The most important position in football is the quarterback. That makes the second most important position the player who can stop the quarterback. The easiest way to stop a quarterback is tackling him before he even throws the football, and that is the chief job for an edge rusher.
Last year’s class of edge prospects was considered to be an elite grouping of talent filled with multiple first-round picks. Nick Bosa went number two overall, Clein Ferrell went number four, Josh Allen went number seven, Rashan Gary went number twelve, Brian Burns went number sixteen, Montez Sweat went number Twenty-Six, and LJ Collier went number Twenty-Nine. If you weren’t counting that was seven edge rushers selected in just the first 32 picks.
Typically, when you have a class with that much firepower there is a drop off the next year in talent. While there might be a slight drop off in the 2020 class, this is still a good class with a lot of talented players.
As always, any comments or questions feel free to hit me up on Twitter @DanteCollinelli.
Chase Young, Junior, Ohio State
Ohio State is on an unfair run of great pass rushers in recent years. First, it was Joey Bosa who was selected number three overall in 2016. Second, was the aforementioned Nick Bosa who was selected second in 2019. Third, is Chase Young who coming into his junior season, in 2020, has a chance to be another top-three pick from the Buckeyes. Young has fantastic speed and power around the edge combined with natural size and athleticism. He can bench press tackles off his chest and beat them around the outside by dipping his shoulder. Young’s hand usage is pretty far along as I saw him work a couple of pass rush counters on tape. Young isn’t just an elite pass rusher, but also, a great run defender. He sets a hard edge rarely letting running backs get to the outside. He has the quickness to shoot gaps against the running game and a nice swim move to blow by tackles and get into the backfield. Young will top a lot of people’s boards as one of the best players in the country, and I am totally on the hype train going into the season.
AJ Epenesa, Junior, Iowa
AJ Epenesa was the best back up player in all of college football last season. I can’t think of any on the field reasons he should have been a backup, and I haven’t heard anything bad about him off the field so, to say the least, I was confused. Let’s start with the obvious with Epenesa. He’s a big kid! Iowa has him listed at 6’6 and 280 which explains his great upper and lower body strength. All of that strength leads to a really effective bull rush which shows up all over his tape. That was the part of Epenesa’s game I was expecting to like. What surprised me was how well he moves and bends for such a big player. There are a couple of reps where he really dips his shoulder and bends his hips allowing him to turn the corner and sack the quarterback. For a player, his size and weight to be able to do those things consistently is super impressive. His first step off the line is explosive and puts a lot of pressure on tackles right away. As a run defender, Epenesa does a good job setting the edge and shooting gaps to make TFLs. The only thing that separated Young from Epenesa is that Young looked like much better of a mover in space. Epenesa is a really technically sound player and definitely in the conversation for Edge 1 heading into the season.
Yetur Gross-Matos, Junior, Penn State
In 2018 Gross-Matos became just the 11th player in Penn State history to record at least 20.0 TFLs in a season and the first since 2008. Gross-Matos immediately stands out on tape with his natural length and size. He does a good job using that length to keep tackles off his chest plate and control reps. His impact in the running game is immediate. He does a great job shooting gaps and swim moving over tackles to get free releases into the backfield. Gross-Matos’s long arms give him a huge tackle radius, so it’s rare for him to miss a tackle once he gets back there. Gross-Matos flashed the ability to bend the edge quite well which is why I have him ranked so high. My number one trait for edge players is bend and Gross-Matos showed enough flashes of it to convince me he has it. With that said, I would love to see a better pass rush plan from Gross-Matos and more consistent bend around the outside. All of the physical tools are there for him to be a first-round pick in April he just needs to put it all together.
Julian Okwara, Junior, Notre Dame
Julian Okwara is looking to become the second Okwara in the NFL. His brother, Romeo, was an undrafted free agent in 2016 who has stuck on the Detriot Lions roster. As far as Julian is concerned he’s got a lot of appealing physical traits right now. His natural length and burst off the edge are both evident in spades. His bend definitely flashes on tape with a great example on the first play on the thread below. The last play on the thread shows off his long arm bull rush that puts tackles on their heels quite often. Okwara’s first step isn’t overly great as sometimes he can be late off the ball. Once he gets going though, that second and third step really covers a lot of ground. He gets on top of tackles quickly and comes in with a lot of built-up steam. There are two things really bother me with Okwara. One, being that his anchor in the run game is a little weak for my liking. He gets pushed off the ball and way down the field on too many occasions. Second, is that he doesn’t finish enough plays with sacks. If he got off the ball quicker and had slightly better hand usage then I think he would have way more production. The message I am trying to get across is that Okwara has all the unteachable skills as a pass rusher but needs to become more technically refined to reach his full potential.
Curtis Weaver, RS Junior, Boise State
Having a Bosie State edge rusher at number five is probably surprising to some people, but Weaver is a really fun prospect. He does an amazing job attacking the inside shoulder of offense lineman giving him a quick and easy advantage. His ability to win with inside pass-rushing moves like swims and swipes is super consistent. It also allows him to be an elite penetrator in the run game frequently getting into the backfield for TFLs. My big hang-up on Weaver was whether or not he could win with bend on the outside of tackles. It doesn’t show up 100% of the time but there is a good amount of reps of Weaver dipping his shoulder and cornering to the quarterback. Once I saw that I knew that I had the potential of a good inside-outside rusher on my hands. Weaver is limited as an athlete compared to some of the players I have ranked ahead of him. He doesn’t look overly smooth in space, and I didn’t see great burst from him consistently. Weaver strikes me as a high floor player with the ability to win on the inside and on the outside of opposing offensive tackles. If Weaver can show even more bend around the edge this season than we might be cooking with grease when the draft rolls around.
Number 6: Jabari Zuniga, RS Senior, Florida
Number 7: Alton Robinson, Senior, Syracuse
Number 8: Anfernee Jennings, RS Senior, Alabama
Number 9: Kenny Willikes, Senior, Michigan State
Number 10: Bradlee Anae, Senior, Utah
Number 11: Darell Taylor, Senior, Tennessee
Number 12: Quincy Roche, RS Junior, Temple
Number 13: Jonathan Garvin, Junior, Miami
Players I need to see more of to feel comfortable ranking them:
Number 1: Mike Danna, Grad Transfer, Michigan
Number 2: Terrell Lewis, RS Junior, Alabama
Number 3: K’Lavion Chaisson, RS Sophomore, LSU