These College Pass Rushers Should Be On Birds Radar
With training camp fast approaching, and the next college football season around the corner, I've zeroed-in on a number of key positions the Eagles must address in the 2022 NFL Draft.
In the weeks leading up to training camp, we'll highlight some of the top players at those positions and examine their outlook heading into the 2021 college football season. For the second part of this series, we look at six college prospects amid an immensely deep group of pass rushers.
Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
A lengthy, fluid, and explosive edge rusher, Thibodeaux should hear his name called within the first three picks of the 2022 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound defender burst onto the scene for the Ducks in 2019, racking up 35 tackles (14.0 for loss), 9.0 sacks, and three passes defended across 14 games, earning, among other accolades, Coaches Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year honors.
As a sophomore, Thibodeaux added 38 tackles (9.5 for loss), 3.0 sacks, and another three passes defended in 7 games. Thibodeaux boasts remarkable bend, lateral quickness, and athleticism. He will undoubtedly remain among the nation’s most impactful players in 2021. While Thibodeaux could stand to add another 10-to-15 pounds to his frame in preparation for the next level, his off-the-ball quickness and hand usage enables him to complement his pass-rush prowess with solid run defense.
Drake Jackson, USC
Jackson provides positional versatility at both DE and OLB and could play either position at a high level in the pros.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound sack specialist began his Trojan career in style two seasons ago, amassing 46 tackles (11.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, and three passes defended. He followed up a banner freshman campaign with 20 tackles (5.5 for loss), 2.0 sacks, and an interception in six games.
While Jackson has the tools to thrive with his hand in the dirt or as an outside 3-4 'backer, his skill set is best suited as a defensive end. The 20-year-old displays his innate athleticism in space and exhibits exceptional change of direction, but at times his inexperience surfaces. Rather than defeat linemen with power and athleticism, Jackson could stand to develop his pass rush and learn to balance his aggressiveness with some finesse. However, look for the USC standout to close in on double-digit sacks and cement his status as a first-round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Zach Harrison, Ohio State
Amid an overcrowded crop of next-level pass rushers, Harrison’s numbers don’t exactly jump off the page. However, all signs point to a breakout campaign.
Through two seasons, the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has accumulated 38 tackles (10.0 for loss) and 5.5 sacks across 17 games. However, with many prominent Buckeye defenders graduating to the NFL, look for Harrison to assume a leadership role this season.
Like Jackson, Harrison also provides positional versatility, albeit for different reasons. Given his enticing measurables and power at the point of attack, Harrison can rush off the edge and also kick inside in sub packages. Though he lacks the lateral agility comparable to the elite at his position, Harrison does possess a lightning-quick get-off and gets up the field in a hurry.
As intriguing as he is, however, it’s time for Harrison to capitalize on his athletic profile and take the next step in his progression. There's reason to be skeptical about his first-round potential in one season due to a lack of consistency, but expect him to become the centerpiece of the Buckeye defense and an emergent force in the Big Ten.
George Karlaftis, Purdue
A two-time second-team All-Big Ten selection in his first two seasons, Karlaftis has combined for 58 tackles (19.0 for loss), 9.5 sacks, three passes defended, and an interception in just 15 games. His abbreviated 2020 season was marred by injury and COVID-19.
A burly lineman at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, Karlaftis boasts surprising athleticism to complement his strength at the point of attack and offers positional versatility. He shows a solid burst off the line and excels at converting speed to power. The one knock on the Purdue edge rusher: his lack of flexibility and bend off the edge. Still, Karlaftis represents one of the premier pass rushers in college football. His consistency alone makes him an early-round lock, with potential first-round upside.
Kingsley Enagbare, South Carolina
Enagbare returned to South Carolina for his senior season hoping to cement his status as a prominent pass rusher for the 2022 NFL Draft. If he’s able to build on a productive junior campaign and continue his upward trajectory, he’ll do just that.
What really stands out when watching Enagbare play is his approach to the game. He has a seemingly endless supply of energy and never takes a play off. His hands are consistently active and violent, and he plays with urgency. Enagbare’s size (6-4, 260) makes him a fit in any scheme and he also has room to add weight and double as a sub package interior rusher. His skill set arsenal also comes equipped with a vast array of pass-rush moves.
For as aggressive and relentless as he often plays, Enagbare will suffer occasional lapses of recognition and anticipation. It’s also important to note that the Gamecocks' edge rusher underwent hip surgery following the 2019 season, though he played out the 2020 season with a clean bill of health.
Small school standout: Durrell Johnson, Liberty
Johnson, who took the college football world by storm by finishing No. 8 in the nation with 8.5 sacks, feels like he’s on the cusp of becoming a known commodity. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound edge rusher transferred to Liberty from ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., ahead of spring workouts last season and quickly became a defensive centerpiece for the nationally ranked Flames. Johnson compiled 37 tackles (10.5 for loss), 8.5 sacks, and an interception in 11 games.
With many keeping tabs on ascending signal-caller Malik Willis, Johnson will have more eyes on him this season. He must continue to develop his play strength and add size to his frame, but Johnson has the tools to duplicate a dominate debut.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.