June 14, 2021

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2021 NFL Draft EDGE Rankings

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
March 8th, 2021

1) Gregory Rousseau, Miami; Ht: 6-7 Wt: 265

I ended up spending a lot more time watching film on Gregory Rousseau than on other players I’ve scouted because he was just incredibly fun to watch play football. He racked up nearly 20 TFL and over a sack per game in 2019 and despite not playing in 2020, is my top candidate at the position. Rousseau is an unbelievable athlete, possessing the strength to bull rush and throw tackles and the speed and quickness to force a read option away from him and still make a tackle for loss. While Rousseau isn’t as good of a defender on running plays, he more than makes up for it with his ability to flush the pocket with regularity on passing downs. He even lined up at nose tackle for some snaps and was able to slip right by the interior linemen for pressures and sacks. He commands a double team, he can avoid two separate cut blocks and still earn a sack, absolutely dominates the B gap, drives every blocker he faces into the pocket, contains well, and has the agility and fluidity to break up complex looks. This is a great player who will make a big impact for an NFL team this coming season.

2) Joe Tryon, Washington; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 262

Washington’s top defensive player didn’t actually play in 2020, but his showings in prior seasons will do enough to see him taken in the first round. Tryon is a versatile edge rusher, using his intelligence, speed, and positioning to win battles and make tackles. His ability to drop and spy proves his athletic ability, but his true value comes in making tackles behind the line of scrimmage. His quickness is absolutely outstanding and will cause huge issues for less mobile offensive linemen in the NFL. He’s extremely tough to handle in one-on-one situations and has a burst that often leaves his blocker reaching and off balance. His pursuit is really impressive as well and his positioning and slight adjustments while attacking often leave him in the best position to make any play. Though he can bull rush smaller players Tryon could afford to get stronger, though if the team drafting him prefers the speed rush, he’s perfect as is.

3) Kwity Paye, Michigan; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 272

A lot of scouts and analysts will have Kwity Paye at the top of their board in terms of edge rushers and I’m perfectly fine with that, I just don’t see the same upside down the road as some others do. Paye is an excellent player with a lot of impressive qualities, apparent enough that you hardly need a background in watching football to tell he’s a fantastic prospect. The Wolverine really has the whole package. His speed is outstanding, employing a very nice tendency to get up and around the tackle to collapse the pocket. At the same time he’s more than capable of going through the line, driving the blocker into the quarterback. In addition, Paye makes very good reads and comprehends the game at a rate most players are incapable of. His arsenal of moves is expansive and unpredictable and his resiliency makes him a horror to block. Don’t be surprised if Paye is the first EDGE off the board.

4) Patrick Jones II, Pitt; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 260

Jones was one of the top prospects coming into the 2020 season and his performances for Pitt didn’t disappoint. Despite Pitt having a very good defensive front, Jones often saw double teams, though when he faced the cream of the crop offensive tackles, it wasn’t always necessary. Despite that, Jones has a ton of attributes that make him a lust-worthy prospect for NFL teams. Like many of the top players on this list he has the whole package in terms of athleticism. He gets a great push off the ball that helps him employ an effective bull rush and his speed and quickness make him a very good pursuer. Jones identifies the ball better than any player on this list and uses a very strong understanding of offense to position himself to blow up the play. His pass rush moves are technical and his awareness of the offensive line means that he’s going to get penetration more often than not. He does have a tendency to be stood up in the run and sometimes gets locked up with tackles in upfield speed moves, but Jones is still worthy of a first round evaluation.

5) Jaelan Phillips, Miami; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 266

In most years Jaelan Phillips would be one of the first couple names off the board in this position, but an extremely deep class in terms of quality and skill means that he’s not even the first player off the board from his school. Phillips is worth a first round pick but could be pushed to day two because of that situation, and if that happens he could be the steal of the draft. Phillips’ best qualities are in his speed and quickness, using them to pursue from behind for TFLs and slide through gaps for quick pressure. One of Phillips’ best moves is actually a swim move to the B gap that’s devastatingly effective when he gets off the ball quickly. His play diagnosis is quick and often correct which plays well with that speed and on one occasion, he was able to chase down Trevor Lawrence for a tackle. Phillips is a bit frustrating though because he doesn’t use his strength often enough. I found myself begging him to go through a tackle and not settle to try and bat down the ball. If he gains confidence in his power he’ll be exceptional at the next level.

6) Joseph Ossai, Texas; Ht: 6-4 Wt: 253

Ossai is another player that could easily go very high in a regular EDGE class, but will suffer due to 2021’s quality. I was initially suspect of Ossai because he wasn’t great to start games, but as time goes on and the offensive line tires, Ossai stays fresh and becomes a devastating player. His size means that he can be moved around by bigger tackles sometimes and the number of double teams he saw limited his stats, but he grew stronger and stronger with time. At first he was slow off the snap and almost looked clumsy dropping to coverage, but his top qualities eventually showed themselves. His arm strength is very impressive and his open field tackling is uncharacteristic for that position. His ball identification is top notch and his vision and pursuit make him a star. Right now his inconsistency will cost him, but if he can get under the right coach he could be one of the best players out of this entire draft. In current shape I don’t see him being good enough to run in a 3-4, but he’s more than capable of starting in a 4-3 with a strong system around him.

7) Jayson Oweh, Penn State; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 252

Oweh tops my second tier of edge rushers in this class and is excruciatingly close to being in that top tier of players. My main concern about Oweh is his lack of finishing. He excels at everything a pass rusher does outside of getting the quarterback to the ground. Of course teams draft traits over stats and Oweh checks the boxes, but at some point we need to see the product and Oweh was unable to give us a sack this season across seven games. The Penn State product is a very nice player, though. He has the ability to move tackles with his strength and his upper body power is marvelous. He gets a good drive and often a good push off the line, also getting upfield quickly and turning the tackle. Oweh contains well in the run which is a nice baseline asset, but he just struggles to finish plays. If he can put the final touches on his game he’ll be a stellar addition to the NFL.

8) Azeez Ojulari, Georgia; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 240

I often talk about Georgia as a team who employs the least suspect NFL plays in college football on defense, just because everyone is so good that they take the spotlight from each other. Azeez Ojulari is another one of those players who is destined to make an impact in the NFL. The Bulldog isn’t a massive player which is a slight concern, but he does just about everything extremely well. He checks the run stop box with a very nice contain with patient yet solid reads and a good pursuit. In terms of rushing the passer, he’s very fun to watch. He uses unreal quickness to find penetration, giving no indication of his move before employing it and getting into the pocket. Be it a swim, rip, or speed move upfield, he does everything well and with grace. He’s very strong and is actually something of a ball hawk, tracking the carrier and forcing four fumbles in 2020. Ojulari is extremely long and engages offensive linemen almost as a formality. There’s a ton of upside here and I’m excited to see him develop.

9) Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 276

Vanderbilt almost always seems to have a star player somewhere on the field that they manage to waste and Dayo Odeyingbo is the latest edition of that player. The player’s size is perfect for the NFL position and his uncoachables are great. His strength allows him to move linemen at will and even gain ground in a double team, something often reserved for defensive tackles. Odeyingbo also does a very good job of shedding his blocks to make a tackle, an underrated skill by many evaluators. In addition to his strength, Odeyingbo does an excellent job of making quick decisions and acting on them quickly. Be that shooting a gap, shedding and tackling, or even just containing, the Vandy product thinks and acts quickly. He’s average in terms of speed, probably lacking chase down wheels, but his other assets make up for that shortcoming.

10) Quincy Roche, Miami; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 245

While most teams won’t have an edge rusher drafted to the NFL this season, Miami will have three, Quincy Roche marking the third in my top ten rankings.Roche is a versatile player that was adept at dropping into coverage and spying running backs from the backfield and reads the passer very well from those positions. As his physicals indicate, Roche is more of a speed player than a power rusher and that shows, something struggling to move tackles and doing much better going around than through. Roche’s movement and speed are assets, doing a good job of exploiting smaller gaps in the line before they can be addressed and putting on fantastic speed moves that cause quick reactions to open up gaps for other defenders. I would like to see Roche get stronger so he can improve his run defense as well, but his contain is good enough that he can currently get by. If he can gain some mass and kick his habit of occasionally settling for an attempted bat of the ball, he’ll be golden.

11) William Bradley-King, Baylor; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 276

William Bradley-King was one of the stars of the great 2019 Baylor team that fell just short in the Big 12 who stuck around to play another year of football despite the scenery change. Bradley-King doesn’t have all the same physicals that we see on many of the top prospects, being a generally average athlete comparatively. He’s pretty fast, pretty strong, pretty quick, but not great in any specific area. He’s probably the “Pretty Good” king of this position and that will probably get him far. What separates the player from the crowd is his intelligence. Bradley-King processes the game very well and positions himself accordingly so he’s always influencing the play. The player’s base is very good and he uses it to occasionally move tackles and get a drive when engaged, but his bread and butter is outsmarting his opposition. He’s pretty good after first contact and hits hard, so I think there’s a good player who can make a difference in the NFL.

12) Jordan Smith, UAB; Ht: 6-7 Wt: 255

Jordan Smith will be a name that a lot of fans haven’t heard of before draft season thanks to his time spent at UAB, but he’s going to be a draft pick and one to be excited about. Smith has a really nice body to work for the position and good length to go with it. He reads the game very well and informed decisions that help him affect the game in a big way. His game and spatial awareness are excellent and he combines them with an uncommon defensive quality, slipperiness, to be a menace to blockers. Smith is very good at staying disengaged and reading the play from a distance, either forcing the blocker to wait for him and neglect his other linemen, or get out of position and chase the block. Either way, Smith is processing the game and is extremely tough to square up because he’s so good at staying just out of reach, causing linemen to lunge, get off balance, and ultimately miss him on his way to making a play. He has good moves, especially the spin, he can go inside or outside, and his strength and speed are adequate for the position. If used correctly Smith can be a very valuable player.

13) Joshua Kaindoh, FSU; Ht: 6-7 Wt: 265

Florida State’s Joshua Kaindoh flew under my radar for most of the season because I was avoiding watching Seminole football for my own mental health, but the defensive line wasn’t bad and Kaindoh helped make it so. Despite his size the player isn’t exceptionally strong and doesn’t do a great job at moving linemen, but that isn’t a huge issue. At the same time, his speed is pretty average and his effectiveness in the run isn’t great, and those things combined can start to cause problems, but there’s a lot more to his game than those issues. Kaindoh has very good play diagnosis and exceptional effort, something that may induce rolled eyes but does make a difference in his game. He prefers to rush upfield which means that most of the double teams he sees are a tight end/tackle combo and good effort can eventually break that down in an effective manner.Kaindoh reads the game, and especially the quarterback well, and is a bit of athletic improvement from being a really tough player to block.

14) Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 247

Ronnie Perkins heads my third tier of players in this draft, a group that I can see making some sort of impact this season, but only in a rotational way, definitely not ready to start. Perkins is an interesting player because he can make plays, but something generally has to go right for him to make them, either by his own design or a bit of luck. For instance, the player has good upfield speed but can only win that way if he gets a good punch off the snap, something he’s capable of doing. He can also push a tackle if he has the right leverage, but if he doesn’t it becomes much tougher. Perkins has good burst and balance and does well at getting pressure, just not at getting penetration. He’s really good at slipping into the B gap and getting penetration if it opens, but it often isn’t that easy. There’s a decent player in here, but I don’t love the upside.

15) Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina; Ht: 6-2 Wt: 260

Jackson, a bit like William Bradley-King and this year’s BYU crop, is a product of a very underrated team that made a huge splash for a single season. He wasn’t on many radars to start the season but an overall uptick in production from the team unearthed a very good player. His smaller frame with traditional weight makes Jackson a bit of a bowling ball, good at smashing holes and forcing gaps to open for teammates. He has very good hands and though he’s not always the perfect executioner, he makes the correct move most of the time. Jackson is very good in pass rush with a good motor and quick burst off the line, but I’m concerned about his potential against better opposition. I think there’s good upside here and that the player can step into an NFL rotation, I just have some qualms about a 16 week season against great players every game.

16) Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 250

Don’t worry, nobody will be overlooking the next Khalil Mack from Buffalo, but Malcolm Koonce is a very good player who will do the school’s lineage proud. He does everything well, to a degree that he should almost be ranked higher. He’s quick off the snap and maintains that quickness through the play, almost rushing in a jittery way that causes issues with lineman balance. He’s clearly strong and maintains that strength and high energy when he engages blocks, though his preferred move is a hesitation to draw the lineman before bursting upfield. He has strong arms, he can drop to flat zone coverage, he doesn’t get moved around by tackles, and he processes the game well, I just want to see more. At times it seems like the player lacks conviction, almost going through the motions. Other times I’m begging to see more depth in his game instead of the same routine over and over. The player is good in contain and was a difference maker for Buffalo, but I want to see more.

17) Cameron Sample, Tulane; Ht: 6-3 Wt: 280

Sample was the last edge rusher I scouted for this draft and he impressed me a lot. Not only did he impress me with his strength and speed and intelligence, but also with his versatility. Sample’s size makes him something of an “in-betweener” if you will. His height indicates he ought to be a tackle and his weight is in between positions for the defensive line, but he plays edge and plays it well. However Tulane was able to line Sample up all over the line and call a variety of looks in which he did well, something very useful for the modern NFL. In addition to that versatility he checks most of the boxes. He can push a tackle with his strength and get drive on all downs, plus he’s pretty quick to the backfield. He’s a smart player who has good reads and can make progress in a double team, but I want to see him make more tackles out of blocks. He needs to work on his shed and considering his upside is somewhat lacking, he’ll probably be a mid-Day 3 player.

18) Payton Turner, Houston; Ht: 6-6 Wt: 270

Houston’s Payton Turner is just another example of NFL upside being limited. While he was excellent in college and showed a lot of good assets, there was something to be said about the lack of production against better opposition and linemen in general. Turner is a very good athlete, good enough to play in the NFL, and employed a very good motor and general defending skills at Houston. He can play along the line with his ideal size and very good length and should have the ability to find a home in just about any scheme. His speed and swim move help him get through contact well and can either speed rush outside or push a tackle in the right scenario. However, I’ve written about some players in this draft who do everything pretty well but nothing great, players who just need to bring their overall level up a notch or two and that’s Turner. There’s decent upside if work is done, but it’s a bunch of work in a bunch of areas and that’s a concern.

19) Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 285

Boogie Basham had a very disappointing year all things considered. He was supposed to be one of the premier pass rushers in the ACC but ultimately struggled to live up to the hype after his Week 1 sack of Trevor Lawrence. I like the player’s effort and his closing speed was good evidence by the aforementioned sack against Clemson. Gus speed is excellent and he’s clearly a smart player, knowing what to do in every scenario, but he just can’t get it done, and that’s a huge red flag. I see the same thing in Mac Jones, where the player clearly knows the right move and attempts it, but occasionally just isn’t skilled enough to complete it. It’s imperative that Basham get stronger and it’s imperative that he changes his game. He’s built to dominate offensive lines but he’s getting washed out with consistency. There’s huge upside here with the right work, but the work hsa to be put in and the changes have to be made. Currently the player is an upside flyer.

20) Chauncey Golston, Iowa; Ht: 6-5 Wt: 270

I was also a bit disappointed with Goldston this season, but there weren’t nearly as high of expectations for the player as there were for Basham or others. Golston is another player with the perfect body but circumstantial skill sets. Some things he’s decent at and others he can’t find the right wave length. Under the right circumstances Golston is very capable of moving an offensive tackle, but the circumstances must be perfect. To me Golston is much too slow of a player right now and that carries over to his moves. They’re decent fundamentally but sometimes seem like they’re moving at half speed. His bull rush is decent and he’s clearly thinking quick enough for the NFL, he just needs his body to catch up.

Other Draft Material

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Mock Draft 3.0: All Offense
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