One, two, Myles Garrett is coming for you. Three, four, quarterbacks and offensive linemen better shut the blindside door.
The defensive end is a nightmare for any opponent. He forces linemen to hold on for dear life, while quarterbacks are constantly aware of Garrett's presence.
As such, the Texas A&M defender is the best NFL draft prospect entering the 2016 campaign, and it's unlikely his status will change between now and April.
Garrett's overall talent supersedes his draft class, too. Inevitably, he'll invoke comparisons to the last defender selected No. 1 overall, the Houston Texans' Jadeveon Clowney. In reality, the Texas A&M product is a better overall prospect than Clowney at the same point in their respective careers.
The 20-year-old defensive end has been just as productive through his first two seasons, is as athletic as Clowney and is also a safer bet in regard to system flexibility and overall approach.
Two years ago, the draft community considered Clowney a physical marvel and a once-in-a-lifetime prospect. He invoked comparisons to Julius Peppers, Mario Williams and Bruce Smith. His famous hit against Michigan Wolverines running back Vincent Smith played on an endless loop on television.
Even Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin compared Garrett to Clowney during last year's SEC media days.
Those comparisons should be taken as compliments, but they don't accurately portray how talented Garrett is. Game recognizes game, and Garrett's game projects as the best defensive prospect to enter the NFL this decade.
"He's one of the best playmakers in the SEC," LSU running back Leonard Fournette—another potential top-10 pick and arguably the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson—told the Dallas News' Ben Baby at SEC media days. "One-on-one, you have to eat your Wheaties to play against him."
Of course, Ndamukong Suh, Von Miller, Patrick Peterson, J.J. Watt, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack will be mentioned by those not ready to anoint Garrett as the top defensive prospect since 2010. However, none of them played at the same level as Garrett early in their collegiate careers. They weren't the same players then, nor should they be viewed as such. What each of them eventually developed into as a professional isn't a true or fair comparison for any incoming talent.
As underclassmen, none of them earned freshman All-American honors, nor did they receive first-team All-American nods by their sophomore campaigns. Garrett did.
What makes Garrett a one-of-a-kind prospect is his nearly limitless upside.
A primary reason why he's linked to Clowney is because the Texas native broke the South Carolina product's SEC freshman record with 11.5 sacks in 2014. Garrett walked into America's toughest conference and dominated from day one, and he didn't let up in his second year.
These mega-talented defensive ends produced at a high level during their first two campaigns.
|Garrett's production vs. Clowney's (first two seasons)|
|Player||Total Tackles||TFL||Sacks||QB Hurries||FF|
However, Clowney's production took a nosedive during his junior campaign, which brought up questions about his drive and work ethic. Draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki noted the following concerns at NFL.com:
Down-to-down effort lacks consistency. Lacks discipline on and off the field and has had to be managed closely since he arrived on campus. Needs to learn what it means to be a pro. Plays in spurts and is too much a of flash player -- does not consistently dominate like he could. Is still immature and finding his way -- too much of a follower.
The same concerns don't exist with Garrett.
The narrative around Clowney at the time centered on whether he should play or sit out his junior year. At the time, many considered the defensive end the No. 1 overall prospect and believed only a major injury could hurt his draft status. In the end, the Texans selected Clowney with the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft, but those questions about his attitude and approach during his last year on campus haunted him.
Garrett denounced the idea of sitting out a year to protect his draft status.
"I've heard it, but I'm against it," he said during media days, per NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "I want to be one of the best that's ever come through A&M, and that would just be betraying the people I've played with and the people who have come before me, who have worked their butt off."
As a junior, Clowney disappointed with only 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 11 games. Garrett can't allow the same to happen, or similar questions will arise.
Physically, the two are nearly identical in size, with an edge in athleticism toward Garrett—if his reported workout numbers are to be believed.
At the 2014 combine in Indianapolis, NFL scouts measured Clowney at 6'5" and 266 pounds. Texas A&M lists the junior at 6'5" and 262 pounds.
A side-by-side comparison of their workout numbers is illuminating:
|Garrett's workout numbers vs. Clowney's|
|Player||40-yard dash||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump|
|Fox Sports & NFL.com|
These numbers can change when a player enters the combine pressure cooker, but it's clear Garrett is on par with—if not a better overall athlete than—the freakish Clowney. This shouldn't come as a surprise.
The NFL loves good bloodlines, and the Garrett family is unbelievably talented. His mother earned All-American status in the 60-meter hurdles during her time at Hampton University. His older brother, Sean Williams, is a former NBA first-round pick by the then-New Jersey Nets. And their sister, Brea, became a 2014 NCAA indoor champion in the weight throw for Texas A&M's track and field squad.
When looking at Garrett as an athlete and person and his production to date, he's a better all-around prospect than Clowney.
But there are great collegiate players who don't translate to the next level. This shouldn't be a problem for Texas A&M's latest top prospect.
Garrett doesn't go medieval on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen; he brings a prehistoric pedigree. In order to best describe his game, the Jurassic Park fanatic mentioned a specific dinosaur.
"Deinonychus," Garrett told Maria Taylor during the SEC Network's Summer Football Tour (via Gridiron Now's Dan Mathews). "It's a type of raptor. It's fast, vicious, it's going for the killer blow and it's got quick feet. I think I've got all of those traits."
The defensive end's description adds imagery and clarity to how he plays the position. Everyone can imagine the raptors from the original Jurassic Park film coiling up and pouncing on their intended prey. Their raw speed, power, viciousness and cunning overwhelmed audiences in 1993.
This is how Garrett attacks opposing quarterback. His quick-twitch ability is a sight to behold. Sometimes an offensive tackle can't even get out of his stance before the defensive end is past him—as everyone saw in last year's season opener against the Arizona State Sun Devils:
Brent Sobleski @brentsobleski
https://t.co/vil6BUNP297/18/2016, 2:20:25 PM
An argument can be made that Garrett jumped the snap. Sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate between a defensive lineman who's legitimately quick out of the blocks and those who become accustomed to anticipating snap counts.
Music City Miracles' Terry Lambert provided another example when Texas A&M faced the Nevada Wolf Pack:
Terry Lambert @TLambertFB
Not the greatest tackle Myles Garrett will ever face, but you get an idea of his first step here. https://t.co/B0iZezREjW6/14/2016, 3:08:19 PM
This play was Nevada's first offensive snap of the game. Garrett blew by the tackle with an ease that simply can't be described.
For any natural pass-rusher, an electric first step is vital to his success. It sets up the rest of his repertoire. Sometimes concerns arise if the pass-rusher doesn't display anything more than a speed rush. Can he convert his speed into power?
For example, one knock on Miller concerned his ability to hold up at the point of attack. No one questioned the two-time All-American's ability to pressure the quarterback. However, would he hold up against NFL linemen? He proved himself more than capable.
Garrett is actually 15-20 pounds heavier than the former No. 2 overall pick. His ability to translate speed to power is apparent in both stopping the run and rushing the passer.
Another example from the Arizona State contest shows how Garrett explodes into blocks and easily handles a single blocker, per PFF College:
PFF College Football @PFF_College
Myles Garrett of @AggieFootball is CFB's best defender heading into 2016. Here's why: https://t.co/7U6nh3MpIo https://t.co/PLexuMPrx87/1/2016, 4:27:20 PM
This play highlights another strength of Garrett's game: scheme versatility. As seen in the clip, Garrett is lined up to the inside of the offensive tackle instead of his traditional position at the end of the line of scrimmage.
Texas A&M's coaching staff often lines its All-American up as a 3-technique in sub-packages to take advantage of his quickness along the defensive interior. Garrett is more than a handful outside, but he can be even more difficult to stop for guards, who don't have the same foot quickness as offensive tackles.
The NFL is all about creating favorable matchups, and Texas A&M does what it can to exploit the mismatches Garrett creates.
For example, any offensive scheme that asks a tight end to handle Garrett is destined to fail, as Inside the Pylon's Jon Ledyard noted:
Jon Ledyard @LedyardNFLDraft
Don't ask a tight end to block Myles Garrett https://t.co/77OEEJyfC26/2/2016, 9:42:32 PM
His versatility extends beyond what he can do moving forward against inferior blockers.
Garrett will line up in a two-point stance and display a level of recognition to break off his pass rush when quarterbacks take a three-step drop. He then sinks into the passing lane and attempts to make a play on the pass. Last season, the defensive end intercepted a pass and deflected two more.
His change of direction is also ludicrous. Below are a series of screen captures that provide a perfect example during last year's contest against the Mississippi State Bulldogs:
Not only was Garrett capable of recognizing the play, opening his hips to shift directions and chase down the running back for little to no gain, but he forced a fumble upon arrival. This is an exceptional play for any defensive lineman and highlights Garrett's all-around game.
To effectively play defensive end or outside linebacker at the next level, though, there are necessary traits outside of raw strength, speed and agility.
Flexibility and core strength also play big roles—particularly when a pass-rusher is running the proverbial ring on his way to the quarterback.
NFL linemen will be far better prepared to handle Garrett. As such, the abilities to dip a shoulder, fight against pressure and display proper body lean and ankle flexion will become vitally important.
Against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Garrett faced one of college football's best left tackles in Cam Robinson and displayed all of these necessary qualities, courtesy of PFF College:
PFF College Football @PFF_College
.@AggieFootball 's Myles Garrett is moving on to the finals of our CFB Player Bracket. Plays like this have helped: https://t.co/pDzrkOxP886/24/2016, 7:55:25 PM
It's easy to praise Garrett. He's the total package and effective in multiple phases. The defensive end also makes an impact on special teams. He's already blocked both a punt and a kick.
NFL organizations certainly won't be looking for the pass-rusher to play much on special teams, but his ability to affect another phase speaks to his overall talent.
The really scary part is that Garrett has plenty of room to grow.
Technique constantly evolves, and a true professional never stops honing his craft until the day he retires. Garrett can stand to dramatically improve in the nuances of the position.
Consistency and hand usage are two areas of concentration. Sumlin mentioned these when asked where Garrett needs to improve by Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel:
His technique has improved. That's been a real focus with his pass-rush moves, and utilizing his speed has been his biggest strength. But now, converting and creating some speed-to-power-type moves, instead of being an edge rusher or a slasher inside, which is where he got the majority of his pressures and sacks last year. Now being able to hold the point better against the run, and then people have been attacking him the last few games with basically read—reading him, they're not blocking him. So putting him in those conflicts and having him do some things maybe a little bit differently instead of just "When the ball is snapped, run as fast as I can to the quarterback"—which he does very well.
Earlier examples showed that Garrett converted his speed into power. The potential is evident.
Brent Sobleski @brentsobleski
https://t.co/9RTvJbAwTj7/18/2016, 2:22:12 PM
Being able to consistently do these things is difficult, though. Good NFL linemen have counters for every move. In order to be a great pass-rusher, the defender's tool box must include more than just raw physical ability. It comes down to expanding one's game, preparation and understanding how to set up moves. Even an ultra-talented pass-rusher can't rely too heavily on one move, because he becomes predictable. It's all about taking those natural abilities and getting the most out of them.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, certain prospects enter the league with polished technique that allows them to dominate at a lower level despite a lack of overall athleticism. The then-St. Louis Rams once spent the second overall pick on Chris Long even though he displayed a limited ceiling.
This is what makes Garrett so tempting. He isn't just a dominant force in college; he's far from actually reaching his full potential.
Whatever team eventually selects the Texas A&M defender can expect him to reach his potential because of his demeanor.
Character is more important than ever.
With players like Josh Gordon, Dion Jordan, Martavis Bryant and Johnny Manziel all serving or expected to serve league-mandated suspensions, organizations have placed a heavier emphasis on football character.
Garrett is certainly a character, but in a good way.
"I looked down on the plane, he had some flip-flops on and a Marvel comic book hat," Sumlin said, per the Times-Picayune's Jim Kleinpeter. "So that's what we needed to see out of our toughest guy on defense? He's just a different guy. He's a great young man."
Garrett isn't a typical modern athlete. He shies away from social media. Instead, he prefers to write poetry or read during his downtime. For the most part, he eschews questions about becoming the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 or '18, per Gridiron Now's Kevin Connell:
I just tell them that's in the future. All I can do is handle what's around me at this time right now. That's making sure I have a good season. Keep on working hard during the summer with fall camp coming up. With fall camp coming up, I have to make sure I'm working on my technique so I'm prepared for the first game, and I can make a big impact.
Does he want to be the No. 1 overall pick? "Of course [I do]," he told ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "Who doesn't?"
However, the spotlight doesn't appeal to the nation's top returning junior. Yes, he's set lofty goals with the intention of securing 20 sacks this season, but it's part of his drive and certainly not an egotistical statement.
"I'm just like any other guy," Garrett said, per Connell. "I put on my pads and tie my shoes just like anyone else. I just go out there and play my best to the best of my ability. That's it."
Garrett even spent part of his offseason in Haiti with 28 other Texas A&M athletes. The group participated in manual labor to help those in need.
"They taught us how they are so happy with so very little," he said of the experience, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
This is exactly the type of young man an NFL organization gets giddy about when looking for a new face of the franchise. Teams already imagine what they'll have if given an opportunity to draft him.
"I spoke to one personnel executive who compared him to Julius Peppers," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah wrote. "I wouldn't put him in that class just yet, but he's still very young, and his best football is ahead of him."
Apparently, Peppers is a far better comparison for Garrett, since it's the same one Clowney received. And why not? The North Carolina product was a tremendous athlete coming out of college and has since been named to the Pro Bowl nine times and earned six All-Pro honors (three first-team nods).
More importantly, Peppers has quietly gone about his business for most of his 14-year career—and still does.
Best of the Best
The 2017 NFL draft class should be absolutely loaded with talented pass-rushers. Auburn's Carl Lawson, Tennessee's Derek Barnett and Alabama's Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams will warrant strong consideration as potential early first-round selections.
But Garrett currently stands as the only choice among defensive prospects worthy of the top overall pick due to his elite physical tools, well-rounded skills, overall game and potential to become the face of a franchise.
Sure, there are possible pitfalls. The Texas A&M defender could suffer an injury, his play could take a step back or he could even decide to remain in school for his senior campaign.
Until then, Garrett is the favorite to become the No. 1 overall pick in April, and NFL teams should be more excited about his potential than when Clowney entered the league.
Whichever franchises are unlucky enough to miss out on Garrett, they'll eventually see him in their nightmares.
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