We have done all the interior guys and the offensive tackles now, so we are moving on to the edge rushers. Once again, I differentiate between interior defensive linemen – meaning anything from true nose tackle to 5-tech defensive end – and edge rusher. This class includes defensive ends and outside linebackers, whether those are the spots they played in college or where I project them fit at the next level. I already mentioned this with the inside guys – With how hybrid defensive schemes are today and how little teams actually line up in base sets, the fit of these prospects is not necessarily as important. What counts is primarily if you can rush the passer, then if you can set the edge in the run game and finally if you can stand up and drop into coverage. Of the course the more you can do for your team, the better, and the draft boards will vary depending on the scheme of teams, but not all of these areas are equally important.
I already marveled at the talent on the interior D-line, but this class of edge rushers is even better and deeper. I could easily see up to eight of these guys be selected in the first round and the top two will probably end up being among my three highest-graded prospects. What I really like about this group is the versatility, not necessarily when it comes to scheme fits, but rather their overall style of play. You have technically sound players or raw athletic freaks, finesse speed rushers and frenetic power guys. Whatever your flavor is, there is someone for you to find – as long as you have the draft capital.
1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State
The Bosa family bloodline is well known with father John being a former first-round pick by the Dolphins in 1986 and brother Joey a former third overall pick, who was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and is viewed as a perennial Pro Bowler going forward. However, it is Nick who might be the most talented of the bunch and he has been the number one overall prospect on many people’s boards throughout this draft prospect. The Fort Lauderdale native was a top five national recruit and was part of Ohio State’s ridiculously deep rotation as a freshman. He exploded in 2017 with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks despite actually starting just four games and was named Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the Year as well as first-team all-conference. He saw his junior season cut short by a core muscle injury and decided to focus on his preparation for the draft.
This kid has prototype size at around 6’4”, 265 pounds with the second-best quads I’ve seen at the combine behind Saquon Barkley. Nick Bosa is a very powerful and disciplined run defender. He comes out of his stance with excellent pad-level, has great core strength and plays with perfect extension. Bosa gets quick penetration on a bunch of plays, while being able to stack and squeeze gaps as good as pretty much anybody in the run game. When he is unblocked, his eyes go up to see a potential keep of the ball by the quarterback and instantly progress to any pulling linemen. For as much as everybody talks about Bosa as a pass-rusher, he was equally as impressive as a run defender in his full sophomore campaign, earning an elite grade by Pro Football Focus in that area as well. He plays with a burning-hot motor at all times. In last year’s season-opener versus Oregon he got a couple of sacks and recovered two fumbles.
Bosa has an excellent get-off and he combines that speed around the edge with well-placed variations of hand combats and the ability to flatten towards the quarterback. He doesn’t quite string his arms and lower body together as well as his brother, but he is getting there. Double-hand swipes, club-rip, speed to power and push-pull moves are all part of the menu. Bosa shortens the edge with power and technique over pure bend. He has a feel for when offensive tackles shift their weight outside and he can win with inside moves or when he bull-rushes and he can throw them out of the way. The D-end has that natural grip strength to work push-pull moves and just yank guys to the side by their pads to open up a path to the QB for himself. He absolutely murdered USC’s left tackle in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, but he can also overpower his opponents, for example when Oklahoma tried to block him with a pulling guard in protection and Bosa just threw that guy into Baker Mayfield and finished the play. He doesn’t care for a chip by the RB and treats them like little kids when he’s past the tackle. All that earned the second-highest pass-rushing grade in the country in 2017 and he was right there with his brother’s number according to PFF. He has some experience standing up and sliding inside on third downs as well.
On a few occasions Bosa gets confused by running schemes and gets caught ball-watching. He has below-average arm length at 33 inches and doesn’t have an elite get-off, displayed by not having very explosive leaping numbers at the combine. Bosa was held under control for the most part by Michigan’s Mason Cole back in 2017, who is a well-rounded and -coached player. He also doesn’t have the most range as a tackler and never really piled on big total numbers in that department.
You don’t want to take the easy comparison to his brother Joey, but Nick is so much alike the Chargers defensive end. He is technically sound, powerful and shows all-out effort. Purely based on talent this Bosa might be even more talented than his brother Joey, even if he isn’t quite as technically sound as the NFL-proven edge rusher. If you are looking for a sure thing with one of those top three picks, I don’t think you can go wrong with this guy. He’s all ball, all the time and he will give you a consistently dominant presence on the edge for more than a decade, whether that is setting a hard edge or getting home as a pass rusher in a variety of ways due to his feel for pass-set and the depth of the pocket.
2. Josh Allen, Kentucky
This New Jersey native played three years of high school ball in Alabama and after spending his senior year in Jersey, he moved back South to Kentucky to play in the nation’s best conference. Allen spent most of his freshman season as a reserve before emerging in year two for the Wildcats. When he got seven sacks for a second consecutive year and recorded double-digit tackles for loss as a junior he had to make a decision on his NFL future. Allen decided to return for his senior year, putting on 15 pounds and turning into a more well-rounded player, and the move payed off big-time, winning the Nagurski and Bednarik trophies as well as earning first-team All-American honors thanks to 21.5 TFLs, 17 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Allen has really good size for the edge at 6’5”, a little over 260 pounds. He doesn’t mind sticking his head into traffic and dropping his hips to take on guards, while showing active hands to not let some tight-ends get into his frame, as well as shooting inside to create chaos in the backfield. If walled off initially, Allen can still make an impact on the play, going over the top of the blocker and being ready for potential cutbacks. He stays true to his responsibility on zone-read plays and if the ball is given, he can flatten and chase down the back from behind. He also has experience standing up and filling gaps from those actual linebacker spots either.
What stands out about Allen as a pass rusher is that blinding first step to create an instant advantage against his man, especially coming from a three-point stance. The Kentucky outside backer does an excellent job dipping under the reach of opposing tackles and running the arc at an angle. He has an outstanding chop or two-hand swipe to free his chest and really knows how to flatten to the quarterback. Something Allen likes to do is give little head fakes to freeze the feet of his tackle and then beat him either direction. He also has the quickness to get through almost untouched on stunts when the O-line isn’t quick enough to recognize it. He hunts quarterbacks with a relentless motor and doesn’t give up even if they run away from his side. Allen might be the biggest athletic freak in the draft and his upside is off the charts, but he still already produced at an absurd rate already. He was Pro Football Focus’s number one ranked edge defender with the highest pass-rush productivity at the position, leading all SEC edge defenders with 57 total pressures rushing going after the QB on less than 250 snaps. Allen absolutely terrorized the South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Missouri offensive lines last season.
Unlike Nick Bosa, who is ranked slightly ahead of Allen, the former Kentucky standout brings a ton of versatility to the table. He can stand up and play linebacker to cover hook or flat areas and take away passing lanes. One of my favorite plays of his came when he was lined up over a slot receiver in the Florida game and just went right through him to blow up a bubble screen. He had another highly impressive snap in that game when he stepped up for his rush initially, but then pivoted back to run with a wing-man stride for stride along the sideline, which led to an incompletion and he broke up another pass on a two-point conversion attempt, before sealing the game with a strip-sack. However he is at his best at getting after the quarterback. Penn State put so much attention on Allen and no not only did that open up opportunities for his teammates, Allen also got home for three sacks, plus he added a blocked kick in his final collegiate game.
Allen definitely allows an initial bump as a run defender on the edge and doesn’t consistently play with full extension. He will also get too far upfield at times and open up a large gap that way. Allen doesn’t utilize a broad arsenal of pass-rush moves at this point, winning with speed and bend combined with some type of swipe for the most part. He doesn’t really have any reliable counters at this point and rarely wins with secondary moves. There were several times when tackles over-set on him and he simply didn’t take advantage of it.
This kid has the burst and bend needed to succeed at the next level as a full-time pass rusher, while showing the mobility and change of direction to grow in coverage. The highly gifted prospect became a different player in 2018 and already gave a hint of what he is capable of developing into while being one of the most productive players in the entire country. I think with more work on his pass-rush moves and a go-to counter he could be deadly at the next level.
3. Rashan Gary, Michigan
Expectations for Gary could not have been higher, as he came to Ann Arbor as the nation’s number one overall recruit. He was a significant part in Michigan’s D-line rotation as freshman, but turned into a monster for the Wolverines as a full-time starter in his second season and he began to live up to the hype towards the end of the season, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. He repeated that feat last season, even though his numbers dipped a little, to some degree due to a banged up shoulder. Overall Gary recorded 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks over these 22 games as a starter.
Standing at 6’5”, 285 pounds Gary in an athletic wonder with incredible burst, power and balance. Gary treats tight-ends like little kids in the run game and seems to have the upper hand physically against even guards. He does an excellent job stringing out runs and pushing blockers from the side to force the running back to stop his feet in the backfield. Gary might not set the edge with perfect technique every single time to keep the outside arm free, but he usually brings a strong punch and has the range to cover the space towards the sideline. You see some ridiculous turn of the hips on some occasions when he is going straight upfield and then opens up by 90 degrees better than most defensive backs. That comes in handy against cutbacks or when the quarterback pulls the ball, as he shows tremendous burst to run guys down towards the sideline. Gary’s start-stop quickness as an unblocked defender makes him a dangerous chase player and tough guy to read on option plays. Plus he arrives at ball-carriers with some thump. He is such a passionate player, who hates to lose and gets his teammates pumped up.
You can’t just take Gary’s production and compare it apples-to-apples with some of the other guys on this list. He played a lot of strongside defensive end and freed up his teammates on stunts and blitzes in the passing game. Gary is a little slow off the snap, but explosive in his get-off. He displays violent hands and a good pull to complement it. His power is his go-to move as a pass rusher, so once offensive linemen start leaning into him too much, he will exploit that. When tackles get high in their kick-slides against him, Gary can just take them off their feet completely at times. He displays a nice rip-move to get under the blocker’s pads and utilizes the long arm very well to keep his frame clean. When Gary does get a good jump off the snap, he shows the ability to turn the corner on guys and win pretty much as a speed rusher as well. The former number one overall recruit lined up inside quite a bit and ran several T-E-stunts. While the production was not nearly where you’d expect it to be from a likely top-ten pick, I can not even count the amount of times I though Gary had a good rush and either the ball just came out, he was chipped by the running back at the last second or the play turned into a QB draw.
Probably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in this entire draft, Gary’s athletic upside and tools are out of this world, but he still has so much to learn. He tries to peak inside of his blocker at times and allows the running back to cut behind those two, putting his linebackers in bad situations. Gary does not yet understand the principle of rushing half a man. He doesn’t seem to have much of a plan or recognition of pass sets at this point and doesn’t really string moves together over the course of drives. You see him attempt different pass rush moves, but the timing and placement of his hands is a little off for the most part, leading to only 24 total pressures in 2018. His overall production took a big dip last season even when you compare it in regards to playing time, as he benefitted from playing along the D-line with Maurice Hurst as a sophomore, who drew a lot of the attention on the inside.
Gary is far from fulfilling his potential, as he heavily relies on his physical gifts rather than technique, but that promises improvement. Teams should be very intrigued by the freakish testing numbers at the combine and some of the stuff they see on tape, but that is not nearly enough to make him a high first round pick. It will be instrumental for Gary to get together with a defensive line coach that can teach him about pass sets, proper technique and the overall art of pass rushing, but if that happens, he could be a beast at the next level. If you don’t see him being able to process information quickly and simply look for a disruptor, he should be a problem at 3-tech as well.
4. Brian Burns, Florida State
This former five-star recruit from Fort Lauderdale immediately made an impact for the Seminoles, earning Freshman All-American honors as a reserve hybrid edge rusher, collecting 9.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He has started every game these last two years and despite some underperforming FSU teams, he received recognition from the ACC, winning first-team all-conference last season with double-digit sacks and 15.5 TFLs.
With a long and slender build at 6’5”, 250 pounds and 34-inch arms, Burns might not be the type of player who will jack up players on the edge and stop any movement, but he is underrated as a run defender at the point of attack. He is so long that if he extends properly, he can keep vision on the backfield and either hold his contain or jump inside once the running decides to stick his foot in the ground, leading to tackles around the line of scrimmage or holding up the ball-carrier for his teammates to come join the party. He has the range with those limbs to grab running backs on their way past him or rip at the ball. When Burns has a linebacker with responsibility for any pulled balls on zone-reads or such as, he shows outstanding pursuit from the backside and you can forget about some running plays where you actually leave him unblocked, while also doing a good job staying home on bootlegs. Moreover, when he recognizes plays quickly enough, Burns can dart inside and chase with a more direct angle. He also blocked a couple of punts in 2017.
Burns shows tremendous first step with a good jump off the snap in passing situations and burst around the arc with long strides and the bend to minimize contact with his offensive tackle. He can change things up with a quick up-and-under and has another variation of that rush series, where he uses a slight jab step to the inside in order for his tackle to stop his feet temporarily and dip under his lunging arms to get home. He had this awesome strip-sack versus Miami on a move like that, where he jumped from behind and tomahawked the QB. After getting another sack on the first play of the following series, the Hurricanes started chipping him with their backs, which plenty of teams did during the year. Burns also flashes a sweet spin-move to counter that speed off the edge and pretty good balance to stay on his feet when he’s already stumbling a little bit. In addition to that, he has plenty of experience standing up and working off different stunts. Burns led all edge rushers in college football with 67 total pressures in the 2018 regular season and while “only” ten of those ended in sacks, he did force the ball to come out quickly and when he got home he forced three fumbles.
With that being said, Burns gets upfield too quickly on run-downs and surrenders easy space underneath to run through, which ACC tackles took advantage of by almost inviting him to go outside and then just driving him that want. You might not want him to set the edge against tackles 30+ times a game with his frame anyway. Burns lacks any element of a speed to power conversion to take advantage of blockers having to get on their heels against him and well-schooled offensive tackles with quick enough feet can turn and ride him away from the quarterback.
Brians reminds me a lot of another lean edge rusher who came into the draft recently – Leonard Floyd out of Georgia. Both of them have the speed of the edge and ability to come around the arc on an angle with a dipped shoulder, while looking a little like big receivers body-wise. At his size, Burns will probably fit best as a 3-4 rush linebacker, who drops into coverage on occasion. He did some of that already for Florida State, taking on hook-to-curl, flat as well as spy responsibilities and looked pretty comfortable moving around in space at the combine. In addition to that he ran a 4.53 in the 40 yard dash and had some of the best leaping numbers in Indy. I think what will make him a franchise pass rusher is the way he can diagnose pass sets and counter them on the fly, which will only get better at the next level with more extensive tape work.
5. Clellin Ferrell, Clemson
A former all-state defensive end from Virginia, Ferrell was a top ten recruit at the position despite tearing an ACL his senior year. When he arrived down in South Carolina, he continued to miss time with a hand injury and was forced to redshirt the 2015 season. However, ever since he first stepped on the field for the Tigers he has dominated, sharing the Defensive Rookie of the Year award with an even higher recruit in Dexter Lawrence. These last two years he has been a consecutive first-team All-American with a combined 38 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and five forced fumbles. He also won a couple of national championships and was an integral part in some of Clemson’s biggest games during that stretch.
At 6’4”, 265 pounds with 34-inch arms, Ferrell controls the point of attack in the ground game with close to perfect 90 degree angles between his calf and hamstrings as well as thighs and torso and he can change angles to squeeze gaps or widen the edge against outside plays. He has the strength in his arms to stack the blocker and just pull him to the side once the ball-carrier is in range. Ferrell will also bury his shoulder into the blocker to mess up plays and makes running backs try to improvise. There are even some plays where he is in the backfield so fast that he swallows the running back before the puller can even put hands on him. Ferrell shows football smarts when diagnosing screen passes or reacting to the ball-carrier’s movement. He will pursue towards quick throws to the outside and just plays with a non-stop motor in general.
Ferrell’s snap anticipation puts tackles at a disadvantage from the get-go already and there are some snaps where he is two yards in the backfield already before the tackle has even completed his slide-step. He shows flashes of being able to win with multiple moves. His go-to combat however is that speed rush converting to a chop-rip. Number 99 in orange has experience rushing from a two-, three- and four point stance. I thought Ferrell got a lot more technically sound with his hand-work coming into last season and now flashes direct transitions from the club- to the rip- or swim-hand. For as much burst as he has around the edge, the Clemson D-end is really a speed-to-power specialist who can absolutely put blockers on skates. He changes things up with an up-and-under when he feels like tackles are ducking their heads into contact with a downward swipe to clear himself and he makes those guys look foolish at times. Ferrell added 43 extra pressures to his 13 sacks last season. He had a near-sack on pretty much every play of the final drive versus Texas A&M last year when they couldn’t double him and he ran right through Alabama’s Jonah Williams in the 2019 National Championship game, who is largely regarded as the draft’s most pro-ready and consistent offensive tackle. Ferrell gets his arms into the passing lanes and on sprint-out passes with a lead-blocker, he simply runs through the back.
Even though he improved in that area, I want to less wasted movement with hesitation moves and more refined technique from Ferrell. He performs a beautiful spin move on one snap, but for every one of those, there’s another one where he ends up standing straight across the offensive tackle. Ferrell gets the edge with his burst and hands rather than actual bend, which leads to plays where he has already won his matchup pretty much, but can’t quite turn the corner. What is most confusing however are his second and third steps, when you look how explosive he is with his initial one. Those two areas often allow tackles to just guide Ferrell past the quarterback and limit his ability to finish for even more sacks. Ferrell is a very reckless player, who loses control at times and doesn’t always adjusts his rush on the fly especially well.
With experience from a two-point stance and limited responsibilities in coverage in shallow zones, Ferrell could probably play 3-4 outside linebacker in most schemes, but I think he is at his best when he can put his hand in the dirt and just get after it. The kid is an all-out player with outstanding physical gifts and production in his team’s biggest games. His bag of tricks isn’t as big as some other guys have and he is not as technically sound as he has to be at the next level, but I don’t see anything that would really hold him back from getting there.
6. Montez Sweat, Mississipi State
Sweat was highly recruited by Michigan State as a tight-end originally, but after switching to the defensive side of the ball and appearing in a few games, he was suspended by the school for undisclosed reasons. Following a year at junior college, Sweat took the offer of a different MSU and all he did in Starkville was earn first-team All-SEC honors for leading the conference with 10.5 sacks and recorded 15.5 tackles for loss in his first season. He put up almost identical numbers last year and once again was a first-team all-conference selection as well as a second-team All-American.
This is a very long and lanky D-end at 6’6”, 260 pounds with almost 36-inch arms. Sweat looks pretty lean, but he has much more power than you’d anticipate, which he uses to stand up offensive tackles and then has a feel for those guys overcommitting when they try to recover. His coaches at Ole Miss were very creative with him, involving him in twists and loops as well as lining him up at dime-linebacker originally and then bringing him down to the edge late. Sweat outstanding agility for his build to be able to break down and redirect once he reads the action in the backfield. I like the potential he has with his length to get around O-linemen quickly backdoor runs. He will attack the opposite shoulder of pulling linemen and force the running back to bounce outside, where the MSU coaches trusted their safeties. Sweat had the nation’s best run-stop percentage among all edge defenders last season and missed just two tackles all year, while also displaying tremendous pursuit all over the field to clean things up. With his length he can also grab ball-carriers on their way by and clip them down by their heels.
What stands out most about Sweat as a pass-rusher is his speed with a strong first step and long strides, showcased by that record-setting 4.41 in the 40 at the combine. However, what really creates problems for tackles is how he can convert that explosiveness into power once he initiates contact. Sweat’s long arms help him keep his chest clean and he can open up a path to the quarterback through the inside by getting up into the middle of the blocker, as well as being able to clear himself from that armbar with a rip-through. He utilizes push-pull moves to take advantage of blockers getting their heads over their toes and he flashes a swipe-by where he grabs the inside shoulder plate and pushes his tackle past him to open up a direct path to the QB. Sweat has the ankle flexion to run the arc at an angle and he uses little head nods to the inside to keep his blocker off balance. He absolutely terrorized Auburn’s right tackle for the entire day in their 2018 upset win over the Tigers and stood out from the get-go at the Senior Bowl in pass-rush one-on-ones, highlighted by that monster stutter and bull rush against Alabama State’s Tytus Howard to wrap up the session. Due to that he quickly got some top 10 buzz around Senior Bowl media, as he pretty much dominated all week long with power, speed and quickness, while showing off his tremendous natural ability.
The former Bulldog D-end dips his shoulder into contact against angle blocks and gives up contain a few times. Flexibility and bend are a bit of concern and for as impressive as this pre-draft process has been for this kid, he hasn’t really answered any of my questions, since I already knew he fast and powerful. Sweat is a high-hipped player, who struggles to turn tight corners and you rarely see him bend through contact to get to the quarterback. He also has to work on recognizing when tackles overset on him and he can advantage of that with quick inside counters. Plenty of Sweat’s sack came against scrambling quarterbacks and he had the luxury of playing alongside a defensive line with Jeffery Simmons, who was given a lot of attention on the inside.
Sweat is not nearly as explosive from a two-point stance and I think he would be better suited to play defensive end in a four-man front. With the way he seems to not be able to run a tight arc, it will be imperative for him to mix up his moves and take advantage of inside paths to the quarterback that are being opened up. Sweat is a strong run defender, highly improved pass rusher and flying missile when it comes to chase after people. He is not as natural as some other guys at getting after the passer, but with all the hype surrounding him I don’t see him slip into the bottom half of round one.
7. Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
Despite being an all-state selection in Louisiana, Ferguson stayed in his home state to join the Bulldogs. He was an honorable mention All-Conference USA as a true freshman with six sacks and 15 tackles for loss in just five games before entering the starting lineup the following year. These last three seasons he has put up a ridiculous 52.5 TFLs and 39 sacks, including a nation-leading 17.5 QB take-downs last season. That did not only earn him consecutive first-team all-conference accolades, but he also set a new FBS record with 45 career sacks.
Ferguson has prototype edge size at 6’4” ½ with a 81-inch wing span. He has the hand strength to disengage by pulling down tight-ends and offensive linemen at the point of attack in the ground game. He was asked to pinch inside quite a bit, which was a big weapon at the goal-line. When the ball comes loose, this kid really attacks it. If there is one thing that made me go “oh my god” when I watched his tape, it’s Ferguson’s ability to just be like lightning when he goes from stacking up his blocker to realizing it was play-action and it is time to hunt the QB. There was one play in particular early on against LSU, which I had to rewind several times to see how exactly he just left his blocker standing and got a hit on Joe Burrow in less than a second after that. My favorite game to watch of Ferguson came against Mississippi State last year, when he ‘only’ had one sack, but absolutely played with his hair on fire.
College football’s all-time sack leader has a good first step and provides speed around the edge. Ferguson displays outstanding flexibility in his hips, which enables him to dip his shoulder and run the arc at an angle, as well as flattening or even pivoting around to finish on plays. He can flip his hips as well as anybody in this draft class and has the length to grab underneath the pads of the offensive tackle while countering back inside to open up a different path. When he comes in from behind on the quarterback he has that outside-arm ready to tomahawk down at the ball. Ferguson is pro-active with his hands at first in the passing game and packs a lot of power on that initial punch. The former Bulldog has a very innate ability to use his inside-arm to rip through the grasp of an offensive linemen or use it as an armbar to push off on that guy as well as avoiding contact. What he does best is using the momentum of a blocker against him. He has switched sides and been productive from either one as a pass rusher, while also standing up as a linebacker and moving around the formation for L.A. Tech. With the way he jumps off the ball and gets an angle on his rush immediately, he is in the eyesight of quarterbacks quickly and flushes them the other way.
While the numbers are definitely there, I thought there were some matchups Ferguson should have dominated on a more consistent snap-to-snap basis. He needs to play with more extension as a run-defender and also allows opponents to get their hands into his chest quite a bit in protection when there is no obvious passing situation. He has to do a better job finishing his rush when the offensive tackle is in catch-up mode and slightly guides him past the quarterback, as he needs to land a final club or rip to get loose. I also think Ferguson gets caught up too much with what happens in the backfield and what the quarterback is looking at, which leads to him stopping his feet at times. I would like to see him chase harder when the ball-carrier decides to cut it back or runs the other way in general. Ferguson was pretty much invisible the first two days of Senior Bowl practice, before he finally got a sack in the actual game, followed up by another QB hit staying home against the bootleg, but he was largely responsible for the game-clinching touchdown run, as he didn’t keep contain.
Overall I think Ferguson’s crazy sack and TFL numbers display the kind of talent he brings to the table. However, to me he sometimes needs to save himself on some plays where he doesn’t go into all-out chase mode and then all of a sudden he puts together a dominant stretch of sequences where it is almost surprising opponents, which leads to multiple splash-plays. I don’t know if he will simply have to focus more on conditioning to bring it every snap or if that is a question about his motor, but every time he wants to, that guy they seems to wreaking havoc. Those few technical details I talked about are definitely correctable and you can’t teach his sudden explosiveness.
8. Jachai Polite, Florida
This guy somewhat come out of nowhere in 2018, emerging as one of the most dynamic edge rushing threats in the nation. Polite was an all-state selection from Daytona Beach who couldn’t really find the field until last season. Despite actually starting just five of 13 games, he was a sehttps://wordpress.com/post/halilsrealfootballtalk.com/5991cond-team All-American with 17.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and a nation-leading six forced fumbles.
Polite Goes through one shoulder of the shoulder and forces blockers to adjust in the run game quickly. He has the type of strike in his hands to put offensive linemen on their backs on some occasions and pushes around tight-ends on the edge. Polite crosses the face of his blocker when the opportunity arises to make a play in the backfield and doesn’t mind crashing through the inside shoulder of a pulling guard to start a pile in the backfield either. Of his 28 solo tackles 23 went for three yards or less. The pursuit away from the ball is top-notch and he missed just four tackles all year long. If you need any number to back him up in that area of his game – he had a top-ten run-stop percentage among all edge defenders last year.
The Florida edge defender rushes the passer with speed and a wiggle. He can flat out beat tackles running the arc or work in hesitation moves to win the inside path or come back out after nodding in. He and Florida State’s Brian Burns have the most sudden dip of the shoulder in this class and Polite also turns his chest completely the opposite way of the blocker while his feet are still aimed towards the QB. What is remarkable about him on tape is the flexibility of his ankles to change angles. He rips that inside arm right through the armpit of the offensive tackle, plus he shows a devastating spin-move that will leave blockers turning and spinning themselves. Polite displays the ability to change directions and put a hit on the quarterback stepping up or trying to escape the pocket, while also showing a nice jump inside at the top of his rush once he has the tackle convinced it’s time to flip his hips. This guy won 18 percent of his pass rush snaps last season and earned an elite grade in that area by Pro Football Focus. He has a feel for knocking the ball out and swipes from behind to strip the quarterback on several occasions.
However, Polite tries to get around his blocker at the point of attack too often and allows space to run through underneath him. His take-on technique in the run game definitely needs some work, as he gets caught up with the guy in front of him at times and gives up his contain responsibilities. The former Gator is taken off his track too easily and is forced to run extremely wide. He dances around in front of his man in some pass rush situations when he doesn’t get a good jump on his blocker and needs to do a better job using that sealing arm to complete his spin move. Polite was kind of a one-year wonder and had to sit out the opening series of the team’s first game last year due to “failing to meet the Gator standard”. He also threw off some scouts with a poor combine performance, which included a 4.84 in the 40 and looking at his measurements, he doesn’t quite have the length or weight you want to see on the edge.
It depends on where you see Polite lining up at. Either he needs to add some weight to be a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end or show that he can drop into a coverage at least to some degree. If he stays in that two-point stance he has eliminate that false-step, where he slightly kicks backwards, just like coaches do with some wide receivers. Personally I think his frame limits him to a 3-4 outside backer on base downs, but I think Polite could be a double-digit sack specialist for years with enough toughness and aggression to defend the run early on.
9. L.J. Collier, TCU
Collier didn’t start a single game during his first three years with the Horned Frogs, but was a quality rotational player until he broke out in the Alamo Bowl versus Stanford to wrap up his junior campaign, when he got a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. Last season he started to really emerge with 11.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and four passes broken up, which earned him first-team All-Big XII honors.
This dude just jumped off the screen all Senior Bowl week long, which made me go back to his tape. Outside of what he did in one-on-ones, he sniffed out some bootlegs and stayed home to force throws into the dirt during team drills- Collier is a twitched up athlete who won’t be moved in the run game. He sets a stonewall edge with violent hands and keeps his outside arm free at all times to own the point of attack. At the same time, he can shoot through one shoulder of the blocker and create instant penetration in the run game when lined up on the interior or slanting inside. Sometimes you feel like the offense has something going on at the play-side, but number 91 all of a sudden just pushes somebody into the running back from the backside and makes him change directions. Collier smacks pulling guards in the backfield and just shuts down any momentum. He has surprising range as a tackler when you feel like the ball-carrier is past him, but the big guy wrestles him down from behind somehow.
Collier may be the most devastating bull-rusher coming off the edge in this draft class, putting several guys at 300+ pounds on their asses and just breaking their anchor. He makes it even harder for blockers to stand in against him because he does that one-two step before going through their chest, which forces them to step their feet for a split-second. Collier then can use the lean of opponents against them, pulling cloth and getting them off himself, which gives him a more direct angle towards the quarterback or just opens up an inside path. It is incredible when you see how many offensive tackles duck their heads against the TCU defender and try to put everything they have into resistance. What I love about him is that he doesn’t try to stop get around his guy once he’s by the QB – if he has to, he will take them both down at the same time. Collier can change things up with a quick up-and-under to catch them off balance, which forces them to grab whatever they can on his way past. He might not have the best jump off the snap, but his second, third and fourth step are outstanding, leading to 54 total pressures last season. When he is asked to chip tight-ends off the snap, those guys absolutely stop for a second.
This young man is consistently late off the ball with poor snap anticipation and doesn’t show great explosiveness once he does get out of his stance. He doesn’t always stay true to his assignment and tries to see what’s going in the backfield while freelancing a little bit. He is very raw as a pass rusher when he doesn’t win with power and should add some pieces to his arsenal going forward. Collier was asked to drop into coverage every once in the while with TCU, but I don’t see the change-of-direction ability to not play with his hand in the dirt. With just one year of starting experience, you can question why he didn’t crack the starting lineup before last season.
I really like what I saw from Collier watching tape, but I keep going back to his performance at the Senior Bowl, because there were highly limited deep drop-back snaps in the Big XII. He has a way of getting home late in reps with his hands and beats the guards with quickness on the inside. Collier absolutely killed some of the most talented kids on the O-line had one heck of a week overall down in Mobile. He might be able to put on a couple of pounds and be a disruptive 3-technique at the next level if he wanted to as well. He definitely needs to come off the ball with better timing and first step explosion, but the power is off the charts.
10. Joe Jackson, Miami
This former four-star recruit was a standout in football, basketball and track at his hometown high school in Miami. While he only made honorable mention All-ACC last season due to a loaded class of defensive ends and the Hurricanes couldn’t quite break through these last few years, Jackson was highly productive in his three years with the program. During his collegiate career he amassed 35.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, five pass-knockdowns and a pick-six.
Jackson’s frenetic style of play serves him well as a run defender. He consistently gets under the pads of his blocker and pulls that guy off to chase after the ball. He takes the inside path when it opens up to make a play in the backfield every once in a while, while taking tight-ends personal and smashing them into the play to blow things up. Jackson shows a lot of urgency as the unblocked defender to either chase from the backside, run into the puller or beat H-backs to the spot coming over from the opposite side, trying to seal him. His motor is off the charts for 60 minutes and he gets involved in plenty of plays outside his area. That led to 24 defensive stops last season.
The 6’4”, 275 pound defensive end was a dominant pass rusher for the Hurricanes last season, recording 22 combined quarterback sacks and hits, while also adding 31 hurries – all on less than 300(!) pass rush snaps. Jackson comes out of a low three- or four-point stance with good pad-level. He has strong swipe-arm on that rip move to clear himself and allow a direct angle towards the quarterback, while also being able to throw off the blocker late and jump back inside. Jackson shows pretty good flexibility to get around the blocker, but also has the ability to convert speed to power and flatten his angle at the top of the rush. He can rip underneath the inside arm of the offensive tackle and reduce the shoulder to give him less area to grab.
However, the former Hurricane can play a little out of control in the run game, where he pushes somebody backwards but loses vision on the backfield. He gets body-to-body on too many occasions as a pass rusher. I would like to see Jackson use the long-arm and rush half the man more often, while developing some type of inside counter. I love his hair-on-fire style of play, but because of that he has no recognition for screen passes over his head. His change of direction below par and he lets some quarterbacks get outside of him on zone-read plays, where it clearly looked like he had contain responsibility. He also tries to spin inside on some occasions, which allows the running back to bounce the run.
Jackson was asked to run with guys out of the backfield in the Virginia game and showed good speed to do it, but doesn’t look as comfortable operating in space and I would leave him with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end. I want to see better extension in the run game and more of a feel for the sets of his tackle, but there is clearly talent to work. It might take him some time to reach his potential whilst being somebody who is primarily going to overpower people early on, but I really enjoyed watching him run around like a maniac.
Just missed the cut:
Chase Winovich, Michigan
In one of the more unusual stories, Winovich suffered a fractured skull and subdural hemotoma when tripping over a garbage can in junior high. After surviving that accident, he became a standout football player in the state of Pennsylvania. Despite rooting for Ohio State as a kid, he decided to join their biggest rival Michigan. His first two years under Jim Harbaugh were hampered by injuries, even though he already was excellent as a rotational piece in 2016. However, he turned it one of the top edge defenders in the nation once he became a starter. In those last two seasons combined, Winovich recorded 13.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. He plays with leverage and extension against the run, while keeping his eyes on the backfield. Gis 37 run stops actually led the country among edge rushers and he earned the second-best run-stop percentage at that position. I think Winovich might be the best player out there in terms of grabbing cloth and pulling 300-pound men away from him. Heoffers penetration in the opposing backfield as he gets around tackles at a high rate before the ball-carrier can get past the line of scrimmage. This kid is an extremely passionate player with a running motor and has some craziness to his personality. You see some hard hits on tape and when there’s a loose ball, he goes after it. As a pass rusher Winovich gets under the opposing tackle’s pads when he runs the arc and has a strong initial club to clear himself of the hands of his blocker with a rip to create an angle after that one-two step. He is a push-pull specialist once he feels guys lunging into him. What is best about Winovich is a pass rusher is how he counters he hands of his opponents once that guy aims for his punch. He has the strength go through one shoulder of his tackle and turn that guy’s hips, displays premiere effort and gets the job done with plenty of second and third moves. In 2018 he won 21.7 percent of his pass-rushing snaps and finished second in the Big Ten with 52 total pressures, including 14 QB hits. With that being said, the Clay Matthews-lookalike lacks that explosive first step and is a little slow off the snap. He lets tackles put their hands on him and guide him along too much, instead of stepping around and flipping his hips. He doesn’t have great length and looked like a rather marginal athlete among that talented Wolverine defense. Oerall Winovich is just a little bit too much of a straight-line player at this point, but I think his lower body is good enough to win him the corner when he uses his speed to be a threat off the edge in the NFL as well. Winovich had a really good day at the combine for a guy who people often say has limited upside, running sub-4.6 in the 40 and looking very comfortable moving in space. He was an integral part to one of the best defenses in college football these last few years and while he will probably not be a double-digit sack specialist at the next level, he can be a strong run-defender with flexibility on third downs. He is one of toughest, most physical players I’ve ever evaluated and I love his energy.
D’Andre Walker, Georgia
This former top 100 national recruit from Georgia could not crack the starting lineup through his first three years in Athens because the talent they have had on the defensive side of the ball, but he was a key reserve as a junior with 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Last season he became a leader and impact player for the Bulldogs, as he led the team with 11 TFLs and seven sacks through 13 games. Walker misses some height for the edge at 6’2”, but with 34 3/8-inch arms his length is plenty good. He has a ton of power in his hands and squeezes runs to the inside. While he can set a physical edge and put tight-ends on their heels in the run game, he is also frequent visitor in the backfield, eluding or smacking pullers and slanting inside. He shuts down sweeps and end-arounds, while showing excellent pursuit and chasing a lot of guys down from behind. Walker has experience rushing from two- and three-point stances, standing up over guards and at actual linebacker. He has one of the better club-rip and chop-rip combos in this draft class and can free himself with it even if the blocker has hands inside his chest already. Walker also utilizes an up-and-under move combined with a swim inside and shows a pretty powerful long arm to attack tackles who aren’t pro-active with their hands. When he stunts inside, the former Bulldog has this wrong-arm chop and dip to avoid the grasps of the blocker. He has a good feel for working off stunts, where he is patient with setting up loops and making the O-line commit. He was almost unblockable against South Carolina last season. However, Walker is a little inconsistent as a run-defender and especially when he face an aggressive blocker he occasionally gets caught peaking inside, which allows runners to get to the edge. He doesn’t show any dynamic burst or bend to threaten tackles off the edge if he doesn’t win with his hands. At his size, Walker will have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker and his coverage responsibilities have been very limited, primarily covering the flats and maybe chipping tight-ends before dropping out, where he already showed some tightness. Walker was a consistent impact player for the Bulldog defense, even when guys around him were missing and he was banged up. You felt a difference when he was on the field compared to when he wasn’t watching them play last season. Yet, he has been a starter for just one year and shown some athletic limitations.
The next guys up:
Oshane Ximines (Old Dominion), Zach Allen (Boston College), Anthony Nelson (Iowa), Charles Omenihu (Texas), Jalen Jelks (Oregon), Christian Miller (Alabama)
For positional rankings on the top running backs, linebackers, interior offensive and defensive linemen as well as offensive tackles in the NFL draft go to halilsrealfootballtalk.com