NFL Draft

Top 10 edge rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft:

After looking at the offensive tackle class earlier in the week, we shift back to the defensive side of the ball, to the guys trying to give them trouble off the edge. Once again, this group includes 4-3 defensive and 3-4 outside linebackers, while some of them may offer versatility to slide inside on passing downs. I already broke the edge rushers down a couple of days on my Youtube channel, to give a more comprehensive overall view.

This may not be perceived as a great class by the general public, because it doesn’t have that clear front-runner like Chase Young, Nick Bosa or Myles Garrett, as we have seen in recent years, but I think the top name for me should absolutely get more hype and this is actually a really deep class, even if it may include plenty of developmental edge rushers.  I expect multiple starters to be drafted on day three. To me the top three prospects absolutely deserve to go in the first round and the three names after will also probably end up with top 50 grades. However, altogether there’s up to 20 guys I feel comfortable with picking within the first four rounds.

Just for clarification – I didn’t include Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo or Tulane’s Cameron Sample, because I believe they fit better inside and will find themselves in my breakdown of the top interior defensive linemen a week from when this comes out. So stay tuned for that!

Here’s my list:

1. Jaelan Phillips, Miami

6’5”, 265 pounds; RS JR

Once the top overall recruit in the country according to 247Composite and ESPN, Phillips started his career at UCLA, where he only played in ten games due to multiple concussions and was forced to medically retire momentarily. However, almost two years later, teams started contacting him about if he wanted to join them and he ultimately decided to head to Miami, where he turned himself into one of the most complete defensive ends in the country in 2020. Coming into the season with Gregory Rosseau projected to be a top-ten pick in the drafted (even though he opted out) and Quincy Roche transferring to Miami as the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, it was Phillips, who turned into the star of the show. He was named a second-team All-American for recording 15.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three passes knocked down and an interception.

I completely forgot about this kid when he was off the radar, but he rose as much as any edge prospect in the country and now finds himself atop my rankings. It doesn’t take a great scout to see the talent on the screen with Phillips. Put on his tape and you see everything you need to after the first quarter pretty much, in terms of explosiveness of the snap, length, flexibility and just the ability to be put it all together. He is a man among boys out there and plays with a ton of energy. Phillips has a firm base and utilizes his long arms really well to set the edge and lock out, but he is at his best in a penetrating role, often back-dooring zone blockers. He squeezes down space in the run game, keeps his hands busy to disengage and he usually shows good awareness for where the ball is going, plus the pursuit speed for a guy his size is outstanding. He shows good discipline when unblocked on the backside, closing down the distance to the nearest blocker and deciphering the mesh-point, plus he has the quick burst to run down whoever gets or keeps the ball. Phillips displays great change of direction and mobility in the hips to re-direct against shovel options, reverses and stuff like that. And as he proved on several occasions, you can’t leave this guy unblocked on speed sweeps, as you may do with others, because that will result in TFLs.

Phillips’ upside as a pass-rusher is through the roof. He accelerates through those long strides and then has the flexibility and lean to flatten to the quarterbacks, which is highly impressive for a big D-end. For somebody, who barely played college ball before this past season and was pretty much forced to sit out two years, his hand-usage is pretty advanced, especially his cross-chop move. The way he pins the reach of the tackles with his inside arm and how long that other arm is allows Phillips to get his hands on a lot of quarterbacks, where other guys would get pushed past the passer, because the blocker turns and rides them. Plus, he has much better shake than you’d expect. This guy is nearly unstoppable on up-and-unders, as tackles open up their hips to the outside or stop his feet, which Phillips follows through with the arm-over and makes it all one fluid motion. And he is very sudden on those delayed loops, as part of games up front, with head-fakes almost like a wide receiver. He slid inside quite a bit on passing downs and partially took on the role of what Gregory Rosseau did the year before, but this year’s number 15 got way more of those instant wins, with the high swim primarily, than ending up with clean-up sacks. Overall, he provided a pressure on 14.7 percent of pass-rushing snaps. He just bullied Virginia Tech’s right tackle and was the biggest reason they won that game. Phillips is also very challenging for quarterbacks to throw over/around on those slide protections, where he is left unblocked and there’s a tight-end or running back slipping into the flats. And he was dropped into the flats on multiple occasions every game.

As far as negatives go, Phillips loses contain at times, when the offense tries to seal him on the backside of runs and he wants to peak inside. I would like to see him use his power more when offensive tackles raise their pads and try to take away the corner, and he still has room to improve with adjusting on the fly, as he reads pass-sets (even though he showed signs of improvement in that area). Overall he presents too much of his frame as blockers try to land their punch and he is still learning to be more consistent with the aiming points of his chops and clubs to the outside hand. The big question with Phillips however is his health, having played just 700 total snaps, with over three quarters of them coming this past season, because concussions are obviously a very serious topic.

To me Phillips is pretty clearly EDGE1 in this class and I have been hyping him up since the fall. The ability to use his upper and lower half independently, the length, short-area quickness and hustle he displays are all highly impressive. He might have looked a little rusty at the start of this past season, because he hadn’t put on pads in such a long time, but he got better throughout the year and if you watch the tape in totality, there’s really not much to complain about, other than the fact he has to continue to work at the stuff he has already shown improvement at. He can probably mold his body to play defensive end in an odd or even front as well as a rush linebacker. Obviously, we have to acknowledge the concussion history, but I can’t speak on it, because I don’t have his files nor am I a doctor.

2. Kwity Paye, Michigan

6’4”, 275 pounds; SR

Born to a Liberian mother in a refugee camp in Guinea, Paye and his family came to the U.S. when he was only six months old. In high school, he won the state title in the long jump and was part of the championship 4×100 meter relay team in Rhode Island. After playing running back in high school, he reported to Ann Arbor at 228 pounds as barely a top 500 overall recruit. Paye saw action as a true freshman, but it really wasn’t until his junior season that he established himself as a major player for that Wolverine defense, with 12.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks in 2019, and then four TFLs and two sacks in four games last season, earning second-team All-Big Ten accolades both those years.

Paye was the number one guy on Bruce Feldman’s 2020 freak list, because of the athletic phenom he is. The one testing number that really stood out with him is his three-cone drill, where he put up the second-fastest number of any Wolverine player ahead of his junior season, despite the rest of guys in that range being weighing around 200 pounds. Paye took on a more prominent role his junior season and while the sample size is rather limited, I thought he took another major step forward in 2020. That was evident right away in the season-opener against Minnesota, where he recorded three TFLs and was in Tanner Morgan’s grill all game long, including back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter, after he didn’t officially log any on his many pressures before that. Paye comes out of his stance with some wiggle as a pass-rusher and he has some twitchiness to him, to get around blockers. His best move in that regard is the push-pull, because he has plenty of force in his hands and the feel for when to jerk linemen down, just at the moment they try to lean into him, plus he gets a lot of late wins by pulling big guys off himself. However, he wins around the edge on plenty of occasions as well, where he may hesitate or stab to the inside and then hit the blocker with a sudden burst, while having the long arms to be running the loop with the tackle on his hip and him still being able to tomahawk at the quarterback’s arm, in order to get the ball out. He shows a very effective up-and-under maneuver, with a strong rip to clear the hands of the tackle, and he flashes a good-looking cross-chop. Paye lined up at three-technique on a lot of the Wolverines’ passing downs, where his quickness can create some mismatches. Thanks to his closing speed, he is a very dangerous looper on different games up front and he can create some vertical push when banging into guards on inside slants.

While guys like Paye get drafted in the top 20 for his potential as pass-rushers, he is already dominant at the point of attack in the run game. When his first punch hits, you see the blockers’ heads jerk back and pads rise up. He has a lot of shock in his hands and can yank the blocker to the side, in order to get involved in the tackle. And he is almost robotic at setting the edge, with the way he steps in, locks out and shifts his weight accordingly. When Paye is left unblocked on the backside momentarily, he attaches to the hip of the end-man and his eyes go from kick-out pull to quarterback (keep). On zone runs away from him, he really flattens down the lane and has the speed to chase running backs down from behind. Overall, he pursues the ball with great effort. But what is crazy to watch with Paye is that ridiculous ability to change directions, which directly translates from athletic testing to the way he may step inside on a run-fake and still chase down jet-sweeps, as the ball-carrier tries to cut upfield, or just how he may have established contain and then can still shut down B-gap runs at the line of scrimmage.

Every once in a while, you will see Paye lose sight of the ball-carrier, because he is so focused on dealing with the blocker, and miss out on opportunities or is just late getting into pursuit mode. As a pass-rusher, he has to do a better job of threating the edges of the blocker and I wouldn’t call him a top-tier speed or power rusher necessarily. At times, he still gets too hung up with the hands of the blocker instead of focusing on his approach. Overall his rush capability is slightly limited due to sub-optimal length and bend. One tackle is all he could add to the stat sheet in the 2020 Citrus Bowl against Alabama, as those two offensive tackles completely negated him & teammate Aidan Hutchinson. And while he did show improvement throughout his junior season, it really took him about three-and-half years to become a dominant college player, despite his athletic gifts.

While you may look at Paye’s two sacks last season as a turn-off for potentially the first edge rusher off the board, he did add 20 more pressures to add to that statistical output. I don’t think he is a top-tier speed or power rusher, but his quickness and force in his hands give him a chance of being much more productive in that area as a pro, while his run defense is already pretty close to elite. To me he is primarily a 4-3 defensive end, who can rush over guards and whose great change-of-direction can be unleashed on creative D-line games. I could see him go anywhere between seven and 17.

3. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

6’3”, 240 pounds; RS SO

Due to a torn ACL his senior year of high school, Ojulari was “only” a four-star recruit and had to redshirt his first year in Athens. However, he was physically ready for the NFL pretty much as soon as he stepped onto Georgia’s field and he became the first freshman to gain captain status on a Kirby Smart Bulldog defense. Ojulari had a team-best 5.5 sacks in 2019 and despite Georgia only playing ten games last season, he improved to 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, earning second-team All-SEC honors along the way.

Ojulari played kind of a hybrid outside backer/defensive end for the Bulldogs, which they call JACK in their system. Somehow this guy gets labelled as this finesse speed rusher. When you look at the way he throws his body around in the run game, I don’t understand how that can be the case. As teams try to kick him out, he closes the space and crashing into guys, to bring big guards to a complete stop. You see that several times in the Alabama game, where he didn’t show any hesitation and stood his ground against 350-pound Deonte Brown. Ojulari show great discipline to keep his contain on the backside while limiting the distance to the closest blocker. For a 240-pound outside backer, his play strength is wrongly criticized and not only does he display an assignment-proof blend of football, but he also plays with tremendous effort through the whistle. He chases after the ball with great hustle and you constantly see him bang into the ball-carrier 15-20 yards downfield. Last season, he was asked more often to pick up guys out of the backfield and stayed with them pretty well on swing and flat routes, plus he very quickly identifies and reacts screen passes.

As a pass-rusher, Ojulari’s burst and bend, combined with being patient and well-timed with his hand swipes, has made him one of the most dangerous guys coming around the corner. To go along with that, he does a great job of clearing the offensive tackle’s reach with those follow-up swipes and can corner off that inside foot very well to flatten to the quarterback. His primary moves are the chop-rip and the stab-and-chop, off which he shows several variations, depending on how tackles try to counter. He also shows plenty of shock in his hands when the opportunity presents itself as blockers set him too soft, to create push and the power to go through the inside part of the tackle’s chest. And Ojulari is a team-first pass-rusher, who knows how to set up different games up front and free up his teammates. He recorded 38 total QB pressures in 2019, with 10 of those coming in a wreckening of Tennessee, where he taught the Vols’ freshman left tackle a lesson. And he came up just one shy of that number this past season, despite having 95 less pass-rushing snaps (just under 200 overall), giving him the best win rate of anybody in the SEC. In particular, Ojulari had a monster second half in the Sugar Bowl versus Cincinnati with three sacks, including the game-changing strip, to help the Bulldogs come away with the W.

While I do believe he gets underrated as a run defender, when an offensive tackle gets momentum going to widen the B-gap, Ojulari has a tough time trying to still establish that half-man relationship and set the edge. As a pass-rusher, he doesn’t have the most versatile array of moves, with which he can win consistently. And when tackles land a solid punch, he tends to open his chest too much when using hand-swipes, rather than dipping that inside shoulder. I don’t think he brings the type of versatility along the front that the two guys in front of him have shown on passing downs. Ojulari doesn’t look overly comfortable with those responsibilities in space on flat drops and he never played more than 52 snaps in any game of his career.

There are obviously more physically strong edge defenders available, but Ojulari is far from just a speedy pass-rusher. He would probably from adding a little bit to his frame, but he can absolutely be an every-down player. I believe he would fit very well as a LEO in an even front, which those Seattle-style defenses use, but I think he can also play 3-4 outside backer in base, if you limit his coverage duties. Other than maybe Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, I think Ojulari can make the biggest difference as a pass-rusher from day one.

4. Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma

6’3”, 250 pounds; JR

A former top-100 overall recruit, Perkins led the Sooners with five sacks as an impact freshman. These last two years, he didn’t quite do that, but once again racked up six and 5.5 sacks respectively, to go along with 24 combined tackles for loss, which earned him consecutive second-team All-Big 12 selections. And that’s despite missing OU’s 2019 bowl game and five contests heading into last season due to a failed drug test.

The power in Perkins’ hands stands out right away, when you look at heads of blockers snapping backwards and how that initial contact can affect things, plus he can lock out and hold his ground against offensive tackles outweighing him by 70-80 pounds. He does not shy away from banging into H-backs coming over on sift blocks or even crashing through their inside shoulder, to work down the line. And he is slippery to stunt through the B-gap versus the run, disrupting a lot of plays off the jump, even if one of his teammates cleans it up and gets the tackle for loss added to his stat sheet. When the ball passes the line of scrimmage, Perkins shows the speed to run down even wide receivers from behind. In the Texas game, he banged down the running back on a screen pass a good ten yards down the field and you can find at least one of those snaps seemingly in all of his game tapes.

What I really appreciate about Perkins as a pass-rusher is the way he compresses the pocket, instead of getting those individual “wins” and stats in the process. He has plenty of speed and ability to corner, that enables him to threaten around the edge, but it really serves best to convert speed to power, which he might be as good at as any EDGE in this class, thanks in part to the jolt in his hands. That get-off really forces tackles to jump out of their stance and then he can put them on skates, plus then he also packs the push-pull when guys try to lean too much into him. He even put Oklahoma State’s massive right tackle Teven Jenkins flat on his back once last season, by getting him off balance with that initial burst and then hitting him with the long-arm off it. However, Perkins can also work the other way, where he engages with the long-arm and then knocks down the hands of blocker, as he stops his feet, plus he has the sudden burst to get around him. And he does a nice job of pivoting back around and touching when he kind of loses his footing and gets past the quarterback, while continuing to work through hand-combats with blockers. On third down, he times up the snap exceptionally well and instantly seems to have the advantage in his rush, to where you see some guys desperately run backwards almost. Perkins really excels in those wide alignments, where he can win with speed and hand-swipes, if the tackle doesn’t have enough depth or transition to power, if the blockers is too high in his set. And he can be a problem on inside loops, with the way he times things up and the closing the burst he has to get hits on quarterbacks, or chase them down towards the sideline when they escape.

However, Perkins gets washed down the line at times in the zone run game, when he tries to slant through the inside gap. I don’t know exactly how much freedom he was given in the Sooners’ scheme, but he showed a lack of discipline overall in the run game. He would often times get too sloppy with his contain responsibilities, at times almost scraping over the top of the blockers, when he saw a pulling guard, almost like a backside linebacker would. And he is too focused on the ball-carrier, rather than the blocking scheme. You also see opposing quarterbacks escape out to his side quite a bit, because he didn’t keep that outside arm free. As a rusher overall, he is not nearly as effective when blockers get their hands inside his frame just once and he lacks a reliable counter as of right now.

I really don’t think the sack numbers even come close to representing what Perkins did as a pass-rusher last season, with a ridiculous pressure-per-pass-rush efficiency of 18.2 percent. He’s a physical run defender, who doesn’t mind throwing his body around and has tremendous pursuit speed. He has to be more disciplined with keeping contain responsibilities upright and he was taken off the field quite a bit – so you have to see what his stamina looks like. But when he’s out, he’s a wrecking ball.

5. Joseph Ossai, Texas

6’4”, 255 pounds; JR

After spending the first ten years of his life in Nigeria, Ossai played basketball and football in high school, while turning himself into a top 200 overall recruit and joining nearby Texas. Then following very limited playing time as a freshman, Ossai emerged as a key piece for that Longhorn defense in 2019, with a combined 90 tackles, 13.5 of them for loss, five sacks and two interceptions. This past season, he transitioned from WILL to more of a hybrid outside backer role, and that move certainly paid off, with almost identical numbers, but three forced fumbles instead of the picks.

Ossai used a very unique stance early on last season, as he made the transition to an on ball-defender, with his feet also parallel to each other. Thankfully got away from that press-corner like parallel two-point stance and now either has the outside forward and his shoulders pointing or gets into a more typical alignment. He is still adjusting his approach as a run-defender to some degree, not always engaging with his weight over his toes and locking out, but rather trying to knock away the hands and getting around blockers. Over the course of this past season, we saw him extend that inside arm and controlling the point of attack more, but he’s still more of a slashing attack player in that area, where he can crash through inside shoulder of tight-ends trying to seal him on the backside of zone runs. On the frontside, he has some absurd reps, where he hits the rip and places that inside arm on the back of the tackle, to help himself bring those hips around, to where he is looking right at the running back, just as he takes the handoff. Plus, then he may shoot up the B-gap the next snap, as the blocker oversets to the outside, to counter that. And he shows some of the best hustle for 60 minutes that you will from any player and he certainly had the speed to hunt people down. You constantly see him catch running backs from behind or just show up around the action. One play that comes to mind is when he forced fumble by the RB a good 20 yards downfield in the Oklahoma game.

Everything Ossai does as a pass-rusher is set up by his speed off the edge. Barely anybody jumped off the screen with it quite like him, as he routinely stresses offensive tackles and frees himself from the hands with club-swim and chop moves. However, Ossai has become a much more successful power rusher, as tackles started to get too soft in their sets, to counter his speed. He can hit with that inside hand under the pads of the blocker and then rip underneath, as he gets them to raise up a little more, and while it may not be your traditional long-arm, he can stab through the inside part of the tackle’s chest when they reach a certain depth and he has an angle to the QB. And he has certainly grown in his approach as a pass-rusher overall, often times starting off with the long-arm and as the tackle tries to engage, he chops the hands down to turn the corner. Ossai is very effective as the secondary man on T-E twists, where he has developed excellent timing and at times even loop all the way to the opposite A-gap. His closing burst makes him highly dangerous on those and he deliver some huge shots on the quarterback.

With that being said, Ossai attacks too far upfield at times when he should stack up the blocker at the point of attack. He still has to learn how to take on pulling linemen and deconstructing blocks in general as an on-ball defender. And he gets caught peaking inside and isn’t always super reliable with contain responsibilities. In the pass game, Ossai doesn’t offer a lot of versatility in his rush approaches and maneuvers, starting everything with the speed rush and then working in a couple of hand moves. He is not the most natural fit on the edge of a defense and he in part made that transition because he got lost in space when playing coverage at times, so I don’t envision him going back to an off-ball role either.

When you put on the Oklahoma State tape last season, Ossai got pancaked at least three or four times by their hulking right tackle Teven Jenkins, but you also see him just keep coming and made a lot of plays off the other side or when he was left unblocked, ultimately coming up with the game-sealing sack in overtime, to beat the then-undefeated Cowboys. He also came up with the securing fumble recovery in OT of the Texas Tech game, to finish that crazy comeback. So if you draft this guy, you get somebody, who will give it his all for 60+ minutes, just put freakish numbers at his pro day and shows a lot of potential to grow in terms of technique, while having experience playing on and off the ball.

6. Joey Tryon, Washington

6’4”, 250 pounds; RS JR

A former top 800 overall recruit, Tryon redshirted his first year on campus and then was a big piece as a rotational player his freshman season for the Huskies. In 2019 – his only year as a starter – he recorded eight sacks and 12.5 TFLs, before opting out of 2020, to prepare for the draft instead. Still, his athletic skill-set has scouts intrigued and is expected to be a top 50 pick come late April.

Tryon has a lot of shock in his hands, to set a physical edge in the run-game. He does not shy away from banging into pulling guards and often times meets them behind the center, to not even create a hole in-between that block and the play-side tackle, but instead starting a pile in the middle. You see him crash hard off the edge to track ball-carriers down from behind and adjusts his path on the fly. Tryon just rag-dolls tight-ends in the run game, popping their pads backwards as he shoots those hands and then pulls them to the side, either to pursue the ball or to wrap up the running back coming that way. He was asked to drop into the flats, hooks or spy the quarterback quite a bit for the Huskies, where he looked smooth going sideways and backwards, seemingly being very comfortable when doing so. The looseness in his lower body also shows with the way he can pivot off one foot, as he sees the quarterback get the ball out on screens and swing routes to the back, basically being able to cut 90+ degrees in that one step. He really flashed to me in the Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State at the end of the 2019 season, even though one tackle is all he added to the stat sheet that day.

Tryon really brings an all-around skill-set as a pass-rusher. He offers a dynamic first step, excellent short-area quickness to get around blockers and the strength to not lot allow offensive linemen to push him off-track. He comes off the ball with good lean and tries to shorten the arc with the long-arm routinely. His best move right now is basically just a chop-down, where he swipes across both arms with good timing and then has the ankle strength to corner tightly. He is really tough to stop when knifing through the inside, thanks short-area and hand quickness on the club-swim, while stepping through, across the face of the blocker. However, he also puts some offensive tackles on their heels, when transitioning to the bull-rush, as they set too soft on him, trying to counter the speed off the edge. That makes him a problem on wide nine alignments, because it takes great foot speed to cut off his angle to the quarterback and when the tackle has to raise his pads too much in the process, Tryon can take advantage of it by going through their chest. Plus, he continues to fight with his hands and gets plenty of effort pressures. Tryon has experience rushing over the interior three, doing wide loops and different stunts as a pass-rusher. In his first and only season as a starter, he contributed 41 total pressures on 301 pass-rush snaps (13.6%).

On the flipside, Tryon displays poor contain responsibility, blindly following one key on run schemes or just chasing the ball too hard and allowing the back to cut the other way, as everybody is flowing play-side. And while he does show the ability to be an edge-setter, a few times he will get caught from the side and driven way off his spot, because he loses his balance, or shoot upfield too aggressively on the frontside. Plus, he can lose vision on the ball when his head is in the blocker’s chest or he bites on eye-candy. In the pass game, Tryon tends to get out of his rush lanes and allows quarterbacks to escape. He is a little predictable in his approach and doesn’t string moves together particularly well yet. He also needs to do a better job of dealing with cut-blocks from the back on those full-slide protection.

Tryon is a guy that really grew on me the more tape I watched of him. In terms of a 3-4 outside backer, who can set the edge in the run game, be a two-way pass-rusher, drop into coverage and be a versatile piece on passing downs, he could soon be one of the most complete guys at that spot coming from this class, despite such limited experience. After him, I’m not sure how many other “sure things” there are in terms of all-around edge defenders, so he could be a high priority early on day two.

7. Jason Oweh, Penn State

6’5”, 255 pounds; RS SO

A former top 100 overall recruit, Oweh had to wait his turn for a defensive line that included Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney, only appearing in two games his freshman year (and recording two sacks) and then being a rotational player in 2019, when he recorded five sacks and two forced fumbles. Last season as a first-string defensive end in Penn State’s seven games, he put up a career-high 6.5 tackles for loss but not a single sack.

Oweh was the fourth name on Bruce Feldman’s freak list, highlighted by a jaw-dropping reported 40-yard dash time of 4.33. If you want to see a play that shows his straight-line speed, just go to the Maryland tape, where they actually get outside of him on a speed sweep and the receiver scores a touchdown, but he gains ground on and even gets a hand on the man at the very end. However, as you follow his path with the Nittany Lions, you can tell that he is much more than just a crazy athlete. At the point of the attack in the run game, he shows heavy hands at first contact or can crash the B-gap when the tackles oversets to the outside and he sees an opportunity open up. Against zone-reads and speed option, Oweh can read the mesh point patiently and then has the quick burst to track the ball down, while also easily being able to open up 90 degrees in one step, which shows when reacting to screen passes. And as the unblocked defender from the backside, he displays great discipline, keeping his shoulders square, while closing the distance to the nearest blocker and then coming down the line once he has diagnosed who has the ball. Often times, he slips underneath sift blocks coming his way and can also work cross-face, if someone tries to scoop him up on the back-side.

When it comes to the pass-game, the tremendous explosiveness and flexibility Oweh has in his lower body really shines. You see him consistently shorten the corner with power and when he slants inside, he can even drive much bigger guards backwards. His stutter bull-rush in particular can be just devastating, if he gets blocker to stop their feet momentarily, but then he is also sudden enough to step around them around tackles if they sit on that move. Oweh’s flexibility is on display, when looping into the A-gap and then as the quarterback sees him flashing, bending off that inside foot, to open back up to the sideline, as the QB tries to escape that way. He may have been a rotational player until last season, but he has a lot reps, running different games up front for a creative defense in terms up their pressure packages. The sack production might not be quite there yet, but Oweh can shrink the pocket and forces the guy back there to move around, while really getting out his lane and making somebody else look bad.

Oweh needs to do a better job overall establishing a half-man relationship, but especially against the run, where his eyes seem to get lost in the frame of the blocker at times. You also see angular blockers, like tight-ends trying to scoop him on the backside of wide zone runs, get under his pads and stand him almost straight up on occasion. As a pass-rusher, he relies too much on his power and needs to utilize more effective hand-combos, being more pro-active in that regard altogether. And he doesn’t yet pair moves up throughout games and stress blockers in different areas. And while his pressure numbers aren’t bad (20 on 171 pass-rush snaps), it’s rare to draft edge rushers with zero sacks in their final season at any point, much less the first two days.

I think I’m a little lower on Oweh than most analysts out there, because I think you are really banking on athletic upside when you draft this guy. His explosiveness and power are undeniable, but he is still learning how to use those tools and just hasn’t turned into production yet – which won’t get any easier at the next level. I’m not sure if I would take him in the top 50, unless the edge class really dries out, but for where he is usually projected to go, I think there is better value available later on.

*EDIT: Due to the difference in athletic testing, I switched numbers seven and eight, who I had graded very closely.*

8. Gregory Rousseau, Miami

6’7”, 265 pounds; RS SO

Originally just a three-star recruit, Rosseau injured his ankle two games into his true freshman season and redshirted the year. He started his second season as a backup, but quickly entered the starting lineup and was one of the most productive players in the country, leading the Hurricanes with 15.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss and a couple of fumbles forced in 2019, earning him first-team All-ACC honors, before opting out last season. Originally projected to be a top-ten pick in the early mock drafts, he has become one of the most polarizing names out there.

What stands out about Rosseau the second you put on the tape is what kind of freakish athlete he is, which starts with those lanky limbs and the way he can run like a track athlete seemingly, which at his measurements is really scary. Yet, he also has the quick-twitch athleticism to play both options at the mesh point on zone reads and other things. When he is unblocked, he either reacts by flattening down the line, either to crash into pulling linemen or blow up ball-carriers before they can cross the line of scrimmage on those short-yardage runs right up the gut. Just check out his fourth-down stop versus Virginia. And when he does approach pulling linemen or H-backs on sift/kickout blocks, he shows no regard for his own body. With his length and strength, I could see him transition to a base D-end in a 3-4, where he is asked to double-team at times. Rosseau has some experience rushing from a two-point stance, dropping into the flats every once in a while or stay in the middle as basically a spy.

However, you are drafting this guy to be a true difference-making pass-rusher and he flashes all the physical traits for it – he has the ability to win with speed around the edge, go through the chest of tackles or shove them out of the way at some point. His suddenness and length make him an absolute nightmare on stutter swims maneuvers, plus he hits a very impressive chop-rip move at times. And with his ankle flexibility, he can get those late wins, where he is engaged head-on with a blocker and then all of a sudden step around them and get a hit on the quarterback. That quickness and burst also allow him to trip quarterbacks up from behind on many occasions, as they try to take off. Rosseau has plenty of experience with sliding inside, as a three-technique on plenty of base downs, but especially in passing situations, where he even lines up straight over the center, and the Hurricanes had him stunt into B-gaps or loop all the way outside quite a bit from that spot. Opposing teams started doubling the talented D-lineman for Miami at a high rate as games went along, with tight-ends staying in protection or backs setting to the outside.

At this point, Rosseau is just such a raw player. He engages way too straight up and kind of just plays, without a real approach. As a run defender, he needs to attack one half of the man, lock out and see through the blocker, rather than allowing guys to get into his chest and try looking around them. As a pass-rusher, he seems to have no plan yet either, not using any pro-active moves to stress around the arc and then converting to power, timing up his swipes or reading the pass-sets of his opponents. While he will toss them to the side at some point, you can get away with putting a tight-end or back on him in the quick game, because he doesn’t know to exploit those matchups yet. And even though he has done limited stand-up work, I project him to be a pure hand-in-the-dirt player, where he already has plenty to work on already, as he transitions to the pros. Seven of his 15.5 sacks came in back-to-back games against Florida State, who rotating two guards, who were way too slow-footed for him, and then Pittsburgh, where he could chase down a pretty limited athlete in Kenny Pickens, trying to extend plays and not getting rid of the ball. If a prospect produces despite lacking technique, you can see that as a positive of course, but Rosseau just doesn’t win around the edge consistently and stumbles into those clean-up sacks on tape.

Rosseau is far from a refined player at this point, which is understandable since we only have one year of film on him (546 career snaps), when he was only 19 years old. However, I think he definitely presents a risk, since so much of his production was due to being a way superior athlete, who got banged around and somehow ended up taking down the quarterback. I don’t mind investing in a player like that at some point on day two, if my D-line coach thinks he can mold him into a great player, but I think Rosseau’s numbers combined with that athletic profile will get him drafted too high for my liking. Envisioning him adding a little more weight and playing over the tackle and inside actually seems more exciting to me.

9. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest

6’3” ½, 280 pounds; RS SR

The cousin of now-Cowboys defensive end Tarrell Basham, Carlos is now much more coveted thanks to playing at a Power Five school and his athletic skill-set, but he once was only a three-star recruit himself. After a redshirt year and being more of a rotational player his freshman season, he has been one of the key members of Wake Forest’s defense, recording 150 total tackles, 33.5 of those for loss, 19.5 sacks, five passes defensed, seven fumbles forced and a scoop-and-score in 33 games as a starter. For that he earned first-team All-ACC honors and was named third-team last season, despite playing in only half their games.

Basham routinely gets a good jump on the ball, he has great agility to redirect after working upfield, to get to the ball-carrier when left unblocked and he will hold his ground in the run game. The amount of natural power to shove blockers out of the way is special and he yanks pads to the side routinely, to wrap up running backs. He’s just a very unique mover with really impressive flexibility and the ability to torque his body every which way, to go with sudden hands to get around blockers. You see him squeeze through the play-side shoulder of the blocker on zone runs routinely, where he can really twist those pads to almost give no surface area for blockers to grab, as he shoots through the gap on, combined with an arm-bar or rip move. Yet, he Basham also straight up drive guys backwards if they are hell-bent on trying to cross his face. From the backside, he rides guys down the line on hinge-blocks and he can deal with pullers multiple ways – you see him put guards on their asses on traps, but then work around them almost like no linebackers could, with the way he dips and redirects, to still take down the ball-carrier. He has pretty crazy short-area quickness for a guy his size and when he is in full-on chase mode, his pure speed is also highly impressive.

In the pass game, Basham flashes those instant wins with quickness and length, often times using a nice cross-chop combination. Around the edge, he rushes with god tilt and then can take offensive tackles for a ride by attacking their chest and packs a very effective up-and-under maneuver when those guy overset, which he follows up with the high swim to clear the hands. However, what makes him so interesting to watch is that ability to move his upper and lower body separately, to go with the absurd balance, to get knocked around and twist himself, but not lose his footing somehow. And he has the ankle flexibility to be pushed past the quarterback and be able to corner back underneath, plus the closing burst to take away angles to the sideline as they scramble and he comes off those blocks. You Basham him line up inside quite a bit on passing downs, all the way to a zero-technique, where he gives centers issues by how quickly he can transition into a secondary move. He also does a great job sniffing out screen passes and you see him really fight through the reach of blockers on rollouts. At the Senior Bowl, Basham’s power jumped out right away, owning the point of attack and driving tight-ends backwards in the run game, but it was the way he beat up linemen in one-on-one with those quick-twitch moves to get by right away, which really blew me away.

I don’t want to totally knock Basham for it, because that’s what his coaches taught him to do against all the wide zone runs you see in the ACC, but so often Basham completely disregarded contain responsibilities, in favor of crossing the blocker’s face and going way around them, at times a good five yards into the defensive backfield. However, he did that against many other run schemes as well and no NFL team will ask him to use that kind of technique. So we just haven’t seen him play a lot of assignment-proof run defense and that transition will be a major one. As a pass-rusher, there is just too much lateral and wasted movement in front of blockers for Basham, with many of his moves not being very effective. He has to learn how to rush under better control and with more of a plan overall. Basham rarely came off the field for the Demon Deacons, but looked tired because of it and didn’t bring it every single snap. I don’t think he always plays up to his size and strength, trying to be more of a finesse pass-rusher for the most part.

Basham is one of the more interesting prospects on the defensive line. Depending on the system and how NFL people look at him, he could really play anything from three-technique to a strong-side defensive end. His flexibility and balance are just so unique and he was already a very productive player, despite not knowing how to fully use that skill-set to his advantage yet. Playing the run in a more classic way and being asked to uphold gap integrity will be a challenge, but the power is certainly there. I like him as a project 4-3 defensive end in the middle of day two.

10. Jordan Smith, UAB

6’6”, 255 pounds; RS JR

Smith began his career as close to a top-100 overall recruit for the Florida Gators, but was one of nine players suspended for the 2017 season due to his role in an alleged credit card fraud scheme. After starring a year at Butler Community College, he transferred to UAB, where he recorded 23.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception in 21 total games, earning second- and first-team All-Conference USA respectively.

When you put on the UAB tape, Smith’s first step is just different to rest of his teammates. In the run game, he shows very quick hands to get off blocks and make offensive tackle slip off routinely, or to avoid blockers altogether. He is disciplined with contain on the backside of zone runs, while shuffling along at the tackle’s hip, and then he has the crazy closing burst to blow up quarterbacks as they keep the ball on bootlegs. Smith really attacks the mesh-point on zone-read stuff and at times shuts down both options because of how quickly he gets there. For an outside linebacker, this guy can run like the wind and his speed allows him to create those TFLs when he is unblocked on outside-oriented runs away from him. He tracked down one of the better dual-threats in Miami’s D’Eriq King from behind on a quarterback sweep for no yardage last season. And he has some experience dropping into the flats and being physical with receivers trying to get out there. However, what makes him so intriguing is the versatility he can bring as a pressure player, either out of his usual two-point base stance and with his hand in the dirt off the edge on third downs, or as an off-ball blitzer and lining up over guards.

The way he stresses with speed instantly and how his length gives him room for error when trying to clear the hands of blockers are tough things to deal with for any offensive lineman, plus he has some wiggle to him, to go inside or out. Smith often wins around the corner thanks to his violent club and the way he follows through instantly with that second hand. While he needs to become more consistent with it, he flashes that ability to dip and flatten to the quarterback, as well as a sudden spin move to the inside, which in combination with each other could be a nightmare in terms of how tackles shift their weight to either foot. Smith is already a menace on cat-like quick up-and-under maneuvers, which he follows up with a double-hand swipe. His sack numbers might have been down a little this past season with 4.5 in eight games, but he provided ten times as many (45) additional pressures, giving him an absurd rate of providing pressure on just over 20 percent of his pass-rush snaps and elite pass-rushing grades by PFF. During Senior Bowl that speed around the edge forced tackles to really jump out of their stance and open up quickly.

With that being said, he certainly brings a skinny build and it shows at times in the run game, when he gets taken for a ride if an offensive lineman can get his hands inside Smith’s frame. As a pass-rusher, he also needs to get stronger at powering through the inside shoulder of blockers once he has a good angle, to not allow them to take him off his path. At this point, he is not very well-versed with his pass-rush plan and lacks the ability to consistently link his arms and hips together, to turn tight(er) corners. Overall, he gets too upright rushing off the edge and presents a large surface area for tackles, plus he offers very little of a bull-rush threat, while shortening the arc with bend isn’t something he does frequently enough at this point to offset that.

The pass-rush tool box Smith presents is something to behold. While I don’t think he will ever be someone who wins consistently with power, he is a speed-ball off the edge, who has shown the ability to flatten, and then he doesn’t need to have the greatest weight-room strength, if he just utilizes a long-arm once he gets the tackle off balance. His run defense at the point of attack should improve once he bulks up a little in an NFL training program, although he will probably always be a better chase-player. To me he would really well in a 3-4 base system with hybrid principles, that utilizes his versatility on passing downs.

Just missed the cut:

Quincy Roche, Miami

6’4”, 245 pounds; RS SR

A former three-star recruit, Roche spent his first three years at Temple, where he was an impact player right away and was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year, thanks to recording 19 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and five passes batted down. Following that, he decided to transfer to Miami, where he couldn’t replicate those sack numbers (4.5), but was still a disruptive player, with 14.5 TFLs, two fumbles forced and three more recovered.

Roche was one of the most productive players in terms of pressures and negative plays in college football at Temple, where he really flashed to me in the Owls’ win over Tulane. Last season at Miami, he played as kind of a hybrid linebacker, with a lot of two-point stances and quite a bit of spot zone drops. While Roche isn’t necessarily a physical edge-setter, he is a TFL specialist in the run game, chasing ball-carriers down from behind as the unblocked edge defender routinely. He can also create some disruption slanting into the B-gap, where he is slippery and can bend off either foot, to wide again and not allow ball-carriers to bounce out wide. You see him crash through the inside shoulder of H-backs and wings trying to seal him on the backside on plenty of occasions. Roche has experience rushing from a two-point stance and with his hand in the dirt. He stresses tackles immediately because of his great jump off the snap, plus then he can shorten the corner with maybe the best bend in this entire class, to go along with ripping underneath the offensive tackle. When he perfectly times up his hand-swipes as the blocker tries to shoot his hands, with the way he can pivot off that inside foot and aim back at the quarterback, that guy won’t be able to still get hands on Roche. When tackles oversets to the outside with him, he will take that inside lane, with smooth lateral movement and double-hand swipes, plus he can create problems for the tackle by giving a hard jab to the inside and then going around with a hand combat and the ability to flatten to the QB. Overall, Roche keeps blockers at distance and his pads clear. He is one of the best prospects in terms of reading and taking advantage of the pass-sets tackles show him. And he’s also dangerous on T-E twists, where he gets through tight, to not waste any steps or time. The former Hurricane came to the Senior Bowl 10 pounds heavier than expected, yet without losing any of the explosiveness or twitch we are used from him, to win the majority of his one-on-ones, and he competed hard in the team run drills.

With that being said, Roche attacks too far upfield on the frontside of zone runs and leaves the B-gap wide open in the process. He could still do a better job of keeping that outside arm free overall and he has to win with speed and quickness, because he just doesn’t pack a lot of power and can’t really convert on the fly, even if tackles give him really soft set. And even more so because of that, he has to become more pro-active with his counter moves if he doesn’t have the angle to get around the corner. He also doesn’t show a lot of awareness for screen passes. Roche will be 23 at the moment he is drafted and I’m not sure how much more he can still add to his frame.

It’s always hard to project these edge rushers, that rely so heavily on burst and bend, without much of a power element to their game. Depending on how much he can still grow physically, I think Roche could certainly be a three-down player in a 3-4 front, but early on he will likely be best served as a designated pass-rusher, where he could be pretty productive early on, while he develops a year.

Shaka Toney, Penn State

6’2”, 240 pounds; RS SR

Toney’s playing time and role increased all four years with the Nittany Lions, collecting 20 sacks, 28.5 tackles for loss and four fumbles forced through his career, with at least five sacks and seven TFLs in all three seasons as a starter, earning second- and first-team All-Big Ten honors respectively these last two.

Toney is much more stout as an edge-setter than you would think at his weight, really leaning into blocks and not allowing opponent to build up momentum to drive him off the ball. To illustrate that – he stood his ground in the run game against Minnesota’s 400-pound right tackle Daniel Faalele. Toney plays with pads parallel to the line of scrimmage against the run and routinely gets off blocks late, to put hands on the ball-carrier, or he can get around linemen with quickness. From the backside, he does a good job of closing the distance to the last man on zone runs and works upfield, when he sees the quarterback pull the ball on bootlegs, quickly forcing them to throw it away. As a pass-rusher, he forces tackles to get out of their stance instantly with his get-off and has the speed to be a threat around the edge, which he combines with a nice chop-rip move, plus he has to have ankles of steel to turn such tight corners. Off that, he can work the long-arm effectively when tackles set him too softly, in order to drive them backwards, and when he sees the inside path open up, he will take it. I love the way he utilizes the dip and rip, where he can get really low to the ground, when tackles stop their kick-slide (check out strip-sack vs. Nebraska last season), or hit the up-and-under, when he sees the OT shift his weight to the outside foot. Penn State used Toney to slant and loop inside a lot as part of twists and different games run up front. Down in Mobile, Toney showed some ability to convert speed to power, which is a big question for him at 238 pounds, and while he was never actually asked to do it at Penn State, Toney actually looked comfortable carrying tight-ends vertically in coverage drills.

However, he does work too far upfield on quite a few occasions, which leads to widening the B-gap on zone runs and forces him to re-direct as a pass-rusher. Toney gets caught with his back to the quarterback on a still ineffective spin move at times and you see him overshoot the arc multiple times per game as well. There is not a lot of power to his pass-rush approach and if he is matched up with an athletic tackle, who can match his speed/quickness around the edge, he will have a tough time still comprising the pocket. When he is asked to drop out or finds himself in other open-field tackling situations, he doesn’t seem very comfortable and you see him slip off too many tackles altogether. With his frame and lack of power, he may be looked at as no fit for even fronts or a pure pass-rusher by some teams.

To start his career, Toney may be looked as more of a designated pass-rusher, but I think he can be a weapon along the front for some team, that can utilize him creatively on passing downs. He can threaten around the corner or use his flexibility to get to the quarterback from different angles, if you give him a lane as the secondary man on twists or loop him across multiple gaps. And he absolutely competes in the run game, where his ability to set the edge is underrated in my opinion.

Payton Turner, Houston

6’5”, 270 pounds; SR

Once just a two-star recruit, if not for the proximity to the Houston program, Turner might have not received any scholarship offers due to a knee injury his senior year of high school. After being a backup as a freshman, he started almost every game the following two seasons and then got hurt four games into 2020, when he was playing the best ball of his career. Over the 16 games these last two seasons, he recorded 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks combined.

Turner is somebody, who you just can’t leave unblocked in the run game. He shows great pursuit from the backside and chases a lot of ball-carriers down as they are strung out wide. He can rip through the insider shoulder when blockers try to scoop him up, but then also man-handles tight-ends at the point of attack. On the frontside of zone runs, he attacks upfield, but then is quick enough to go underneath the block as the running back tries to get through the B-gap. Turner’s great ankle flexibility and speed allow him to get around kick-out blocks, before the run play can develop and then wrap up the ball-carrier in the backfield. He also shows good change of direction to react to jet sweeps or redirect against screen passes, with the speed to turn and chase. Because of his thick frame, he gives you inside flexibility on sub-sets, without making the defense vulnerable in the run game, already having plenty of success as a three-technique penetrator, to create chaos in the middle. The length and suddenness are what can create problems in the pass-game with Turner, with experience rushing from two- and three-point stances. He has wiggle to give offensive tackles a little nod to the inside and combine that with a club-swim to get around the edge, or a straight rip move, with the tremendous ankle flexibility to corner off that inside foot. Turner has some violence in his hands and can clear the blocker’s reach with those strong swipes. Yet, he can also drop the inside shoulder quickly and give the blocker very little area to attack. That sudden ability also makes him pretty dangerous on up-and-under maneuvers, with which he badly beat BYU’s left tackle Brady Christensen last season. He had a pretty good game that day, but he absolutely dominated Tulane and to be honest, his superior talent was apparent in most of the AAC action.

On the flipside, Turner needs to do a better job of establishing that half-man relationship overall and especially in the run game, where he may be straight up on a blocker and has the ball-carrier go right through his gap, but he at best can drag that guy down from behind, which allows extra yardage. In the pass game, he allows O-linemen to stab inside his chest and make those hand-swipes much less effective, which makes quick-sets highly successful against him. Turner also needs to work on converting speed to power more effectively and at this point he lacks reliable counter maneuvers. I was pretty discouraged by what I saw during Senior Bowl week, where he showed almost no plan in pass-rush one-on-ones and was mostly made useless. So that jump in level of competition could be a major problem for him, when he can’t get by with pure talent.

With an 84-inch wingspan, a well-filled frame, quickness and power to him, Turner presents a desirable athletic profile. He is still pretty raw as a pass-rusher, but certainly has the tools and has had his flashes of dominance in the AAC. The pressure numbers have been pretty consistent these last one-and-a-half years, providing one on 14.4 percent of his pass-rushing snaps, but he cashed in half an extra sack on about a third of the opportunities this past one compared to 2019. He is learning to turn this into production and still has a lot of room to grow as somebody with versatility from B-gap to a 7-technique.

The next names up:

Hamilcar Rashed Jr. (Oregon State), Victor Dimukeje & Chris Rumph II (Duke), Patrick Johnson (Tulane), Patrick Jones II & Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh), Janarius Robinson (Florida State) & Elerson Smith (Northern Iowa)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s