The edge class in the 2021 draft class is deep, though lacks that true breakout star- or at least at first look it seems that way. Joey The Tooth breaks down his top 10 at the position.
Over the past two NFL drafts we have been blessed with both Nick Bosa and Chase Young. Early on looking into this class of edge rushers I did not see one but the more I watch Azeez Ojulari, the more I am leaning that he may be close to that level. Here I break down Ojulari as well as the rest of my top 10 rookie edge rushers. Take a look at my pre-draft list here.
1) Azeez Ojulari – Georgia (Best Pure Rookie Edge Rusher)
Azeez Ojulari is coming off of a spectacular true sophomore season where he dominated some of the top offensive lineman in the SEC. He is easily the most complete and dominant pass rusher in this draft class. He is quickly rising up my draft board. Ojulari possesses superb bend off of the edge, great strength, a plethora of pass rush moves, quick counters with little thought process, and can play with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He should be the first edge off of the board in the NFL draft and rookie drafts.
2) Jaelan Phillips – Miami
Jaelan Phillips was a former #1 overall recruit that never lived up to his calling. Injuries shortened his first two collegiate seasons at UCLA and broke his spirit almost to the point of leaving football. Instead he made a move to Miami and became the best looking pass rusher on the team in 2020. Phillips is a complete edge rusher with great pass rush moves and a swim move that will make scouts giggle with glee. He has a high motor with great pursuit and reminds me a lot of a young Aldon Smith. Phillips is a boom or bust because of his small sample size though his skill set is obvious. He is one of my favorite rookie edge defenders.
3) Gregory Rousseau – Miami (Biggest Boom or Bust Rookie Edge)
Gregory Rousseau has tantalizing attributes from the edge position. He is 6’7″ with tremendous burst and he had a super productive sophomore year with 19.5 tackles for a loss and 15.5 sacks. He decided to forego his junior year and opt out due to Covid-19 and enter the draft. Rousseau is a bit raw though and did not showcase much polish as a pass rusher, he won mostly off of physical traits. He is also still pretty lean for his frame though he can still grow into it. Rousseau has the potential to be a dominant force in the NFL though may need a little coaching to reach that potential.
4) Kwity Paye – Michigan
Kwity Paye is an explosive freak of nature. Paye has unbelievable athletic traits with strength for days. My one problem with Paye is that he is a bit one dimensional in his pass rush. He almost always relies on his bull rush and leverage to bully his way into the backfield. Paye showed his explosiveness at his pro day where he ran a 4.52 40 yard dash with a 35.5″ vertical and put up 36 repetitions of 225 lbs during the bench press. He has all of the athletic traits to succeed, he just needs to be more technical in his pass rush.
5) Patrick Jones II – Pittsburgh
Patrick Jones II is a powerful human being. He plays with great leverage and leg drive matched with powerful upper body strength. His bull rush is vicious and I have seen on multiple occasions Jones driving offensive lineman back. Jones has an incredible motor and never gives up on his pass rush. He could use more variety in his rush (seems to be a trend with this class) and he needs to play within himself as he is a bit over-aggressive. Jones fits the build of an NFL edge and has production to back it.
6) Carlos Basham JR. – Wake Forest
Carlos Basham Jr. is the a little disrespected when talking about the edge class. Nobody knocks his talent, but in the same respect he does not get the credit that he deserves. Basham has terrific size at 6’5″ and 285 lbs and has the strength. He can play defensive end in a 3-4 base and has the athleticism to play as a 4-3 defensive end. His past two seasons Basham has been a beast. Over his last 19 games Basham has 85 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, four passes defended and seven forced fumbles. I love how active his hands are and he may be one of the most NFL ready rookie edge prospects.
7) Joseph Ossai – Texas (Most Versatile Rookie Edge)
Joseph Ossai possesses elite athleticism at the edge position. He ran a 4.63 second 40 yard dash, a 20 yard split of 2.56 seconds, has a 41.5″ vertical and a broad jump of 10’11”. My favorite thing about Ossai is that he will be listed as a DL but has the chance to play some off-ball linebacker at the next level. In 2019 he showed off his versatility coming up with 90 tackles and two interceptions. He followed that up with a more prominent pass rushing role in 2020. He produced 55 tackles, 15.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks in only nine games. Ossai could be a blitzing off-ball linebacker which could shoot his value through the roof as a DL.
8) Shaka Toney – Penn St. (Most Underrated Rookie Edge)
Shaka Toney is easily the most overlooked rookie edge defender in this year’s draft. It won’t even be the first time it happened to him. Last year all the talk was about Yetur Gross-Matos yet Toney outproduced him and the same happened with Jayson Oweh this year. Toney is a big riser for me after his pro day. He had a 4.53 second 40 yard dash, 4.29 second 20 yard shuttle, a 7 second 3 cone drill, a 39 inch vertical leap and a 10’8″ broad jump for a RAS score of 9.49. Over the past two seasons Toney has 71 tackles, 15.5 tfl and 11.5 sacks. His steady production and more technical pass rush make Toney the preferred Penn St. edge rusher for me.
9) Jayson Oweh – Penn St.
Jayson Oweh has the perfect athletic build for an NFL edge defender. He is 260 lbs and ran a 4.39 second 40 yard dash, had a 39.5″ vertical, a 11′ broad jump and a near perfect RAS score (10) of 9.93. Why is he ranked lower thank Toney? Toney was more productive and showed more polish, and even though he weighed in a full 15 lbs lighter, he had more bench repetitions than Oweh. Oweh still possesses unreal NFL potential though and with good coaching could easily be a DL1.
Hamilcar Rashed Jr. – Oregon St. (Biggest Rookie Edge Sleeper)
If we date back to the beginning of the 2020 NCAA season, Hamilcar Rashed Jr. was rated one of the top edge rushers in the nation. He set single season school records for sacks (14.5) and tackles for a loss (22.5) in 2019. He showcases great explosion with unbelievably quick feet and good power. His explosion was again on display during his pro day where he ran a 4.58 second 40 yard dash with a 35.5″ vertical and a 10’8″ broad jump. Forget the 2020 season, Rashed showed plenty the previous campaign.
I have done some extensive study on this year’s rookie edge class trying to find out who the studs will be. There is tons of potential but a lack of polish in this year’s class. Really only the top two on this list have shown true pass rushing pedigree, most of the others are super athletic or have been productive with what they already possess. All 10 of these prospects have the potential to be top 25 DL, how many will reach it though?