Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa might have been the best overall player in college football over the course of the last two seasons. He graded as the No. 1 edge defender in both 2014 and 2015, dominating against the run and generating 145 total quarterback pressures – the most in the nation during that two-year span.
Bosa is now with the San Diego Chargers, as their selection with the No. 3 overall pick, leaving an opening for the title of college football’s best pass-rusher.
Which player is best-positioned to fill that void? Here are five reasons why Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett could be the No. 1 rusher in the nation this season:
1. He was close to being the best the last two seasons – as a true freshman and sophomore
Only three edge defenders earned a higher pass-rush grade than Garrett last season: Bosa, Shilique Calhoun (third-round pick of Oakland) and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. That’s after ranking second in pass-rush grades behind only Bosa in 2014. His 22 total sacks over the last two two seasons is second only to Emmanuel Ogbah, a 2016 second-round pick of the Browns.
Garrett padded his stats and grades slightly in 2014 by some monster performances versus lesser competition, but he was excellent against all levels of opponents in 2015 (more on that in a bit), and was nearly unblockable at times for the Aggies.
Case in point: His destruction of Arizona State in the Aggies’ season-opening win, including this strip sack. His explosiveness off the line gives the Sun Devils’ tackle no chance of blocking him:
2. He showed up in big games
As mentioned above, Garrett’s 2014 grade was inflated in the sense that he posted off-the-charts performances in wins over Lamar and Louisiana-Monroe. He was still a very productive player the rest of the season, just not quite at that same elite level.
That changed in 2015, as he dominated most opponents he came across. He earned excellent grades not just in the opener against Arizona State (his highest-graded game of the year), but against Nevada, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU, and in the Aggies’ bowl loss to Louisville. In fact, he only earned one negative grade all season, a slightly below-average performance versus Arkansas.
Against Alabama — the toughest opponent A&M faced all season — Garrett won his one-on-one matchup with Crimson Tide left tackle Cam Robinson (who, like Garrett, is being projected as a potential first-round pick in 2017). He recorded a sack, a hit, a hurry and a batted pass, en route to Robinson earning a negative game grade.
This GIF of Garrett’s sack against Robinson is a good example of his ability to get to the QB even when he doesn’t win right away with speed. He doesn’t get a huge jump on Robinson, but he still has the length, pass-rush moves and ability to bend the edge to work his way past Robinson and get the sack of QB Jake Coker.
3. He got better against the run his second season
Garrett definitely wasn’t close to being Bosa’s peer as a run defender last season, but he still earned a positive grade in that area – one that out-paced fellow star edge rushers Calhoun and Ogbah. Moreover, his run-stop percentage of 7.2 ranked 35th of 146 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends last season, which is more than respectable for a player with Garrett’s edge-rush ability.
For comparison’s sake, that number was nearly identical to the one posted by Clemson’s Shaq Lawson, the first-round pick of the Bills and a player celebrated in part for his run-stopping ability. Garrett missed just two tackles all season long.
What’s even more encouraging on this front is that Garrett showed big improvement from his true freshman season in 2014 against the run, meaning he is trending in the right direction as he fills out his frame, while clearly not losing any explosiveness as a rusher coming off the edge. He has the potential to again be an improved run defender in 2016.
4. He isn’t the only A&M edge rusher opponents need to block
While Garrett will clearly have the attention of opposing offensive coordinators this season, he will be helped by his fellow edge rusher Daeshon Hall. After exploding Week 1 versus Arizona State with a four-sack performance, Hall cooled off a bit, but still produced four more games with very good pass-rush grades — against Nevada, South Carolina, Western Carolina and Louisville.
At 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, Hall is similar to Garrett in that he possesses the length and quickness to disrupt passing games coming off the edge. That should help reduce the number of double teams Garrett faces this season (although he should still see plenty).
5. He stacks up well compared to his competition
Who are the other candidates to be college football’s best pass-rusher in 2016? Tennessee’s Barnett probably has the second-strongest case based on PFF grades, having been very productive the last two seasons. Missouri’s Charles Harris had an excellent 2015 campaign as well, and there are a few interior rushers out of the Big Ten worth watching in Michigan’s Chris Wormley and Maurice Hurst and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell.
But Garrett doesn’t just have the physical talent that has many projecting him as a possible top-5 pick in the 2017 draft – he also has the production over the last two seasons to back up that hype. Don’t be surprised if he is the most disruptive pass-rusher in all of college football this season.