Edge Rusher
Susan Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel

In the 2020 NFL Draft, the edge rusher class was headlined by generational talent Chase Young. This year, there is no prospect that compares to Young, but there are some talented players with a ton of potential. Some evaluators think the edge is the weakest position in the 2021 draft class, but I disagree. I think that there are at least four or five prospects who could immediately start or fulfill a specific role on an NFL team. There are then other prospects who, while raw, can become solid players on the edge.

My rankings for the 2021 edge class are a bit different than the consensus rankings right now. Just hear me out. There’s one guy I’m incredibly high on, and then two or three that I am not as high on. If you missed my 2021 defensive tackle rankings, click here. Otherwise, let’s jump into the preseason top 20 edge rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft class.

1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami

Rousseau is the top ranked edge rusher on most boards and there’s no disagreement from me. He’s a freak athlete and might have one of the highest ceilings of any college football player right now. His 15.5 sacks last season as a redshirt freshman is almost unheard of in a power-5 conference. Rousseau is incredibly versatile and can play multiple techniques. At 6’5″ 260 lbs, he is tough to block coming off the edge with his hand in the dirt or without. For someone relatively new to the position, Rousseau has great footwork. He uses his quick footwork to dictate where the tackle chooses to block (inside or outside), which puts him one step ahead. He’s flexible between the blocks and maintains good leverage throughout each play.

Rousseau’s skill set is off the charts, but I think his FBI (football intelligence) is what sets him apart from the rest of the class. Miami play’s something like a 4-2-5 scheme, and Rousseau dominates. He does whatever he is asked to do, whether that be to bull rush, contain the quarterback, or even drop back into coverage. He takes good angles to the ball and always finishes the play, fulfilling his role each down. Against the run, he has a wide tackle radius and does not miss many tackles.

While Rousseau is without question the top edge prospect, he is not Chase Young. He’s still a bit raw and could work on developing some more pass rushing moves. His hand technique could be improved as well, as he gets a bit too high on the pad level sometimes. If Rousseau could make some minor adjustments and develop some swipe or push pull moves, he could solidify himself as an early first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

2. Hamilcar Rashed Jr, Oregon St.

Yes, I’m very high on Hamilcar Rashed Jr and you’re probably a bit skeptical. But, with 14 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last season, it would be hard to be low on Rashed Jr. He’s another really good athlete who always finds a way to get to the ball. When watching his tape, it’s evident as to how he makes plays; his explosiveness with his feet and hands. Some people have knocked him for his 238 lbs frame and the fact that he might be a linebacker at the next level. However, I think that his swim and swipe pass rushing moves are strong enough to keep him at the edge position.

Rashed Jr is a high effort player with fluid hips, a quick first step, and great awareness. There were multiple instances in his tape where he recognized a down block from a tight end or running back and was able to counter by stepping back and then using his leverage to get by. Sometimes, Rashed Jr’s pad levels get a bit high, like Rousseau, which could lead to him being overpowered by larger lineman. I would like to see him line up in different sets this season because he may be better off at linebacker. However, if he can produce like he did in 2019, he should stay in contention for one of the top edge rusher spots.

3. Quincy Roche, Miami

Miami landed arguably the best player in the transfer portal this offseason in Quincy Roche. Roche dominated in his three seasons at Temple, racking up 26 total sacks. He will join Rousseau in Miami which will likely make up the best edge rusher duo in college football. There’s a lot to like with Roche; he is versatile on the line of scrimmage as a 4i or 5-tech and should fit well in Miami’s defensive scheme. He’s not the athlete that Rousseau or Rashed Jr is, but he is more polished as a pass rusher. Roche is more of an outside pass rusher, but he can stunt inside as well.

He has a strong frame and uses his hands well to combat pass blocking moves. Roche also has a lot of bend which makes it difficult for blockers to contain him on the outside. One thing I did notice on Roche’s film is that he has a tendency to let up if his initial pass rush move does not work. Even in the run game, Roche has let up in pursuit if he cannot get through the lineman or the tight end. I do not think that should be much of a problem at the next level, but it is something to note for now. Roche has a big opportunity in Miami to solidify his status as a top ranked edge rusher and a top 50 draft selection.

4. Chris Rumph II, Duke

Rumph II is another prospect who I am a bit higher on than the consensus. Versatility is the name of his game, as Rumph lines up as a defensive tackle, defensive end, or as a linebacker. He covers a lot of ground, especially against the run. Rumph’s got quick hands and is very flexible in between the tackles. I love the motor he plays with and, although his stats do not show the full picture, Rumph impacts just about every play. He plays sideline to sideline and has great agility and is able to change direction in pursuit of a tackle.

Rumph should impress a lot of draft scouts because of his willingness to play multiple positions. He can rush the passer and drop back into coverage in Duke’s 4-3 scheme. His pass rushing moves are fairly solid and his 31.6% pass rush win-rate is absolutely unheard of. The most common knock that people have on Rumph is that he is only 225 lbs, which is very lean for an edge rusher. While he could benefit from gaining some weight, I’m not too worried about it because he has a solid technique when tasked with overpowering lineman and his win-rate backs that up. Rumph II looks ready for a breakout 2020 which could cement his draft status as a day 1 or day 2 selection.

5. Carlos Basham Jr, Wake Forest

Basham Jr could have been a day 2 selection had he entered the 2020 NFL Draft. He could easy surpass that projection and become a first round selection in 2021 if he has another solid year of production. Basham is a very explosive player with a quick first step and get-off at the line of scrimmage. He handles blocks well and has the vision and ability to spin out of them in the direction of the quarterback. Like the names above him, Basham is creative with his pass rushing moves and can get to the quarterback in a variety of ways. He is a capable run defender, as he is mobile enough to bounce off of blocks and cut into the lane of the runner.

However, he has a tendency to react too sudden and miss a read or plug the A or B gap too early. This has allowed opposing running backs time to see the holes in front of them and maximize yards gained. The bull rush is Basham’s go-to move, but his swim-swipe and push-pull moves are effective too. Still, there is room to polish those moves for the NFL. Basham’s an intimidating player who plays with a lot of power and explosiveness. He is definitely a top 5 edge prospect right now and can improve his stock throughout the 2020 season.

6. Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh

Patrick Jones II lined up next to Jaylen Twyman will be one of the scariest defensive line duos in 2020. For the edge rusher position, Jones II is build perfectly at 6’5″ 260 lbs. Some of the names to come on this list are speed rushers, which is the opposite of Jones II . Patrick Jones II is a complete power rusher with explosive hands and counter moves. He loves contact and can bully his way to the quarterback in a variety of ways. He dominates with his swim-swipe move, but he has an adequate bull rush and chop move as well. Jones II has a great FBI and doesn’t get caught trying to play out of scheme. He is disciplined in the run game and is able to bounce off blockers and meet the ball carrier with force.

Jones II has the technique down for the most part, but he is not in the top 5 because he is not the athlete that those above him are. Jones II will not wow anyone with his speed or his agility and will rely more on his strength and pass rushing ability. This is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as he continues to develop the counter moves and creating the space needed to free himself from the tackle. With Jones II not on a lot of radars, he has a prime opportunity in 2020 to wreak havoc for a Pittsburgh defense that is sneaky good.

7. Joe Tryon, Washington

Tryon is an interesting prospect on the edge, as he can dominate some reps and get flat out burned in others. He will need to get more consistent if he wants to increase his draft stock. Still, there is plenty to like about Tryon’s game. He is a very good athlete who can line up in multiple spots along Washington’s front 7. He exhibits pretty good pre-snap recognition and has a good get-off at the line of scrimmage. When rushing the passer, he does not have a defined set of moves, but can stunt inside and free himself from the tackles. He can get his man off-balanced and dictate where the lineman’s feet will align, whether inside or outside.

Tryon has been better as a run defender because he is better in space than between the tackles. He has a ton of range and can cover sideline to sideline. He can still improve on his reads, as he has given up big plays on his side because he jumped the gun and filled the wrong gap. Even with the bad, Tryon has the physical tools to become a top edge prospect in 2021. Washington has a solid defense in 2020, and Tryon should be able to showcase his talents in their Pac-12-only schedule this season.

8. Jayson Oweh, Penn State

Jayson Oweh might be the most absurdly athletic edge rusher I have ever seen. He made Bruce Feldman’s 2020 College Football Freaks List, and for good reason. There was a rumor going around that Oweh ran a 4.33 second 40-yard dash, which would have broken the defensive lineman record at the NFL combine. On the field, he uses his speed to beat the tackle to the outside and maintain position. He keeps his opponents at bay due to his explosiveness and can split the gaps due to his lean frame and long strides. Oweh has great awareness off the snap and can beat his man to the spot that the ball carrier is trying to get to.

Most people have Oweh ranked a bit higher due to his physical tools alone. When watching his film, it becomes evident that he is more agile than strong. There were a number of reps, against Ohio State specifically, where he was overpowered by the tackle and forced off-balanced. He also is limited in the pass rushing game, as he relies more on speed than technique. He can afford to add more pass rush moves and counters to his arsenal to become a more polished rusher off the edge. Jayson Oweh has the tools to become a top tier edge rusher at the next level. He is only a redshirt sophomore, so he has plenty of room to improve, but he does sport a very high ceiling.

9. Xavier Thomas, Clemson

Thomas had a down year in 2019 and he’s taking a lot of heat for it from the scouting community. However, I still think he’s a top 10 edge rusher, banking a little on the hope that his production picks up a bit this year. Thomas, a 5-star recruit out of high school, is also an incredible athlete. He has played multiple positions and schemes at Clemson and has proven that the traits are there. Thomas is a physical defender who loves overpowering his opponent with the bull rush. He’s a fundamentally sound tackler and has good awareness to plug the B and C gaps on a HB dive or counter.

From what I’ve seen, Thomas is better against the run. He takes direct angles to the ball and uses his athleticism to beat blockers to the spot. Thomas definitely can improve in the passing game, as his bull rush is not always effective and he does not have any counter moves. His hand usage can also be improved, as he usually tries to push high on the shoulders rather than swipe or chop to get by. Thomas has tons of potential and Dabo Swinney has predicted a breakout year for his junior edge rusher. With a good 2020, Thomas can win back the love from draft scouts and secure a spot as a top 10 edge rusher.

10. Patrick Johnson, Tulane

Rounding out the top 10 is not Aiden Hutchinson, who most of you probably expected, but Patrick Johnson. Johnson is a senior from Tulane who has flown a bit under the radar due to a subpar 2019. However, he still has accumulated 85 total tackles and 14.5 sacks over the past 2 seasons. Johnson is more of a speed rusher with a raw pass rushing technique. He is like Oweh in that sense, but without Oweh’s scary athleticism. He exhibits good burst off of the line of scrimmage and challenges the tackles mostly on the outside. What’s impressive about Johnson is that he can drop back into zone coverage and can disrupt passes to tight ends or slants to receivers.

Johnson’s skillset should allow an NFL team to use him in multiple ways. He can play a 5-tech on the line or even as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Like I said about Darius Stills in my defensive tackle rankings, I expect Johnson to be a combine warrior. However, he has struggled against power-5 competition which is a bit concerning. It’s unfortunate that he likely won’t get to face any power-5 lineman this year with the change in schedule. I still like him as a top 10 prospect, but it will be tough for Johnson to climb higher in the rankings, especially if there is no NFL combine.

11. Aiden Hutchinson, Michigan

12. Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina

13. Kwity Paye, Michigan

14. Deangelo Malone, Western Kentucky

15. Jeremiah Moon, Florida

16. Tyreke Smith, Ohio State

17. Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo

18. Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa

19. Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma

20. Shaka Toney, Penn State

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