I. Edge rushers are the easiest position to project in the NFL Draft.
The skills required to play the position are easily discernible on tape. Jene Bramel and Andrew Parsons have probably done a better job than anyone at showing what to look for biomechanically from edge rushers on film. Further, the physical ability required to use those skills at a baseline level in the NFL is easily discernible through the athletic tests performed at the NFL combine. Where Andrew and Jene are excellent as describing translatable skills, Justis Mosqueda has created a metric named “Force Players” that passes or fails Edge rushers athletically based on Explosion and/or Agility in relation to their body’s density. The list of players who have passed and failed is stunningly accurate in projecting success.
II. What if I told you that the most complete front-seven player in this draft class played in Los Angeles?
Not too controversial of a statement, really. USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is viewed almost unanimously as not only the top defensive player in the draft, but the best player regardless of position. Williams might not even be the best defensive prospect in his own city, however. And that’s not necessarily a slight on him as much as it is praise for the exceptional talent of UCLA’s Owa Odgidhizuwa.
Overall, there seems to be ambivalence about Odighizuwa as a prospect. He has pockets of intense support, but the general feeling is that he was a late-round one/early round two prospect, largely because of medical concerns and a lack of pass rush productivity. The results of his medicals are mostly a mystery. We know that he (quite literally) doesn’t have hips. Both were operated on during his stay at UCLA. He claims the medical tests at the combine went well, but we have virtually no information besides that. He also didn’t perform well in the 3-cone drill – recording a time of 7.36, indicating a lack of flexibility.
These (admittedly large) caveats explain why Odighidzuwa isn’t quite getting the same type of love as other front seven players in this class. Further, UCLA’s useage of Odighizuwa adds more ambiguity to his projection. His role in the defense was almost identical to Ezekiel Ansah’s at BYU. While he would occasionally get snaps as a widened defensive end or stand-up rush linebacker, for the most part he was in very tight alignments – two-gapping while head up over an offensive tackle or playing as a true interior defensive lineman.
Despite weighing only 263 pounds, Odighizuwa was devastatingly effective in this role. He shows the IT (Integrated Technique) factor to incorporate his natural gifts of length, punch strength, and a powerfully explosive lower body into a cohesive package that made him a consistently disruptive force against both the run and pass. However, playing inside at 265 pounds isn’t something that’s realistically projectable to the NFL. Further, Odighizuwa only recorded 6 sacks his final year. How exactly do you value a 265-pound interior defensive lineman who probably requires a position change and has limited sack production?
III. By and large, there are two “branches” or player archetypes for edge rushers that have a highly projectable correlation to success – “benders” and “speed to power” rushers.
Benders use a combination of flexibility and balance to reduce their surface area and skim the corner while leaning into an offensive tackle. A couple of years ago, Jene Bramel did a fantastic job outlining the specific skill and technique used to turn the corner, leading Matt coin the phrase “Bramel Efficiency.” These players are the Agility Score stars of the edge players, sporting excellent 3-cone times in relation to their size.
If you ever see an edge rusher’s numbers disappear from the TV broadcast as he shows the top of his inside shoulder to the offensive tackle, congratulations, you’found a Bender.
Where Benders tend to be Agility Score stars, Speed-to-Power rushers are Explosion Score athletes. They sport excellent vertical/broad jumps (and 40 times, to a lesser degree) in relation to their density. Because they tend to lack the flexibility turn the corner as an edge rusher, they rely on the incredible force then can generate with their lower body in order to play through offensive linemen.
Because Speed-to-Power rushers need to play through contact by nature, a certain threshold of skill is required in terms of being able to defeat blocks and disengage after contact is established. Also, while Speed-to-Power rushers are just as effective as Benders in terms of disruption to an offense, they require a bit more creative use in terms of alignment.
A Speed-to-Power with enough speed can be used in a wider alignment. The wider alignment gives the rusher the opportunity to bullrush through the offensive tackle a straight line to the quarterback. A wider alignment also forces the offensive tackle into a wider pass set. If the offensive tackle has enough respect for the edge rusher’s speed, it gives the edge rusher the equivalent of a wide receiver’s “two-way go,” allowing him to work inside or outside depending on the offensive tackle’s leverage.
Again, this is predicated on the offensive tackle having enough respect for the threat of an outside rush that he can’t just sit and anchor, waiting for the inside move. If a player doesn’t present enough of this outside threat, you’re looking at a player who will likely need to be utilized as an interior defensive lineman vs the pass.
IV. The Pre-Draft Stoner-Mosqueda Dialectic
Eric: Odighizuwa is the best defensive lineman in this class.
Justis: He’s not putting on weight.
J: He’s Orakpo. Defensive Line=/=Edge. You and Parsons were the first ones to create the DL vs Edge vs Off-Ball LB distinctions. Who are you right now?
E: You don’t think he’s a true 4-3 defensive end?
J: He’s a power rush linebacker in a 3-4. Like I said, Orakpo. Like Peppers right now, too.
E: Oh, interesting. He and Vic are the best defensive players in the class. I’d rather have him than Dupree for an Edge role. Or Leonard Williams for the Jaguars, specifically.
J: You guys (Jaguars) are taking Fowler.
J: It’s better than getting bench reps from one of Odrick or Williams.
J: With a Williams pick, the identity of that front is clearly “strength,” but that’s really all it has.
E: Nobody would ever run on them with Odrick and Williams up front.
J: It’s just gonna suck when you’re pulling one of them off the field on third downs.
E: The way they’d be set up, they’re not gonna be able to get off the field on third downs regardless.
J: Y’all don’t have the defensive back depth to play that type of game. It’s like the Cardinals last year. Nice cornerbacks, but overall, they’re high-variance DBs that scare you. And that’s coupled with a good run-stopping defensive line that really just invites teams to keep throwing.
E: Exactly. Back to Odighizuwa though. And this is a serious question, so don’t laugh. But is he better than Beasley?
J: Hmmm. He’s a better run defender.
E: Right. I think you can definitely count on him to play three downs and/or in a base defensive set early.
J: I think you win less with power vs NFL offensive lineman than with bend, though. But I definitely had to think about it in terms of him vs Beasley.
E: Is that really true about bend being superior to explosion? Because he’s not just power. He has a true first step and legit closing speed.
J: I think so. Offensive linemen don’t really get more athletic. That’s just how it goes. They do get a hell of a lot stronger though. Beasley will get more solo destruction sacks in the NFL. Odighizuwa will probably be more of a clean-up sack player, where he wears you down as a play goes along.
E: So who are the best power-rushing force players that Odighizuwa matches athletically?
J: There’s Orakpo who I’ve already mentioned. Shawne Merriman, Jamie Collins (even though he’s an Off-Ball LB now), Lamarr Woodley, and Connor Barwin. JJ Watt and Mario Williams pass too, but those are way different body types.
E: Merriman is a great comp, actually. Especially with that punch strength.
J: Justin Houston is another one. They’re both same height/weight with crazy jumps, but Houston had insane Agility Scores too. Same with Watt. Him running a 6.88 3-cone at 290 pounds is still the craziest piece of data I’ve seen.
E: Merriman didn’t even bother with a 3-cone at his Pro Day, huh?
J: He just jumped and called it a day. Same with Woodley.
E: Something Matt and I were talking about…why wouldn’t the Raiders go Odighizuwa if his hips are cleared medically?
J: I dunno. They supposedly love Preston Smith, so they should theoretically like Odighizuwa too.
E: As much as I like Odighizuwa, there is one concern besides the medicals. He really does struggle at actually finishing plays.
J: His sack numbers were low, I believe.
E: Does this play worry you?
E: His pad level is awful there. Peat’s able to just absorb his bull-rush.
J: He can’t let Peat get so much bend in his knees to get under him. And the main worry is that he’s lined up wide there, and that’s where you’d be hoping he’s aligned in the NFL.
E: He did have a play in this game where he dusted the right tackle.
And look at this sequence plays at this end of this game vs the run. Standing dudes up like he’s 300 pounds. Those are the same plays everyone is losing their mind over with Leonard Williams, and Owa does it pretty consistently with 30 fewer pounds on his frame.
J: That right tackle is so slow. He’s actually one of the reasons Leonard Williams got sacks.
E: He does also have an inside move. Like I said, he just needs to get better at finishing. He comes flying in so out of control.
J: He’s chaos.
E: But he really does suck at actually getting the QB down. I don’t know if it’s a balance issue or what, but he’s consistently out of control once he’s in the backfield.
J: He wants to make contact with his hands ASAP, even tackling.
E: Yes. He’s never actually bringing his body into his tackles.
J: He’s not waiting. Like I said, he is chaos. He sees the target and his idea of finishing is getting to that target. What happens after that is sloppy.
E: People are going to like this shitty USC quarterback next year huh?
J: “He’s not the worst one they’ve had.” – tweets from the future
E: I might have found a hint of bend, honestly.
E: You actually see his numbers disappear for once with him reducing his surface area. He might be capable.
J: That’s like the pic of Preston Smith in the Texas A&M game. Bent the corner like four times at 6’4” and I was like “oh.” He looked like Robert Quinn.
E: Man, Owa has that Andre Branch windmill trying to turn the corner most plays working the edge. Even though that one play I linked before shows he might be capable, it just takes so much effort for him to bend.
J: There’s some bend there, but I dunno if that flies through NFL contact. You just don’t know with those medicals. It might be a situation where he has good and bad days with them and it affects his flexibility, you know?
E: I think Odighizuwa can line up wide and win, but it’s gonna have to be off a bull-rush, and preferably disengaging with an inside move. He’s gotta align wide and force a wide pass set by the offensive tackle.
J: Just game it? And then if the offensive tackle sets hard inside, Odighizuwa can just blow the doors off around the edge?
E: Yeah, he has enough first step and closing speed to beat an offensive tackle that’s waiting too hard for the inside move, but that’s not gonna be the meat of his game. He can’t bend. But he can do this to offensive tackles:
E: Has enough speed off the line to get into them before then can get both feet down in their set. And he’s got perfect hand placement. He lives in offensive tackles’ chest.
J: UCLA really did play him in tight too often. From those tight alignments, the offensive tackle can really just set hard for the inside move and dare him to do something outside. That mentality is flipped when you’re forcing him to get wide.
E: This play is a pretty good indication that he can work off the OT’s leverage in space. It’s a choppy and sloppy swim, but it still shows some pretty crazy power.
J: I dunno why he stopped his feet if he didn’t see the quarterback re-setting. He made it harder on himself. You do see what you need to see in that play though.
E: Looks like he really just didn’t trust himself to really get around the corner. He does time it up with the quarterback’s re-set here.
J: He’s weird. He can play pretty much everything except traditional 4-3 end.
E: Yeah, you’ve convinced me on that. He’s probably not winning off a regular alignment where he’s just slightly outside shade of the offensive tackle. You’ve either gotta move him in or out.
J: Draft Twitter are gonna shit themselves when they see him lined wide in the NFL and they had him ranked as an interior defensive lineman/5-tech/3-tech.
E: Here’s the thing about “traditional” edge/4-3 ends though…there’s really not any of them in this class. In the upper tier anyway.
E: I know he passes the athletic filters and has the size for it, but he has no idea how to use his body at this point.
J: I know. And you know Odighizuwa is going to be able to play the run, too. So you can at least play him in base on the line of scrimmage. Who else can at the top of this class? Dupree maybe? And then who?
J: Unless he goes to a team running that Atlanta/Seattle/Jax defense, Fowler is a hybrid guy who needs to be moved around. He should almost be used like Khalil Mack, even though Mack is a much better athlete. And Beasley/Gregory are both strong side linebackers.
E: Odighizuwa had as many recorded pressures as Beasley did. He also had way more pressures than Leonard did, and they were basically playing the same position in college for most of their snaps.
IV. Linking the Metrics and Film
Just because a player passes Agility or Explosion thresholds doesn’t mean his talents have been integrated functionally into his game. Danielle Hunter and Bud Dupree are great examples in this year’s class of this. Further, just because a player displays a high and functional level of skill means little if the player is not physically capable of actually beating NFL offensive tackles (Shane Ray and Dante Fowler).
“He is just a football player” becomes “he was just a football player” at Edge more quickly than any other position in the NFL. In this sense, edge rushers should be creating the alliance between the “film watcher” and the “metrics” worlds of scouting. We already intuitively knew that productive pass rushers are highly flexible or are able to generate speed-to-power with lower body explosion. The Force Players metric essentially validated that. But it still doesn’t eliminate the need to watch film – it just tells the evaluator who he needs to spend most of his time watching. And if he’s not a member of the Twitch Gang, don’t even bother wasting your time.
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