Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau wasn’t directly on the COVID-19 frontline. Still, through the eyes of his mother, Anne, a nurse who worked 12-hour shifts, he often had a firsthand account of just how much the global COVID-19 pandemic was affecting life as we know it.
Having seen that and having gained the support and backing of close friends and family, Rousseau, the budding pass rusher with only one true year of experience (2019) at the University of Miami, made the difficult decision to opt-out of his final year and put his focus on getting ready for the NFL Draft.
“It was crazy,” Rousseau recalled. “The time I opted out, into the July-August time period, the uncertainty surrounding the season. So I talked about it with my family. Talked to the coaches and it was just like in my best interest to opt out.”
Not that it was easy for the 21-year old Coconut Creek, Florida native. “It was tough at times sitting back and watching and not playing, being like removed from the game for a year,” he said.
“It’s definitely a lot more boring than being with the team and going on plane rides and bus rides and stuff. So really, I miss my guys a lot, for sure. But I was there supporting them every single step of the way.”
It also could have been a potential detriment to Rousseau's aspirations to make it to the NFL. The redshirt sophomore has just one full year as a starter, that coming in 2019 when he played in 13 games.
But within those 13 games, he was extremely productive for the Hurricanes, posting 59 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, and 15.5 sacks.
That production was good enough for Rousseau to draw comparisons from his coaching staff to former first-round picks Manny Lawson (Bills) and Calais Campbell (Ravens), noted NFL Draft Bible, who also wrote of Rousseau:
With elite movement skills and ideal size, the Florida native has the makeup to be an immediate impact player at the next level. A lot was expected of Rousseau heading into the 2020 season following a 15.5 sack season as a redshirt freshman, but those expectations were short-lived. He ultimately made the decision to opt out, leaving his projection an even bigger part of the evaluation as once expected. Rousseau has the makings of a dominant force up and down the line of scrimmage when he puts it all together.
Once deciding to forgo the 2020 season, Rousseau, never one to rest on his laurels, set about on a solo course of training in which he aimed to improve every little nuance of his game.
“I really didn’t train with any former players,” he said. “My focal point was just to get better at everything, from my get-off to my hands, my explosiveness. Just working on everything football related so I could get to my best when I get to whatever team picks me up.”
Although Rousseau admitted to not hitting every benchmark he sought to hit during his recent pro day, he still feels pretty good about where he’s at.
“I feel I got a lot better just working every single day in Pensacola. Just being dedicated, being diligent about everything, focusing on my flexibility, focus on a lot of D-line stuff and just getting ready for the next level and I feel like I made the most out of my opportunity.”
That opportunity could come with the New York Giants, who are thought to be looking to add to their pass-rushing cache. Rousseau has been mocked to the Giants in the first round, though others feel that No. 11 might be too high for a potential draft pick who only has one year of tape.
Rousseau acknowledged that could be a sticking point for some teams, but he also urged any team that might be considering him to look at what is out there on tape because it tells a lot about him as a player and what he could potentially bring to a team’s defense.
“I don’t have a lot film, but I feel like I showed a lot in the time that I did play,” he said. “I feel like I proved a lot. I also feel like I’m a very versatile athlete and I fit into a lot of schemes and I’m just going to be somebody who’s hard working from Day 1. I’m ready to get to the next level.”
Rousseau isn’t planning to take any days off as he inches closer to that next level. After his pro day, he went right back to training so that once he does hit the field for a team, he will feel confident in knowing that he's ready for whatever challenges come his way.
“I feel like I can improve in every single part of my game. I just have to keep on working, whether it’s my hands, my get-off, just learning the game,” he said of what he's going to continue focusing on.
“Upping my football IQ. The whole nine yards. All those things get better. That’s what I’m going to focus on until I get drafted and beyond that point in time as well.”