The New York Jets could still use another long-term edge rusher opposite Carl Lawson, so who should they target in the 2021 NFL draft?
Through the signing of Carl Lawson, the New York Jets finally have their first elite edge rusher in approximately one million years (give or take). However, the Jets are still looking for a long-term solution on the other side of the line. Vinny Curry is ready to pack a punch in a limited role, while youngsters such as Bryce Huff, Kyle Phillips, and Jabari Zuniga will compete for snaps, but there is no surefire answer at the second EDGE spot for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich.
While it will most likely not be one of their top priorities, it seems probable that the Jets will focus on adding to the EDGE position in the 2021 NFL draft. Which prospects stand out the most from a production perspective? Let’s dig into the advanced numbers behind some of the top players in the class.
Here are the prospects we will be comparing today:
- Kwity Paye, Michigan
- Jaelan Phillips, Miami
- Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
- Gregory Rousseau, Miami (2020 opt-out, stats will be from 2019)
- Joe Tryon, Washington (2020 opt-out, stats will be from 2019)
- Joseph Ossai, Texas
- Jayson Oweh, Penn St.
- Janarius Robinson, Florida St.
- Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
- Quincy Roche, Miami
- Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma
- Payton Turner, Houston
- Jordan Smith, UAB
- Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
- Hamilcar Rashed, Oregon St.
- Cameron Sample, Tulane
- Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh
- Victor Dimukeje, Duke
- Chris Rumph, Duke
- Patrick Johnson, Tulane
- Jonathon Cooper, Ohio St.
- Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Notre Dame
- Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina
- Malcolm Koonce, Buffalo
If there are any other prospects you’d like to learn about, let me know in the comments.
2021 NFL Draft Advanced Stats:
- Wide receivers (Part 2)
- Wide receivers (Part 1)
- Offensive linemen
A player’s ability to generate pressure is a much better indicator of his pass-rushing impact than his ability to generate sacks. Players have little control over sacks. It takes a perfect storm of circumstances for one to happen. Most of the time, there is absolutely nothing a player can do to get a sack even if he beats the man in front of him as quickly as possible. On the contrary, there is nothing stopping a player from generating pressure. That can happen on just about any play.
The best way to evaluate a player’s consistency as a pass-rusher is to look at how often he creates pressure. Based on Pro Football Focus’ tracking, here is a look at the percentage of pass-rush snaps in which each player created pressure (hurry, hit, or sack) in 2020, and their percentile rank among qualified FBS edge rushers.
*An asterisk denotes a player whose stats are from the 2019 season.
- Jordan Smith: 21.7% (99th percentile)
- Azeez Ojulari: 20.7% (99th)
- Ronnie Perkins: 18.8% (98th)
- Chris Rumph: 18.3% (97th)
- Kwity Paye: 17.2% (96th)
- Malcolm Koonce: 16.6% (94th)
- Gregory Rousseau: 16.0% (96th)*
- Cameron Sample: 16.0% (93rd)
- Jaelan Phillips: 15.6% (91st)
- Jonathon Cooper: 15.2% (89th)
- Victor Dimukeje: 14.6% (87th)
- Tarron Jackson: 13.8% (82nd)
- Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 12.6% (74th)
- Carlos Basham: 12.5% (72nd)
- Patrick Johnson: 12.3% (69th)
- Jayson Oweh: 12.3% (69th)
- Joe Tryon: 12.2% (80th)*
- Quincy Roche: 11.8% (66th)
- Payton Turner: 11.6% (63rd)
- Janarius Robinson: 11.4% (62nd)
- Patrick Jones: 11.0% (58th)
- Joseph Ossai: 11.0% (58th)
- Dayo Odeyingbo: 10.6% (54th)
- Hamilcar Rashed: 5.9% (17th)
While he did it against lesser competition at Alabama-Birmingham, Jordan Smith was a pressure machine in 2020. He ranked third in the nation with 50 pressures despite placing 75th with 230 pass-rush snaps.
Azeez Ojulari is the pressure king among Power-5 prospects. Ojulari had 37 pressures (21st) on 179 pass-rush opportunities (141st).
We need to have a talk about Duke’s Chris Rumph. The redshirt junior is seen as a Day 3 prospect, but he has been one of the best pass rushers in the country over the past two years. In 2019, Rumph led all FBS edge rushers with a 24.7% pressure rate. He dipped to 18.3% in 2020, but that still placed at the 97th percentile. It should be noted that Rumph played a decent chunk of his snaps at inside linebacker, which boosts his pressure rate a bit thanks to an added number of high-percentage blitz chances, but nevertheless, that two-year sample of production is extremely impressive.
Widely projected as a second-round prospect, Texas’ Joseph Ossai saw his pressure rate take a nosedive in 2020 after posting an elite 16.2% rate in 2019. However, despite the dip in his pressure production, there are other reasons to like his 2020 season, as we will get into later on.
Largely agreed upon to be the best player in this EDGE class, Michigan’s Kwity Paye only ranks fifth out of this 23-player bunch when it comes to pressure rate, but that’s no knock as his 17.2% mark ranked second-best among Big Ten edge rushers (behind Ohio State’s Tyreke Smith) and 15th-best among qualified FBS edge rushers. As we will see throughout this piece, Paye was dominant in every statistic throughout his short four-game run in 2020, offering arguably the most balanced statistical resume in the class.
Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed had an awful season getting after the quarterback in 2020. While he wasn’t nearly as abysmal over his first three seasons, he was still mediocre, wrapping up his Beavers career with a pressure rate of 8.9%. Rashed is generally considered a fourth-round prospect thanks to his athletic upside, but his production clearly shows that he has a very long way to go in his development as a rusher. He defines the “project” label.
Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins is considered a third-round or late second-round prospect, which is a massive leap after he played like a borderline undraftable prospect throughout his freshman and sophomore seasons. From 2018-19, Perkins had a measly pressure rate of 8.6%, which generally isn’t enough to reach the NFL radar. In 2020, Perkins broke out with 32 pressures on only 176 pass-rush snaps, posting an 18.8% pressure rate that placed fifth-best among Power-5 edge rushers. That meteoric rise in production was accompanied by an equal rise in his draft stock.
Pass-rush win rate
Another fantastic way of evaluating a player’s pass-rushing effectiveness is tracking the number of “wins” he gets. How often does the player defeat the blocker in front of him? It’s that simple. Here’s a look at the percentage of pass-rush snaps in which each player recorded a win.
- Jordan Smith: 26.1% (100th percentile)
- Kwity Paye: 25.8% (99th)
- Ronnie Perkins: 24.7% (98th)
- Azeez Ojulari: 24.0% (98th)
- Malcolm Koonce: 22.9% (97th)
- Cameron Sample: 22.6% (96th)
- Chris Rumph: 22.3% (95th)
- Jonathon Cooper: 20.7% (93rd)
- Jaelan Phillips: 20.5% (92nd)
- Tarron Jackson: 19.7% (90th)
- Patrick Johnson: 17.8% (84th)
- Joseph Ossai: 17.3% (81st)
- Gregory Rousseau: 17.2% (85th)*
- Payton Turner: 16.8% (79th)
- Jayson Oweh: 16.6% (78th)
- Quincy Roche: 16.4% (77th)
- Joe Tryon: 16.1% (79th)*
- Victor Dimukeje: 15.8% (73rd)
- Carlos Basham: 15.5% (71st)
- Adetokunbo Ogundeji: 15.0% (67th)
- Patrick Jones: 13.7% (59th)
- Janarius Robinson: 13.6% (58th)
- Dayo Odeyingbo: 13.5% (57th)
- Hamilcar Rashed: 10.3% (35th)
Jordan Smith asserts his dominance here. Say you want about how good his competition was, but you cannot deny that he absolutely crushed it about as much as he reasonably could.
Kwity Paye shows up well here, posting the second-best win rate among all Power-5 edge rushers behind only Oklahoma’s Nick Bonitto (28.7%). The guy is a stud. Azeez Ojulari and Chris Rumph also supported their elite pressure rates with similarly wonderful win rates.
Joseph Ossai is one player who fared much better in this category than in pressure rate. Some players simply get unlucky and have a low percentage of their wins converted into pressure, which could be due to various reasons (such as a high number of quick releases or bootlegs/rollouts by the opponent).
On the other hand, Gregory Rousseau took a little bit of a step back in this category, ranking seventh among the bunch in pressure rate but only 13th in win rate. Rousseau is seen by many evaluators as a raw prospect considering he played wide receiver and safety in high school before playing only one full season of defensive end in college, so the disparity between his raw production and his win rate seems to align with the idea that he is on the raw side.
Cleanup and unblocked pressures (production legitimacy)
When you’re trying to project a college pass-rusher to the NFL, your main goal is to deduce whether he has the capability of being a true difference-maker at the next level. Being a true difference-maker requires defeating blockers and destroying plays – causing more damage than the average player would. We shouldn’t care very much about stats that are racked up through simply being unblocked or chasing down the quarterback on a long-developing play after losing the initial pass-rush battle, because any Joe Schmoe can do those things.
With this stat, we get some context on the legitimacy of each player’s production. What percentage of each player’s total pressures were considered “cleanup” or “unblocked”? A higher percentage tells us that a big chunk of the player’s production was circumstantial and not much of his own doing. A lower percentage tells us that the player created most of his production himself through sheer pass-rush excellence. The lower the number, the more legitimate the production. It’s here where the pretenders are revealed.