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Top Edge Rushers in NFL Draft: Best of the Rest

The Green Bay Packers have the Smith Bros. and Rashan Gary at outside linebacker but could use a fresh face after losing Kyler Fackrell in free agency.
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The Green Bay Packers have the Smith Bros. and Rashan Gary at outside linebacker but could use a fresh face after losing Kyler Fackrell in free agency. Here’s the best of the rest.

No. 6: Jonathan Greenard, Florida (6-3 3/8, 263; 34 7/8 arms): The transfer from Louisville led the SEC in sacks (9.5) and tackles for losses (15.5). He earned first-team all-conference with 52 tackles, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery he took back 80 yards for a touchdown. At Louisville, Greenard redshirted in 2015, started a total of six times in 2016 and 2017 and missed almost all of 2018 with a wrist injury. Having earned his degree, he was free to transfer without sitting out a season.

The metrics back up the performance in that Greenard is a solid all-around player. Of our top 25 edge-rushing prospects, he was sixth in ProFootballFocus.com’s run-stop percentage, which measures impact tackles, and sixth with a pressure rate of 16 percent. “I’ve got a really good get off that kind of threatens the tackles to get them to open their hips more so I can get my counter, inside moves. Overall, I just kind of like to keep them on their toes. I like to get my feet moving, get their feet moving, because I’m a better athlete than them and I can use that to my advantage. I can give them power a little bit so it just depends on however I’m feeling or however I studied that tackle going into that week’s game.”

No. 7: Curtis Weaver, Boise State: (6-2 3/8, 265; 32 3/8 arms): Weaver didn’t just set the Mountain West Conference’s career sacks record but he obliterated. He finished with a school-record 34 sacks, blowing past the previous record of 28.5 shared by BYU’s Jan Jorgensen (2006-09) and TCU’s Jerry Hughes (2006-09). He was a first-team All-American and the Mountain West’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 with 13.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses. He had 9.5 sacks as a sophomore and 11 as a redshirt freshman. It was a remarkable career for a player who admittedly was “immature” upon arriving at Boise.

Weaver was an elite pass rusher against second-tier tackles. He was fourth in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. “I’ll just say my bend. I feel like my bend is the best in the draft. And then I feel like my get-off is up there.” He’s got a nice toolbox as a rusher, though scouts want to see more power. His lack of length and athleticism show up in the run game. He was 21st in PFF’s run stop percentage, and he missed 12 tackles (18 percent being the second-worst of our top 25). He’s a barrel of laughs until it’s time to play. “Work until you don’t need to be introduced. That’s probably working forever because people won’t know you across the world, so that’s how I live by.”

No. 8: Terrell Lewis, Alabama (6-5 1/4, 262; 33 7/8 arms): During his final season, Lewis was second-team all-SEC with six sacks and 11.5 tackles for losses. After playing in 11 games as a freshman in 2016, Lewis missed most of 2017 with an arm injury, all of 2018 with a torn ACL and a game in 2019 with a hyperextended knee. In his comeback season, he was second with a pressure rate of 20 percent. He missed seven tackles (18 percent).

“Going through things like that, it kind of takes your focus away from the game, to the point where you cherish other aspects in life,” Lewis said. “Cherish your faith, cherish your family time when you get it. And also just as far as the game, you learn so much from a different perspective as far as being able to watch things from a coach’s perspective. My coaches did a good job of still keeping me in the game and around my teammates, to the point where I don’t lose my football IQ.”

If he had a clean injury history, he’d probably rate behind only Chase Young among this year’s edge rushers. Not surprisingly, he’s not a finished product after missing so much time. His physical traits and motor give him a chance, so long as he can stay healthy to hone his craft. Said Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy: “Terrell Lewis is almost impossible to give a player comp for because he's got that long, stringy body, but then he's got like Mike Tyson hands. Those long guys can't generate power well and this guy is so explosive. He's just been banged up a bunch.”

No. 9: Alex Highsmith, Charlotte (6-3 1/8, 248; 33 1/8 arms): As a senior, Highsmith broke school records for sacks in a game (4.5 vs. Old Dominion), season (14.0) and career (20.0), and tackles for losses in a game (5.0) and season (21.5). He became the first All-American in program history by finishing fourth nationally in sacks and fifth in 21.5 tackles for losses while recording a career-high 75 tackles. Among our top 25 edge rushers, he finished in the top eight in pressure percentage but bottom eight in run-stop percentage. The sack number is great; the competition (other than Clemson) was not, with a lot of sacks against offensive linemen who won’t get a whiff of the NFL. He’s rather athletic (4.70 in the 40) and long (33 1/8-inch arms) but not exceptionally so. In a relatively weak class of edge rushers, he’s one of the more intriguing options as a third-down role player.

“He was a dude,” Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman said. “I’ve been playing football for 12 years and he’s by far the fastest off the ball I’ve ever gone against. Ever.” Not bad for a former walk-on. He received a scholarship between his freshman and sophomore seasons. “I looked up to the sky and said, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’” Highsmith told the Charlotte Observer. “It was one day I’ll never forget.” What did everyone miss? “He was literally a late bloomer,” his father, Sam Highsmith, said in that Observer story. “And he was a little overweight and had no real speed.”

No. 10: Bradlee Anae, Utah (6-3 3/8, 257; 32 1/8 arms): Anae became the ninth consensus All-American in program history as a senior. He also won the Morris Trophy, which goes to the Pac-12’s top defensive linemen as voted on by the conference’s offensive linemen, and was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end. He ranked eighth in the nation with 13 sacks and added 14 tackles for losses.

The team’s leader in sacks the past three seasons, Anae ranks first in school history with 30 sacks, fourth with 41.5 tackles for losses and eighth with six forced fumbles. He added three more sacks in the Senior Bowl. “He’s got a great gift, a great ability to rush the edge,” said Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, who was the North team’s coach at the Senior Bowl. On the other hand, of our top 25 edge-rushing prospects, he ranked 24th in PFF’s run-stop percentage. Coupled with short arms and a slow 40 (4.91) and Anae’s draft stock doesn’t match the stats.

His athletic DNA is quite amazing. His father, Brad, was a two-time All-American with BYU and was drafted by the Houston Gamblers of the USFL. One of his sisters, Adora, was a three-time all-conference volleyball player for Utah. Another sister, Pati, played volleyball at Portland State. Another sister, Bradina, is a world-record-holding powerlifter and throws the shot put at BYU. An uncle, Robert Anae, is the offensive coordinator at Virginia. Bradley Anae doesn’t just sack quarterbacks but dives off cliffs and pets sharks. “I’m from the islands, so that’s just one of the things I do,” he said at the Combine. “We just go out there, island boys, we dive in and see sharks. They’re harmless. Unless it’s a tiger shark. You’ve got to watch out for them.”

No. 11: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (6-2 1/8, 256; 32 7/8 arms): Jennings was first-team all-SEC as a senior with eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses. As a junior, not only did he have 6.5 sacks and 14 TFLs but he led the team with 12 passes defensed. As a senior, he finished first in PFF’s run-stop percentage and among the leaders with a pressure rate of 17 percent, according to SIS. “I’m a linebacker that can do a lot of different things,” he said at the Combine. “I can drop back into coverage. I can go forward, set the edge, rush the passer. I can move around and be a threat wherever they want to put me.”

In the 2017 Sugar Bowl against Clemson, Jennings suffered a gruesome knee injury. It wasn’t just a knee injury, though. A fan on Twitter thought it might be something worse and alerted Jennings via Twitter. The next morning, Jennings went in for another check and it was found the pulse in the injured leg wasn’t as strong as the healthy leg. Had it gone unnoticed, he might have lost his leg.

No. 12: Jabari Zuniga, Florida (6-3 3/8, 264; 32 7/8 arms): Zuniga had three sacks and seven tackles for losses in five games in 2019, his final campaign ruined by a high-ankle sprain. He was a stud against the run in that limited action, ranking second in PFF’s run-stop percentage and first with an opponent success rate of only 14 percent, according to Sports Info Solutions, but has never shown to be much of a pass rusher. He posted career totals of 18.5 sacks and 34.5 TFLs in 42 games.

He’s a powerhouse with 29 reps on the bench press. “I have a rule,” UF defensive line coach Chris Rumph told the Orlando Sentinel. “He cannot take his shirt off in front of my wife.” At Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Ga., the imposing Zuniga was a basketball player until trying football for the first time as a junior. "When I first got out there, I didn't really like it,'' Zuniga told the school athletics site. “Then I hit somebody, and I just loved that feeling. I was eager to learn.”

No. 13: Trevis Gipson, Tulsa (6-4, 268): Gipson had a strong senior season, ranking among the conference leaders with eight sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He added two forced fumbles. His pressure rate was one of the best in the draft class. He’s a long-armed power player who plays hard but needs plenty of polish. At least for now, he can contribute on run downs.

Before his senior season, he participated in the Von Miller Pass Rush Summit in Las Vegas. “I’ve put in a lot of work and dedication to this game, and it’s good to see God opening doors for myself and allowing me to connect with people such as Von Miller to further my game,” Gipson told the Tulsa World. Tulsa was his only FBS offer. At the time, he promised revenge for all who overlooked him. His mom ran track at North Texas, his dad played basketball at Texas and his older brother was an all-conference basketball player at Kansas State. The brother, Thomas Gipson, had a workout with the Packers in 2015.

No. 14: Julian Okwara, Notre Dame (6-4 1/4, 252; 34 3/8 arms): Okwara posted 15.5 sacks, 24 tackles for losses and four forced fumbles in his career. A team captain as a senior, he was limited to nine games by a broken leg and managed five sacks and seven TFLs. Of our top 25 edge rushers, he finished last in PFF’s run-stop percentage and had the worst missed-tackle rate. “It's definitely a chip on my shoulder because it feels like a lot of guys forgot about who I was because I missed a couple of games,” he said at the Combine. “I know who I am. I know what I bring to the table and the things I can offer the teams. I'm not really worried about it. I know I'm a competitor at heart and I'm going to do everything I can to succeed. That's just how I'm built.”

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Video: Julian Okwara

Okwara was born in London and spent several years in Nigeria before moving to the United States when he was in third grade. This past summer, he returned to Nigeria, where his father is a businessman, for a few days. "Coming from Nigeria, I’m not really expected to be here. My story and where I've been, things I've seen, not a lot of kids make it out of there. I had the opportunity to make it to Charlotte, N.C. My parents made a lot of sacrifices. My dad did, my mom just working, it's how Nigerians are and how they make sacrifices to make opportunities for their future.” His brother is standout NFL defensive lineman Romeo Okwara. As a pass rusher and run defender, he has a long way to go to match what his brother’s done.

No. 15: Darrell Taylor, Tennessee (6-3 5/8, 267; 33 arms): Taylor had eight sacks and 11 tackles for losses as a junior, when he was voted team MVP, and another 8.5 sacks, 10 TFLs and four pass breakups as a senior, when he was named a team captain. After the season, he revealed he had played through a stress fracture in his shin.

He ranked among the leaders in pressure rate, thanks to a wickedly good first step, but among the worst in run-stop percentage. “I think everybody can see my pass rush, but I don’t think people speak enough about how much I play the run and how I set the edge and how I’m really physical in the run game,” he said at the Combine.

No. 16: Azur Kamara, Kansas (6-3 3/4, 245; 35 1/4 arms): In two seasons, Kamara recorded five sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses, including four sacks and 6.5 TFLs among 51 tackles as a senior. He spent his first two years at Arizona Western. He’s all upside with incredibly long arms and a 4.59 in the 40.

Kamara spent his first nine years in the African nation of Ivory Coast, fleeing before a civil war. KUSports.com told his story. “My mother had moved to the United States five years before I did,” Kamara said. “First time I got to see my mother in five years. It was an amazing feeling.” In Ivory Coast, he dreamed of playing for the national soccer team. He got his first taste of football in high school. “The football coach said, ‘Do you play basketball?’ And I said, ‘No, soccer.’ And he said, ‘You’re way too tall to play soccer. I’m the head football coach here. Why don’t you play football? You’ll never know if you’re going to be good unless you come out and try it. I think you should come out for football and see if you like it.’”

No. 17: Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame (6-4, 265): Kareem was a team captain as a senior, when he posted 5.5 sacks, 10 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles among 46 total tackles before suffering a torn labrum. In his final three seasons, he tallied 13 sacks, 26 TFLs, eight passes defensed and four forced fumbles. “I can be physical at the point of contact,” he said at the Combine. “A lot of guys don't like to do it. It's something I've been doing for a long time. It's something my coaches asked me, challenged me: You're pretty good but can you be great? And that's something I tried to do this season.”

Every moment in Kareem’s Farmington, Mich., home could be a training moment. “I’ve always coached him to use his hands,” his father, Ken Kareem, told the Indy Star. “Sometimes we’ll be at home, and I’ll do something quick. I may take a Muhammad Ali jab at him, even when he isn’t paying attention, because I want him to grab my hand. That quick little jab that was literally just screwing around in the kitchen could turn into a teaching moment.” At Notre Dame, he gained a fondness for art. Part of his studies included making a huge self-portrait .

No. 18: Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina (6-4 1/4, 275; 32 3/8 arms): A three-year starter, Strowbridge was third-team all-ACC as a senior with three sacks, 6.5 tackles for losses and two blocked kicks. He had career highs of 5.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs as a junior. He had a strong week at the Senior Bowl, being labeled a “man among boys.” Strowbridge worked out with the linebackers at the Scouting Combine and teams want to use him on the edge. Having survived the rigors of the trenches as an undersized defensive tackle in college, he should at least set a mean edge vs. the run.

No. 19: Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State (6-4 1/2, 251; 31 3/8 arms): Tuszka was a first-team FCS All-American and one of five finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defender in the FCS ranks. The Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year had 13.5 sacks and 19 tackles for losses as a senior in helping the Bison win the national championship. In school history, he’s fifth with 29.5 sacks and sixth with 42 TFLs. In 14 career playoff games, he piled up 10.5 sacks. He seems to play faster than his 4.79 time; the arm length is a larger problem.

As a senior at Warner (S.D.) High School, he rushed for 1,460 yards and had 109 tackles in nine-man football. He was a five-year starter in basketball and five-year state track qualifier in the 100 and 200 meters and shot put. Warner High School has an enrollment of 96 students. He spent his first three years at North Dakota State alongside his brother, Jarrod, who also played defensive end for the Bison. “I think my parents hated it because everything in the house got broken.”

No. 20: Kenny Willekes, Michigan State (6-3 1/2, 264; 31 1/4 arms): Willekes won the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the nation’s best player who started his career as a walk-on. In 2018, he was the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, a first-team All-American and team MVP with 8.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles for losses and 78 total tackles. In 2019, he was first-team all-Big Ten and MVP again with 10.5 sacks, 16 TFLs, two forced fumbles and 78 tackles. Essentially, all 26 sacks, 51 TFLs and five forced fumbles came during his final three seasons. However, he’s not fast (4.87) or long or disciplined (nine penalties), so he’ll have to count on his motor, strength (32 reps on the bench) and desire for lasting success.

Despite a superb prep career, Willekes didn’t even receive a scholarship offer from the Mid-American Conference. His best offers belonged in Division II. “Definitely a journey, definitely a process,” he said. “I walked on at Michigan State as a Mike linebacker. Got the opportunity to start as a sophomore. Biggest thing for me was just staying disciplined, doing the little things, put in the extra work so when the time came I was ready to rock and roll.”

There’s no denying his toughness. “When I was 10, I think, I was jumping on the bed and fell back and split my head open so (his father, who’s a doctor) sewed up the back of my head -- still got the scar back here. The fat was hanging out of my finger one time after a game, so he cut that off, sewed it up. And then I was scrapping metal with this hand (right), when a pipe split me all the way from here (palm) to here (thumb), he sewed that up. Just stuff like that. You see this scar here, my brother actually threw a log and it hit my forehead. There’s a scar on my chin, I got stitches from snowboarding.”

Bill Huber’s Edge Rusher Profiles

No. 1: Ohio State’s Chase Young

No. 2: LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson

No. 3: Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos

No. 4: Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa

No. 5: Michigan’s Joe Uche

Nos 6-20: Best of the Rest