Selecting who will be the most productive at the position was not easy.
These are the five outside rushers who'll be most productive in Year 1 in the NFL. I've also ranked , , , and by this same criteria.
5. Nolan Smith, Eagles
I battled internally between Smith and Jets first-round pick Will McDonald here. Both are on clubs with established veterans in front of them on the depth chart and will play on defenses that really rotate up front.
I decided on Smith strictly because I had a higher pre-draft grade on him than McDonald. While Smith isn't entering the league with veteran-level hand work, he is epically explosive with destructive run-stopping ways thanks to magnificent point-of-attack strength and block-shedding abilities. Despite the droves of awesome rushers on Philadelphia's defensive line, Smith is too talented, and more NFL-ready than his 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame would indicate, to barely play as a rookie. Learning how to win as a smaller edge rusher from Haason Reddick will work wonders for Smith's development too.
4. Tyree Wilson, Raiders
Much has been made about Wilson's clear-to-see inability to get off the snap at a requisite speed. But the flaw is seemingly more about a need to improve snap anticipation than a lack of explosiveness, therefore, it's quickly fixable. Beyond that, Wilson has Myles Garrett size and length. He bends amazingly for his enormous, gangly size and was exceptionally productive in 2022 before an injury derailed the final stages of his season at Texas Tech.
He'll play opposite Maxx Crosby, who remarkably almost never comes off the field. And there's Chandler Jones, who had a disappointing debut with the Raiders but surged down the stretch. More rotation at defensive end would behoove Crosby -- who probably won't ever want to head to the sidelines -- and particularly the now 33-year-old Jones. Plus, the Raiders didn't select Wilson at No. 7 overall for him to be a hardly used decoy as a rookie. He knows how to deploy his length to his advantage and routinely counters off his initial rush. Being able to bounce ideas of Crosby and Jones will be a tremendous asset for Wilson early in his NFL career too.
3. Derick Hall, Seahawks
Hall had first-round film and a first-round workout but was snagged by the Seahawks near the top of the second round in April. At nearly 6-foot-3 and a rocked-up 254 pounds with ridiculously lengthy 34.5-inch arms, he has the build I love at edge rusher in the modern-day NFL.
Something else I adored about Hall's draft profile -- at Auburn, he was a multiyear, highly efficient producer. Large sample size of production from him in the NFL's farm system that is the SEC. In Seattle, he'll provided plenty of opportunity as a rookie. Last year, Uchenna Nwosu was the only Seahawks outside rusher who played more than 50 percent of the defensive snaps. While there very well could be an uptick in playing time for the likes of fellow youngsters Boye Mafe and Tyreke Smith, the latter of whom missed his entire rookie campaign, Carroll truly wants to deploy primary, close to "full-time" defensive ends. He just didn't have the horses in 2022. In the days of Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril, Seattle was largely dependent on its top outside pass-rush tandem. Those players saw 70-plus percent of the defensive snaps on a yearly basis.
Being as NFL-ready as I believe he is, I can envision Hall garnering enough playing time to be one of the "primary" defensive ends for Carroll, and with his explosiveness, overwhelming speed-to-power conversion, bend, and pass-rush move arsenal, he'll flourish in Year 1.
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2. Will Anderson, Texans
Anderson was one of the highest floor defensive ends I've ever scouted. Essentially zero projection to his game. He's vastly experienced but not concerningly old. He had stellar, maintained production at Alabama for three seasons and was as devastating to offenses stopping the run as he was chasing the quarterback.
Does he have a sky-high ceiling? Not necessarily. But that's not the focus here. On a rebuilding Texans team, Anderson will be given every opportunity to prove the front office right for the seismic trade it took to draft him immediately after selecting quarterback C.J. Stroud at No. 2 overall.
With deceptive strength, burst, powerful pass-rush plans, and an always humming motor, Anderson will be a steady force on Houston's defense as a rookie.
1. Drew Sanders, Broncos
I have been tempted by Sanders as a Micah Parsons-type rusher in the Broncos defense. I know this is a risky selection. Tall, angular, freaky athlete with stunning pass-rush efficiency in 2022 at Arkansas. Yes, Randy Gregory, Baron Browning and Clark will get theirs.
Sanders has the skill set to overflow the stat sheet as a half-off-ball linebacker, half-pin-the-ears-back, corner-bending rusher. He rocks as an interior blitzer too. Now, I am putting a lot of faith here in Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to utilize Sanders correctly. There's just no way anyone could watch Sanders' collegiate film and decide not to give him traditional outside pass rusher snaps as a rookie. It'll happen. And, much like he did last season, Sanders will thrive in that role and contribute splash plays on outside runs when he can turn on the turbos to track down ball-carriers. I still am floored he wasn't picked until the third round.