Recently, we examined the top ten interior defensive linemen in the 2020 NFL draft. Let’s stick with the theme of pressuring the quarterback, this time looking at the top edge rushers. As we’ll get to, perhaps the best overall player in this draft comes from this position, though overall, the group represents an interesting debate of production versus athletic traits, which we’ll discuss at full length here. After obtaining all available information of these prospects, I’m ranked them with their overall grade, while also assigning them player comparisons and team fits. Who standout as the top-ten edge rushers in the 2020 NFL draft? Let’s discuss.
#1: Chase Young, Ohio State
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 265 lbs
Pro Comparison: Von Miller
Best Fits: WSH, NYG, DET
Overall Grade: 95.995 (1st Overall)
Chase Young is as close to flawless prospect as there is in this draft class. With tremendous length, strength, and athleticism, he has all the traits you’re looking for, but unlike other players on this list, he certainly knows how to use it. He has a variety of rush moves that he’s mastered, utilizing his elite hand usage and mechanics to his advantage. Whether it’s with power, speed, quickness, or his hands, we wins in every way possible, which explains his elite 96.5 pass-rushing grade from Pro Football Focus. Plus, his hot motor, length, and fluidity in his hips will also allow him to thrive as a run defender, so overall, he’ll wreck an extraordinary amount of havoc versus both the run and pass.
Good luck finding any true weakness with Young’s skillset. He can sometimes rely a bit too much on his athletic ability, but overall, he projects as potentially a top-ten edge rusher from the get go.
In any draft without an elite quarterback prospect, Chase Young would easily be the first overall pick, even if edge rusher isn’t a very valuable position. Obviously, he has almost zero chance to do so thanks to emergence of Joe Burrow, but he appears to be a lock to be selected by the Redskins with #2 overall pick. No non-quarterback should every stop a team from trading down, but as being an edge rusher is concerned, Young’s impact should be very similar to Nick Bosa this past season. In other words, he’s a rare prospect that’ll be the face of the Redskins defense right away.
#2: AJ Epenesa, Iowa
Height: 6’6″ Weight: 280 lbs
Pro Comparison: Arik Armstead
Best Fits: ATL, JAX, TB
Overall Grade: 88.72 (1st)
With exceptional length and power, AJ Epenesa has dominated as a pure power rusher, whether it’s on the edge or on the interior. He’s able to covert speed to power very well, and with his heavy hands, has an absolutely lethal bull rush. Said power allows him to thrive as a run defender, as he’s able to quickly shed blocks and win at the line of scrimmage. With tons of effort and plenty of technique, he’s also a very projectable player, and given his size, you’d be surprised how fluid he is. He may not be the most explosive prospect, but he definitely has NFL strength, and will be a super trustworthy player for defensive coordinators.
As mentioned, Epenesa isn’t super bursty, as evidenced by his lackluster 5.04 40-yard dash, so he’s limited as a pass rusher. There’s no way he’d survive at a stand up rusher, since his lackluster movement skills won’t allow him to do well in space, and he’s not super bendy. For that reason, he’s more of a “B+” pass rusher than a true game-changer, and for that reason, probably isn’t quite a top-ten caliber pick- his upside is limited.
AJ Epenesa offers a very similar skillset to Arik Armstead and Trey Flowers, which is a run-stopping edge defender on early downs who can kick inside and do damage on passing downs. His abilities as a power rusher is special, and he should make an impact right away. He’s a player that any defense could use, whether it’s as a 4-3 edge rusher, 3-4 defensive end, or as a interior rusher, though as mentioned, he’s not a player who’s going to change the course of a game and be a true #1 pass rusher. He’d thrive in a Seattle style scheme, which covets bigger edge rushers, so the Falcons and Jaguars are the best fits, though I’d love to see the damage he could do on the interior for a team like the Bucs, Broncos, Jets, Bills, or Patriots. The drop-off from Young to Epenesa is severe, but that shouldn’t diminish the Iowa product’s capabilities.
#3: Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Year: RS Junior
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 264 lbs
Pro Comparison: Derek Barnett
Best Fits: BAL, BUF, LV
Grade: 88.605 (1st)
Right now, Boise State’s Curtis Weaver isn’t getting much buzz as a first-round pick, which is absurd- he’s a polished pass rusher. With back to back elite pass-rushing seasons in terms of Pro Football Focus’ grades. Weaver works his magic through his powerful hand technique, which is as developed as can be for a college prospect. His footwork, mechanics, and instincts are also terrific, and to his credit, he has a very strong first step. As a pass rusher, he’s undoubtedly the second-best prospect in that regard after Young.
The main reason that Weaver isn’t generating more first-round hype is due to his poor frame, as he carries plenty of “bad weight”, and isn’t athletic by any means. Therefore, he’s definitely not going to win with any sort of explosiveness, fluidity, or pliability, which will draw some teams off. Also, due to his modest length, his tackle radius isn’t great, and his lackluster movement skills will cause him issues in space defending the run. If he’s going to win consistently in the NFL given his poor athletic traits, he’ll also need to play with better leverage and more diverse rush plans.
He’s not going to excite evaluators with his poor frame and athleticism, but Curtis Weaver is a polished pass-rusher who proved himself throughout his college career, and is thus a very valuable prospect. He can play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, with the ability to move inside on sub packages, so he’s pretty scheme diverse. Assuming he doesn’t get drafted in the first round, he could easily go down as the steal of the draft, as he figures to be a high-end #2 pass-rusher for years to come.
#4: Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
Height: 6’5″ Weight; 240 lbs
Pro Comparison: Dee Ford
Best Fits: IND, CAR, TEN
Overall Grade: 84.485 (Early 2nd)
Unlike Weaver, Julian Okwara’s athletic traits are extremely enticing, as he’s a true speed rusher with good length and loose hips. He’ll destroy slower tackles with his explosive first step and acceleration, and in space, will thrive with his change of direction ability. For whatever reason, he also displays a strong bull rush, as he’s able to covert speed to power. He’s not just a prototypical project, however, as in limited snaps this season, he showed his worth with a 90.4 pass-rush grade and 23% pass-rush win rate, per Pro Football Focus.
Okwara has the prototypical build of an edge rusher and is able to bull rush, he’s not a powerful player by any means, which is an issue in run defense. He doesn’t want to take on blocks at all, and when he does, struggles to disengage due to his lack of strength. He certainly has the frame to add some mass, but he’ll have to prove that he can do so while not losing any of his pure explosiveness. Meanwhile, though he’s a much better pass rusher than a couple of the other prospects we’ll get to, he’s not super refined, and probably isn’t a day-one starter.
With his elite athleticism and pass-rushing production, Julian Okwara is a very interesting target for teams searching for a high upside pass rusher. He’ll thrive as a 3-4 edge rusher with his ability to win with speed and in space, and over time, should develop into a plus pass rusher, which makes up for his expected struggles in run defense. He’ll need some refinement and is probably more of a rotational pass rusher, but if a team even wanted to take a shot on him at the back-end of the first round, I wouldn’t object, considering his upside.
#5: K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
Year: RS Sophomore
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 254 lbs
Pro Comparison: Samson Ebukam
Best Fits: MIA, IND, NYG
Overall Grade: 84.41 (Early 2nd)
Every year, there is one edge rusher who soars up draft boards based on his athleticism c traits. In 2018, it was Marcus Davenport, and in 2019, it was Montez Sweat. This year, K’Lavon Chaisson appears to fit that mold. His explosiveness is off the charts, so as you’d expect his upside as a speed rusher is enormous. Meanwhile, he’s also a thick and strong player, with the length and powerful hands needed to be a complete rusher. If he has to play in place, meanwhile, his excellent lateral mobility should allow him to flourish in space.
Although Chaisson has all the tools to be a high-end edge rusher, he’s yet to put it together yet. His highest overall grade in college from Pro Football Focus was just 78.9, which is fine, but certainly not the dominant level of production that players such as Young, Epenesa, and Weaver have showed. He’ll need to refine his rush plan at the next level, as he’s a non-factor once his first move doesn’t work, and limits himself too often as a speed rusher. You can’t rely on winning with pure athletic ability in the NFL, so if asked to play right away, Chaisson could be limited as both a pass rusher and run defender- he can sometimes get bullied by bigger offensive linemen.
K’Lavon Chaisson falls under a very similar category with Okwara, as both are athletic freaks that’ll need refinement at the next level. The difference is, Chaisson appears to be a lock to be drafted in the first round, which is too rich, in my opinion. The athletic traits are great, but if he never could put it together in college, you have to be skeptical about how he’ll fare at the NFL level. At the beginning of the second round, his upside is worth it, but you’re looking for a blue-chip prospect in the first round, and he’s not there at the moment.
#6: Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
Height: 6’5″ Weight: 265 lbs
Pro Comparison: Jason Pierre Paul
Best Fits: TB, DET, MIA
Overall Grade: 84.18 (Early 2nd)
Another player with very impressive traits, Yetur Gross-Matos has all the tools you’re looking for in an edge rusher. As illustrated by his 6’5″ frame, he’s extremely lengthy who plays with tremendous extension, and has so much power in his hands. Plus, he’s also an athletic freak with excellent burst and flexibility, so he’s capable of dominating with power and speed. He’s also a pretty balanced player, as he’ll be a weapon as a pass rusher and run defender; his run defense is assisted greatly by his explosiveness and massive tackle radius.
Similarly to Chaisson and Okwara, Gross-Matos can be an unstoppable force on the edge, but he definitely hasn’t developed into that yet. He currently can’t process what’s going on at an appropriate speed, and thus, makes a lot of poor decisions. He’ll also need to develop a counter move and work on his pass-rushing technique, especially since he isn’t the athletic freak that Okwara and Chaisson are. Overall, he’s a player with high-end flashes, but one who struggles to sustain any sort of game-to-game consistency.
With his length and ability to affect the pass and the run, Yetur Gross Matos is the type of versatile edge rusher than teams will dream on. Yet, his inability to read offenses and make decisions is extremely worrisome regarding his adjustment to the NFL, and overall, he’s an unrefined player. He’s another player that isn’t quite a first-round prospect, but has the upside to warrant a selection in the following round.
#7: Darrell Taylor, Tennessee
Year: RS Senior
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 256 lbs
Pro Comparison: Brian Orakpo
Best Fits: PIT, IND, NYJ
Overall Grade: 83.36 (Late 2nd)
Some pass rushers make their money off of one signature move, and for Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor, he wins with his bull rush. His length and explosiveness allows him to execute the move to perfection, and overall, he projects well as a power rusher at the next level. Meanwhile, he certainly has NFL capable athleticism, on the edge, has the type of bend and fluidity needed. In total, he’s a player who is capable of rushing the passer and setting a firm edge versus the run, and with that, fits into any defensive scheme.
Taylor’s bull rush is fantastic, but at the moment, he struggles to win with any other move, so he’ll have to develop a more varied approach to win at the next level. There are also a lot of mental red flags: an inconsistent motor, a failure to time the snap properly, no rush plan, and processing errors. Plus, I’m not sure he currently projects to dominate against the pass or the run, so he’s more of a #2 edge rusher. Therefore, he’s not polished, yet doesn’t have the type of upside that the prospects ranked ahead of him have.
When he’s at his best, Darrell Taylor is powerful bull rusher with plenty of athleticism, and he progressed nicely during his time in college. However, he’s far too inconsistent at the moment, and isn’t dominant in any particular way. For a team looking for a complementary pass rusher on the second day of the draft, such as Steelers or Colts, he makes a lot of sense, and that’s around the range I expect him to be drafted- he’s definitely one of the least polarizing edge rush prospects in this class.
#8: Josh Uche, Michigan
Height: 6’2″ Weight: 250 lbs
Pro Comparison: Uchenna Nwosu
Best Fits: BUF, BAL, MIA
Overall Grade: 83.185 (Late 2nd)
Josh Uche isn’t quite your prototypical edge rusher, but in an era where versatility is prioritized, he’ll be a coveted prospect. With great bend and flexibility, as well as excellent burst, he’s capable of exploding past offensive tackles, and is a very disciplined player as well. His technique, effort, and hand usage is very impressive, which allows him to succeed as a pass rushers, while his movements skills allow him to work in space as a run defender and in coverage.
Uche may want to stick as an edge rusher in the NFL, but it’s unclear if that’ll actually happen. He’ll need to add some extra lower body strength, as he’s super undersized; he can get absolutely bulldozed by bigger offensive linemen. Plus, per Pro Football Focus, he only played 667 career snaps as a pass rusher, and saw most of his production come as a blitzing linebacker, rather than an edge rusher.
I doubt that Josh Uche sticks full-time as an edge rusher, but his ability to potentially rush the passer and mix in as an off-ball linebacker is intriguing. Teams that like to blitz their linebackers, or use them as pass rushers, such as the Bills, Ravens, Dolphins, Lions, and Patriots all would be able to utilize him correctly, as he’s not someone you want to stick to one particular role. He’s highly dependent on how he’s used, but if used properly, Uche’s overall polish and athleticism indicate that he’ll find success in the NFL.
#9: Jonathan Greenard, Florida
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 263 lbs
Pro Comparison: Pernell McPhee
Best Fits: BAL, BUF, MIN
Overall Grade: 83.135 (Late 2nd)
There are certainly a lot of intriguing edge rush prospects from the SEC, and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard is another player who should catch evaluator’s attention. His hand usage may be the best in this entire draft class, and to his credit, he’s a disciplined player who attacks offensive tackles with a particular plan. His snap anticipation puts him a good position to explode past offensive linemen, but where he’ll win with is his power. His inside counter moves are extremely advanced, and when kicked inside on third downs, he causes a lot of havoc as an interior pass rusher. Plus, with his strength, he sets the edge really well versus the run, so he’s a everyday type of edge rusher.
Greenard wins with his intelligence and power, but he’s not a very bursty edge rusher, as he’s overall limited athletically. Although his inside moves are fantastic, he also needs to develop more outside moves, and overall, he’s a limited pass rusher. He’s also not a player you want working in space, so he’s not a great fit as a 3-4 edge rusher.
As a three-down edge defender who can kick inside on third downs, Jonathan Greenard is a very interesting skillset that should allow him to have meaningful role right away. His upside isn’t there, and the same can be said about his overall consistency, but plenty players with his profile have succeeded in the past, and on day two, he’s a high-floor prospect that win-now teams will probably covet. Whether it’s in Buffalo replacing Shaq Lawson, in Baltimore replacing Matthew Judon, or in Minnesota replacing Everyone Griffen, there are a lot of defenses that could utilize his skillset.
#10: Bradlee Anae, Utah
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 257 lbs
Pro Comparison: Matthew Judon
Best Fits: HOU, TEN, NYJ
Grade: 81.24 (Early 4th)
After showing out strong at the Senior Bowl, Bradley Anae’s stock is rising, which is fair after a season with Utah in which he received an 88.1 pass-rush grade and 20.2% pass-rush win rate, per Pro Football Focus. He’s a pretty polished player, as his hand technique is impressive, and will help him win with power enough at the NFL level. He’s a super instinctive pass rusher who can play with his hand up or in the dirt, and his effort level will never be something that defensive coordinators have to worry about.
Anae does all he can with technique, instincts, and his hot motor, but he just doesn’t have the physical traits you’re looking for. His limited length is an issue, as with a small tackle radius, he can be a liability at times versus the run, and can be steamrolled by offensive linemen with a lack of lower-body mass. Meanwhile, he’s a stiff rusher without much overall juice in the open field, which will hurt him as a run defender, but also on the edge as a pass rusher. Simply put, he’s a very restricted player that is more of a rotational rusher than an every-down player.
Bradlee Anae will be able to contribute right away as a rotational edge rusher, but unfortunately, that’s about all he’ll be. He’s got a varied pass-rushing skill set with a tremendous mental makeup, but he just doesn’t have any of the tools needed to be a true impact edge rusher; I wouldn’t take him on the first two days of the draft personally.
Here are all the other edge rushers that were analyzed and considered for this list, ranked with their overall grade:
11) Trevis Gipson, Tulsa (79.895, Late 4th/Early 5th)
12) Terrell Lewis, Alabama (79.95, Late 4th/Early 5th)
13) Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame (79.715, Late 4th/Early 5th)
14) Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (79.535, Late 4th/Early 5th)
15) Alton Robinson, Syracuse (79.38, Late 4th/Early 5th)
16) Jubari Zuniga, Florida (78.53, 5th)
17) Alex Highsmith, Charlotte (78.28, 5th)
18) Carter Coughlin, Minnesota (77.475, Early 6th)
19) Jonathan Garvin, Miami (77.15, Early 6th)
20) Mike Danna, Michigan (76.87, 6th)
21) Trevon Hill, Miami (76.845, 6th)
22) Kenny Willekes, Michigan State (74.81, Late 7th)
23) James Smith-Williams, NC State (72.29, UDFA)
24) Azur Kamara, Kansas (70.86, UDFA)
As mentioned in the intro, this is a very interesting edge rush class. Young is the headliner, but after that, teams will have to make an important decision: bet on athletic traits or draft the players who’ve already proven that they can rush the passer at a high level? As you can tell by my list, I’m much more in favor of draft players with proven production, which is why I favor Epenesa and Weaver greatly over Okwara, Chaisson, and Gross-Matos, but nevertheless, every player in the top-ten portion of this list offers some sort of intrigue for NFL front offices. I’ll always select an impact defensive back over a pass rusher, but still, there are are three true first-round caliber edge rushers, with plenty of high-upside second-round flyers to complement them. Combined with a strong interior defensive line class, there aren’t any excuses for teams in need of bolstering their pass rush.
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