In his preview of the 2017 NFL Draft EDGE defender class, Jon Ledyard examines the redshirt seniors available to NFL teams. The first in a five part series, Jon looks at EDGE players who can set the edge, rush the passer, and defend the run.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be producing five articles highlighting around 45 draft-eligible edge defenders for the 2017 NFL Draft. They’ll be divided up by class, beginning with redshirt seniors, then true seniors, redshirt juniors, true juniors, and finally ending with a few redshirt sophomores that could potentially declare early. I’ll look at each player’s skill set, current collegiate usage and best potential NFL fit in these pieces, as well as discuss strengths and weaknesses based on the tape study I’ve done so far. There will be much more to come on each of these prospects when draft season rolls around, including individual scouting reports that will feature video work on every edge on this list. But for now, here’s my preliminary analysis of the redshirt senior class of edge defenders that I’m currently watching.
Devonte Fields – Louisville – RS Senior – 6-3 – 242 – 23 (age on draft day)
As a pure pass rusher, Fields is unquestionably the best player on this list based on the tape study I’ve done so far, both in natural ability and in refinement. The fifth-year senior recognizes counter move opportunities consistently, often using one rush to set up another. Fields’ hands are active at the top of the arc, and he’s smooth enough on his feet to maneuver to an inside rush lane when he catches his opponent oversetting. There’s enough bend to Fields to threaten the edge and open up a bevy of other options for him as a pass rusher, which he utilized consistently against Florida State’s left tackle Roderick Johnson the past two seasons.
Fields isn’t without his issues, however, both on and off the field. He landed at Louisville after being kicked out of TCU for accusations of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening her with a gun. Fields spent a year at Trinity Valley Community College, before returning to the D-I arena with the Cardinals in 2015 for a 10.5-sack season.
On the field, Fields isn’t particularly twitchy off the ball, and his short strides up the arc allow opposing offensive tackles to build their house comfortably before engaging the defender. He plays methodically at times, and as of now I cannot determine whether this is due to a lack of effort or a failure to quickly diagnose. I’d really like to see him convert speed-to-power more often, but his game appears more finesse than physical right now. I’m comfortable projecting Fields as a standup 3-4 outside linebacker, but I don’t think playing 4-3 defensive end is entirely out of the question either.
Vince Biegel – Wisconsin – RS Senior – 6-4 – 245 – 22
An aggressive edge defender with a stout frame and good hands, Biegel suffered a foot injury during his true freshman season, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. The outside linebacker then bypassed the draft to return to Wisconsin for a fifth season, only to break his foot just four games into the season. A team captain and 32-game starter, Biegel could still return to the Badgers lineup this season, but he’ll be unlikely to trump his current season-high sack mark of 5.5 from the 2014 season.
Biegel is at his best setting the edge against the run, where his understanding of hand placement and leverage serve him well at holding the point of attack. He may not be an elite athlete, but Biegel has a quick first step and can be disruptive when he incorporates his hands to clear blocks and get into the backfield unhindered.
Unfortunately, Biegel can also work himself out of plays by taking terrible angles to the football, or abandoning his gap responsibility too soon in a race to the ball carrier. As a pass rusher, Biegel has had plenty of opportunities to add to his 12 career sacks, but he’s floundered several away with reckless angles that left him unable to finish plays. I’ve seen enough burst and power to be intrigued by his potential as a standup 3-4 edge rusher, but Biegel’s bend and flexibility will be big question marks moving forward. The foot injuries are also troubling, and will have teams looking closely at his health during the pre-draft process.
Josh Carraway – TCU – RS Senior – 6-3 – 250 – N/A
Carraway isn’t given many ball reads based on the tape I watched of him, and his best position at the next level may actually be 3-4 outside linebacker rather than defensive end. He works frequently from a two- and three-point stance, often content or simply charged with containing the pocket rather than aggressively getting after the quarterback. Still, Carraway has managed to produce, with 13 sacks coming in his last 18 games. I don’t think he’s the most twitched-up edge rusher, but Carraway has some bend and athleticism that make him intriguing despite his rawness. If he doesn’t win the edge cleanly, Carraway looks lost, suggesting that he’ll need plenty of work on his hands and counter moves at the next level.
As a run defender Carraway uses his length well to keep blockers off his frame, managing to stay clean and keep active feet to the ball. He rarely gets caught watching the paint dry, instead actively seeking out a way to be involved in each play, while also playing very assignment-sound football. Carraway plays with a controlled aggression, but he lacks true power in 1-on-1 situations against blockers, and needs to finish more consistently as a tackler.
Jamal Marcus – Akron – RS Senior – 6-1 – 240 – N/A
An Ohio State transfer who was once believed to have a bright future in college football, Marcus recently saw his collegiate career come to an end due to an undisclosed season-ending injury. He was solid at Akron, but underwhelming as a pass rusher considering his pedigree as a heralded high school recruit. Marcus rarely has a plan of attack coming off the edge, and doesn’t show a lot of variety or creativity in his rushes. His hands are underdeveloped, and he isn’t the type of elite athlete to win the edge with regularity. Marcus moves well and has decent speed-to-power conversion, a move I could see becoming his signature rush given his ideal frame and built-in leverage at just 6-1.
Against the run he played in a defense that asked him to slant gaps a lot, and he played his role well thanks to quick feet and good hand placement, allowing him to keep blockers from engulfing his frame. I think he’s probably heavier than 240, and looks more like a defensive end than an outside linebacker. Marcus surrendered the edge a little too often for my liking on tape, but his technique and play strength appear to be up to par. Marcus definitely picks and chooses his moments at times however, often giving minimal effort if the play is away from him. The fifth-year senior is plagued by the same tendencies as a pass rusher, often passively sitting on blocks due to either a lack of stamina or a lack of an attack plan. I think the NFL can have a good impact on Marcus’ game, but he doesn’t look like an early contributor, especially if his injury is as significant as it seems.
Bryan Cox – Florida – RS Senior – 6-3 – 260 – N/A
Cox’s father played 12 years in the NFL at linebacker with five different teams, paving the way for his son’s arrival onto the professional scene. The legacy is mainly held back by his lack of elite athleticism, as the fifth-year senior plays with a strong motor and desirable physicality. He’s tough at the point of attack, firing his hands inside his opponent’s frame and maintaining good eye level to quickly locate and pursue the football.
Cox reminds me a good bit of Markus Golden, as the two are similarly sized players who will need to win with power and hand usage due to their lack of agility and flexibility as athletes. Golden might be a little more developed as a pass rusher, but Cox’s hands aren’t bad, and his NFL-ready frame might feature a little more length than Golden’s. I like the Florida Gator because of his high-effort and passionate demeanor on the field, but he probably needs to be in a 4-3 alignment in the NFL to maximize his burst off the ball.
Deatrich Wise – Arkansas – RS Senior – 6-5 – 260 – 22
I’ll be curious to see what Wise weighs in at, as the redshirt senior has been listed as high as 275 pounds on some sites. He’s a pure speed-to-power guy, which actually works quite well despite his height. Wise possesses many enticing tools, including long strides up the arc and vines for arms that help him win first contact with regularity. He’s strong and plays with better leverage than you’d expect for a guy that is typically as tall or taller than his opponent.
I like his physical nature to bring the fight to opposing linemen, but Wise can struggle to get off blocks cleanly if he loses the early battle. His hands lack intricacy and detail, especially as a pass rusher, and I’m not sure if he’s quick enough to take advantage of inside rush lanes on counter moves. Wise will probably never be a speed rusher who threatens the edge much, so the development of his hands and other rush moves becomes very important. He plays with such natural knee bend for a taller defender that I think he’ll be a solid run stopper in time, but the pre-draft questions surrounding Wise will probably revolve around what his ceiling is as a pass rusher, and what alignment/position is best suited for his skill set.
Ryan Anderson – Alabama – RS Senior – 6-2 – 253 – N/A
A physical, aggressive edge defender with a lot of heart and soul to his play, Anderson has played in every Alabama game since his redshirt freshman year in 2013, albeit as part of a steady rotation up front. Anderson’s numbers aren’t overwhelmingly impressive due to his limited snaps, but 29.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks aren’t exactly shabby either. Anderson lacks the length and frame of a typical edge defender, but offers good play strength and hand technique for the position. He’s rarely pushed around and can get off blocks well, but lacks the range to have a large area of impact. Anderson can be overaggressive to step inside, giving up the edge on occasion as a result. Overall he’s a smart defender and sure tackler against the run however, making his presence felt in that area more than anywhere else for Alabama.
I was underwhelmed by Anderson as a pass rusher, largely due to his lack of flexibility around the edge. He’s tight as a board, and not particularly explosive off the ball either. Combine these weaknesses with his short strides up the arc, and Anderson struggles to threaten the edge consistently, even against slower-footed offensive tackles. Despite his lack of length, he’s best as a speed-to-power guy, using his built-in leverage to get under opponents and compress the pocket. Anderson’s hands are very active and can occasionally take advantage of an inexperienced offensive lineman, but he’s not threatening enough as a pass rusher for me to get excited about him in that role at the next level. Anderson’s ceiling doesn’t appear particularly high, and I believe some teams will want him to lose weight (his frame could use some tightening up) and play off-the-ball. I have doubts about his quickness and ability to play in space however, making Anderson’s NFL projection an uncertain one at this time.
Ejuan Price – Pittsburgh – RS Senior – 5-11 – 250 – 24
Price’s size will get him compared to Elvis Dumervil, and his playing style to James Harrison, but his ceiling is likely a good bit lower than both of those aging stars. He loves the dip and rip move around the edge, a natural choice for a signature rush given his stature and powerful frame. Price has some counter moves as well, and while he isn’t the most flexible defensive end, taller offensive tackles have a heck of a time finding surface area to target on his stocky frame.
Of course, Price’s lack of length is a detriment to him at times as well, particularly in the run game and when using bull rushes as a pass rusher. Blockers can typically counter his punch by getting into Price’s frame and slowing his approach with their superior length, catching the Pitt defender in too many stalemates. Because Price isn’t especially explosive off the line either, he lacks significant pop when attempting to bull rush his opponent. I still think he has intriguing ability as a pass rusher, but he’s undersized for a 4-3 defensive end, and I’m not sure how he’ll perform out of a two-point stance.
Price’s age will also be an issue, as the sixth-year senior will be 24 in January. His career arc has been incredibly bizarre at Pitt, as he played in every game as a true freshman in 2011, but appeared in just six over the next three seasons, including missing the entire 2012 and 2014 campaigns with pectoral injuries. 2013 saw him suffer a season-ending back injury halfway through the year, but Price rebounded in 2015 to record 19.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks in a dominant showing. He currently leads the nation in sacks with nine in just seven games, so it will be interesting to see how NFL teams weigh his recent production against his size, age and injury history during the pre-draft process.
Hunter Dimick – Utah – RS Senior – 6-3 – 272 – 23
Is he truly an edge? Dimick has had some productive games for Utah over his tenure there, but he’s significantly lacking in length and athleticism. You can’t deny that he is a powerful guy, but I don’t see enough quickness or flexibility to ever threaten the edge in the NFL. Maybe he’s a rotational interior rusher? Dimick looks like the type of limited player that will have a hard time carving out a role in the NFL unless he can change his body (lose weight) or blow scouts away during pre-draft workouts.
Ifeadi Odenigbo – Northwestern – RS Senior – 6-3 – 250 – N/A
Odenigbo is really tight in the hips, and his first step is among the slowest on this list. That said, when his hand placement is on point, he can absolutely generate power as a rusher off the edge. His four-sack game against Iowa had some impressive moments, and I need to see more of Odenigbo to really study his hands, but I would guess from his game tape that he’ll test like a below average athlete at the position. Northwestern is using him more this season however, and Odenigbo has done enough on tape to have me interested in studying him to see if he can develop a signature move in the NFL.
Ken Ekanem – Virginia Tech – RS Senior – 6-3 – 255 – N/A
Ekanem is one of the more intriguing edges on this list to me, but I really need to see more of his tape before I feel confident in my assessment of his skill set. Virginia Tech moves him around their defensive front a good bit, playing him on both sides of the line and sometimes as a 3 or 4 technique as well (remember Dadi Nicolas’ usage last year?). He’s not often tasked with ball reads, instead keying on the line’s movement off the snap, making his burst difficult to evaluate.
When Ekanem is allowed to fire off the ball, he really flashes as a pass rusher, showing quickness and the ability to attack the edge. I think he’s a solid athlete, but I need to see more pass rush opportunities to learn just how flexible he is at the top of the arc. Just from watching him move in space, there’s a chance he might be able to play standing up as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, which he had some experience with at Virginia Tech. Ekanem is almost certainly raw in his hand usage and recognition of counter move opportunities, but his ceiling might be sneaky high if he can land in a good situation.