Last year, there was absolutely no question who the top edge-rusher prospect was in the Class of 2020. It was Chase Young‘s world, and everyone else was just living in it. It was much the same case in 2019 with Young’s former Ohio State teammate Nick Bosa.
The Class of 2021 doesn’t feature a “generational” prospect like Bosa or Young. The first five picks of this year’s draft will probably come and go without an edge-rusher being drafted for the first time since all the way back in 2012. In fact, when the first edge-rusher does finally come off the board, there’s quite a bit of dissent as to who that edge-rusher will be.
One of the leading candidates to be that first pass-rusher taken is Miami’s Gregory Rousseau, a physical freak who tore up the ACC in 2019 before opting out in 2020 over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chris Trapasso wrote for CBS Sports, Rousseau’s length and athleticism is the sort of combination that NFL scouts drool over.
“Rousseau is that “built-in-a-lab” prospect in the sense that, if you were building a versatile edge defender in a video game — bring “NCAA Football” back! — you would give him the Miami star’s measurements,” Trapasso said. “Rousseau was listed at 6’7″ and 265 pounds last season as a redshirt freshman. His arms never end. But Rousseau isn’t just the first guy you want walking off the bus when you arrive at the opponent’s stadium. He’s an athletic marvel too. Most players as tall as Rousseau are stiff. He isn’t, and that fact makes him a disaster for offensive lines on twists.”
Rousseau was a dominant force at Miami in 2019, racking up 54 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks on the way to being named first-team All-ACC and the conference’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“Rousseau is much more polished and productive than Hunter was at LSU,” Jeremiah glowed. “However, Hunter has developed into one of the league’s premier pass rushers since entering the league in 2015. Rousseau has a comparable build/frame and they are similar athletes on the field. Both players annihilate tight ends and have the ability to convert speed to power off the edge. I believe Rousseau has even more upside at the next level. He has the tools to emerge as a perennial All-Pro player.”
However, that came before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on college football—and Rousseau decided to take the year off. That creates a dilemma for NFL suitors—until his senior high of high school, Rousseau hadn’t played defensive line at all, and an ankle injury ended his first year at Miami after only two games. As Oliver Hodgkinson reported for Pro Football Network, that lack of experience could be an issue early in Rousseau’s career.
“There are plenty of one-year college starters playing in the NFL,” he said. “However, Rousseau has just one year of college experience, period. Although he will have used the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL Draft, a year spent honing his craft on the field would have been a year better spent. As a raw, athletic talent, Rousseau still has some work to do on his repertoire of pass-rush moves. At present, he relies on a couple of moves and his speed/strength to win. Against stronger NFL offensive linemen, Rousseau will need more than that to win.”