Lacking a polished, dominant top prospect, this edge class doesn’t seem to stack up to years past. However, there are plenty of difference-makers up and down the board even though none will be drafted in the top 5.
1. Kwity Paye, Michigan
Paye is my top ranked edge by a pretty wide margin. Twitched up to the 10th degree, Paye ran for 13 TDs as a RB/QB/WR during his senior year of high school before committing to Michigan. Still fairly raw, he developed well in Ann Arbor growing into a strong defender against both run and pass while having the versatility to line up outside the guard, tackle or tight end.
Way too quick for a guard, check him out against a tackle.
Still waaaaaay too quick. His technique still lacks, but that bend is nuts for someone with so much natural power. He is coming to the league on the lighter side, but his frame definitely has the space to fill out some more and it should not affect his athleticism much. All signs point to Paye becoming a monster.
2. Gregory Rousseau, Miami
Purely based on physical projection, Rousseau is up there with Paye. His 6’7″, 260 lb frame looks like it should belong to an NBA small forward rather than an NFL edge. Not yet 21 years old, he definitely has more room to fill out and will be an imposing force once he grows into an NFL body. Measureables like that cannot be taught and Rousseau has the potential to have a physical advantage on every linemen he ever lines up against.
On the other hand, he has only put 546 snaps on tape in 1 full season as a starter for the Hurricanes. Dominant as he was (16 sacks, 36% of all tackles behind the LOS), questions remain about his overall game. He routinely struggled against larger tackles, not winning often on the outside. Miami was good at moving him around the line to provide favorable match-ups against guards, but he will not have the same advantages in the NFL. For teams willing to bet big on the size and are willing to undergo a project, Rousseau is worth the gamble.
3. Jayson Oweh, Penn State
Physically outstanding, Oweh checks every box you’d want from an edge. He would be in the running to break the records for 40 yard dash, broad jump, and vertical leap for an edge defender if there were a combine this season. That athleticism allowed Penn State to deploy him in a variety of different ways, including off the line and dropping in coverage on occasion. NFL teams seeing this will have confidence in his ability to possibly transition to a role where his hand is not in the dirt.
The main detractor to Oweh’s stock is a perceived lack of production. He was supposed to breakout in 2020 as a third year player with a more prominent role after Yetur Gross-Matos’ departure and wound up with 0 sacks. Not always the best measure of edge talent though, his win rate rose to 18% and his PFF pass rushing grade sat at 80.3 despite the gosse-egg. Oweh has heaps of potential and should be a 1st round pick.
4. Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
Ojulari does not have the same freakish tools as the other guys on this list, but man can he play. His speed jumps off the tape as he routinely blows past tackles on the outside.
Cincinnati’s starting LT was ejected from this game late in the 1st half and Ojulari took over soon thereafter. He notched 3 sacks and 2 forced fubles as Georgia pulled off the comeback victory. For the season, his 91.7 pass-rushing grade ranked 2nd among all edge defenders per PFF and he comes to the league more pro-ready than most of this list.
5. Jaelen Phillips, Miami
Based purely on ability, Phillips should be the 2nd ranked edge in this class. The former 5 star recruit came on in a big way last season, totaling 9 sacks over his final 7 games for the Hurricanes after transferring from UCLA. He’s polished, athletic, long, twitchy, and has a very high motor.
The only ‘if’ with Phillips is his health, and that’s a big ‘if’. He has had multiple concussions and there is no guarantee he continues to play after another. His interviews will be critical as teams gauge his commitment to the game. Very risky on Day 1, Phillips could develop into a productive edge or be the next Chris Borland.
Honorable Mention (aka Best Remaining Athletes)
Payton Turner, Dayton
Carlos Basham Jr, Wake Forrest
Brenton Cox Jr, Florida