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2018 NFL Combine preview: 10 edge rushers the Lions could target

The Lions need a pass rush and the NFL combine is going to highlight the most athletic ones.

NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL Scouting Combine is approaching at lightning speed, and it feels like we’ve hardly prepared for all of the excitement! The level of hype that players receive around this time is incredible to witness and sometimes comical in presentation. There’s only so many ways you can say, “That was a good broad jump, Bob,” before you end up making up adjectives to describe leaping ability or wonky metaphors that literally no one in the universe has ever used.

We’re going to continue our combine preview series by taking a look at a position many have speculated the Lions will take in the first round and pretty much everyone agrees they’re going to address at some point in both the draft and free agency: Edge Rusher.

Catch up on our previous NFL Combine preview material here:

Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

One of the most frequently mocked players to the Lions, Landry came into the season as a near consensus top pass rusher and top-five pick. Since then, he’s fallen off a bit in the eyes of many, but he has a chance to rise to the occasion at the combine and show if the elite bend and ability to get low around the edge will translate to drills and measurements. Size will be important as he’s considered undersized due to his height by some, but if he measures in taller than expected or his arm length acceptably compensates, people will turn to his 3-cone drill where he may put up the best time in the edge class.

Hercules Mata’afa, DT?, Washington State

The future name bracket champion, Hercules Mata’afa was a 250-pound defensive tackle for Washington State, which is bonkers even in today’s age of undersized and athletic linemen. While tolerance for smaller tackles is growing in the NFL, no one is going to give him reign in the middle of an NFL defensive line any time soon, and he’ll have to make it on the edge. For that, he’ll need to show that he can hack it both athletically and with his technique. Expect every drill to be scrutinized.

Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE/OLB, Kansas

A highly-touted pass rusher entering the season, it was a bit of a down year for Armstrong. While his athleticism was one of the most talked about aspects of his game, he appeared stiff. The narrative around Armstrong is in a similar vein to 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris in terms of speed (negatively) and burst (positively). However, he lacks the signature spin move that kept Harris in first-round consideration, and the drills and measurements will be important to NFL teams who are likely to move him from full-time end to stand-up pass rusher this offseason.

Arden Key, DE, LSU

If it hasn’t seemed like a trend yet, Key is yet another pass rusher who was well thought of coming into the season who saw himself sliding down boards as the season progressed. With health concerns already, Key dealt with injury through the year and his production didn’t match the top of the first-round hype. Rumors have circulated that he hasn’t been living up to the “freakish athlete” billing during his combine preparations, as well. Finally, interviews will also be a big deal for Key as there are concerns with his football character and even his love of the game as he briefly stepped away from the sport at LSU.

Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, OLB, Arkansas State

One of the most prolific pass rushers in college football history, no defensive player has a chance to raise their stock more than this Arkansas State product. With the tape he put up and the production he had, a strong athletic profile to boot could push him firmly into Day 2 status (currently projected early Day 3) and possibly even further. His size is going to be the chief concern early, as he’s undersized even as a 3-4 rusher, but his athleticism looks good, at worst, so teams will be carefully balancing how he does in drills alongside bigger school competition.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OLB, Oklahoma

Undersized but with a good frame, Obo Okoronkwo is going to have to show teams he can carry more weight on his frame or show that he has the length and athleticism to make it as a pro. While he has received some first and second-round hype, questions about his overall athleticism have begun to drown out those projections, and his reputation as a high-motor player probably won’t be enough at a position so athleticism-dependent as edge rusher. Best time to put those concerns to rest is at the combine.

Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers

Projecting as a straight line pass rusher, Turay is a polarizing prospect among draftniks, with some thinking he could push early into Day 2 and other stating it’s more likely he slides into the middle of Day 3. He is also very raw in his technique, having gotten a later start than most players, so the drills will be more important for him than most. When discussing this class with a close friend who also covers the draft, he said Turay may have the best broad in this draft class but probably the worst 3-cone time.

Jeff Holland, DE/OLB, Auburn

While on paper it’s easy to consider Holland a decent prospect, I haven’t been able to get on board with the late Day 2 hype I’ve heard. Athletically, I just don’t see much there now, and his frame doesn’t look like any NFL player I can think of. He plays hard, and has a good football IQ, but if he measures how I suspect he will, it’s going to cement his value for me very late into Day 3 ...ideally for a different team.

Darius Jackson, OLB, Jacksonville State

Smaller school players always have the most to gain from a strong combine, with it being, for many, the first time NFL scouts are seeing them in person. Jackson is an interesting one who I feel is going to measure fairly well, but I think he’s going to split the agility drills. He is able to change direction quickly and looks explosive, so he’ll probably do well in the shuttle, but he isn’t a fluid mover in space and doesn’t bend particularly well consistently so I would guess he struggles in the 3-cone.

Marcus Davenport, OLB, UTSA

No player has seen their value inflated more in the last month than Marcus Davenport. A relative unknown out of UTSA coming into the season, it stayed that way all the way into December, where he was mostly getting talked about as a possible Day 2 developmental pass rusher. A toolsy player with severe technique deficiencies, Davenport has the opportunity to lock in his Day 1 hype train like we saw with Haason Reddick in 2017. Though an average performance would likely see him taken where most had him projected pre-Senior Bowl: In the mid-to-late second round like Tanoh Kpassagnon last season after an underwhelming-but-still-good combine.

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