Draft 2020: EDGE
On to Defensive Ends! I thought I’d save this as a little treat. The Defensive End crop this year is very good, with 1 name that stands above everyone else…
Chase Young – Ohio State
There is no doubt that Chase Young is a generational college superstar and everything that I write here has been written a million times, so let’s get that out the way. Chase Young jumps off the screen. If you were to close your eyes and open them after the snap, you’d know where he was immediately. Single, double and triple teaming aren’t going to guarantee that you can stop him. Force him outside, he’ll win with speed and an almost horizontal bend, force him inside he’ll beat you with quick hands, power and a variety of moves.
When I watch Chase Young I see Khalil Mack. As a Bears fan I get to watch Mack a lot, one of the few joys we have. Mack will win match ups across the line and occasionally drop back into coverage, to keep teams guessing where the rush is coming from. Young did that, but was in my opinion better at it.
However no one really cares how well Young can cover a college Tight End, Chase Young is a physical phenom. As long as he stays healthy and teamed up with the right coach there is no reason why he won’t get better in the NFL…
So lets drop a potential negative in there. There are reasons why it won’t work. For every Khalil Mack there is a Vernon Gholston. Gholston drew comparisons to the likes of Dwight Freeney amongst other physical pass rushers.Vernon Gholston did not go on to have the storied career that Freeney had. Gholston maybe was a touch more raw than Chase Young, but he was a DE that relied heavily on his physical attributes.
Washington, if he’s there at 2, don’t let the above paragraph from stopping you taking Chase Young however. At 2 he’s the right player to turn a good defensive line in to a great one, but if there is a trade for a barrel of high picks, maybe look into what else you could improve.
I’ll end on a positive. Chase Young is the best player I’ve watched so far and I don’t believe it’s that close. This one was really easy. I’m sure all Edge prospects are going to be like this…
K’Lavon Chaisson – LSU
I remember watching Rashan Gary play last year and it being incredibly frustrating. Seeing a man built like Superman, with all the tools, but just an inability to put it all to good use. Enter K’Lavon Chaisson, who is very different from Gary, but gives me similar pause for thought.
I’ll start by saying there is a very good chance that with the right coaching on the right scheme that Chaisson could come in and blow the doors off an existing pass rush. The physical tools are there. He’s long and he’s athletic. He can drop into coverage and can rush the passer through the interior. He knows where the ball is most of the time and seemingly teleports behind the line on speed rush moves.
I try not to watch highlight tapes when doing this, because I don’t think it gives a realistic expectation of the player, but I wanted to see his best plays. It is staggeringly good. Some key things I noticed. He might be one of best player off stunts in the draft this year, absolute lightning working his way through the interior from the outside. Also when he drops into coverage, it’s not a disguise, he is a genuine difference maker.
When watching him on some of the tape however, there are some red flags. For starters, considering his physical attributes, he gets bullied a fair amount. Poor hand technique and leverage mean he can get moved out the way, knocked off-balance and in general struggle to get to the QB regularly or push the pocket. I generally say that if you want an Edge player that gets to the QB, the most important fact is that… well he gets to the QB, whether that’s from being excellent at one particular move, or employing a variety of moves to get there. I’ve now watched a lot of Chaisson and he doesn’t get there as much as I’d like. Now this is on the LSU defence which is loaded, but still it’s not like he’s not fast enough to get there before the other guys.
I do think it could come together for Chaisson though, I just think he needs to go to the right team. Teams that run a load of stunts with a physically more stocky rusher on the other side could definitely find a use for him. Also his ability to drop back into coverage will be intriguing for some coaches out there that like to disguise their pass rushes. I saw Daniel Jeremiah had him going to the Cowboys, which might be a nice fit opposite Lawrence. Also the Falcons looks like a good fit, if not for their patchy first round pass rusher record (and I do think Chaisson goes in the first). Grady Jarrett can open up holes for a player like Chaisson to make plays.
If it all comes together, K’Lavon Chaisson could be worth a first round pick. There are some similarities to past players that mean that teams need to really do their homework before bringing him in.
AJ Epenesa – Iowa
If Chaisson would benefit from a more powerful edge player on the other side, Epenesa would fit that bill nicely… also, he’s a lot of fun to watch. For starters he’s incredibly violent from the get go and moves tackles in a way that looks like he’s trying to start a fight. Because of this he demands double teams, otherwise he’ll consistently collapse pockets. Thinking about it, I don’t recall many plays where he isn’t actively moving the tackle back in 1 on 1 matchups.
Epenesa won’t win on a wide outside rush, but will instead choose to hit the lineman head on and shed the tackle that way, which for the most part worked. When needed to, he can shed blocks to make plays on the QB or hitting the Running Back in the backfield.
Do I think that a lack of a speed rush will be a problem? Not really. Anyone drafting him shouldn’t be expecting that. In an ideal situation, I’d like to see him teamed up with a speedster and keep the o-line guessing. A team like the Jets who generated some pass rush from Adams, could benefit having an outside guy who moves tackles. In the Gents Mock draft, he was picked up by the Patriots which could be an excellent fit in scheme that uses versatile Linebackers as Pass Rushers.
There are some concerns however. In an NFL that makes so many plays outside the pocket, how relevant is an Edge player that collapses the pocket, so it might not work against every team. Potentially, Epenesa could move inside, generate pass rush as a DE on a 3 man front and in sub-packages on pass rushing snaps. The concern would be (and we’re saying it in pretty much every piece) that he is a little light to play on the IDL. Lighter players on the interior have had mixed results, which implies that whilst having bulk is important, if he can collapse a pocket, perhaps it doesn’t matter. I asked friend-of-the-pod and ex-Philadelphia and Iowa Offensive Lineman, Julian Vandervelde, how he’d describe him when watching him. He said “some people look good on paper but struggle when you pad them up and hit them in the mouth. You can gripe about his combine numbers, but check the tape. He’s a football player and he will kick your ass on the field”. That last sentence rings particularly true when you watch him play.
Yetur Gross-Matos – Penn State
Gross- Matos strikes me as another player where you can see the physical traits are insane, but it’s not really come together.
Repeatedly you see Gross-Matos win hand fights flinging Tackles out-of-the-way, but the next step seems to be a struggle, whether it’s a bad angle or an inability to wrap up the QB, the hard work he’s initially put in to moving the offensive tackle just doesn’t seem to pay off.
There’s not a ton of moves in his arsenal either, which could be a concern. I’m the biggest believer in “it doesn’t matter how he gets there as long as he can get there”, but if a player’s primary move is to overpower the Tackle, this becomes a different matter in the NFL, where he’ll be going up against, faster, stronger and more experienced Offensive Linemen, who will have seen what is a very impressive counter, but probably be ready for it.
The simple fact is though the physical tools are there, so combined with the right defensive coach, Gross-Matos stands a pretty good chance of being one of the better Edge players on this list, however the list of potential questions above, will need to be answered if he is to take the next step.
Zack Baun – Wisconsin
Zack Baun is a really interesting player, that reminds me of a number of players that could have been drafted by a number of different teams to play a number of different positions. Most recently there was the controversy that had Anthony Barr stayed in New York, Greg Williams had planned to play him as an Edge Rusher (he then went on to line up Jamal Adams as on the edge, which to his credit got some results). Baun presents a number of possibilities to a number of teams that would be interested in him.
So Baun makes my list as an Edge Rusher, although the critics of him playing outside might argue that he’s a little on the light side to play as a pure edge player, but I don’t worry about that too much, as long as a team puts him next a bigger space eater.
Baun can also play as a more traditional in the box linebacker with some solid open field tackling skills. With speed and apparent football IQ, he can make plays sideline to sideline.
The fact is that wherever he lands, he will most likely be a solid player. The size could be a problem and the lack of experience on the Edge will mean he’s probably not a centrepiece player. What he is though is a potential every down linebacker and teamed up with the right Coaches, he could be very effective.
Curtis Weaver – Boise State.
There’s a lot to like about Curtis Weaver, but it involves taking a step away from traditional College Evaluation. Consistency is the key trait to what you like when watching Weaver. In 3 years he picked up 34 Sacks and 47.5 tackles for loss. Each year he improved his tackles for loss number. He is a productive player that shows up on the stats.
What not to like then? Well he’s not a freakish athlete. Strong yes, but doesn’t show great burst after the initial hit. Also his critics would remind you that he racked up a ton of solid stats against less-than-great competition. However, you can only beat the players you go up against.
My thoughts on Weaver are this. I don’t think he’s a franchise Edge player, but I would love to see him teamed up with one. He’s not going to challenge for the sack record, but I do think he’ll probably stay as a consistent threat in the NFL.
Some scouts might not give him a second look, but for a team that’s after a mid-round producer, Curtis Weaver could be the guy for them.
Julian Okwara – Notre Dame
I’m a big fan of Julian Okwara. Yes he’s not got what would be considered “ideal NFL size at the position” (although he has put on weight, now weighing in at over 250lbs), but he has an insane amount of burst. He plays like he’s been shot out of a cannon, with little to slow him down getting to the QB.
What I like about him, aside from his crazy speed, is his nose for the ball. Rarely do you see him get railroaded the wrong way, whether on pass or run play, he manages to find his way to the ball.
The weight might be a concern for teams, but as previously mentioned, he has put on weight and his brother Romeo was in a very similar situation when heading to the NFL.
Okwara won’t be a fit for every team, but if a team needs a lightning quick, pounding Edge player, with potential to move back into coverage, there are a lot worse fits.
Potentially a great fit for teams like the Jets or Ravens who have shown they can use versatile, more agile edge rushers. Particularly the Ravens, teamed up with a player like Campbell could be devastating.
Terrell Lewis – Alabama
Injury history could put teams off drafting Lewis, after missing the entire 2018 to a torn ACL amongst a number of other injuries. However when he’s on the field he is immediately noticeable.
Against LSU Lewis was unreal, using speed and power to get behind the line and cause problems, beating tackles on the outside and in. When he wasn’t immediately affecting the game, he was making the way for the rest of the line.
In general your eyes are drawn to Lewis on the field, even if there are a few refinement issues. If he can stay healthy Lewis can become a difference making pass rusher.
Josh Uche – Michigan
It seems that this is the draft for undersized explosive Edge Rushers. Uche is another smaller Edge player, but has speed to burn ( see game against Penn State where he keeps up with KJ Hamler to make a play in coverage). Uche uses his speed to confuse linemen, whilst being happy to take a wider angle to get to the QB.
There is a feast of “tweener” Edge players in this years draft. Uche’s ability in coverage as well as his speed off the Edge, make him a great fit for a number of the teams that are trying to emulate what the Pats or Ravens are trying to do. It’s a good year to change your defensive scheme.
Marlon Davidson – Auburn
If you’re bored with the undersized speedsters off the Edge, Davidson should be a welcome break. At over 300 lbs, Marlon Davidson can play 4-3 or 3-4 Defensive End as well as Edge Rusher in Sub Packages.
For me Davidson won’t set the world on fire but would be a nice jigsaw piece for an already established D-line. Davidson could be a solid, if not explosive player that can come into a team and play every down.
Darrell Taylor – Tennessee
It feels like Taylor is kinda stuck in limbo. Taylor can move tackles, but struggles to push past that, but is possibly too small to move inside and do the same against interior linemen as well as double teams.
It feels like Taylor might be best suited in sub package pass rush situations, as well as potentially as a base 3-4 defensive end. Regardless he needs to work on explosiveness off tackles as well as in-game awareness (RPO’s and Play Action could be a problem).
That being said his general athleticism will be appealing for some coaches.
Phew! That was longer than I intended, so thanks for sticking with it. Let us know what you think about all of these so far, if you have any thoughts hit us up on twitter (@gridirongents). Next up. James goes in deep with the Receivers.