March 7, 2023   3 MIN READ

Small Wonder

Pitt's Undersized, Cat-Quick DT Kancey Fits Birds Profile


A foundational component to their long-term strategy, the Eagles have historically placed high priority on fortifying the trenches.

It’s a candid philosophy that has largely served as a catalyst in fueling the franchise’s sustained success for about two decades.

Although the front five serves as the anchor of their offense, the Eagles’ anticipated free-agent exodus on defense this offseason make it more likely they use those premium picks – Eagles hold three of the top 62 picks –to replenish the defensive front, especially with at least one first-round pick.

The Eagles are bracing for life without interior pillars Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, who each accounted for over 64 percent of the defensive snaps,  as the veteran tandem is primed for the open market next week.

The potential interior void shouldn’t deter the Eagles from selecting a blue-chip edge defender on Day 1 of the NFL Draft if available, but defensive tackle would surely qualify as a position needing reinforcements, as those vacated snaps would be filled with inexperience and uncertainty.

Given the Eagles’ covet for athletic, fluid-moving interior linemen with pass-rush upside, Pittsburgh’s Calijah Kancey could be a player to watch closely.

Calijah Kancey

GETTY IMAGES: Pitt DT Calijah Kancey’s small size and quick get-off conjure reminders of another undersized former Pitt DT, Aaron Donald.

Modeling his game after Hargrave – among others – for his quickness, speed, technique, and block-shedding aggressiveness, Kancey closed out his three-year Pitt tenure with a stellar junior campaign, registering 31 tackles (14.5 for loss) and 7.5 sacks.

The 6-foot, 275-pounder finished his Panthers career with 16 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.

An undersized lineman in the mold of an Aaron Donald, Kancey recorded an official 4.67 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine – the fastest time by a defensive tackle since 2003.

He wins with an explosive get-off, quickness, and an effective pass rush plan, not to mention an unrelenting motor.

Throughout his collegiate career, Kancey has navigated around his unconventional build through technical refinement and diligence, becoming increasingly more adept at playing three-technique and handling double teams.

“I’m just playing with great leverage at defensive tackle,” Kancey said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “The lower man wins. You need to play with great leverage and great technique. Because I’m undersized, I can’t afford to have bad technique.”

While players of Kancey’s mold are often pigeonholed as one-dimensional and relegated to a specialty roles, the Associated Press first-team selection – Pitt’s first unanimous All-American since Aaron Donald in 2013 – learned to use his smaller size as an advantage en route to earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season.

“I just know I have to play with great technique and use my speed to my advantage,” Kancey said. “It’s my speed and my quickness. Playing with good leverage, getting underneath the thigh pads of bigger offensive linemen, that’s my advantage I have against bigger offensive linemen.”

Perhaps Kancey’s career begins in Philadelphia, where he could develop under Hargrave’s tutlege.

A far more realistic scenario, however, puts him in Midnight Green if both Cox and Hargrave both depart in free agency.

It’s safe to say Kancey will not bring a proverbial chip on his shoulder to his next stop. He’s just intent on establishing himself as an anomaly, wherever he lands.

“I play to prove myself right,” Kancey said. “I don’t play to prove anyone else wrong. I just prove myself right.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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