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2021 NFL Draft: the edge rusher awards

Running through the superlatives of the 2021 edge rushers draft class.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 05 Penn State at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Now that the Kansas City Chiefs free agency run has ended — did it even start? (buh-dum tss!) — we’re picking back up the 2021 draft prospect award series at the EDGE rusher position. Just like our previous draft prospect award articles, we will run through some superlatives and skills that specific prospects excel at.

EDGE rushers can vary in traits and skills, which allows them to win in different ways. Each team will value these traits differently — and that will play a significant role in how they see these players as prospects. Thus, handing out awards for the specific skills draft prospects display can be very revealing if you understand what a specific team is looking for.

EDGE rusher awards

Best hand technique

This award does not need much explanation. It’s going to the prospect that showcases the best hand technique from an accuracy, variety, power and timing perspective both in the run and pass game.

Jaelan Phillips | Miami

Phillips was in contention for nearly all of these awards simply because he’s that talented of a player on the field. Sporting a 6’5, 266-pound frame, he’s easy to spot on the screen for his movement ability and power, but where he really shines is with his hands.

Phillips looks like he comes straight from the “Bosa family of pass rushers” in how he plays. He may not the most explosive player off the line of scrimmage or be confused for Gumby, but he’s more than adequate in both areas and it’s his hands that let him shine.

Whether it’s a simple cross-chop, rip or a more complex feint stab into a long-arm that finishes in a hump move back to the inside, his hands are fantastic. They carry enough power to move a blocker, are quick enough to deflect a blocker’s punch, and he has a wide array of pass rush moves he’s able to execute with them. It also helps that he’s well versed in utilizing his length to play against the run with extension and uses violent chops to disengage.

Day three player: Hamilcar Rashed | Oregon State

Best speed rush

This award is going to the rusher with the best combination of first-step explosion, ability to turn the corner and close on the quarterback.

Joe Tryon | Washington

This award was a close call between Azeez Ojulari and Joe Tryon, with Tryon ultimately taking it home. While both players have good first steps and carry their speed through the corner well, Tryon seems to have just a little more bend throughout his torso, allowing him to speed rush from a larger variety of angles.

Tryon hasn’t played football since 2019, and he reportedly has re-worked his body even more so, but he has all the raw components you want to see. He isn’t the most polished with his pathing, setting up his moves or his hand work, but one false step by an offensive tackle, and he’s gone. He explodes off the line of scrimmage putting all the pressure on the tackle and if they can’t beat him to the corner, he’s got the bend and body control to avoid contact and turn the corner.

Tryon hasn’t had a chance to showcase his athleticism at Washington’s pro day yet, but I imagine it’s one that is going to catch some people off guard.

Day three player: Malcolm Koonce | Buffalo

Most versatile

Most versatile applies to how well the player can play against the run and the pass, the types of ways they can win in any given type of play, the positions along the defensive line they may be able to play and the types of schemes they could perform well in.

Essentially, what player can do the most types of things on the football field?

Gregory Rousseau | Miami

Rousseau is one of the forgotten EDGE players in this class, and it’s easy to see why. He’s not the most explosive, he’s not the bendiest and he doesn’t have the most power. He has one year of production and much of it was schemed up. Rousseau is a massive-framed rusher that is still working on his transition to EDGE.

So why did he win this award? Rousseau has the ability to line up out wide, to line up as a 3-tech and even as a nose tackle on pass-rushing downs. I wouldn’t even put it past him to be able to drop well into shallow zones given he was a wide receiver and defensive back in high school.

It’s his ability to play up and down the defensive line and be absolutely dominant on stunts and slants that earned him this nod. His length allows him to control every rep, thus making it easier to move around the formation.

Day three player: Dayo Odeyingbo | Vanderbilt

Best power rusher

Which rusher has the most powerful hands, the best bull rush and will make an offensive tackle absolutely hate their body by the fourth quarter?

Kwity Paye | Michigan

While there are a few other players that are in contention for being top-end power rushers, Paye was the easy choice because no other EDGE physically imposed their will the way he has been able to. He has a rather stout build and when his hands make contact with a blocker — whether on their arms or chest — there is visual confirmation.

He has a nasty push-pull move that he can use to either catapult himself up the arc and around a blocker or to simply chuck them to the side. The violence he plays within his hands reminds me of Carl Lawson in the essence that by the fourth quarter, offensive tackles simply don’t like extending to punch him anymore.

Then, we get to the lower body power, which results in a great first step and the ability to bull rush much bigger players. In the Michigan system, he was often kicked inside or spearing as the underneath man on a stunt and he was consistently able to generate movement even against the interior offensive linemen.

Day three player: Chauncey Golston | Iowa

Best “in four years from now...”

This award is going to more of a developmental player. This is the award that when we look back on this draft class in four years, we use this player as a prospect profile for the type of player we want in a developmental prospect. This guy will need time, will need development, but the tools will have to be bursting at the seams.

Jayson Oweh | Penn State

Oweh has recently caught fire publicly thanks to a ludicrous pro day - running the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, jumping 39.5 inches in the vert and over 11 feet in the broad jump at 257 pounds, but most knew this was coming.

It’s easy to see on the field how crazy of an athlete Oweh is, the explosion, the speed, the bend are all evident at all times. He just struggles to turn it into production on a consistent basis which resulted in a zero sack season in 2020. His hand usage isn’t always accurate or timed well, he allows himself to stay too square to a blocker even when he has the athletic advantage, and he’s still learning to set up his rush plan.

It sounds like he has a long way to go but really, Oweh showed a lot of development in 2020 despite the sack total. He didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, so he should have a ton to catch up on. That can all be coached. What can’t be coached is a 6’5, 257-pound man with near 35-inch arms that moves at the speed and in the directions he does.

It might not even take his entire rookie contract, but as soon as NFL coaches get ahold of Oweh and begin tightening up his technique and mind, the sky is the limit.

Day three player: Janarius Robinson | Florida State

Award season continues on as we’ll get the interior offensive line group next!

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