Draft season is officially upon us and Raiders fans should be excited for the 3 first round picks that HC Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock have at their disposal. Kicking off this series on position group superlatives is arguably the Raider’s biggest need: edge rusher. The Raiders are likely to use one of their first picks on a pass rusher to help the beleaguered pass rush that ranked dead last in the NFL in 2018.
The edge rusher class is stacked and there should be players for every scheme and preference available through the first 3 rounds. Here are 6 edge players who deserve a nod for standing out for the qualities that make football players great.
Montez Sweat, ED, Mississippi State.
Sweat turned heads at the Senior Bowl weigh coming in at 6’6 252lbs. But his arm length: 35 5/8ths, wingspan 84 1/2, and hand size 10.13 inches is the body type NFL teams drool over.
Sweat gained a lot of hype after a video of a bull rush that sent Alabama State OT Tytus Howard made its rounds on social media. Sweat isn’t in the top tier of edge prospects in this class but his upside as a size-speed athlete boosts his stock. He’ll likely be a first round pick and could come off the board in the late teens of the 2019 NFL draft.
Highest Skill level goes to Nick Bosa from Ohio State. Bosa is an NFL ready pass rusher who wins with a variety of moves. It helps his brother Joey Bosa and Dad John Bosa were drafted to play DE in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/XmAAbC13xz— DWillSkills (@BDWilliams18) January 25, 2019
Nick Bosa, ED, Ohio State
Bosa is widely considered the best prospect in this class. He only played in a handful of games in 2018 due to injury but that doesn’t seem to be a sticking point for most in his evaluation.
When he was on the field he dominated. Against the run he easily anchored at the point of attack even against double teams. As a pass rusher he put NFL quality reps on tape in every game he played. He is a technically refined pass rusher who can diagnose blocking schemes and react on the fly. He has the full bag of tools in his repertoire to go along with great bend and savvy hand usage.
Anthony Nelson, ED, Iowa
Okay this could be cheating a little here because Nelson projects as an interior rusher in most NFL schemes. However he played exclusively on the edge at Iowa and was able to win with his massive size and strength. He’s not the quick twitch speed rusher who can bend around the corner like others in this class but his ability to anchor against the run is one of his best attributes.
Nelson consistently knocked blockers backwards and controlled the line of scrimmage in college. Scheme wise I don’t think he’s a fit for the Raiders. Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther likes his edge rushers to have more athleticism than Nelson displays on tape. But an NFL team who likes ends to have the versatility to play on the edge on run downs and slide inside in passing situations will get a plug and play starter.
The Best Athlete at Edge Rusher goes to Brian Burns from Florida State. He constantly flashes elite get off, flexibility, explosiveness, and balance as a pass rusher. His cat-like quickness for 6'5 man is frightening. pic.twitter.com/RKhK2FN7IS— DWillSkills (@BDWilliams18) January 25, 2019
Brian Burns, ED, Florida State
Burns is a similar prospect as Arden Key coming into the NFL. Tall, lanky pass rushers who can scream off the edge. Like Key, Brian Burns is light for the position, listed at 235 while at Florida State. NFL players can add weight easier than adding speed or explosiveness and Burns has those traits in spades.
Burns as a rookie will likely be a situational pass rusher until he can prove to not to be a liability against the run. Run defenders come a dime a dozen however, players with the elite athletic traits of Burns come at a much higher premium. Expect the Florida State rusher to blow up the combine athletic testing and garner interest in the top half of the first round.
The Highest Upside award goes to Josh Allen from Kentucky. He posted 17 sacks in 2018 despite dropping back into coverage over a third of his snaps at the college level. He's a speed rusher who can bend. Oh and he can also do this: pic.twitter.com/DMkwwkubC4— DWillSkills (@BDWilliams18) January 25, 2019
Josh Allen, OLB, Kentucky
Allen shot up draft boards this season with an impressive performance, helping Kentucky to finish in the top 15 in the FBS. Allen is an all around defender as a rush linebacker for the Wildcats. His sack production came albeit being often used in coverage to defend the quick RPO game that is taking over college football. But he’s an edge rusher first and foremost but with enough versatility and athleticism to be used in a variety of ways.
Allen’s blend of elite size for a rush linebacker 6’4 260, and bend around the corner is enough to get high first round interest. Too add to that, being able to break up passes 30 yards down field is almost unprecedented for an edge player. He has the chance to become a premier defender in the NFL.
Jaylon Ferguson, ED, Mississippi State
It’s understandable that more people aren’t talking about Jaylon Ferguson amongst the top rated edge rushers in the 2019 draft. Jaylon Ferguson on tape doesn’t show the fluidity, strength, or burst that other players on this list have. At the same time he’s a damn good football player who set the record for career sacks in the NCAA. 67.5 tackles for a loss and 45 sacks in 4 years are eye popping stats that just don’t happen without a high skill level.
People can point to playing against a lower level of competition or lack of elite athletic traits but sometimes those parts of the evaluation are just fluff when compared to actual production on the field. Ferguson will be a better football player than his combine scores will predict and a team who values skill level will get someone who is used to getting in the backfield.