- Everyone’s heard about just how star-studded the defensive group of players in the 2019 NFL draft are, and the edge rushers do not disappoint.
Other than quarterbacks, the most valuable commodities in the modern NFL are the guys chasing the quarterbacks. Each of the NFL’s 18 highest-paid defensive players are linemen or linebackers who pursue from the edge. The 2019 draft class boasts one of the best crops of outside rushers we’ve seen this decade.
So, which edge specialists will bull rush to the top of draft boards in April? Here’s our edge rushers primer:
Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The brother of NFL star Joey, son of NFL lineman John and great-grandson of Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo, Bosa is favored to be the No. 1 pick in 2019. He missed most of his junior season after injuring his core muscle in October, but Bosa is the most explosive edge rusher coming out of the college ranks since Joey, who the Chargers took No. 3 overall in 2016. The younger Bosa’s magnificence starts with his first step.
If you study any Bosa highlight, you’ll notice that he’s up with his hands on the tackle’s pads a split second after the snap. He has top-level speed and discards blocks with ridiculous ease. Bosa possesses a great bull rush where he shoves the tackle directly into the quarterback, but he also has some niftier misdirection moves. Offenses double-team and chip him with extra blockers like NFL schemes do to account for rushers like Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, but Bosa wins battles anyway. Plus, he opens up space for his teammates. He has no obvious shortcomings. If he’s healthy, Bosa will be an instant stud in the league.
Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson
Most figured the uber-talented Ferrell would declare for the draft after a dominant 2017 season, but he stormed back to Death Valley with a phenomenal third year. At 6' 4" and 265 pounds, Ferrell is a physical beast with nice touch and instincts around the line. On inside running plays, he quickly springs himself from the edge to the interior to stuff the rush, and he thoroughly monitors plays as they develop.
Moreover, Ferrell’s hand fighting expertise is at the top of his class. He can play with no hands, one hand or two hands in the ground, making him a solid fit in a 4–3 or 3–4 scheme. That being said, he sometimes stands a bit too tall in his pursuit. It would be a bonus to get him to duck and weave more around blockers, but this versatile hulk of an edge rusher will impact any NFL defense.
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Josh Allen, LB, Kentucky
He can’t throw a ball 80 yards like his name twin, Bills QB Josh Allen. But this Josh Allen led all FBS players in the 2018 regular season with 14 solo sacks and was the catalyst for a smothering Kentucky defense. He’s a linebacker who specializes in edge-rushing a la DeMarcus Ware. To fit well in the modern NFL, Allen should further hone his pass coverage, but he makes up for any lack of polish there with his vicious pass rushing.
Allen’s 40-yard dash is likely in the 4.5 range, and his top-level speed and agility stand as his most valuable assets. Allen stays light on his feet and doesn’t overcommit, which makes it no problem for him to change direction in an instant. When he’s pass rushing, and the quarterback scrambles out of the pocket, Allen pursues him rapidly, tracing every step. Those ballhawking skills will serve him well in the speedy NFL.
Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan
Gary is an athletic freak. His 40-yar time just about matches Allen’s, but he’s more than 20 pounds heavier, at 283 pounds. Playing on an elite Michigan defense with another NFL prospect in Chase Winovich, Gary shreds opposing linemen no problem. His lethal speed-strength combo makes his straight-on rush a wicked-good tool. Gary can blow by sluggish linemen, and he can overpower weaker ones. Plus, since he’s over 280 pounds, he can rush from the interior as a defensive tackle, but the edge rush is his expertise.
Against bigger, stronger and smarter NFL linemen, Gary will need to add to his arsenal of moves. As a pro rusher, you have to rely on out-witting offenses, not just out-working them. If Gary reaches that next-level trickery … watch out, quarterbacks.
Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State
Sweat is 6' 6", and that towering height makes him a constant threat to swat passes at the line. He started his college career at Michigan State then transferred to Starkville, where he’s racked up 23 sacks. Sweat can bull rush right through a lineman and has elite quickness, but east-west blocking schemes can give him headaches. When he’s rushing from the edge, and the tackle drives him farther outside and away from the quarterback, Sweat can struggle with reversing course to chase him.
His closing ability is top-tier for this class. When he’s within striking distance of the quarterback, Sweat pounces. Double-digit sacks in two consecutive SEC seasons is no joke. Sweat is teeming with star potential.
Jachai Polite, DE, Florida
After registering just four sacks in his first two seasons in Gainesville, Polite dropped 20 pounds and broke out in a major way in 2018, with 11 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He’s a fear-invoking edge rusher with no shyness for creativity and bold twitter handles. Polite creates openings for himself using his precise footwork.
For example, in the first quarter against Florida State a few weeks ago, Polite lined up on the right side against FSU left tackle Derrick Kelly. As the ball was snapped, he dug his right foot into the ground, leaning almost all the way to his right to woo Kelly in that direction. Like lightning, he shot into the hole he created to the left and charged towards quarterback Deondre Francois. A few seconds later, he was on top of Francois, credited with a sack. That was a key third-and-eight, the kind of situations Polite thrives in. If he can replicate that big play-drive on every down, he’ll get a leg up once he goes pro.
Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Louisiana Tech
This season’s FBS total sack leader, Ferguson was just a three-star recruit out of high school but has risen to the status of Conference USA legend. He’s a 6' 5" menace with a knack for tossing around blockers and making them look silly.
Ferguson has excellent burst and leverages his hands effectively into the pads of offensive linemen (making an effort at) blocking him. This especially serves him well in the run game. While he can sometimes get worn down on a drawn-out play, the Bulldog woos offenses away from his side with his instant impact at the snap. He’s a massive human being who likes to use all of his frame, but in the NFL it’ll serve him well to bend and twist more in pursuit of the quarterback. While he needs to work a bit on his rush angles, Ferguson’s strength and savvy make him a top prospect.