Should Joe Douglas and the New York Jets pounce on Gregory Rousseau with an early pick in the NFL draft, even after the free agent signings?
At this time last year, Miami Hurricanes defensive end Gregory Rousseau was seen as a legitimate top-10 prospect for the 2021 NFL draft class. Coming off a 2019 season that saw him post 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss, scouts and fans alike drooled over his obvious potential.
Rousseau opted out of the COVID-shortened 2020 season on Aug. 6, announcing he would instead begin preparing for the 2021 NFL draft. At the time, this seemed like a fair decision. Sure, scouts would have liked to see him further develop, but rarely do you see a freshman put up the second-most sacks in the country, so it was hard to argue.
But since that decision to opt-out, we have watched Rousseau’s draft stock slip further and further down the board. And now, with just a few days to go until the draft, there are legitimate questions over whether he will even be selected in round one.
Well, the unanimous consensus on Rousseau, even when he was still viewed as a top-10 prospect, is that he’s incredibly raw. After all, he’s still new to the position of edge rusher, seeing as he played wide receiver and safety when he was in high school.
As scouts and analysts dug more into his tape, it became clear that Rousseau still has a great deal of development ahead of him. He’s a 6-foot-7, 21-year-old with a near-7-foot wingspan, so the raw traits are undoubtedly there. The problem is this: His tape shows a very heavy reliance on those traits rather than technique—something that won’t fly in the NFL.
Even when watching Rousseau’s film and highlights from his dominant 2019 campaign, it’s clear he has a lot of refining to do. Far too many of his sacks came as a result of his insane wingspan and length. On multiple occasions, he’ll manage to grab the quarterback’s jersey to pull him down while simultaneously being blocked. His length is certainly an uncoachable advantage, but he needs to show more than that to translate to the NFL.
As it stands right now, there is a very high chance Rousseau will still be on the board when the Jets go on the clock at pick 23, and maybe even at 34. Yes, Gang Green hit a free agency home run in signing Carl Lawson, but the roster still lacks another real threat off the other edge. Rousseau and Lawson could combine to be a terrifying combination, especially with Quinnen Williams looking to be right on the verge of exploding.
Also encouraging is the fact that Rousseau worked his tail off to remain in tip-top shape during this past season away from football. He told Jordan Reid in an interview with The Draft Network last summer, “I really have been making sure that my eating habits are right. Staying away from fried foods and juice nowadays. Even though I’m away from the team, I still am putting myself through summer conditioning and making sure I keep those same habits.”
Right now, I see Rousseau as a very similar prospect to Danielle Hunter when he was coming out of LSU—fantastic physical traits combined with promising raw talent. This should go without saying, but comparing Rousseau to Hunter does not—by any means—guarantee he will end up being just as good.
But would the Jets even be interested in Rousseau over other potential options at edge rusher?
Let’s take a look at some of head coach Robert Saleh’s former edge rushers from his 49ers days to see if Rousseau fits his mold.
Physical traits-wise, one name that quickly comes to mind is DeForest Buckner. Like Rousseau, Buckner is 6-foot-7 with an even longer wingspan. He was drafted in 2016, but broke out as an NFL player in 2018, Saleh’s second season as the 49ers defensive coordinator—a promising sign he can maximize the talent of players with raw physical traits.
Arik Armstead is another name to keep in mind. Drafted 17th overall in 2015, Armstead was incredibly disappointing up until his breakout 2019 season, his third under Saleh. Armstead appears to be the kind of player who is at his best with an impressive cast around him. If Rousseau were to be drafted by the Jets, that isn’t necessarily something they lack on the defensive line.
This year’s edge-rushing class is a tricky one to rank. You can ask five different draft analysts who their top 2021 edge prospect is, and there’s a real chance you get five different answers. However, Rousseau is the prospect who likely presents the most upside, assuming he is able to refine his technique and add more muscle to his lean, lanky frame.
A potential Gregory Rousseau-New York Jets marriage could work. Whether or not it happens will come down to positional need and/or the team’s feeling on his long-term projection and fit.