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Ballard’s Big Board: 5 Top NFL Draft Edge Prospects for Colts

TaxSlayer Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The NFL Draft is kicking off on Thursday, and the Indianapolis Colts have the ability to make some noise early on with the 26th overall (and not too far thereafter with the 34th overall pick).

While the team signed prominent veteran pass rusher Justin Houston earlier this offseason, the team could still use a young blue chip pass rushing prospect to anchor the position for the long-term future.

Here are 5 of the top pass rushing prospects who could be potentially available for the Colts (although a trade up might be necessary for at least a few):

USC v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

5. Charles Omenihu, Texas, Edge

The 6’5”, 280 pound senior edge recorded 45 tackles, 18.0 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and a forced fumble in 14 starts for the Longhorns defense—earning All-Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and All-Big 12 honors respectively.

Omenihu has the looks and athleticism to ‘play the part’ as a pass rusher, but his game is still a bit raw. He has really impressive length and is the type of athlete with twitch and explosion off the line of scrimmage that defensive coordinators will simply love.

That being said, he’s inconsistent with spotty instincts at times, and his technique could use some refinement. With his lanky build, he can sometimes get pushed off the ball along the interior and needs to work on maintaining better balance to hold his ground.

Omenihu has the ideal length and explosion as a pass rusher, it’s just a matter of whether he can maintain consistency, get stronger, and continue to grow at the position.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

4. Rashan Gary, Edge, Michigan

The 6’4”, 277 pound junior edge had 44 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in 12 games for the Wolverines defense, as he earned AP 2nd-Team All-Big Ten honors.

Gary is battling a labral tear in his shoulder, but most teams believe he’ll be able to play through it this season and opt for surgery thereafter. Still, it could limit his effectiveness in his rookie season, and it’s something that will likely have to be managed by his new NFL team.

Gary is an impressive power edge, who still has the quickness with a 4.58 forty time to combine a rare speed-power package as a pass rusher. However, his production never quite matched his talent level at Michigan. He also lacks a combination of effective pass rushing moves besides his long-arm bull rush move at times.

Nevertheless, Gary has tremendous upside, and despite the shoulder injury, there’s a question of whether he’s even scratched the surface as a pass rusher with his talent.

College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T - Alabama v Clemson Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

3. Clelin Ferrell, Edge, Clemson

The 6’4”, 264 pound edge had an impressive junior season with 55 tackles, 20.0 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in 15 games—taking home AP First-Team All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, and First-Team All-ACC honors, as well as earning the Ted Hendricks Award which is given to the nation’s top defensive end.

Ferrell is as solid as they come at defensive end and was highly productive for the National Champion Tigers. He’s blessed with long arms and uses his attacking hands to violently shed blocks and cause disruption. On the other hand, he’s not the best athlete of this bunch and can lack burst, bend, and fluidity at times—looking mechanical.

While he’s often powerful—especially against the run, he needs to convert that into his overall pass rushing prowess.

Ferrell may not have the ceiling of some of his pass rushing peers here, but it’s safe to say that his floor is also generally much higher than most. He’ll be at least a pretty productive pro for an NFL team—maybe much more.

TaxSlayer Bowl - Mississippi State v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

2. Montez Sweat, Edge, Mississippi State

Coming in at 6’6”, 260 pounds, Sweat recorded 53 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, and a forced fumble in 13 games last season for the Bulldogs. As a result of his exceptional play, the senior earned AP 2nd-Team All-American and First-Team All-SEC honors respectively.

Unfortunately, Sweat has a heart condition that could cause his draft stock to slide on draft day.

Like others on this list, Sweat has a long frame and is still tapping his potential as a pass rusher. He uses his legs and that impressive length in order to create leverage against blocks—showing nice bend at the point of attack.

Still, he needs to work on improving the quickness and ‘punch’ of his hands—which lacks at times. He also can struggle with power and must improve the strength in his lower half.

Nevertheless, with his length, athleticism, and a 4.42 forty time, there aren’t more impressive athletes—with plenty of production to boot.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

1. Brian Burns, Edge, Florida State

The 6’5”, 249 pound junior edge racked up 52 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in 12 games—earning First-Team All-ACC honors.

The long and lanky former Seminoles standout has exceptional speed, burst, and bend off the edge to help make up for his smaller stature and lack of trench strength.

Still, the latter can limit him at the point of attack when either holding the edge in run defense or looking to shed blocks as a pass rusher.

Nevertheless, Burns has a nice combination of go-to pass rush moves to go along with his impressive burst/bend, and the Colts franchise has experience with propelling undersized pass rushers on a crash course to NFL sackmaster stardom (See: Dwight Freeney & Robert Mathis).