CFF Overview: Edge – Something to Work With
Ben Stockwell looks at a talented group of edge defenders that could be had outside of the first round.
CFF Overview: Edge – Something to Work With
Arguably the cornerstone position in this year’s draft is the edge defender position. The likes of Vic Beasley and Dante Fowler Jr make it a top heavy position but the players we’re about to discuss make it a great draft for depth and contribution down the draft as well. A year ago the likes of Aaron Lynch, Jonathan Newsome and Trent Murphy contributed from outside the first round and there are a number of players who look to be in a position to do so from the second and third rounds this season.
Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
A pair of ACL injuries are a cause for concern that may see Kikaha slide down the draft over the coming weekend, but you will struggle to find a more productive pass rusher than the former Washington Huskie in this draft class. Far from overwhelming as an athlete, Kikaha generates his pressure with a relentless work rate on the field continuing to fight off and drive through blocks to stay alive on plays and pressure the quarterback on plays where he has little right to do so.
A remarkably consistent pass rusher, Kikaha graded positively in that regard in all but two starts last season (at Colorado, at Washington State) in Washington’s 14 game season a year ago. Kikaha built on his season with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, collecting four hurries on only eight snaps rushing the passer. Performances against the run such as his game against Stanford raise questions over his all-around game, but Kikaha’s work ethic on the field should find him a niche as a specialist pass rusher at the very least.
Signature Stat: Generated pressure on more than a third of his pass rushes against seven-stop drops; 23 pressures (6 Sk, 3 Ht, 14 Hu) on 66 pass rushes.
Markus Golden, Missouri
In terms of production, the Missouri Tigers had a defensive end pairing last season that a number of NFL teams would have envied. Though Ray gets the headlines, his line mate Golden was a productive rusher off the opposite side and was a consistent presence against the run as well. Question marks over Golden bullying inferior college right tackles were answered somewhat with a productive Senior Bowl display which highlighted his ability to produce against quality competition.
Golden’s consistency this season was to his credit and mark him out at least as a very good foil for a quality pass rusher off the right side of the defense. Only once all season did he grade negatively as a pass rusher (vs. Georgia), he recorded at least two pressures in all 15 games he played and graded positively in run defense every game as well. The raw explosion might not be there to mark him out as a potentially top-tier rusher, but Golden’s consistent performances and production are attributes that teams will be happy to have.
Signature Stat: Pass Rushing Productivity of 12.5 against Power 5 opponents was sixth-best among draft-eligible 4-3 defensive ends.
Nate Orchard, Utah
A study in making sure you see the entire picture, Orchard is a player who in some games offers plenty to get excited about and in others struggles to wow you with consistency. In spite of the up-and-down performance, however, Orchard was productive throughout for the Utes. Performances such as those against Oregon where he was a force against the run and against Colorado State in his bowl game, both against draft-eligible tackles of high regard (Jake Fisher and Ty Sambrailo) illustrate Orchard’s potential.
On the flip side are games against Fresno State and Washington State where he recorded poor grades as a pass rusher (two pressures in the games combined) and even his four-sack performance against Stanford was as much about unblocked pressure and late plays than the overwhelmingly dominant display that his base stats from the game would suggest. A consistent run defender over the second half of the season, Orchard brings an all-around game and that a player this productive isn’t among the very best in this class shows the depth and quality of this class at the edge position.
Signature Stat: His 52 defensive stops were the most among edge defenders eligible for the 2015 draft class.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
Rushing the passer isn’t all about speed and Odighizuwa is a player who brings power to the edge in abundance against both run and pass. Playing a mixture of 4-3 and 3-4 defensive end alignments for the Bruins last season Odighizuwa is at his best when given a little space to run at offensive tackles allowing him to convert speed into power. Playing a little further down the line over the tackle that power is less evident and resulted in some underwhelming performances mixed in with some utterly spectacular displays in other games.
Opening the season with one of his best, in Charlottesville against Virginia, Odighizuwa followed that up with big games against the likes of Cal and especially the rivalry game against USC, but between that were underwhelming displays against Texas, Colorado and Kansas State. Was it a matter of varying usage by week or is Odighizuwa simply an inconsistent performer? A pressure-less, stop-less game in the Senior Bowl didn’t help dispel concerns over his consistencies but the dominance shown on occasion is tough to ignore.
Signature Stat: Almost an even split in his pressures in terms of beating tackles (20 pressures; 1 Sk, 2 Ht, 17 Hu) and guards (22 pressures; 2 Sk, 2 Ht, 18 Hu) over the course of his final season at UCLA.
Preston Smith, Mississippi State
It is very easy to get carried away with pass rushing potential and explosiveness but that isn’t the game of every pass rusher entering the draft and that isn’t the game of every successful defensive end in the NFL, either. Preston Smith, therefore, would be easy to overlook as a player without the raw explosion to be a dominant edge rusher but that ignores everything else that the former Mississippi Bulldog brings to the game.
A powerful defender, Smith is among the best in this class against the run and while far from overwhelming off the edge, his ability to kick inside and rush the passer as a nose tackle (as illustrated by his performance at 0-tech against LSU) should allow him to stay on the field for three downs in the NFL.
Unquestionably stout and productive as a run defender the question for Smith to answer is what production he can provide on the edge as a pass rusher, whether he is merely a run defender on early downs. Though there were productive games at Mississippi State last season his four best games came against the likes of Mississippi State, Tennessee-Martin, Southern Miss and South Alabama, hardly the leading lights of the Bulldogs’ schedule.
An excellent performance in the Senior Bowl only serves to ask why his performances against the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M and Arkansas were a little more underwhelming. There is without question the potential for a strong three-down player in the NFL with just the edge rush factor to be solidified.
Signature Stat: His seven pressures rushing from the nose tackle position included three of his 12 sacks from the season.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.