Myles Garrett is the nation's best defender heading into 2016
If you’ve been paying attention to our 2016 college football player bracket, you’ll know that Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is — in our opinion — the best defender in the nation heading into the new season. He’s not without contenders to the throne, but based on what we’ve seen over the past two seasons, he’s in prime position to perform above all defenders this season.
So what makes him the best defender in the nation over players like Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett and Florida State’s versatile safety Derwin James? Let’s take a look.
No returning defensive end graded higher
We now have two years of college data under our belts at PFF, doubling the sample size for all of the stats and grades that we had a year ago. While Tennessee’s Barnett graded slightly better as a pass rusher in 2015 (+42.7 to +42.4), the only defensive end with a higher pass rushing grade than Garrett over the past two seasons is former Ohio State Buckeye, and current San Diego Charger, Joey Bosa. Considering just how dominant Bosa was in college, that’s some pretty impressive company for Garrett to keep.
At +49.7 and +42.4, his pass rush grades as a freshman and then a sophomore have been both outstanding and consistent, with Garrett dominating like few college players can, especially when you look at that ridiculous freshman year. When you consider the two-year grades for the best returning defensive ends in the nation, just how far in front he has been stands out.
As you can see from the table above, the best pass rushers in the nation did start to catch up with him in 2015, with Barnett even topping him, but his grades as a freshman were so far ahead of his peers that they don’t come close when you combine 2014 and 2015.
Garrett has racked up an incredible 22 sacks, 20 hits and 69 hurries over the past two seasons, terrorizing opposing offensive tackles in the SEC like few other defenders can. Our pass rushing productivity rating signature stats measures pressure on a per snap basis, with Garrett’s rating of 15.9 in 2014 the best of all 4-3 defensive ends, while his 12.8 mark in 2015 was somewhat lower, but still good enough to be tied for 12th at the position.
He improved against the run in 2015
Being a star edge defender isn’t all about being a great pass rusher though. While sack numbers and big plays to force bad throws by quarterbacks are what attract the headlines, the key to being a complete player is obviously to stand out against the run too. Even in his impressive 2014 freshman campaign, Garrett was very average against the run, grading at just +0.4 in that regard. That saw him rank 104th out of the 235 4-3 defensive ends to play at least 239 snaps that year. While that’s certainly not bad, it’s also not overly impressive.
2015 saw him take a big step forward, grading at +8.4 against the run, ranking 45th of the 275 defensive ends who played at least 239 snaps. It might not have put him among the best against the run at the position, but it was a huge step forward from an average 2014, and one that shows he is still trending upwards in that regard at the position.
Our run-stop percentage signature stat looks at how often a defender makes a tackle resulting in a defensive stop in relation to their amount of snaps in run defense, giving a far better indication on production against the run that tackle stats alone. Garrett ranked 57th among 4-3 defensive end with a run stop percentage of 6.3 as a freshman in 2014. As a sophomore in 2015, his run stop percentage improved to 7.2 percent, and up to tied for 35th among players at his position.
He wins in a variety of ways
This is something which is often considered a much bigger deal for scouting and the draft process than college production. After all, in college, who cares how you’re beating the offensive tackle in front of you, as long as you’re beating him, right? Well, while that is true to a certain degree, it definitely helps to have a range of skills, giving opposing offensive tackles a bigger variety of moves to prepare for, and other options available for if and when one move is shut down by an opponent.
The outside move was where Garrett did most of his damage, with 25 of his 46 combined sacks, hits and hurries coming by beating an opposing blocker to the outside, with another nine coming on inside moves. Twice he got pressure of some form by bull-rushing a blocker back towards the quarterback, and he picked up 10 pressures when unblocked, in pursuit or cleaning up. On top of that, twice he deployed a pretty impressive spin move while beating a blocker inside.
What we’ve seen from Myles Garrett over the past two seasons isn’t just the best pass rusher in the nation, but a player who has shown a marked improvement in what was the weaker aspect of his game –run defense. Considering the improvement there, and just how dominant he has been at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, we should expect a performance fitting of one of the top players in the nation once again in 2016.