Top 10 Edge Rusher Draft Prospects – 2020
1. Chase Young – Ohio State
The consensus number one edge rusher in the 2020 class, Young is a very disruptive force that causes mayhem for quarterbacks even if he doesn’t record the sack. He gets an excellent jump off the snap, wins early with his hands, and closes quickly to the quarterback. A true edge bender, the next step for Young is to improve his power and inside rushing moves. I wouldn’t advise for Young to ever drop back into coverage, but he adds that facet to the game as he is a fluid athlete that can be asked to do anything. Insert Young into your lineup and he gives you 10+ sacks in his rookie season. He is not the run stopper like his former teammate Nick Bosa, but he can impact a defense in the same way Bosa did in his rookie year.
2. A.J. Epenesa – Iowa
Epenesa is sort of the polar opposite of Chase Young, but he too can impact a defense due to his power through contact and relentless approach. Epenesa is a grown man out there on the football field as he is hard to move from his spot and can set the edge and dominate in run defense. He’s not a bendy, quick twitch athlete like Young, but his ability to disengage with his hand technique and power makes him a guy that can also get to the quarterback. I don’t think he’s a consistent 10+ sack guy but he can give you 8 sacks a season and be a stalwart against the run. Epenesa offers some versatility as he can play 5 technique, defensive end in an even man front, and slide inside on passing downs.
3. Yetur Gross-Matos – Penn State
Gross-Matos is sort of a combination of both the top guys in my rankings as he can bend the edge to get to the quarterback and hold up in the run game effectively. What I am most impressed with from the former Nittany Lion is his ability to use his long arms/hands to beat offensive linemen. Gross-Matos uses swipe moves, counters, or a combination of both effectively. He doesn’t just rest on his technical skill-set though as his motor runs hot and he never gives up on a play. Whether it be around the edge or his very strong inside release, Gross-Matos can wreak havoc on the quarterback at the next level.
4. K’Lavon Chaisson – LSU
The reason I have Chassion ranked fourth is due to his inconsistent play at LSU, but I would say that his ceiling is up there with Chase Young. Chassion’s potential is endless as once he adds more moves to his pass rushing repertoire, gets stronger, and put on more weight to match his frame, he can one day lead the league in sacks. He is a versatile stand up edge rusher that can bend the edge or drop back into coverage. His first step is lethal and he can bend the corner and use his flexibility and long arms to get to the quarterback. He might not be better than the players above him right now, but he is a guy that can improve and surpass everyone to be the top edge rusher in this class.
5. Jonathan Greenard – Florida
Here is one of my favorite edge rushers in the class and I am fully aware that I am higher on him than most draft evaluators. A transfer from Louisville to Florida, Greenard only had one season of dominance which can steer some folks away from buying into the hype. But I am buying as his pass rushing repertoire is advanced. I saw Greenard utilize an effective bull rush, use hand swipes to disengage, apply a spin move, put together secondary pass rushing moves, give a strong inside release, bend the edge, and hold up nicely against the run. The versatility in his game stands out as he can rush the quarterback or drop back into coverage fluidly. Sign me up as Greenard is a player that can be a steal in the draft class as his talent is higher than where he will probably get drafted.
6. Zack Baun – Wisconsin
A player that probably could’ve made my top 5 linebacker list comes in as my number six edge rusher. Baun is a versatile prospect that can rush the quarterback or play stand up second level defender, it just depends on which team drafts him and where they want to line him up. Baun’s motor and effort stands out as he can get to anywhere he wants on the football field. For teams that covet versatility like the Patriots, Baun will be a good fit as a fundamental and instinctive football player that does his job. He is a little undersized to be a full-time edge rusher, but Baun makes up for it with effort and quickness off the line of scrimmage. He utilizes his active hands to beat linemen, but his lack of pass rushing moves are evident on tape. It will be interesting to see how a team deploys Baun at the next level but more than likely he will be used in a plethora of ways.
7. James Lynch – Baylor
A late riser on my draft board, I had to watch Lynch a couple different times to truly appreciate his value for a football team. He doesn’t look like your prototypical edge rusher with his thick stocky frame, but Lynch’s nimble feet and quickness around the edge is something that can give offensive linemen fits. He is sort of a poor man’s A.J. Epenesa as he wins with power and around the edge through contact to the quarterback. His motor and strength makes it hard for linemen to block him effectively for an entire game and his skill-set despite his size can make him an effective defensive end in an even or odd man front. The leverage and subtle movements Lynch plays with makes him an intriguing edge rusher prospect.
8. Alex Highsmith – Charlotte
The timing and explosiveness off the snap for Highsmith gives him an early advantage to bend the edge and get to the quarterback. Highsmith is a very aware football player that not only gets there quickly, but has the wherewithal to break down and not over-run plays which serves him well against the zone read. He is just as effective with his hand in the ground or as a stand up edge rusher. What Highsmith needs to improve on at the next level is his strength as if he doesn’t win early, it is hard for him to disengage and make a play in the run or passing game. Also his inconsistent hand moves can improve as when he get his hands activated, he is hard to stop. The motor and speed is there for Highsmith, but to be an elite edge rusher he needs to add strength and be more consistent as a run defender.
9. Josh Uche – Michigan
Watching the tape at Michigan, Uche played all over the field from edge rusher, to linebacker, and I even saw him lineup deep in the secondary. A one-year starter, Uche’s evaluation is a hard one, but what I was impressed with was his play against two top tackles in the class, Tristin Wirfs and Jedrick Wills. He didn’t win all of those reps, but he showcased his speed to power ability coming off the edge like a ball of fire. He is still raw as pass rusher lacking secondary moves, but he is a high effort, high intensity player that’s only going to get better with more reps. The reason I think he will be drafted higher than most expect is that versatility I mentioned earlier as he looks really comfortable in space and has the requisite awareness in the passing game. I can see Uche as a pass rusher on passing downs and an off the ball linebacker on earlier downs.
10. Julian Okwara – Notre Dame
Folks will ask where is Curtis Weaver or Bradlee Anae, and although their floors are much higher than Okwara, I am intrigued with Okwara’s potential ceiling. Okwara is a long lanky stand up edge rusher that uses his arm length well to create space between himself and the blocker. He also adds versatility with his ability to drop back in coverage. But where he wins and displays top notch athleticism is with his speed and how quickly he closes to the ball carrier. The cons on Okwara are just as evident though as he needs to get stronger to hold up in the run game and his pass rushing moves are bare at the moment. If Okwara can get stronger and get the proper coaching to add technical refinement, then he has the potential to be a double digit sack guy.