By Brentley Weissman
Entering this college football season, the 2021 NFL Draft class as a whole consisted of many question marks that we needed to let play out this season to find clarity. For example, there was a huge question mark at who would be QB4? Would it be Brock Purdy or Jamie Newman? Well as it turns out, BYU’s Zack Wilson has emerged and has taken everyone by storm. Like quarterbacks, this year’s EDGE class had a lot of question marks that needed to be answered.
Heading into the year, many among NFL draft circles believed that the EDGE rushing class was just Miami’s Gregory Rousseau and then a bunch of players who are talented, but none quite stood out from the pack. We needed to let this group play this season and allow the process to determine how these guys will be ranked. As we are knee deep into the year, the EDGE class has become a bit clearer.
While Rousseau is still considered the best in the class, the fact that he opted out of the season to focus on the NFL draft has given others an opportunity to stake their claim as the best pass-rusher in this class. Players like Michigan’s Kwity Paye, Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari and Penn State’s Jason Oweh have done well enough to separate themselves from the pack. Some even believe Paye has played well enough to perhaps challenge Rousseau as EDGE1. This is why the season is so important, and allowing the evaluation process to run its course before making hard conclusions is so vital. Players are able to play and play well enough to improve their stocks.
One pass-rusher in this class who is now garnering more attention as a potential NFL prospect is Cincinnati's Myjai Sanders, who perhaps has raised his stock more than any EDGE in the class so far.
Sanders came to Cincinnati as a 3-star recruit in 2018, and was viewed as a prospect with upside, but needed to be developed. Stepping onto campus, he was 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds—the staff knew he needed to add weight to his frame in order to compete at this level. Sanders played in 10 games as a true freshman and was able to gain valuable experience as a young player. 2019 was Sanders’ first year as a starter, as he started 14 games for the Bearcats and finished second on the team in sacks with four. Sanders showed glimpses of brilliance as a pass-rusher in his sophomore season, but the production just didn’t follow. Fast forward to 2020, now standing at 6-foot-5 and 258 pounds, Sanders appears to have put everything together and is enjoying a breakout season and has firmly grabbed NFL evaluators' attention.
So far this season, Sanders has 23 tackles, 8.5 TFL, and five sacks. He has been everywhere for the Bearcats defense, which ranks 10th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game, and fifth in points per game.
When you sit and watch this Bearcats defense, Sanders just pops off the screen. Whether he is exploding out of his stance with his electric first step, swatting down a ball at the line of scrimmage, or even making a tackle 20 yards down the field, Sanders just always makes his presence felt. I wanted to dive deeper into him as a NFL prospect and decided to go back and evaluate some his games this season. Here is a scouting report of him that I wrote which you can find on The Draft Network.
Positives: Sanders has outstanding length for an edge rusher. Long and lean, he has outstanding short-area quickness with an explosive first step. A true speed rusher who shows nuance to his rush. Very good use of hands and can tie his rush moves together seamlessly. Able to attack the outside shoulder with his first step, then quickly counter inside with speed. Rare suddenness for a defensive end. Outstanding effort. Never gives up on a play and will chase the ball 20 yards down the field if need be. Uses his length to his advantage in the run game. Able to keep his pads clean with his lockout and displays violent hands to disengage and make the tackle.
Negatives: Narrow frame and skinny lower half causes issues at the point of attack. Will get walled off and covered up at times and will often lose the leverage battle. Bigger and stronger offensive tackles can have their way with him in the run game if they get their hands on him early. Offers little as a bull rusher and wins with more length than out right power. While he has an outstanding first step, his ability to anticipate the snap leaves a lot to be desired. Will often be late getting set and the ball will be snapped with him still not in his stance. Don’t see a bunch of versatility to his game. I believe he can only play as a 4-3 weakside end.
The Bearcats proved to be well worth their No. 7 ranking as they destroyed East Carolina with a final score of 55-17 on Friday. While Sanders didn’t fill up the stat, he proved to be worthy of the NFL praise he has been receiving. He made his presence felt early and often and was a big reason for their stellar defensive performance. While I do think Sanders has some room for improvement, there is no question that the arrow is pointing all the way up.
This year’s EDGE class is shaping up to be very talented at the top, while also having good depth throughout. I’m not sure where Sanders will stack up with his peers when it’s all said done, but whichever team drafts will him will be happy.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022