Build: Chase Young, Ohio State
Chase Young is a lean, mean pass-rushing machine. The 6-foot-5 and 264-pound build Young rocks is a perfect blend between being stout and imposing while also being lean and flexible. Add the cherry-on-top of 33 ¾” arms and it is easy to see how Young has the build to handle any kind of offensive tackle and execute any assignment.
For reference, Young has nearly the same frame as Joey Bosa and Nick Chubb. The latter two players are each 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-5 and 269-pounds with arm lengths between 33 ⅜” and 34”. Jadeveon Clowney also shares similar dimensions with slightly longer arms. All three players went top-five in their respective drafts. While pass-rushers with different builds can go that high (a la Von Miller), it is no coincidence many of the league’s highest-drafted pass-rushers are all built similarly.
Bend: K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
On the whole, K'Lavon Chaisson's bend actually feels slightly overstated, but that is not to say it is not still impressive. Aside from the clear stud in Chase Young, Chaisson flashes the most impressive moments of bend around the arc, even if much of that is won through his first step rather than natural flexibility or power through the arc.
Chaisson shows a phenomenal understanding of how to get low when running the arc and finishing reps. The moment Chaisson clears an opposing tackle's hands out of the way, he consistently does well to dip below their arm pits and bend his way around the corner. While his flexibility itself may not be elite, Chaisson's overall profile of being able to bend is still excellent given the consistency and potency of his first-step off the snap.
Chaisson is never going to be Von Miller or Danielle Hunter, but he may be able to slot into the Dee Ford category: a linear / one-trick player with plenty adequate bend made better by a ridiculous burst of speed off the line of scrimmage. Every single team in the league would be happy adding a Dee Ford to their roster.
Speed / Quickness: Josh Uche, Michigan
Josh Uche is a whirlwind out there. Though not the strong or most physically imposing pass-rusher in this class, Uche showed flashes of overwhelming speed and short-area burst in his time at Michigan.
Truth be told, Uche is not at his best as a standard pass-rusher. Rather, Uche does his best work when asked to twist, stunt, or blitz from an off-ball linebacker position, all of which give him the space to operate and make use of his explosive burst steps. Uche loves to approach offensive tackles down their mid-line, step once inside to get them to bite, then cut to the outside shoulder like a basketball player. Hand-fighting and technique are almost nonessentials for the maneuver - Uche is just beating guys with his illusion and speed.
How much that translates to Uche being a legit, full-time defensive end or outside linebacker is to be seen, but at the very least, it makes him an interesting sub-package player for passing downs right out of the gate.
Power: A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Do not let A.J. Epenesa’s measly 17 reps on the bench press fool you. Epenesa plays with a brute force that is unrivaled by his peers in this class.
In some sense, it is cheating for Epenesa to be listed with the edge defenders and win the strength category. The former Hawkeye measured in at 6-foot-5 and 275-pounds at the NFL Combine, making him more of a five-technique than a standard edge defender. Epenesa’s best role in the NFL is likely in a hybrid front where he can play five-tech on base downs and kick inside on passing downs, perhaps filling a similar role as Michael Bennett with the Seattle Seahawks. That is not the same role guys such as Chase Young, Josh Uche, K’Lavon Chaisson, and others will fill.
Nevertheless, Epenesa plays with a raw power that is difficult for opposing defenders to contain. Whether Epenesa is straight up bull-rushing an opposing tackle or using his tree trunk arms to swipe down a blocker’s arms, the Iowa product plays with such force that even the heaviest of offensive tackles are going to get toppled over by him from time to time.
Technique: Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame
Khalid Kareem is likely the lesser of Notre Dame’s two pass-rushers in this class, yet he is the only one of the two to find himself on this list. Though his athletic tools may be less impressive than teammate Julian Okwara (brother of Detroit Lions defensive end, Romeo), Kareem plays with the leverage and hand-technique of a player far beyond his years.
Take this clip against Louisville, for example. Kareem gets off the snap while maintaining square to the line of scrimmage. Upon engaging with the blocker, Kareem drives both arms into the blocker’s chest before quickly shooting his hands above his eyes. The quick maneuver jolts the blocker’s frame backwards and forces him to lose balance, which gives Kareem a window to toss the blocker aside and slide into the rushing lane. It does not get any cleaner than that.
The same savvy showing up versus the pass as well. Kareem has the quick, controlled hand-fighting to work himself free versus all but the most elite athletes at offensive tackles. Players such as Markus Golden and Chandler Jones serve as a good spectrum (functional to elite, respectively) for players of Kareem’s ilk.
Pass-Rush: Chase Young, Ohio State
In all reality, Young is likely the answer for both bend and speed / quickness as well, but considering I placed a two-category limit for each player for this exact reason, Young simply gets the win for overall pass-rushing here.
Young has an ideal blend of size, speed, power, and savvy to be an elite pass-rusher in the NFL. He flies off the line of scrimmage with excellent burst before slicing and dicing opposing offensive linemen with a single move more often than not. Once Young makes the first move to chop away an offensive lineman's hands, you can bet your bottom dollar he is going to hit that outside shoulder and bend the arc right to the quarterback.
Every couple of years features an elite pass-rusher clearly worth the first-overall pick (barring a worthy quarterback) such as Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett. Young certainly fits the bill. It is no wonder Young finished with 26 sacks over his past two seasons at Ohio State, including a nation-best 16.5 sacks in 2019.
Run Defense: Jonathan Greenard, Florida
While at Louisville, Jon Greenard was a good-not-great player who had not made much of a name for himself as far as NFL Draft stock goes. He was fairly productive, but he was not special as an underclassmen in such a way that earned him much hype. Greenard opted to follow DC Todd Grantham to Florida for his senior season, however, and that decision earned him a ton of money.
The UL transfer erupted in his lone season with the Gators, earning 15.5 tackles for loss in 12 games. No other player in the SEC racked up more tackles for loss. Other top prospects such as K'Lavon Chaisson, Derrick Brown, and Patrick Queen all came in a few tackles for loss short of Florida's one-year star.
Greenard shines in every aspect of run defense. More often than not, we think of great run defenders on the edge as those who play with excellent leverage and technique, similar to Khalid Kareem a few slides back. Greenard can very much play that way, showing off a great understanding of how to play low, work to his gap, and maintain an anchor in that gap. Likewise, Greenard has the lateral quicks to bounce from gap to gap or from an opposing blocker's shoulder to another, giving him the short-area coverage to make sudden disruptions behind the line of scrimmage.