickly displays his diverse skill set on a defense that showcases hybrid playmakers at every level. He initially steps in as a rotational playmaker at strong-side linebacker, but quickly carves out a role as a designated rusher (blitzer) on passing downs. With a non-stop motor, impeccable instincts and a knack for playmaking, Reddick immediately becomes a difference maker on a defense that's loaded with game changers.
Worst-case scenario: The Cardinals' desire to maximize Reddick's unique talents as a hybrid playmaker could prevent him from mastering a specific role as a first-year defender. Although he will certainly make a number of splash plays on sheer effort and hustle, Reddick could have a tough time making his mark as an impact player if he isn't able to settle into a primary job before bouncing around as a Swiss Army Knife for the Cards.
Projected stats: 75 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception.
Derek Barnett, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
No. 14 overall pick, Round 1, Tennessee
Best-case scenario: Barnett is perfectly suited to blossom as an edge rusher in Jim Schwartz's simplistic scheme. As a polished sack artist with a wide array of moves and a non-stop motor, he should be able to thrive as a pass rusher in a Wide-9 scheme that allows defensive ends to race to the quarterback with wide alignment. If offensive tackles fail to account for Barnett's complete repertoire of moves, the rookie pass rusher could tally 10-plus sacks as a spectacular role player for the Eagles.
Worst-case scenario: The depth and talent at defensive end for the Eagles could prevent Barnett from getting onto the field as a full-time player during his rookie season. Although serving as an apprentice to Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Vinny Curry could pay off down the road, the lack of pass-rushing opportunities could affect his numbers as a first-year player.
Projected stats: 25 tackles, seven sacks and three forced fumbles.
Malik Hooker, S, Indianapolis Colts
No. 15 overall pick, Round 1, Ohio State
Best-case scenario: The instinctive center fielder settles in quickly as the deep-middle defender in the Colts' single-high-safety scheme. Hooker not only gives the secondary an explosive over-the-top defender, but a ballhawk with outstanding instincts and ball skills. In a division featuring a couple of quarterbacks with high-turnover tendencies (Blake Bortles and rookie Deshaun Watson), Hooker's presence could be a game-changer for the Colts.
Worst-case scenario: Hooker's lengthy recovery from hip/hernia surgery prevents him from mastering the Colts' scheme and contributing right away as a starter. The lack of reps from the summer shows, and he spends most of his rookie season acclimating to the team's scheme instead of making plays in the back end.
Projected stats: 45 tackles, 12 passes defensed and three interceptions.
Marlon Humphrey, CB, Baltimore Ravens
No. 16 overall pick, Round 1, Alabama
Best-case scenario: The Ravens hope they've found the young, athletic CB2 they've needed to complement Jimmy Smith with the addition of Humphrey. The rock-solid cover corner displays the athleticism, cover skills and physicality to hold his own on the island. If he can handle the pressure of holding up in one-on-one matchups against the slick route runners and explosive vertical threats in the division, Humphrey could help the Ravens' D re-emerge as a top unit in the NFL.
Worst-case scenario: The presence of Brandon Carr in the starting lineup might relegate Humphrey to nickel duty as a rookie. Although most teams use five-DB packages on nearly 70 percent of defensive snaps these days, the Alabama standout is expected to make a significant impact as a rookie -- and playing strictly as a CB3 would be considered a bit of a disappointment for the team's top pick.
Projected stats: 25 tackles, eight passes defensed and two interceptions.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Washington Redskins
No. 17 overall pick, Round 1, Alabama
Best-case scenario: The Redskins might've snagged the best defender in the draft when they plucked Allen with the No. 17 overall pick. The blue-collar defender is a rock-solid run defender with a solid set of pass-rush skills that could make him a nightmare to block at the point of attack. With Ryan Kerrigan poised to attract a lot of attention on the edge, Allen could become the Redskins' most disruptive defender from his 5-technique position.
Worst-case scenario: Questions about Allen's shoulders led to his surprising draft-day slide, which makes his health a major concern heading into the season. Although he hasn't shown any signs of being slowed down by his ailments, the Redskins need their top pick to be available and productive to help turn around a defense that needs to improve quickly for the team to make a run at the division crown.
Projected stats: 35 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Detroit Lions
No. 21 overall pick, Round 1, Florida
Best-case scenario: Davis immediately steps into the starting lineup and emerges as the team's unquestioned defensive leader. In addition, Davis thrives as a sideline-to-sideline pursuer, exhibiting outstanding athleticism, instincts and thump tracking down runners all over the field. For a unit that needs a disruptive defender on the second level, Davis' presence could help the Lions make a repeat appearance in the playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: Davis struggles to adapt to the team's scheme as a rookie starter. Despite his high football IQ and natural instincts, he fails to make a significant impact on the team's defensive performance due to hesitancy and uncertainty. With a cloudy injury history also hovering over Davis' game, it's possible that it takes him a little longer to impact the team.
Projected stats: 95 tackles, one sack and one interception.
Charles Harris, DE, Miami Dolphins
No. 22 overall pick, Round 1, Missouri
Best-case scenario: The Dolphins are hoping that Harris is the heir apparent to Cam Wake as the defense's designated pass rusher off the edge. The electric Missouri product flashes exceptional first-step quickness and a non-stop motor harassing quarterbacks. In addition, Harris shows dynamic finishing skills as he routinely corrals QBs from the blind side.
Worst-case scenario: Despite showing outstanding promise as an edge rusher during summer workouts, Harris could still experience a slow transition to the pro game as a first-year performer on a team with playoff hopes. Sure, he will eventually work his way into the rotation, but the Dolphins need their top pick to be a difference maker from Day 1 to gain ground on the defending Super Bowl champs in the AFC East.
Projected stats: 45 tackles, seven sacks, one safety and a forced fumble.