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NFL Draft

What JaQuan Bailey’s Record-Setting Day Means Long-Term

  • The Draft Network
  • September 26, 2020
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It’s a good day when you win a football game. It’s a great day when you set a record. It’s even better when you set two.

Iowa State EDGE JaQuan Bailey did it all today. Against a TCU offensive line boasting new starters and a new quarterback for most of the game, he was dominant, posting 3.5 sacks and four TFLs—both of which tie single-game records for the Cyclone program. His career totals are now 22 sacks and 36.5 TFLs, which are now both hallmark figures for Iowa State. 

Among active players, Bailey is second in career sacks, behind Miami EDGE Quincy Roche and Western Kentucky's DeAngelo Malone. You’ve likely heard both names if you’re a draft guy: Roche is one of the highest-ranked EDGEs in the upcoming class, and Malone is one of the highest-ranked Group of 5 prospects in the upcoming class as well. What is Bailey?

Bailey is considered a late-round prospect—he’s currently ranked No. 290 on The Draft Network’s consensus 2021 rankings. Despite Bailey’s consistent impact in his first three seasons at Iowa State, he simply does not fit a familiar mold for NFL EDGEs. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 261 pounds, he isn’t particularly long or quick or bendy—there are no athletic traits that stand out as elite on his profile. Save, perhaps, for the ability to do this.

This is what scout Jordan Reid had to say about Bailey’s game. 

“Only playing in three games a season ago, many eyes were on Bailey to see if he could repeat the production from his junior season where he recorded 14.5 TFLs and 8.0 sacks. Bailey’s still more athlete than football player, but his power and natural athleticism have allowed him to be plenty productive during his career with the Cyclones. Needing to improve his pass-rush repertoire and counter moves, his 2020 campaign is off to a promising start after two games.”

So how did we get here with Bailey? Effort, explosiveness, and power have a lot to do with it. Bailey uses that bowling ball frame to get underneath tackles and immediately shock them backward with high-velocity strikes, as his first step challenges tackles’ anchor on power rushers and set points on outside corner rushes. On a line, he’s a dangerous player for 260-plus pounds. That power was the author of his record-breaking sack against TCU, as Bailey knocked an oversetting tackle off of the inside rush lane and long-armed through the B-gap to get home.

The remaining sacks on the day for Bailey include a surface-area reduction on the outside rush to sack an unsuspecting quarterback and a tremendous bend under the right tackle for a sliding sack early in the down. Bailey’s hands are active throughout his rushes to keep his frame clean and give him a chance to finish—as Reid noted, that’s a critical growth point for Bailey as a prospect.

But there’s no doubt that Bailey is a good player—what’s far more important for the league is his fit, not his talent. It’s difficult to identify the one spot on a defensive line where that player typically plays, and what roles he typically fills.

Bailey is not helped by the fact that he plays in Iowa State’s Okie front, which primarily works three-man lines on which Bailey is responsible for QB contain or stunt rushes. While Bailey is frequently on outside rushes against tackles, that is not the role the NFL will envision for a stubby and stout defensive lineman. They’ll want to see Bailey two-gapping, crashing the B-gap, and twisting. He doesn’t do that a lot—he mostly holds the C-gap and turns runs back inside to help, and does so with a lot of success.

Bailey is in an unfamiliar mold and one that will only be valued by certain teams. For all of Bailey’s sacks and TFLs, teams will value him for his gap control, and those teams that will prioritize a run-stopping strong defensive end (Seattle, Jacksonville, New England, Miami) will like what they can get out of Bailey. 

The league is still learning what to do with the unique defensive athletes that come out of college’s defensive structures. Bailey represents yet another challenge of dividing that which a player can do well from that which a defense asks him to do. There is no arguing with his production, his effort, or his talent. But there is an argument over where he fits, what his ceiling is, and how early that will get him drafted.

But for now, kudos to Bailey, who deserves all the love for such an accomplishment. 

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