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NFL Draft

Rashad Weaver: 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Interview Series

  • The Draft Network
  • April 14, 2021
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The Pittsburgh Panthers have consistently produced NFL talent. They fielded one of the most exciting defenses during the 2020 college football season with several players who donned the blue and gold bound to play on NFL Sundays in the fall.

One of their most impressive prospects is EDGE Rashad Weaver. Weaver, who’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 259 pounds, has been one of the best performers in the ACC. He recorded 28 tackles for loss and 14 sacks in 23 games between 2018 and 2020, despite missing the 2019 season.

I had an opportunity to discuss Weaver’s journey with him. We had a long conversation that paints a picture of why he’s one of the best EDGE defenders in this class from the camaraderie he helped build at Pittsburgh to his advanced pass rush arsenal. 

JM: Not only did you come back to Pittsburgh for the 2020 season, but you had a terrific year. You recorded 7.5 sacks. You were one of the most feared quarterback hunters in the country. How big was it for you to come back and be productive while proving you were past the 2019 injury?

RW: It was huge. That was the biggest question mark surrounding me. I wanted to prove to everyone that I was past the ACL injury. People don’t realize that an ACL injury isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. There are so many great surgeons and rehab processes for it nowadays. A player can overcome an ACL injury much quicker nowadays. With my injury specifically, it was just the ACL. 

I put in a lot of work to get back on the field for 2020. I proved that I was 100 times better at football compared to the last time you saw me on the field in 2018. For me, I wanted to prove that to myself and everybody watching me. I was back to myself. My knee, my talents, and my entire skill-set is ready for the next level.

JM: There’s no doubt about that. You also went down to the Senior Bowl back in January. What do you think you proved to NFL scouts in Mobile, Alabama?

RW: I went down there and proved that I’m a worker. I’m ready to learn no matter where I get thrown at. I can adapt and get better no matter what. I played the 3-technique position the entire time I was down there. I never played that position before the Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl was a little thin at the defensive tackle position so they had to move some guys around. I was up for it. I played there the entire week. 

It took some getting used to but I got better every single day. I held my own at the position during the game as well. I made a few plays on the interior. I think I just added to my resume. I proved that I can kick inside on any given down. I can make plays on the inside as well, especially if I continue practicing there.

JM: I thought you looked great on the inside. You also had your Pro Day a few weeks ago. What was that experience like? I want to discuss some of the results with you.

RW: I’m chalking up that day as a win for me. I showcased my athleticism. I did a great job during the position drills as well. Obviously, I wish I ran a bit faster in the 40. I wanted to get in the 4.7 range. I was in the low 4.8’s officially. I’m gonna blame that on the turf we ran on (laughs). They had brand new turf in there. It was probably 2.5 inches high. It wasn’t the best thing to run on.

All kidding aside, I thought I had a good day. All of the drills went well. I did great in the three-cone. I hit a sub-7 there which is an amazing time for a tall guy like me. I showed how low I can get and how well I can bend. I really killed the drills. I got nothing but terrific feedback from all of the coaches in attendance. My teammates showed me a lot of love. I was moving well out there. I even did a couple of linebacker drills. I think I put the icing on the cake on my Pro Day. It was the last box for me to check off before the draft.

JM: I agree with you. I thought you had an excellent day. The Pittsburgh defense has been one of my favorite units to watch over the past couple of seasons. You guys had so many defenders that will play on Sunday at every level of your defense. From the front seven to the secondary, it was a loaded group. Tell me about the camaraderie that you guys had on that side of the ball.

RW: It starts with [head] coach Pat Narduzzi. Coach Randy Bates is a terrific defensive coordinator. They put a lot of emphasis on playing together. They want us to play fast and have fun while we’re out there. We lock-in. We were a very disciplined unit. When you’re a part of that system for four or five years like I was, it becomes ingrained in you. We had an older defense in 2020. It was something that had been coached and practiced with for several years. 

We’ve been through the ups and downs. We had good games and bad games. We had games where we didn’t allow any points and others where we allowed too many points. We tried to go out there and put our offense in a good position on a weekly basis. That was our goal. We were always very disappointed when we lost a game, and we never pointed a finger at the other side of the ball. The other team can’t win if they don’t score any points. We held that responsibility. We wanted to be the best defense we could be. We always tried to showcase what our defense was all about.

JM: I love that. I thought you did that at the highest level imaginable. Getting more specific now, what did Narduzzi and Bates ask of you within the structure of their defense?

RW: Being an older guy that was familiar with the system, I had a great understanding of our defense. I have a great ability to recognize things before and during the play. I’m a playmaker. I’m a natural leader. That’s what they asked me to do. They asked me to help lead the team and make plays while knowing the risks you take. 

I always made plays within the framework of our defense. I never hurt the defense. They asked me to bring some of the younger guys along with me. I led the defense. Other guys want to make plays and celebrate too. Everybody gets excited when you’re making plays. I did things the right way. I led the defense both mentally and physically. I went out there and made plays. 

JM: What’s your favorite part of playing the EDGE position?

RW: For me, we can make big plays on any given down. Whether you’re getting a sack or a [tackle for loss], or maybe you’re blowing up a pulling guard. I can set the edge and everybody knows what you contributed to that play. If you set the edge and helped someone else make a play, your coaches note that. Even the commentators note it on TV. It all starts with us. 

If you get a sack, that’s a big-time play right there. Tackles for loss are big-time plays too. If you get your hands up and deflect the ball, that’s a big play. I can take on a double team and free up somebody else to make a play. There’s just so many things we can do to have a positive impact on the defense. It all gets noted. It’s fun to compete in that open space. I love going up against an offensive tackle that’s extremely athletic and embarrassing them.

JM: That’s a terrific answer. How would you describe your pass rush arsenal? I’m looking for go-to moves, counters, and so on.

RW: My pass rushing toolbox is deep and diverse. I’ve showcased a lot of different moves throughout the years. My go-to move is the long arm. I can work so many other moves off of the long arm. That’s why I love it so much. I can run the long arm, I can do a counter off of a long arm. I can run with a stab club and win off the edge. 

If you get deep into the possibilities of a long arm, I can spin back and use that as my counter. I’ve done that multiple times. The long arm is my go-to. My pass rush toolbox is so deep. I’ve used so many moves. I pride myself off of my ability to switch it up. 

It depends on the type of offensive tackle I’m facing and what their weaknesses are. I pay attention to what moves they’re good at blocking, and which moves they struggle with.

JM: When I turn the tape on, I see an incredibly powerful rusher that also has great length. That much is obvious. How do you use some of those things to your advantage?

RW: Some guys understand how to use their tools and other guys don’t. I just practice at using what I’m good at. Some of that is God-given ability. I explode off the ball and get full extension. I use my long arms. I have a good base. I use all of that length while locking out. When you lock out and have a good base, that’s what creates power. When you’re as long as I am and use that length while running your feet, you can generate a ton of power. That’s how I overwhelm an offensive tackle. It’s all about utilizing your natural gifts while working hard at your craft. 

JM: It shows up on film. We’ve talked a lot about your ability to rush the passer, but I think you’re a great run defender as well. I’ve never seen you neglect that aspect of the game. What does it take to be such a great run defender from the EDGE position?

RW: Run defense is all about being gritty. You have to understand that good run defense can set up a good pass rush. If you can’t stop the run, you’re not gonna get many opportunities in the passing game. You’re just not gonna get many chances that way. 

Being able to lock somebody out, shed from them, and go make a tackle in the backfield, blowing somebody off the line of scrimmage, those are the fun parts of football. When you see that on tape and your teammates and coaches realize it, you get as much credit for that as you do a sack. 

Every passer rush loves getting sacks, that’s a given, but you can’t get sacks if you don’t stop the run. I love playing and stopping the run. That’s how I set myself up for sacks. 

JM: That’s a terrific way to look at run defense. A lot of people can see you playing as a 5-technique in a 3-4, or as a base end in a 4-3. What are your thoughts on that?

RW: From the teams that I’ve spoken with throughout this process, both virtually and at my Pro Day, they see me as a guy that can do anything. I can stand up, I can play the 5-tech, I can play in a 3-4 or 4-3. It just depends on which team drafts me. 

Some teams may ask me to weigh 255 and another team wants me to play at 275. I’ve heard both throughout this process. Teams realize that I can do it all. I came in at 260 pounds at my Pro Day. I can play at 270 because I’ve done it before. I moved well at 260 during Pro Day. I’ve always been that type of guy. I can get bigger and put my hand in the dirt. Teams love that about me. It’ll ultimately depend on my landing spot. We’ll take it from there.

JM: I love that about your game. How much of being a good pass rusher is accomplished pre-snap in your opinion?

RW: A great deal of it. It can be viewed as a situational, 50-50 type of thing. Sometimes you record a sack despite whatever you were thinking pre-snap not working. That’s just your natural practice and pass-rushing ability coming through. Then there are sacks that happen because you recognized exactly what was going to happen pre-snap and you prepared the perfect plan of attack for it.

Studying film can tip you off on a guy’s tendencies. The offensive line and the running back, they always have a tell. You can pick up on formations as well. Sometimes it’s the quarterback that gives something away. You gotta take any chance you get. When you know it’s a pass, it puts you in a great position to be more prepared and have a great get-off ready to go. 

Once you get there, you’ve already put in the work during practice and in the film room. It’s just about finishing now. You’ve gone through the drills. You’ve been through it before. You’re prepared to execute your pass rush moves. It’s one thing to be ready for it, it’s another thing to go out and finish. Those are all things that can happen before the snap. Once you get to it, that’s the physical part. You’re ready to win with those moves now.

JM: That’s a great way to philosophically look at what you can accomplish both pre- and post-snap. If you could pick the brain of any pass rusher in today’s game, who would you choose and why?

RW: I would go with Chandler Jones. He’s a lengthy guy. He got drafted in the first round but there wasn’t a ton of buzz about him. He’s not a burner. He never ran a 4.5 or anything like that. He just wins. He constantly puts up huge numbers every year. He uses his length like nobody else. He has a bunch of great moves at his disposal.

JM: That’s a good choice. A lot of what you just described can be associated with your game as well. You’ve spent the last few months meeting with teams in person at the Senior Bowl and virtually through Zoom. What’s that process been like for you?

RW: It’s going great. I’ve spoken with a bunch of teams. Who knows, some teams may just be checking a box while other teams might love me. It’s tough to guess or put any stock into those meetings. It’s hard to tell through Zoom. They’re only allowed to have so many talks with us.

I’ve spoken with a ton of teams though. The calls are still coming in and they really ramped up during the month of April. Teams are figuring everything out now. My calls have gone really well. I’ve had great conversations. Some of those talks have been general. On others, we sit down and watch my film together. I’ve watched some NFL film with coaches. We’ve gone over the whiteboard. We’ve done some installs. There’s a lot of variety. You could be in for a general background check, or you could be learning the defense.

JM: That variety is important. If you could choose the quarterback for your first career sack, who would you choose?

RW: Geez, you’re gonna put me on the spot (laughs). Whoever I say, I’m gonna have a target on my back when I play them. I would pick somebody fast. Somebody like Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray. That would mean I can sack anybody.

JM: Those are two great choices. I’ve really appreciated your time today. This conversation has showcased why you’re one of the best defensive players in this draft class. In closing, what type of impact is Rashad Weaver gonna make at the next level?

RW: Rashad Weaver is gonna be a defensive lineman that can make an impact on every single play. I can make plays in both the passing game and running game. I get my hands up and impact throwing lanes. I do a lot of things to make the quarterback uncomfortable. I can set the edge and help my teammates make plays. You’re gonna notice me on every play. 

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