Myles Garrett has the skills to be an elite NFL pass-rusher
Since stepping onto the Texas A&M campus as a true freshman in 2014, Myles Garrett appeared destined to be a future top-five pick in the NFL draft. This is no underdog story, as Garrett was a 5-star recruit — rated behind only LSU running back Leonard Fournette in 247 Sports’ composite recruiting rankings — and he lived up to the hype immediately, with five hits on the quarterback and three hurries in his very first game against South Carolina. Garrett finished 2014 with the best pass-rush grade we’ve seen by a true freshman in three years of grading, and it’s really not even close. He hasn’t slowed down since the impressive start, following up a freshman campaign that saw him rank second among the nation’s edge defenders at 90.3 with a 2015 season in which he ranked third at 89.1. Garrett got off to another hot start in 2016 before injuries slowed him around midseason, though he still managed to tie for second in the nation on the edge with a career-best 92.1 overall grade.
Dominant off the edge
If Michelangelo were sculpting the perfect edge rusher, he’d likely come up with something similar to Garrett. Throw every scouty term in the book Garrett’s way and he resembles it – burst, bend, twitchy, you name it – but most importantly, Garrett is not just an athletic projection for the next level. He’s used all of his tools to produce on the field, and he’s done so at a dominant level for three years.
As a pass-rusher, Garrett’s burst allows him to challenge offensive tackles on the edge, using a quick first step to keep tackles cognizant of his ability to get to the corner, but it’s his array of moves that allow Garrett to get to the quarterback. He had a fairly even distribution when it comes to how he won, picking up 20 pressures to outside of the tackle’s shoulder, 20 to the inside and 10 with the bull rush. His pass-rushing ability is the biggest reason he’s been pegged as a top-five pick for three years. Freaky athleticism and power combined with production will lead to an effective pass-rusher at the next level.
To be an effective pass-rusher, it’s important to be able to threaten the offensive tackle to the outside. Garrett can do that both with his burst, but also his hand usage.
Here he beats Alabama OT Cam Robinson in 2015.
From Week 1 in 2016, Garrett gets the better of UCLA LT Conor McDermott.
After establishing that he can get the corner (McDermott already knew this coming into the game anyway), Garrett can then work the counter to get inside for the pressure that nearly forced an interception from QB Josh Rosen.
Finally, to complete the picture, a pass-rusher must be able to push the pocket, and while it’s unlikely that it will ever be the biggest part of Garrett’s game, he had just enough pressures with the bull rush to keep opposing tackles honest.
The scary part of Garrett’s game is that he continues to get stronger, and if he can add even more power to the mix, he could continue his improvement year over year in the NFL.
Improving against the run
When looking for a knock on Garrett, most criticism has come from his work in the run game. He’s never been bad against the run, but it certainly isn’t the first thing anyone will discuss when listing his positives. Elite NFL edge defenders like Von Miller and Khalil Mack, two players to whom Garrett is often compared, are outstanding run defenders and they would be valuable players even if they weren’t elite pass-rushers.
That wasn’t the case for Garrett after two years of college, and it’s an area of his game we highlighted as one we wanted to see him improve in 2016:
After grading at a solid 79.4 against the run in 2015, Garrett did take a big step forward in 2016, finishing at 87.8 to rank third among the nation’s edge defenders. That’s the type of improvement we wanted to see, and he did so in the right places. One key area was his ability to take on pull blocks, and that was one of the most noticeable differences when watching Garrett on tape in 2016.
From 2015, Garrett gets into position to take on the pull, but he’s not aggressive and he does little to take on the block and positively influence the play for the defense.
By contrast in 2016, Garrett takes on the puller, jacks him back, and gets in on the tackle
Garrett improved his work taking on blocks in general. He did a nice job on the front side of zone plays, using his hands to keep blockers away, while showing the ability to work both sides of the block and finishing the play. Here he sheds a block from first-round hopeful Cam Robinson to make the play against the run.
The last two plays show Garrett’s improved ability to take on blockers, but it still comes back to his athleticism to see just how disruptive he can be to opposing run games.
The college game is littered with option offenses who often attack the best defensive player by leaving them unblocked and “optioning” off them. The goal is to make the defender “wrong” by handing the ball off to the running back if the defender plays the quarterback or having the quarterback keep the ball on the option of the defender plays the running back too quickly. It’s a viable strategy until you run into a player with Garrett’s athleticism. His incredible change of direction skills allow him to play both sides of the option, essentially blowing up the entire scheme by playing both the running back and the quarterback.
Other common ways of taking out the “end man on the line of scrimmage,” is sending a guard or a tight end on a pull, either at the point of attack or on the backside of the play. Once again, Garrett’s quickness is often too much for these schemes, as he often explodes off the ball and knifes into the backfield to finish plays before they even start.
Garrett’s the top player in the draft, but that also comes with plenty of hyperbole when trying to classify just how good he is.
We don’t have to define just how good he is, and even comparing him to a Von Miller of Khalil Mack may set the bar too high, but he does have the potential to have that kind of impact on a defense. If he continues to add strength, his work against the run and as a power pass-rusher will only increase his value, but as of now, Garrett has all of the tools in the toolbox to be one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL and he’s shown the ability to use those tools on the field for three years. That’s what separates Garrett from other prospects who may have the athleticism but no production and others who have refined technique and strong college production but may lack the physical ability to improve at the next level. Garrett has both production and athleticism on his side, and that is what will make him so dangerous in the NFL.