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2021 NFL Draft check-in: potential Chiefs targets at EDGE

A look ahead to the 2021 NFL Draft with a peek at some top EDGE prospects.

Central Michigan v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Here’s another of Arrowhead Pride’s weekly college football check-ins specifically designed for our NFL Draft enthusiasts, continuing to focus on potential targets for the Kansas City Chiefs next offseason.

We are starting to get some clarity on how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the college football season. Some conferences — like the ACC and the Big 10 — are releasing their projected schedules, while schools like Connecticut have canceled their seasons altogether. With no conferences playing out-of-conference schedules, a lot of FCS prospects won’t get an additional chance to help their draft stock by showcasing their talent against higher levels of competition.

Meanwhile, top college players like Micah Parsons, Caleb Farley and Rashod Bateman — and many others — have decided to opt out of the coming season, focusing instead on preparing for next season’s draft. These decisions aren’t likely to hurt top-tier players — but as more players opt out, we could see some wild things during the lead up to the 2021 draft season; there is likely to be more emphasis than usual on measurables and testing numbers.

Now let’s move on to this week’s focus: college edge prospects.

2021 preseason edge prospect rankings

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Elon at Wake Forest Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week, I previewed the Chiefs’ defensive ends for 2020. The unit looks relatively deep, with solid players like Frank Clark, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Alex Okafor, Taco Charlton, Mike Danna, Breeland Speaks, Tim Ward and Demone Harris all competing for about six spots. Kpassagnon and Charlton are on expiring deals; Okafor could very well be a cap casualty after this season. For 2021, that might not leave a starter opposite Clark, so it could be a position of significant importance in the next draft.

Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses typically have two top-end defensive linemen — and the Chiefs currently have Clark and Chris Jones locked in for a few more years. Spagnuolo’s defenses also consistently feature a certain type (and caliber) of defensive end; the Chiefs just won’t go into 2021 without a proven player across from Clark — or without a serious draft investment at the position.

This 2021 EDGE class may not have top-ten talent — only a couple of guys who are really vying to be selected in the first round — but it does have quality depth.

Base ends

1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami

2. Kwity Paye, Michigan

The top two EDGE prospects have an entirely different playing style — but both have value predicated on their upside.

Rousseau has freakish length — and quality athleticism to go with it — but is full of raw potential. Despite playing the position for only a couple of years, he’s coming off a very productive season — but still needs to show more consistency and some technical refinement with his hands.

As you may have heard, Rousseau has decided to opt out of the 2020 season. While he is one of the top defensive prospects in the 2021 class, he has only a single year of tape at defensive end. That tape is incredible — but unfortunately for him, his usage at Miami hasn’t mimicked that of a traditional NFL edge rusher. So without top-tier testing across the board, his draft stock could take a hit.

Paye, on the other hand, is simply an insane athlete. Thanks to what is reported to be elite agility testing — along with good numbers for explosion and speed — he tops Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List.” Over the years at Michigan, he has developed well — but he needs to demonstrate the ability to consistently dominate with his athleticism.

3. Joe Tryon, Washington

4. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest

5. Tyreke Smith, Ohio State

These players also do well against both the pass and run but the lack the elite traits to give them ceilings like those of Rousseau and Paye.

Tryon’s biggest issue is the usage he gets at Washington. Often aligned as a tight defensive end, he doesn’t always get a chance to showcase his explosion or his speed pass-rush moves. He has active, accurate hands, but he often softens the edge before taking the corner. That said, Tryon’s contact balance — and ability to explode laterally — make him very tough to block. With his great length, he has a big upside.

Going back to last year, Basham has received lots of hype — and it’s deserved. He’s a super-high-energy player with a lot of power and length. He’s a plus run defender, but his pass rush impact is that more like that of a secondary or tertiary pass rusher. Basham’s lack of flexibility and body control really shows when he’s up against top-end offensive tackles.

Smith is next in line simply because hasn’t had many opportunities. His athleticism is closer to Joey Bosa than it is to Chase Young, but he just hasn’t been able to showcase the technical prowess that would shoot him up the draft boards.

Rush specialists

1. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia

2. Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh

3. Jayson Oweh, Penn State

The top group of pass rush specialists are all a little undersized but have the physical profile to add more weight and perform as full-time EDGE players in any scheme.

Ojulari is a guy with minimal hype — one who plays a hybrid role at Georgia as strong-side linebacker and defensive end. Despite a need for technical refinement with his location and eye level, he routinely flashes power and explosiveness. He shows good shoulder dip and ankle flexion — even though his hips aren’t very fluid.

Jones has a good blend of athleticism and length, but his physical frame is closer to being maxed out than these other players. He’s been competent against the run in college but may need an NFL system that allows him to simply attack — rather than anchor at the point of attack. As a pass rusher, Jones doesn’t have a holes in his game — other than showing consistent polish for another season. He can win with speed, technique and bend, but still needs to show a little more cohesion between his traits on the same rep.

Oweh is a favorite of many because of the raw explosiveness he demonstrates. His first step is dynamic — and once he gets to a half-man relation, he has great ankle flexion to turn a tight corner around blockers. He has limited experience playing against the run. At this moment, is also extremely lean — but he has room for additional size.

4. Hamilcar Rashed, Oregon State

5. Quincy Roche, Miami

The second group of pass-rushing specialists are a little less dense. In the NFL, they may be limited to specific schemes and roles.

Rashed is similar to Ojulari in that he has played a hybrid OLB/DE role — and has the potential to transfer to off-ball. He has a long frame, so there is always the option for him to continue adding weight. That said, he looks comfortable working backward and dropping into space, so a transition to a SAM linebacker role isn’t out of the question; that’s likely how the Chiefs would look at him. Given his size, he has had a surprising amount of success with power rushes thanks to good leverage — and has the first-step explosion ability that player of his size need.

Many expect Roche to make a massive step this season as he transfers from Temple to Miami. At Temple, he’s been a productive pass rusher, showing some burst off the line of scrimmage and active hands up the arc. His issues include a lack of functional power and being quite stiff through the hips. As an undersized EDGE, those are difficult things to overcome.

Until we get real college football news, this weekly check-in will mostly include preseason 2021 NFL Draft positional rankings, working through positions that could be of higher need to the Chiefs. Note — this is not a comprehensive list (or even close), but it’s a good place to start looking at the upcoming draft class.

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