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The top 11 edge-rushers in the 2021 draft class

A story I relate often comes to us from the 2013 NFL draft, and is the perfect way to begin this article. Early on night one the Miami Dolphins traded up with the then-Oakland Raiders to select Dion Jordan, the pass rusher from Oregon. When the pick was made Mike Mayock, now the general manager for the Raiders, stated that the move told us something about the state of professional football. Paraphrasing here, Mayock stated that the most important place on the field was the pocket. Teams need players that can throw from that spot, that can protect that spot, and that can attack that spot.

That remains true today. Think about how this draft is expected to unfold, with potentially four quarterbacks off the board with the first four picks, and then two offensive linemen shortly thereafter.

But what about the players who can attack that spot?

This is an intriguing EDGE class, if an incomplete one. It lacks the surefire prospect at the top, the complete player that you know can step in and produce without reservation. If you are looking for a Chase Young or Jadeveon Clowney or a Bosa Brother at the top of the board, you might be out of luck.

That does not mean, however, this class lacks talent. Far from it, in fact. The only issue is that you might need to sacrifice a trait or take a gamble on development. If you get the evaluation and the fit right, you might just find that player to attack the spot.

Here are the top 11 EDGE prospects in the 2021 draft class.

1. Jaelan Phillips, Miami

(Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’5″ (92nd) Weight: 260 (51st) 40-Yard Dash: 4.56 seconds (93rd) Bench Press: 21 reps (39th) Vertical Jump: 36 inches (81st) Broad Jump: 125 inches (90th) 3-Cone Drill: 7.01 seconds (80th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.13 seconds (96th) Bio: Once upon a time Jaelan Phillips was the top recruit in all of high school football. Graded as a five-star prospect out of Redlands East Valley High School in Redlands, California by 247sports, Phillips had no shortage of interested programs knocking down his door. He was considered the top player at his position, and the top overall prospect by Phillips committed to play at UCLA, and unfortunately his career with the Bruins did not match his potential. He played in seven games as a true freshman in 2017, and the following season he appeared in just four before a concussion ended his sophomore campaign. And his time at UCLA. In December of 2018, following three concussions, Phillips retired from football. Coming from a musical family (his grandfather Jon Robinson is a critically acclaimed pianist and conductor, his mother plays the cello and his father plays the trumpet) Phillips enrolled at Miami and entered the Frost School of Music. But the passion for the game was still there, so he returned to the field for the Hurricanes and this past season looked like the former top-rated recruit. He notched 45 total tackles (15.5 for a loss) and eight sacks in one season, and now stands as perhaps the top prospect at his position yet again. Stat to Know: Pro Football Focus charted Phillips with 36 total pressures over his final seven college games. Strengths: Between the lines, Phillips is a rather easy evaluation. It should be no surprise that a former five-star recruit (and once the top prospect in the country) is good at football. Phillips is solid against the run, with good awareness and vision on the edge and the ability to use his hands and upper-body strength to lock out blockers while he identifies the run design and seeks out the ball carrier. He shows good awareness and feel against traps, pulls and zone designs when the slice block from the backside is coming his way. Phillips also displays good discipline on jet sweeps and end arounds, fighting to keep contain. But if you are drafting an EDGE you want a pass rusher, and Phillips certainly delivers in that regard. He has a great compliment of moves off the edge, including cross-chops, swims and spins, as well as the ability to counter the tackle late in the play. He is explosive off the line, particularly when given the green light to slant or stunt to the inside. His film is replete with examples of him cutting inside and beating tackles and even guards to the spot. He even shows the ability to dip and bend, an essential trait for pass rushers. Phillips also has the size and quickness to kick inside on passing downs or in sub packages. There are a number of examples from 2020 of this trait, particularly early against Duke where his quick, violent swim move led to immediate pressure on a number of downs. He also kicked inside to NT on a few snaps (PFF charted him with four snaps in the A-Gap this past season) and you can envision some defensive coordinators using him as the single lineman in some 1-5-5 or 1-4-6 sub packages. Patrick Graham might love to get his hands on Phillips. Weaknesses: As mentioned above, the football part is the easy piece to the evaluation. His main weaknesses stem from the off-the-field portion, which is something that a chucklehead like me cannot answer with any certainty. There is a medical history with Phillips that is hard to ignore. In addition to the three concussions — which led to his medical retirement — there is also a broken wrist suffered during a scooter accident during his time at UCLA. Teams are going to want to drill down on the medical side before making him a first-round pick. There is one small, nitpicky thing with him that shows up on film, mostly when he is in a two-point stance. Phillips will sometimes false step, picking up his lead foot at the snap and dropping it right back down. That costs him a split-second off the line of scrimmage. It did not hurt him at Miami — and he is much more explosive in a three-point stance — but every split-second counts on Sundays. Conclusion: If teams are satisfied from a medical perspective, this is an easy selection. The talent and potential is there for Phillips to be a dominant player off the edge at the NFL level, and he also offers discipline and awareness against the run, making him a complete package. His ability to dominate on the inside with his quickness and array of pass-rushing moves makes him an asset on every down in the league. Comparison: Mike Renner of PFF went with Frank Clark as a comparison, which seems applicable to Phillips and what he offers at the next level. Resources: For more on what Phillips offers off the edge you can check out this piece on Phillips and the “pass rushing plan.”

2. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

(Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’2″ (17th) Weight: 249 (26th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.60 seconds (88th) Bench Press: N/A Vertical Jump: N/A Broad Jump: 124 inches (94th) 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A Bio: ESPN graded Azeez Ojulari as a four-star recruit from Marietta High School in Marietta, Georgia, and Ojulari was coveted by a number of SEC schools including Alabama, Forida and Auburn. He chose Georgia, staying in-state to play his college ball. But due to an ACL tear suffered during his final season at Marietta, Ojulari played in just two games in 2018 as a freshman and ultimately redshirted. He returned to the field for 2019 and appeared in all of Georgia’s games, notching 33 tackles and 5.5 sacks. This past season his production exploded, as in just ten games Ojulari recorded 31 total tackles (including 12.5 for a loss, a career-high) and another career-best mark with 9.5 sacks. Stat to Know: Ojulari is a true “EDGE,” as Pro Football Focus charted him with just one snap in the A- or B-Gaps over his three-year career. Strengths: Speed is the name of Ojulari’s game. While some other prospects in this class have more power few — if any — can match what Ojulari offers around the corner. Ojulari has tremendous explosiveness and quickness off the edge, with an impressive first step and the ability to turn the corner and flatten to the quarterback. His hands are very impressive, has he can chop/rip/swat against most tackles and there are some reps where he just leaves the tackle in his wake. He is still filling out his plan as a rusher, and there are moments where you would love to see him come up with a better counter or Plan B, but you can find some good examples of him figuring this out if you look. On one play against Missouri he initially punches with his left hand to attempt a long-arm move, but when the tackle handles that he immediately dips to the inside and is able to put a big hit on the QB. Another example is from his game against Mississippi State where the left tackle does not bite on his Euro step move, so Ojulari immediately tries to counter with a long-arm move. But as he figures out how to effectively counter, his ability to win with speed and quickness will serve him well. That explosive first step gives him an advantage around the outside against most tackles, and also helps him when freed up to slant or stunt to the inside. His athleticism and ability to corner make him a solid prospect at the position. Another solid trait of his is his length. At Georgia’s pro day Ojulari measured in with 34.38 inch arms, placing him in the 84th percentile among EDGE prospects. That shows up when he turns to the long-arm move. Finally, that Mississippi State game is a fascinating study. The Bulldogs used a number of three-man fronts to try and slow down MSU’s Air Raid offense, which led to Ojulari facing a lot of double-teams. Weaknesses: Given his reliance on speed, power is a part of his game that needs to be filled out. His initial plan of attack on almost every play is to try and win with quickness, and while that often worked on Saturdays he’ll need a more complete package to win consistently on Sundays. There are moments when tackles got their hands on him, and the play was over before it began. Ojulari is also a pure EDGE right now, and is not someone you can see kicking inside on sub packages or on passing downs. He was also part of a deep rotation at Georgia at the position, and as PFF noted he never played more than 52 snaps in a game. That led to a number of plays where he had fresh legs, relatively speaking. It also led to the tremendous finish to his college career against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, where he put together a number of sacks in the final half of play including a safety on his final collegiate snap. There could also be questions about whether he is better suited for an off-ball, OLB role rather than as a player with his hand in the dirt. Conclusion: There is always room for a player who can corner, bend and get to the quarterback. Ojulari’s quickness gives him a true trump card that will work at the next level. He might not have the full array of moves under his belt, but you can see him starting to piece it all together. His length will also serve him well on Sundays in the league. He might be a pure outside-only player but his quickness and explosiveness is worth an early pick. Comparison: Ojulari’s size, frame and athleticism remind me a bit of Marcus Davenport, who had a stunning first-round rise and was ultimately drafted by the New Orleans Saints who traded up to do so. Ojulari is seeing a similar rise, building off his Peach Bowl performance.

3. Kwity Paye, Michigan

(Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’2″ (18th) Weight: 261 (54th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.52 seconds (97th) Bench Press: 36 reps (99th) Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches (76th) Broad Jump: 118 inches (61st) 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A Bio: Kwity Pay was born in a refugee camp following the First Liberian Civil War. He was named after his father, who died in the conflict, and his mother brought him and Kwity’s brother Komotay to Rhode Island when Kwity was just six months old. He developed a passion for football and played both running back and defensive end in high school, and was named Rhode Island’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in 2016. Considered a three-star recruit he turned down offers from northeast schools such as Boston College, Rutgers and Syracuse to play for the Michigan Wolverines. Paye was an immediate contributor for Michigan as a true freshman, playing in nine game and recording a sack. His breakout season was as a junior in 2019, where he notched a career-high 6.5 sacks. In the COVID-shortened 2020 season Paye still managed to record a pair of sacks. Stat to Know: Paye made Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks” list prior to this past season, and with 36 bench reps (99th percentile) and a 4.52 40-yard dash (97th percentile) you can see why. Strengths: For the most part, that freakish athleticism translates to film. He is powerful off the edge or even in the interior, with hands and upper-body strength to rock defenders off the snap and control them if necessary. He can also convert speed-to-power off the edge, and has a bull rush move that can drive even the best blockers back into the pocket. On film Paye did some of his best work against the run, with the ability to stack/shed blockers and identify the target in the backfield. That is where those 36 reps on the bench show up, as he can lock out and control blockers while finding the ball-carrier behind them. He also shows good discipline against traps and can scrape off blockers well to get the to running back. He also works on the outside to set the edge against the run, and knows where his help is coming from in those situations. I also love what he did against zone read teams, as he remained assignment sound and if the play went away from him, you cannot question his effort. His film is filled with effort plays both against the run and when rushing the passer. He is building out his toolkit as a pass rusher, but you can see a variety of moves being developed. His bull rush is perhaps his best move — due to his power — but you can find examples of him using a push/pull, a rip/dip, a long-arm or even the occasional swim move. Weaknesses: There are moments when his hands are a bit slow off the line, which enabled some tackles to get into him and control him through the play. Some have questioned his ability to put together a plan, or to come up with counters, but there are some examples. Against Michigan State this past season he flashed a long-arm at the start of one play before immediately changing into a rip/dip move based on how the tackle set against him. There is another example of him flashing a cross-chop and again turning to the rip/dip move as a counter attack. Still, there is room for growth here. Despite his strength and ability to kick inside, there were moments when he got swallowed up by interior offensive lines. Keeping him on the edge might be a better course of action at the next level. Conclusion: Ultimately, Paye might offer a better floor than the two prospects above him, and teams might find that enticing at the next level. He does not have the medical concerns that you find with Jaelan Phillips, and he is already built for the NFL game unlike Azeez Ojulari who still needs to add some strength and power to his arsenal. He has played on the interior so he offers some versatility, and while I do think he is better off the edge teams are going to value that from him. Comparison: Jordan Reid of The Draft Network sees some Brandon Graham in Paye’s game and profile, and that does make sense. Paye, however, goes with a different comparison and tries to model his game after Yannick Ngakoue.

4. Joseph Ossai, Texas

(Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’3 5/8″ (58th) Weight: 256 (44th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.65 seconds (80th) Bench Press: 19 reps (21st) Vertical Jump: 41.5 inches (99th) Broad Jump: 131.5 inches (99th) 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A Bio: Joseph Ossai was born in Nigeria, and moved to Texas with his family when he was ten years old. He was graded as a four-star recruit by, choosing to play for the University of Texas over schools like Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas A&M. He was a contributor immediately on campus, playing in every game as a true freshman and recording a sack and a forced fumble. As a sophomore in 2019 he played in 13 games, tallying 90 total tackles (13.5 for a loss) and five sacks. He also added a pair of interceptions. He was named the MVP of the 2019 Alamo Bowl after his three-sack performance. In the nine games of his junior season he added another 5.5 sacks, including three in a win over Oklahoma State. Stat to Know: Pro Football Focus charted him with three-plus pressures in seven of Texas’ nine games this season. Strengths: At the outset you should understand that I might be higher on Ossai than consensus. PFF graded him as a third-round prospect, and Jon Ledyard — whose opinion I value particularly when it comes to EDGE players — has him as the sixth-best EDGE in the class. This is part of what he wrote: “Ossai might be the ultimate boom-or-bust edge prospect in this class, so like a true coward I’ve planted my flag right between the polarizing grades on him.” I am going to plant that flag, and here is why. I think Ossai is just scratching the surface of what he can be at the next level, and you cannot match his athleticism and his effort. He is explosive off the line — and can improve in this area as we will discuss — and is adept at cornering of the edge. He is building out a complete set of pass rushing moves, but you can see examples of rip/dips, push/pulls, swim moves and even a bull rush or two. His first step is impressive, particularly when he can cut inside off the snap. You also will not outwork him. His motor runs hot on every play from snap to whistle, and whether double- or even triple-teamed, he is going to fight to the football. Against the run he will stack and shed and use his hands to keep fighting while getting his eyes on the football. Ossai started in more of an off-ball role before transitioning to a defensive end this past season, but Texas still found times to drop him into coverage in both zone and man coverage schemes. That versatility is going to be a plus for him as teams could use him in a few different roles Weaknesses: Ossai is still learning it seems, given the position switch this past season, and that has led to some snap hesitation on plays. This is something that Benjamin Solak has explored, and I have done work on as well. Here is what Solak put together: If he cleans this up, you are talking about a potential home run pick. The problem? The phenomenon of “coach-it-up-itis,” which is a term I’ve come up with to outline the belief that everything can get fixed with coaching. Is it possible? Sure. Is it a safe bet? Maybe not. In addition to the above, Ossai could use his hands better, particularly when facing cut block attempts. I would love to see him flare out the hands and drive would-be blockers to the turf to keep his legs and ankles clear. Conclusion: Ultimately, Ossai is one of my favorite prospects in the draft because you can see the potential. Maybe the allure of what he can be, and the phenomenon of “coach-it-up-itis,” is clouding my judgement. But I look at what he is now, where he is athletically, and think with just a bit of refinement to his approach you are talking about a double-digit sack player in the NFL. Can it happen? Maybe, maybe not. But sometimes in the draft you have to roll the dice and this is a bet I’m willing to make. Comparison: In a recent mock draft I had the Baltimore Ravens drafting him as a potential Matthew Judon replacement, and there is a reason… Resources: After Ossai’s incredible pro day I put together this piece on him, that dives into that snap hesitation and his upside.

5. Jayson Oweh, Penn State

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Height: 6’5 7/8″ (78th) Weight: 257 (46th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.39 seconds (100th) Bench Press: 21 reps (39th) Vertical Jump: 40 inches (96th) Broad Jump: 134 inches (100th) 3-Cone Drill: 6.84 seconds (96th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds (95th) Bio: Jayson Oweh played his high school football at Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. Considered a four-star recruit by ESPN, who also graded him as the second-best player in the state and 94th overall, Oweh had offers from a number of Big Ten schools including Ohio State and Michigan. He went to Penn State and was a rotational player as a true freshman, notching a pair of sacks. That continued in 2019, where he made one start and added five sacks to his resume. The production was not there in 2020, as Oweh was held without a sack for the first time in his career. As we will see, that does not tell the whole story… Stat to Know: While Joseph Ossai was the clubhouse leader for “best pro day from an EDGE prospect” Oweh took that — unofficial — title from him after his performance a few weeks ago. Both his broad jump and 40-yard dash placed him in the 100th percentile among players at his position. He was named to Bruce Feldman’s “freaks” list two seasons in a row for a good reason. Strengths: Athleticism is the trait that simply jumps off the film. Some might not know this about me but for a few seasons I covered the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the Rivals network. Part of my job was to write about the upcoming opponent in a “Scouting Notebook” series, where I would study the upcoming offense and defense and break down each player the Golden Gophers would face. Here is what I wrote about Oweh two years ago when discussing their pass rush: “The only one who really stands out is Oweh. He had a very good pass rush rep late in the game against Michigan State with impressive speed off the edge. He runs the arc and then rips to the inside to get a sack/fumble.” That remains true to this day. His athleticism and speed off the edge is great, almost elite. But he also has some power to his game, and can pack a punch with his hands. On one play against Ohio State this past season he drove the guard back in to the lap of the quarterback, so he is not just a finesse/speed player. Against the run he shows good vision and does a good job of stacking and shedding blockers. He is also disciplined against zone read designs. He can be a weapon on stunts to the inside. When Penn State tasked him with slicing inside he was often able to get immediate pressure on the opposing passer. Oweh can also chase down plays from behind due to his impressive speed and the effort he puts into each snap. Weaknesses: The first question is the production element. How could a player with these tools and traits not record a single sack? Some if it was scheme, as he did see his share of double-teams and chips from tight ends. But there were also moments when the pressure did not result in a sack, due to elusive quarterbacks. For those who believe pressure is production, however, you can make the case that despite the lack of sacks Oweh’s 2020 season was still production. Oweh also relies on his athleticism more as a pass rusher, rather than technique. I did not see a lot of evidence that he can string together moves, counter blocks and pass sets, and win in the technical game. Conclusion: With athleticism like this, however, who cares about the technical side? Of course that is a rather glib statement but when you see Oweh and what he can do athletically, you can talk yourself into draft him early and molding him into a more complete player. You can refine pass rushing technique over time, you cannot teach his athleticism and explosiveness off the edge. Comparison: PFF’s Mike Renner went with Montez Sweat, which might be a perfect comp.

6. Quincy Roche, Miami

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Height: 6’3″ (33rd) Weight: 243 (13th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.68 seconds (72nd) Bench Press: 23 reps (56th) Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches (41st) Broad Jump: N/A 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A Bio: Hailing from Owings Mills, Maryland, Quincy Roche was a standout defensive end and tight end at New Town High School. A three-star recruit according to, he entertained offers from smaller schools such as Appalachian State and Toledo before enrolling at Temple. Roche was an impact player for the Owls from the day he set foot on campus, notching seven sacks as a true freshman. His best season by far was back in 2019, when he tallied 13 sacks and was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year as well as a First-Team All-AAC player. He transferred to Miami for his final year of eligibility as a graduate, and he added another 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks to his resume, this time as an ACC player. Stat to Know: According to Pro Football Focus Roche’s 104 pressures the past two seasons made him the most productive pass rusher in all of college football. Strengths: Roche is a technically-advanced pass rusher that wins with effort, technique and experience. Given the number of games he has played and the different players he has seen, Roche is able to read and react to almost anything a tackle can throw at him. He can put together a variety of pass rushing moves, including cross-chops, swims, rips, and spins, and he can counter most pass blockers with an efficient plan of attack. Early against Duke this past season you saw that on a play where he initially tried to rip and dip around the edge, but hit the tackle with a counter/spin late in the down for a sack. His hands in that game against Duke were extremely impressive, particularly on cross-chop moves where he was leaving the Duke tackles in his wake. He is also adept at exploiting over-sets and mistakes by tackles. Against Pittsburgh this past season the tackle set too far to the outside exposing the inside gap, and Roche immediately identified that and attacked inside to generate pressure on the QB. In that game he also showed a bit of a Euro step on one snap, threatening the outside shoulder of the tackle and then cutting inside to force the QB off the spot. The Clemson game also provided some examples of Roche ironing out a long-arm move, adding one more element to his arsenal. Weaknesses: Roche is more technique than power or athleticism, and more experienced tackles might be better suited to handle what he attacks with off the edge. You even saw some of that this season in games against Virginia Tech and Clemson, when he was working against experienced and/or talented tackles who could handle his array of moves or simply beat him with power and/or athleticism. Speaking of which, athletically Roche does not compare well to some of the other prospects in this class, and he might be more of a finished product than players like Jayson Oweh or Joseph Ossai. Conclusion: Still, it is hard to argue with the production. Dating back to high school — Roche set a school record his senior year with 19 sacks — Roche has found ways to get to the quarterback. He might not duplicate those kinds of numbers in the NFL, but players with a knack for getting to the QB are still a valued part of a roster. He might not have the ceiling of other players on the draft, but the floor is rather solid. Comparison: I see a little of Trey Flowers in his game, a player who might rely on technique and need a bit of scheme help to produce at the next level.

7. Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’4″ (68th) Weight: 259 (49th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.83 seconds (33rd) Bench Press: 20 reps (31st) Vertical Jump: 33 inches (41st) Broad Jump: 114 inches (36th) 3-Cone Drill: 6.98 seconds (84th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.30 seconds (74th) Bio: graded Rashad Weaver as just a two-star prospect coming out of Cooper City High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Weaver played both basketball and football at Cooper City, and was a tight end and defensive end in the fall and a center on the hardwood. He originally committed to Michigan, but when he was informed that he would have to be a preferred walk-on, he switched his commitment to Pittsburgh. Weaver tallied three sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2017, and then 6.5 sacks as a sophomore in 2018. He was set for a breakout year as a junior in 2019 but tore his ACL prior to the season, missing the entire year. He came back for the 2020 campaign and tallied a career-high 7.5 sacks in just nine games. Stat to Know: The Panthers used him as a pure EDGE, as he saw just 14 snaps over the tackle — and nothing on the inside — this past season according to Pro Football Focus. Strengths: Weaver has length and he knows how to use it. He has great technique and hand usage, and his length makes his reliance on a long-arm move a natural fit. But he offers more than just that one move, as you can find examples of him winning with a swim move, a cross-chop, a rip/dip, and he can also bend around the arc to get to the quarterback. When it comes to countering tackles, his preferred method of attack is to counter-spin late in the down and he is effective when turning to that move. I enjoyed seeing Weaver work against the run, as he shows power at the point of attack and great hand technique. Tackles and other blocker who try and cut him are often found on the business ends of his hands, as he drives them face-down into the turf and evades the attempt. He has great awareness overall — against the run and the pass — and knows how to relate down when he sees the tackle down block, and he can initiate contact against traps and slice blocks. Recognition and awareness might be two of his strengths, as he can diagnose plays well and will sink under screens or designed throws to the flat. He also uses his length to disrupt passing lanes and force the QB to either reset or adjust his arm angle. Weaknesses: Weaver is another “floor” prospect, as there might not be a ton of room for growth. He wins with power, length and technique, and does that part of the job well. But the athletic profile does not offer a ton of hope for his upside. He tested well at his pro day, which might offer some potential, but his career arc might best be summed up in one play against Syracuse, where he uses fantastic technique to beat the tackler, but misses on the sack because he cannot change direction quickly enough. There was also an example of that against Clemson and Trevor Lawrence where he won with technique, but ended up falling on his back trying to chase the QB as he spun away from him. Maybe this is a case where the good testing numbers on his agility drills (4.30 short shuttle, 6.98 three-cone) overshadow moments like that on the field. Conclusion: NFL decision makers love safe floors, and that is what Weaver offers. That coupled with his awareness, recognition, work against the run and his discipline make him a safe option. His age and lack of burst might not provide an enticing ceiling, but you can see a path to him unlocking some effort sacks at the next level. Comparison: I can see a little bit of Deatrich Wise Jr. to Weaver’s game.

8. Payton Turner, Houston

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: N/A Weight: N/A 40-Yard Dash: N/A Bench Press: N/A Vertical Jump: N/A Broad Jump: N/A 3-Cone Drill: N/A 20-Yard Shuttle: N/A (Pro day scheduled for April 9). Bio: graded Payton Turner as a two-star prospect, and the 359-ranked player in the state of Texas alone. Coming out of Westside High School in Houston, Texas he entertained interest from Kansas, Purdue, Texas and Michigan but his only offer came from the Cougars, so Turner enrolled at Houston. Part of this might have been due to a knee injury his senior year which caused him to miss the bulk of his final prep season. Turner played immediately for the Cougars as a true freshman, tallying 14 tackles and an interception. He started the first 11 games of his sophomore year and while his season ended early due to a foot injury, he recorded 42 total tackles, including 3.5 for a loss. His final two years on campus saw him truly start to produce off the edge, as he recorded 3.5 sacks as a junior and five as a senior, in just five games due to the COVID-shortened year. Turner earned an invitation to this year’s Senior Bowl for his efforts. Stat to Know: Turner’s productivity increased every season. In addition to the big jump in sacks Turner notched a whopping 10.5 tackles for a loss in 2020, again in just five games. That beat his previous mark of 7.5 set in 2019 over a 12-game season. Strengths: There are often prospects that you come to late in the process, and wish you had spent time on earlier in the cycle. Payton Turner is one such player for me. But I am glad I took the time to study his tape. It is hard to find a more contrasting set of game than watching a pass rusher against BYU and then Navy, but watching those two contests gives you a flavor of what he can be against the run and when rushing the passer. Turner is powerful and violent off the snap, and shows power at the point of attack when working against the run. He does not quit until the whistle, and his game against Navy flashed a number of effort plays where he was chasing down runs from behind. He also displayed impressive change-of-direction skills on one counter option, when he spun back to mirror the QB and dragged him down for a tackle behind the line. Rushing the passer is what moves the needle for EDGE defenders, and Turner checks that box as well. He has a bevy of moves at his disposal, including rip/dip moves, an impressive cross-chop that he will pair with either a rip or a swim after if necessary, a push/pull move and he will even just rely on a bull rush if necessary. On one play against BYU’s right tackle he used that bull rush to just walk him back into Zach Wilson’s lap, influencing the QB’s arm angle. Turner also has quick hands, and when combined with his experience and array of moves he is a pass rusher with a clear plan. It is rare to see him use the same move on two consecutive snaps, and he is ready to counter the tackle should his initial move be stymied. He will use a spin or a late rip as a preferred method of countering, but really you can see him turn to a different Plan B from snap-to-snap. There are even some flashes of bend and cornering ability from him, which is also quite intriguing. Finally, given his experience if a tackle makes a mistake, he will make you pay. Turner is not the most athletic or bursty defender, but the size, frame and length when coupled with his experience and technique makes for a nice package. Weaknesses: Turner plays extremely high with his pads, and will need to either adjust his pad level or accept the fact that he will lose some reps when tackles get into his exposed chest. He is not the most explosive player off the edge, and he wins with effort, technique and experience. He also took advantage of the competition around him, and has just the two (or one-and-a-half) years of good production. He had success against BYU’s right tackle and at times against Brady Christensen, their left tackle who is going to get drafted this cycle, but the level of competition is an open question. His Senior Bowl week, however, should alleviate some of those fears. Then there is an injury history, both with the high school injury and the lower body injury that ended his sophomore season early. Conclusion: Still, his tool-kit as a rusher coupled with his ability to kick inside makes him an extremely enticing option, even early on Day Two of the draft. I love what he offers from a technical standpoint, and also what he demonstrates in terms of a plan of attack. My only regret is that I did not start watching him sooner. Comparison: I am getting an Adalius Thomas vibe from him, a player who when left to pressure the quarterback thrived, but when asked to do more in terms of coverage and playing in space struggled.

9. Joe Tryon, Washington

(Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’5″ (87th) Weight: 259 (49th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.64 seconds (81st) Bench Press: 22 reps (47th) Vertical Jump: 35 inches (72nd) Broad Jump: 118 inches (61st) 3-Cone Drill: 7.18 seconds (55th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.36 seconds (60th) Bio: Joe Tryon was graded as a three-star recruit by ESPN’s scouting services, after playing at Hazen High School in Renton, Washington. He received a handful of offers from schools in the Pacific Northwest including Washington State, Oregon and Eastern Washington, and originally chose Washington State, but decided to flip his commitment and play for the in-state Huskies. He redshirted his freshman year but in 2018 he appeared in 12 games, notching 20 tackles and a sack. Tryon enjoyed a bit of a breakout in 2019, as he tallied eight sacks and was named a Second-Team All-Pac-12 player. That would be the end of his college career, as he opted-out for 2020 due to COVID-19. Stat to Know: Pro Football Focus charted him with 29 pressures in his final seven games during the 2019 season, which is a heck of a way to end your career. Strengths: There is a phrase in life: “Do one thing and do it well.” That could apply to Tryon and his mode of attack as a pass rusher, as he wins primarily with a speed-to-power bull rush off the edge. Forget evading you, he wants to run through you. It works on occasion, but what gives me more hope about his NFL career is what you are seeing him use to complement that move. You are seeing examples of him using cross-chops and even the occasional rip/dip move to add to the weapons in his bag. Tryon is another defender who is acutely aware of what could be coming his way, in terms of traps or slice blocks. He takes those on with violence, driving into the blocker and turning running plays back to the inside. He does not take a single snap off, and finishes every play to the whistle. Something I noticed with him, particularly in his game against Oregon in 2019, is how well he handled playing in space. He showed good awareness and feel for handling underneath zone coverages, passing off receivers, and making tackles in the open field. Could there be an unlocked OLB type waiting to be discovered at the next level? The idea intrigues me… Weaknesses: One of the biggest questions facing Tryon is the production angle. With some of the other players in this class with thin resumes, such as Gregory Rousseau, you have one year of elite production or execution to hang your hat on. Here, you have a year with eight sacks, many of which came as effort plays rather than due to his technique. Still, he is explosive on the outside and might have the versatility to play both on the inside and in space as just discussed. Again, you cannot teach size and frame, and Tryon checks those boxes. A creative defensive coordinator could find ways to involve him all over the defensive front and just unleash him on the opposing offensive line from a variety of alignments and angles. That works too in the NFL, last I checked. Conclusion: Teams will talk themselves into what Tryon could be, and if they do that in conjunction with the potential versatility he offers, that might be a smart bet. I think there is schematic versatility in that Tryon could be an off-ball OLB in a 3-4 base scheme with the potential to drop down as a defensive end in even fronts. You could also kick him to the inside on some sub packages. There are things to play with here, and that will be enticing on the second day of the draft. Comparison: Tryon could be a “boom/bust” type of player, and you can see a variety of outcomes for him. On the high end of that range you could be getting T.J. Watt-lite, a player who thrives in a role as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 base scheme who can primarily rush the passer but also handle coverage responsibilities. But how often are “high ends” realized? On the low end of the range you might get Daeshon Hall. Somewhere in the middle? Perhaps Dawuane Smoot, who has carved out a solid little role with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

10. Gregory Rousseau, Miami

(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Height: 6’7″ (98th) Weight: 266 (67th) 40-Yard Dash: 4.69 seconds (71st) Bench Press: 21 reps (39th) Vertical Jump: 30 inches (14th) Broad Jump: 115 inches (42nd) 3-Cone Drill: 7.50 seconds (16th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.45 seconds (36th) Bio: Gregory Rousseau did it all for Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Florida. He was a defensive end, safety and wide receiver for his high school football team, and helped Champagnat Catholic to its second state title in school history. As a senior he tallied 80 tackles and ten sacks, including three sacks in the state championship game. He also earned Second-Team All-State honors as a wide receiver, catching nine touchdowns in 2016. He enrolled at Miami and after playing in a few games as a true freshman, an ankle injury ended is season and he took a medical redshirt. He came back as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and exploded on the national stage with 15.5 sacks, earning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. He was also named a First-Team All-ACC player as well as a Second-Team All-American. Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Stat to Know: Rousseau has just 546 career college snaps. That…requires a lot of projection. Strengths: Rousseau immediately checks the size, length and frame boxes. His length pops on film against the run and as a pass rusher, as he has developed a great long-arm move that shows up off the edge. He also has the ability to lock out blockers against the run, and loves to set the edge against run plays. Rousseau has long strides off the edge, which gets him into most tackles quickly in the down despite a lack of pure explosiveness. For a player of his size he has impressive footwork, and that shows up when tackles try to cut him, as he can quickly step back with ease and rely on his feet, rather than his hands, to evade cuts. Even with his frame, Rousseau has the ability to dip and bend around the arc with ease. He is disciplined against option plays and rarely bites on fakes. His power shows up on film, particularly when he uses that long-arm technique but also when he tries to overpower tackles with a bull rush attempt. Miami also kicked him inside — he saw 74 A-Gap snaps according to PFF charting — and he stood out in those opportunities. He seemed to generate immediate pressure on those occasions and perhaps even showed a bit more burst and explosiveness than he did on the outside. Weaknesses: I mentioned the 546 snaps, right? Because that is not an extensive body of work and there is a lot of projection that goes into what he could be at the next level. Beyond that, Rousseau is relatively new to being a pass rusher, having spent a lot of his prep days playing in the secondary and as a receiver. You can see a lot of false steps from him off the line, mostly when in a two-point stance, and you would like to see more from him in terms of a pass rushing plan and counter moves. If you are looking for a technically-sound option in this class, Rousseau might not be your top choice. He also relies mightily on a Euro-step move to the inside and he either wins with that…or doesn’t. Basham also has an upright playing style and high pad level, which allows some tackles to get into his frame and win the rep. Finally there are now questions about his athleticism, given his pro day performance. Conclusion: Still, for a team looking for a situational pass rusher with the chops to kick inside while they hope to fill in the rest of the blanks, Rousseau could be an enticing option. He might need a lot of development and coaching, but you cannot teach his size and frame. I know I know, the words of the wise Emory Hunt ring in my mind: “Size is not a skill.” Sometimes, however, it is enchanting… Comparison: Coming up with a comparison for Rousseau is tough, as most raw prospects rely more on athleticism than frame. This writeup of him uses Arik Armstead as a comparison which is the best I’ve found.

11. Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Height: 6’3″ (46th) Weight: 274 (81st) 40-Yard Dash: 4.64 seconds (81st) Bench Press: 20 reps (30th) Vertical Jump: 34 inches (61st) Broad Jump: 122 inches (82nd) 3-Cone Drill: 7.13 seconds (60th) 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.25 seconds (84th) Bio: A standout on the gridiron and the hardwood for Northside High School in Roanoke, Virginia, Carlos “Boogie” Basham Jr. turned down offers from Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to enroll at Wake Forest. Basham redshirted his first year on campus but was a contributor the rest of his career for the Demon Deacons. He was named a First-Team All-ACC player as a junior in 2019 when he recorded 57 total tackles (18 for a loss) and ten sacks. He returned for one final season and appeared in six games, notching five sacks. Basham earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and was one of the better performers down in Mobile. Stat to Know: Pro Football Focus charted Basham with just 35 B-Gap snaps this past season but operating inside could be critical to his future success. Strengths: Basham favors winning to the inside, which has its benefits and its curses. Smarter tackles who did their homework were patient on his initial attempt to threaten the outside and simply would ride down on him when he eventually tried to slice inside. But Wake Forest catered to that, using him on a lot of stunts and twists to free him up to the inside, and you would see his motor and his ability to swim to the inside. That might be his best move as a pass rusher, a swim move, which he uses often and is even more effective at implementing when kicked to the inside. Against Clemson this season he saw a few snaps as a three-technique and you saw that inside swim move work to pressure Trevor Lawrence. Basham is also an experience defender with great awareness, particularly against the run when he stays disciplined against zone read designs and has great feel for trap blocks and slice blocks on inside zone plays. He can either long-arm those blockers and keep his eyes on the play or initiate contact with them. He will fight to set the edge on runs to his side, and if you run away from him the motor never stops. Basham is more than able to chase plays down from the backside. I do not think you can question his competitive toughness. When you see him fighting against and through double-teams down 31-3 to Clemson, you check that box of the scouting report and move on. Weaknesses: I did not see a full array of pass-rushing moves, which is somewhat concerning given his experience. He flashed a few cross-chops and a spin move at times, but by far he wants to win to the inside either by design or with a swim move. He also seems to lack a plan off the edge, mostly in terms of how to counter what he sees from the tackle or when the tackle handles his initial move. It seems his favored approach is to simply outwork the opponent or try and fight to the inside. Conclusion: I believe Basham’s key to contributing immediately in the NFL is as a situational pass rusher on the interior. That is, at least to me, when he seemed to be at his best. Working against guards and centers with that swim move that he loves so much. He can offer interior pressure via that means while filling out the rest of his toolkit as a pass rusher off the edge. Comparison: Jon Ledyard compared him in a sense to Curtis Weaver, the Boise State product who was trying to figure things out last season from an execution and technical standpoint, and that comparison carries some weight.



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