2024 NFL Draft Preview: The Edge Rushers

By Scott Kacsmar

The 2024 NFL draft is expected to be dominated by offense in the first round with possibly 21 or 22 of the 32 picks going on the offensive side of the ball. The strength of the defense in this draft is the cornerbacks, but that does not mean the edge rushers do not exist. In fact, we could easily see five of them go in the first round.

Using the prospect rankings for edge rushers from NFL Mock Draft Database, we are going to look at the top 5 players this year who could go in the first round, and which teams would be the best fit for them.

Before we get to the prospects, let’s remember just how much pass-rushing talent is predicated on draft status and the cream rising to the top. The following stats do include some defensive tackles, but it is mostly edge rushers:

  • Since 2017, a total of 24 players have notched at least 50 sacks, and 13 of them were first-round picks.
  • Since 2018, out of the top 33 players in pass pressures, 20 of them were first-round picks, and 26 of them were taken in the first two rounds.
  • The only recent pass-rushing successes in that group who were drafted in the fourth round or later are Maxx Crosby (4.106), Za’Darius Smith (4.122), Matt Judon (5.146), and Shaquil Barrett (undrafted).

So far, the 2023 draft looks unique in that the top rookies in sacks were all third-round picks, including Kobie Turner (9.0), Byron Young (8.0), and YaYa Diaby (7.5). But we’ll see how long that lasts and if they can outlast the production from the likes of high picks Will Anderson Jr. (7.0), Jalen Carter (6.0), and Bryan Bresee (4.5).

1. Dallas Turner (Alabama) – No. 8 Overall Prospect

Another year, another draft where an Alabama edge rusher is expected to be the first defensive player taken. But let’s not confuse Dallas Turner for another Will Anderson Jr., who went to Houston with the No. 3 pick and won Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Turner is not the same caliber of prospect, but with Anderson gone in Alabama last year, he did step up with career highs in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (14.5). He also forced 2 fumbles last year on his way to being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Turner was a team captain and comes with that high pedigree you’d expect from an Alabama prospect in the Nick Saban era. The team who takes him is getting a great athlete with the potential to be an elite edge rusher in a couple of years.

Best Fit – No. 8 Atlanta Falcons

Turner has roughly -160 odds at top-rated sportsbooks to be the first defensive player drafted in 2024. But as we keep going through this first round, it keeps looking like a draft where the top 7 picks will be offensive players. Everyone knows about the top quarterbacks and wide receivers, not to mention the potential of Joe Alt at offensive tackle and Brock Bowers at tight end.

By the time a team finally drafts a defensive player, you might be looking at the Atlanta Falcons with the No. 8 pick. The Falcons already have their quarterback in Kirk Cousins and he has weapons. While taking Alt to get a new franchise tackle would be nice, there is a more pressing need on defense after the Falcons’ sacks leader last year were Calais Campbell (37 years old) and Bud Dupree (30). Both are past their prime as is Grady Jarrett, who missed half the season.

The Falcons need a long-term pass rusher, and Turner should be there as a good fit with his athleticism for Raheem Morris’ 3-4 scheme.

2. Jared Verse (Florida State) – No. 13 Overall Prospect

The other athletic edge rusher from a big school that ranks highly in this draft is Florida State’s Jared Verse. He actually started out as a tight end with Albany in 2019 before transitioning to defense after he bulked up. He dominated that level of competition before transferring to Florida State in 2022.

Verse was consistent with back-to-back seasons of 9.0 sacks. He also racked up 29.5 tackles for losses in his two seasons with Florida State.

Best Fit – No. 9 Chicago Bears

The Bears get to double up in the top 10 picks this year. We know they are taking USC quarterback Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick, but where do they go with this No. 9 pick? Again, we are assuming they won’t go wide receiver since they already acquired D.J. Moore last year and Keenan Allen in a trade this year. They got a breakout year from Cole Kmet at tight end last season, so Brock Bowers might be overkill at this point even if it’s a fun idea. They went offensive line last year, and Joe Alt might already be gone by the time they make this pick.

The defense needed help in Chicago too. While acquiring Montez Sweat from Washington paid off so far, you need that pair of edge rushers to maximize success. They can get Verse with this pick and build around that duo for years to come.

This is a team that could take a cornerback here, but when you think Bears, you think about building in the trenches and having that taken care of first. This is the best spot for Verse.

3. Laiatu Latu (UCLA) – No. 16 Overall Prospect

They may not play defense in the Pac-12 as well as some other conferences, but Laiatu Latu was a beast at UCLA. A neck injury cost him two years at Washington in 2020-21 before he recovered and took his talents to UCLA where he racked up 23.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss since 2022.

While Turner and Verse tested better athletically, if you want elite production and splash plays, Latu is the top-edge rusher in this draft. He won the Lombardi Award last year, which goes to the nation’s top lineman. He also won the Ted Hendricks Award (best DE). His 21.5 tackles for loss last year led the nation. He’s also forced 5 fumbles since 2022.

He overcame a lot medically to get to this point. A team could get a real steal with him outside of the top 10 picks this year.

Best Fit – No. 19 Los Angeles Rams

There are definitely some teams in this range who should strongly consider Latu like the Colts (No. 15) and Seahawks (No. 16). But he shouldn’t get past the Rams at No. 19. The Rams lost Aaron Donald to retirement, so there really is no replacing the best interior defender in the 21st century. The Rams should look to start getting more pressure from the edges, and while last year’s draft has been impressive for them with finding Kobie Turner (NT) and Byron Young (OLB) in the third round, they cannot pass up a disruptor like Latu.

We are so not used to seeing the Rams even have a first-round pick with all the trades they have made over the years. But keeping Latu in LA would be a wise move and the best pick they could probably make in this year’s draft.

4. Demeioun “Chop” Robinson (Penn State) – No. 29 Overall Prospect

They call him Chop, and while he may lack the production of our other prospects, he has the athleticism to make him an interesting choice late in the first round for a playoff team.

A transfer from Maryland, Chop Robinson went to Penn State and had 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2022-23. The athleticism and quick get-off has seen him get compared to Dallas great Micah Parsons.

It is true that Parsons and Robinson both played at Penn State and had marginal sack numbers in college, but Parsons was definitely the better prospect coming out. He was more of a traditional linebacker and put that speed to good use with 191 total tackles in 2 years. By comparison, Robinson had 60 tackles in 30 college games.

So, let’s not set any Parson-level expectations for Chop, but there is some potential here with the right fit.

Best Fit – No. 26 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers did a good job of bringing back most of their players from last year, but they did lose edge rusher Shaquil Barrett to the Dolphins. They could stand to get younger at that position, and they also could use more pass rush coming from the edges instead of from the interior line (Vita Vea) and from the safety position (Antoine Winfield Jr.).

Robinson should still be there when the Buccaneers are picking at No. 26. Head coach and defensive guru Todd Bowles loves bringing the heat. He’d be happy to have Robinson if he could be even half the player Parsons is at the NFL level.

5. Darius Robinson (Missouri) – No. 34 Overall Prospect

Darius Robinson was a 5-year player at Missouri who advanced to team captain and had his finest season in 2023 with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, both career highs.

He is bigger than our other prospects at 6’5”, so take that into consideration when you look at his slower 40-yard dash time. He can move for his size.

Robinson is not likely going to be the savior at edge rusher for any defense, but if he goes to a team that is willing to develop him over time or make him the No. 2 behind a dominant pass rusher, then he can become an asset.

Best Fit – No. 29 Detroit Lions

The Lions may end up going corner as a bigger need, but there is still a need to help get more pass rush and give Aidan Hutchinson more help. Last year, nose tackle Alim McNeill was the only other Detroit defender to have more than 3.0 sacks to go with Hutchinson’s big production.

The Lions added Marcus Davenport, a former first-round pick by the Saints who spent one year with the Vikings. But that is a short-term contract and the Lions are going to need a long-term solution for that No. 2 pass rusher behind Hutchinson.

Robinson also could land in San Francisco with the No. 31 pick. That team loves building in the trenches, they already have Nick Bosa as their stud, but they are always looking for more pieces up front.

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