NFL Draft 2021: Rough Diamonds Series: Edge Rushers

This is part six of the series where I take a quick look, position by position, at my favourite Day 3/Undrafted guys from the 2021 NFL Draft.

We’ve completed my look back on the offensive positions, so it’s now time to turn our attention to the defense, and the edge rushers will kick us off. I covered some of my favourite possible day 3 edge rushers before the draft, so we’ll ignore those and dip into some other talented guys that may have slipped through the net. The players I’ve picked all have some excellent tape out there, but the one thing they all have in common is a lack of prototypical size for the position. This may limit their ceilings in the NFL, but the one thing they all can do is get after the quarterback, and there’s always a place for players like this in the league.

Quincy Roche: Miami (Round 6, Pick 216 Pittsburgh)

Roche only played the 2020 season at The U, having arrived as a graduate transfer from Temple. Taking advantage of Gregory Rousseau’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season, Roche teamed up with Jaelan Phillips (Round 1, Pick 18 Miami), to form possibly the best edge duo in the entire nation.

Now it wasn’t as though no one had heard of Roche before his move to Miami. He had played at a very high level for Temple over three years and was firmly on scouts’ radars, but his move to the Hurricanes thrust him into the national spotlight and he didn’t disappoint. 

I first noticed him in 2018, as a Sophomore, where he was dominant in the three games I saw, against Tulsa, UCF and the ACC’s Duke. Now Duke is hardly the cream of the ACC, but his performance against a Power 5 school, plus the exceptional performance against an elite level UCF offense, really put him on my map. In 2019 he got to go against more Power 5 schools in Maryland, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. He again looked very much like he belonged in that kind of company. In those games he challenged the outside shoulder of all the left tackles he came up against with his speed, but also showed off the strength in his hands, constantly jolting them back in their stance and knocking them off balance. Considering these opponents weighed between 60-100lbs more than him, he used speed to power impressively for someone on the small side.

The step up in competition for the 2020 season made no difference to him, he still was a constant nuisance off the edge and made some impressive plays in the run game too. He had an excellent 14.5 tackles for loss, and although only 4.5 were sacks, his pass rush prowess was still very much evident, it’s just teammate Jaelen Phillips was half a step quicker to the quarterback.

For Roche to elevate himself into a top three round player, he needed a good Pro Day workout and unfortunately that didn’t happen for him. He weighed in lighter than I hoped for (245lbs), so he needed a good 40 time, but again he produced a very underwhelming 4.69. The agility times and jumps were all very average too, and suddenly we were talking about a player who was falling. The tape was too good to be a round 6 player, but that’s where he was taken by the Steelers. 

Pittsburgh runs a 3-4 defense, which is perfect for Roche who can stand up as an Outside Linebacker in this scheme. With T.J Watt nailing down one of the spots, Roche will compete with Alex Highsmith, who flashed at times as a rookie last year, for the other starting spot. Even if he doesn’t win that job, I feel he will play significant snaps as a rookie and outperform his draft slot.

Photo Credit: Oregon State Athletics

Hamilcar Rashed: Oregon State (Undrafted, NY Jets)

Rashed was a very productive Pass Rusher in High School but was only a 3 star recruit due to lack of size. He ended up choosing Oregon State over Nebraska and set about packing on some weight during his redshirt season. He played sparingly in 2017 but earned a starting job as an outside linebacker in 2018 and quietly put together a nice season. He finished that season with 12.5 tackles for loss and showed up well in the bigger games against Cal, USC and the rivalry game against Oregon. 

He burst on the scene nationally with an unbelievable 2019 campaign, amassing 14 Sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. Now closer study of the tape reveals that a decent percentage of these big plays were “hustle plays”, which isn’t a bad thing, but he didn’t show elite pass rush traits (speed, bend, power etc) that these stats would have indicated. It reminded me of Miami edge Gregory Rousseau’s big 2019 season, but Rousseau has better size and is more athletic, which made him a much more desirable draft prospect. There was plenty of talk of Rashed declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft, and if he had he most likely would have been a day two pick, but he went back for his senior year, and unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan.

Because of COVID the PAC-12 started late, and Oregon State only managed to get seven games in, so not a normal season’s worth of tape to get through, but I did catch three games. I saw him against Washington, Oregon and Utah, and I felt he still flashed the big play capability of the previous season, but without putting up any meaningful numbers.  Although he is only 6’2 he has some good length to him, and his almost 34-inch arms help him control tackles and disengage quickly from them. Rashed takes great pursuit angles and has really nice closing speed when he sniffs a chance to make a play. There is some inconsistency against the run, but the willingness is there, it’s just sometimes he can get overwhelmed by bigger blockers. Oregon State also dropped him back into coverage on occasions, and he certainly wasn’t a liability back there, but it isn’t what he’s on the field for. 

He put up some good Pro Day numbers including a nice 40 (4.62) and an even better 10-yard split (1.59). Good jump results show the explosiveness that is clear to see on the tape, but the agility drills were below average, which explains the lack of bend and change of direction he displays. 

So, who is the real Hamilcar Rashed? Is it that 14 sack monster, or the guy who didn’t register a single sack in the seven games played last season? I think the answer is somewhere in the middle, and with the decent testing numbers I still expected Rashed to be drafted in that round 3-4 range, so I was very surprised he slipped out of the draft entirely. He signed as a UDFA with the NY Jets, and this was a good move. The Jets new Head Coach, Robert Saleh, probably feels Rashed could play the same role Dee Ford played for him in San Francisco, and although he doesn’t have the skill set that Ford has, this Jets team is in a total rebuild, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Rashed makes the roster and gets some pass rush reps as a rookie.

Darius Hodge: Marshall (Undrafted, Cincinnati)

Hodge was a consensus 3-star recruit and originally committed to North Carolina State, but due to academics ended up signing with Marshall instead. He only played 3 seasons for the Thundering Herd and was a surprise declaration for the 2021 NFL draft, having put up very modest numbers there. 

I caught three games of Hodge this past season, and although he had minimal production, I saw a lot to like too. I was shocked when I saw he was only 6’1, as he looks so long and bendy on film. He has over 34-inch arms which gives this impression of length, and he uses them so well, keeping much bigger offensive tackles away from his body, and using the bend and speed he has to get around them. He is explosive out of his stance and with this quick twitch he is already on the lineman before they are fully set. This gives him the advantage of a full pass rush plan, instead of relying purely on speed to win. He almost exclusively played defensive end for Marshall, but at his size he’ll need to learn to play more in coverage, as he’ll need to transition to more of a linebacker role in the NFL. In all three games I watched he stood out, and I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do next year at Marshall, but for whatever reason, he decided he was going to enter this year’s draft pool instead.

He, like the other guys here, is too undersized (6’1 248 lbs) to play edge full time in the NFL. He has some really nice pass rush traits to work with and I felt he’d be selected late on in the draft. He wasn’t, so he had to sign as a UDFA, and he chose the Bengals to suit up for. Cincy was an odd choice to sign with, as they used three 2021 draft picks on edges, and have a pretty decent group of players for that role anyway, so he’ll have his work cut out to make this roster. That doesn’t mean he can’t make that next level jump, it just means he’ll need to take full advantage of any pre-season opportunities that he gets, and the most likely scenario is that he makes a practice squad somewhere. I do think though that given an opportunity he can make people sit up and take notice and surprise us all, but we may have to wait until he gets in the right situation to make that happen.

Next up we’ll move inside and look at the Defensive Tackles…..


@lordluckenFollow Keith on Twitter @lordlucken

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