Missouri defensive end Charles Harris knows he’s “got next.”
The Tigers have had defensive linemen drafted five of the past eight seasons, with six players going into the NFL. That includes three first-round choices — defensive end Shane Ray, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood — and a second-round selection, defensive end Kony Ealy.
“That’s how I was created,” Harris said. “That’s how I was bred for the most part. That’s just the mentality. The way we play, it’s just imbedded in me. I’ve got to keep the tradition going. I’ve got to teach younger guys under me. I can’t be the one. I can’t be the drop-off. That’s one thing for sure. And guys coming after me, they also feel the same way. They cannot be the ones to let us down, let down the ones who came before us. So I’ve got to succeed in this transition.”
The Dallas Cowboys, who are in the market for a “war daddy” pass rusher, have made no secret of their attraction to Harris. But he might not get to them at No. 28 as Harris projects as a mid- to late first-round choice.
“Harris has the frame, get-off and pass rush promise to develop into a scheme-versatile NFL edge rusher,” CBSsports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler said.
Harris, 22, started for two seasons at Missouri. He played both left and right defensive end, both standing up and with his hand on the ground.
Harris had 56 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in 2015. He was expected to post much bigger numbers last season but didn’t.
A new coaching staff and new defensive scheme played a part.
“It was pretty tough,” Harris said. “But I’m a savage, so I can adjust to any type of coaching staff. I can adjust to any type of game plan, whatever it is. So I had a new coach; I had a new coordinator. I couldn’t cry about it, couldn’t throw a fit about it.
“I had to adjust. I had to adapt. I had to survive in my environment. So that’s what I did.”
Harris had only 3.5 sacks in the first eight games last season, with three coming against Georgia. But he finished with 5.5 in the last four games.
Harris will keep Missouri’s rush pipeline alive.
“I got here by sacking the quarterback. That’s not a secret,” he said. “So I feel like most teams are going to play me how I’m supposed to get played. That’s me getting to the quarterback, me covering when I need to cover, and when it’s necessary, me playing special teams. Things like that. I’m big; I’m athletic; I can move.”
This class of edge rushers is deep, especially early. The talent is in the top 100, with close to a dozen pass rushers expected off the board in the first two rounds. Edge rushers are probably the second-best position in this draft behind cornerback. Defensive tackle is not a strong group, and the first true defensive tackle might not hear his name until after the first 50 picks.
The Cowboys had 36 sacks, five more than the previous season, but it marked the fifth consecutive season they were below the league average. They have not had a player with double-digit sacks since defensive tackle Jason Hatcher had 11 in 2013. DeMarcus Lawrence, who showed promised in 2015 with a team-leading eight sacks, took a step back with one in 12 games. He had yet another back surgery in the off-season. Randy Gregory will serve a year-long league suspension. David Irving has shown flashes, and the Cowboys expect more from Tyrone Crawford after finding him a home at left defensive end. Charles Tapper, a third-round pick in 2016, spent his rookie season on injured reserve. Maliek Collins, who had a solid rookie season, and Cedric Thornton, who took awhile to adapt to Rod Marinelli’s scheme, will start inside.
Top three edge rushers
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, 6-4, 272, 4.57. The Arlington Martin product is the likely No. 1 overall pick.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee, 6-3, 259, 4.88. A three-year starter, he had 197 tackles, 52 tackles for loss and 33 sacks.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA, 6-2, 250, 4.59. A two-year starter, he had 102 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
Top three DL
Jonathan Allen, Alabama, 6-3, 286, 5.00. His shoulder issues raise red flags, but he made 144 tackles, 45 tackles for loss and 28.5 sacks in his three seasons as a starter.
Solomon Thomas, Stanford, 6-3, 273, 4.69. The Coppell product started only one season but had 62 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State, 6-6, 295, 4.85. He projects as a strongside DE after having 90 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Devonte Fields, Louisville, 6-2, 236, 4.72, The Arlington Martin product, projected as a late-round pick, started his career at TCU where he had 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a freshman.
Top Texas ties
Tyus Bowser, Houston, 6-3, 247, 4.65. The Tyler John Tyler product, projected as a second-round pick, missed five games last season after a fight with a teammate resulted in a fractured orbital bone.
Deatrich Wise, Arkansas, 6-5, 274, 4.92. The Carrollton product, projected as a third- or fourth-rounder, played five years and had 16.5 career sacks.
Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M, 6-5, 266, 4.76. The Lancaster product, projected as a fourth-rounder, had 162 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks playing opposite Myles Garrett.
Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State, 6-3, 304, 5.07. The San Antonio James Madison product, projected as a fourth-rounder, had 12 sacks in his final two seasons.
Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia, 6-1, 268. The Wylie product, projected as a sixth-round pick, is a three-year starter who had 126 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.
Charles Walker, Oklahoma, 6-2, 310, 4.96. The South Garland product, projected as a sixth-rounder, has injury and other concerns after leaving OU prematurely to prepare for the draft.
Josh Carraway, TCU, 6-3, 242, 4.74. The Flower Mound product, who could hear his name late, had 133 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks.
Source: Heights, weights and 40 times were compiled from CBSsports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler.
82nd NFL Draft
April 27-29, Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Selections: Round 1, April 27, 7 p.m.; Rounds 2-3, April 28, 6 p.m.; and Rounds 4-7, April 29, 11 a.m.
TV: ESPN/ESPN2 and NFL Network.