2021 NFL Draft: Edge Rusher Big Board

nfl draft edge rusher

Continuing with the positional big board series, today we look at the edge rusher position. This group combines guys who will be lining up at 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Unlike recent years, this group does not possess the “can’t miss” edge rushing prospect. Instead, it features a bunch of guys with great athletic profiles who will need to be placed in the right schemes to succeed. With so many different body types, there are going to be vastly different opinions on this edge group and probably some surprises with where guys are drafted.

Edge Rusher Big Board

1) Azeez Ojulari – Georgia

2) Kwity Paye – Michigan

3) Ronnie Perkins – Oklahoma

4) Jaelan Phillips – Miami

5) Carlos Basham Jr. – Wake Forest

6) Jayson Oweh – Penn State

7) Joseph Ossai – Texas

8) Gregory Rousseau – Miami

9) Elerson Smith – Northern Iowa

10) Quincy Roche – Miami

11) Joe Tryon – Washington

12) Patrick Jones – Pitt

13) Payton Turner – Houston

14) Daelin Hayes – Notre Dame

15) Patrick Johnson – Tulane

16) Hamilcar Rashed Jr. – Oregon State

17) Dayo Odeyingbo – Vanderbilt

18) Rashad Weaver – Pitt

19) Jordan Smith – UAB

20) Jonathon Cooper – Ohio State

21) Chauncey Golston – Iowa

22) Shaka Toney - Penn State

23) Victor Dimukeje – Duke

24) Chris Rumph II – Duke

25) Tarron Jackson – Costal Carolina

26) Adetokunbo Ogundeji – Notre Dame

27) Wyatt Hubert – Kansas State

28) Joshua Kaindoh – Florida State

29) Janarius Robinson – Florida State

30) Chris Garrett – Concordia

31) William Bradley-King – Baylor

32) Malcolm Koonce – Buffalo

33) JaQuan Bailey – Iowa State

34) Alani Pututau – Adams State

35) Eli Howard – Texas Tech

Guys To Watch

RB-1: Azeez Ojulari – Georgia

Azeez Ojulari comes in at edge rusher No. 1 ready to rush the passer immediately in the NFL. Likely destined for stand-up role at the next level, Ojulari fires off the ball with an explosive first step and consistently plays with good balance and body control. His go-to move as a pass rusher is a cross chop he uses with deadly effect in combination with his speed. Ojulari also shows the ability to convert speed to power at a high level. In the run game, he plays with a surprisingly strong anchor given his size and uses his speed to chase down backs who try to bounce the run outside. The area of his game that needs work is dropping into space, but smart teams are not drafting Ojulari to drop into pass coverage very often. He is good enough in the run game to be a three-down starter immediately and should hear his name called somewhere on Day 1 of the draft.

High Guy: Elerson Smith – Northern Iowa

Before getting into Elerson Smith, let’s give a shootout to Northern Iowa who will have three guys drafted this year with Smith, Spencer Brown and Briley Moore (grad transferred to Kansas State). Smith is an exciting prospect with a ton of length who showed up to the Senior Bowl measuring in at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds. He looked explosive and strong in both individual and team drills while in Mobile. Smith has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or as a stand-up rusher with tremendous first step quickness and length to both rush the passer and affect throwing lanes when he does not get home on his initial rush. Adding more functional strength is going to be a priority for Smith wherever he ends up. However, at the Senior Bowl he still looked quick and agile at 260 pounds and significantly stronger than what he displayed on his 2019 tape. Smith is top 100 player who could sneak into the second round thanks to his athletic upside and scheme versatility.

Low Guy: Jaelan Phillips – Miami

From a pure tape perspective, Jaelan Phillips has some of the best 2020 tape out there and could very well turn into the best edge rusher in this group. Phillips has a great build with excellent size, length and an explosive first step off the snap. He uses his hands well and has several moves in his pass rush arsenal to pressure and sack the quarterback. As a run defender, he sets the edge well and shows the ability to get off blocks and make plays on the ball carrier when attacked. In short, he is a great athlete but has a high boom or bust potential with several red flags including injury history and one season of great tape. Phillips once retired from football due to concussion concerns, which will remain an issue at the NFL level. Additionally, Phillips had the luxury of playing exclusively on the left side of line and rarely went up against top level competition and left tackles. The talent in the NFL will be a significant step up for him and that combined with a lengthy injury history led to a slide down the board for Phillips.

My Guy: Joseph Ossai – Texas

Joseph Ossai might be the most aggressive and relentless player in the entire draft class. A phenomenal athlete, Ossai is technically an edge rusher but will likely thrive as a pass rushing specialist who can be used up and down the line of scrimmage. He explodes out of his stance and shows a lot of strength in his hands to fight through blocks. As a run defender, he has great reactive athleticism and is an excellent pursuit player. Ossai is raw with his pass rush plan and won a lot with pure athleticism, but that only enhances his ceiling of what he could be at the next level. His effort and speed will get him on the field early in his career and with some coaching, he could turn into a really fun player in the league.

Sleeper: Patrick Johnson – Tulane

Traits are extremely important for a player’s projection into the NFL, but production also counts in the evaluation process. Johnson has been one of college football’s biggest pass rushing producers over the past few seasons with 40 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks in his college career. His biggest asset is foot quickness, which he uses in a variety of ways including a straight speed rush around the edge and an awesome spin move to counter over-setting linemen. He also shows nice hand use but will have to continue to add strength and improve in that area to combat his lack of length. As a run defender, he is solid but will struggle with double teams if attacked directly. Johnson will get his shot at the next level to be a pass rushing specialist and could have Leonard Floyd-like upside thanks to his speed and mobility on the edge.

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics