Myles Garrett was undoubtedly the best pass rusher in the 2017 Draft and he’s proven that on the field, living up to his status as the No. 1 overall pick. Truly emerging as a sophomore, Garrett racked up 13.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 29 hits on the quarterback in 2018.
While more consistency is needed, Takkarist McKinley's career is off to an adequate start, producing 12 sacks, 25 quarterback hits and 14 tackles for loss in two seasons since Atlanta made him the No. 26 overall pick in 2017. The jury is still out on Derek Barnett who flashed as a rookie but was limited to just seven games before being placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Barnett is expected to fill a big role on the Eagles defense in 2019.
TJ Watt, who Pittsburgh took No. 30 overall, has proven to be a versatile playmaker for the Steelers. In 31 starts across two seasons, Watt has 120 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 10 pass breakups. The last edge rusher selected in the first-round in 2017, there are teams that regret not making Watt their pick.
While the aforementioned 2017 first-round edge rushers are providing value to their respective teams as top picks, three others have failed to produce as expected. Facing do-or-die seasons, let’s examine which 2017 first-round edge rushers are in danger of receiving the bust label.
Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
Starting 25 games across his first two seasons in the league, Thomas hasn’t been a total disaster for the 49ers and has actually proven to be a solid run defender. The problem is that his impact as a pass rusher has been nearly non-existent. The No. 3 overall pick, the expectations for Thomas is to be one of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in football and he’s been nowhere close to that.
John Lynch’s first ever pick as general manager of the 49ers, the moves Lynch made this offseason certainly don’t indicate he has much confidence in Thomas moving forward. After trading a 2020 second-round pick for Dee Ford and inking him to a five year contract worth $87.5 million, San Francisco invested the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 Draft on edge rusher Nick Bosa. One or both of those moves don’t happen if there was much belief that Thomas was primed to breakout in 2019.
Now a rotational player, Thomas is likely to be deployed as an interior pass rusher which may actually be his best role in the NFL but far from living up to the expectations that come with where he was drafted.
Charles Harris, Miami Dolphins
It's been a rough start to Harris’ career since Miami made him the No. 22 overall pick in 2017. Starting just three games in two seasons, Harris has only three sacks in 27 games. He's made virtually no impact as a pass rusher with little in the way of flashes indicating anything promising is on the horizon. In fact, Harris has more offside penalties than he does sacks at this point in his career. As a run defender, Harris has proven to be a liability with his lack of functional strength to squeeze gaps, set firm edges and exchange power in the trenches.
With Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake no longer in the mix, the door is wide open for Harris to claim a prominent role in Miami's defense this season. If there is hope for Harris to emerge in 2019, it comes from both the opportunity and Brian Flores’ arrival as Miami’s head coach.
After a 15-year run as an assistant for Bill Belichick in New England, Flores has been part of the most innovative defensive schemes the NFL has ever seen. Together, Belichick and Flores have masterfully deployed personnel in ways that maximize and accentuate their strengths as football players to get the most out of them. Harris could be the next example but he’ll have to reinvent himself as a football player to make the type of impact expected from a first-round edge rusher.
Taco Charlton, Dallas Cowboys
You have to give Dallas a ton of credit for how consistently they have hit on first-round picks. I mean seriously, go look at the last 10 years of first round picks that Dallas has made and you won’t find many busts. Unfortunately, Charlton is in danger of becoming a blemish on the resume if things don’t turn around quickly.
Only registering one sack in 2018, Charlton has only four sacks in his first 27 career games. A promising finish to his rookie season did not parlay into production in Year Two. A shoulder injury and rumored attitude issues played a role in his struggles as a sophomore and Charlton was a healthy inactive in Weeks 14 and 15.
Behind DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and Robert Quinn on the depth chart, Charlton finds himself in competition with Joe Jackson and Dorance Armstrong to be Dallas’ fourth defensive end. To bring further doubt into the mix, Charlton has been blessed with top coaching for the position having the renown Rod Marinelli as his position coach.
Coming off both shoulder and ankle surgery this offseason, things look bleak for Charlton. It’s truly a make or break year for him.