The "The Triple Take" now moves to the pass rushers. In our fifth installment of this draft prospect preview by position, the Steelers Radio Network trio of Matt Williamson, Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta give their takes on the top prospects at the edge rusher position. If you want to hear the audio version of "The Triple Take" click here.
Matt's Take ...
Chase Young very well could be the best edge prospect to enter the NFL in the last decade. It doesn't take much of a scouting background to see what he brings to the table. But after Young, this edge class really falls off. And overall, the depth here is worrisome in the middle and later rounds. There are far more questions than answers with how this class projects to the NFL. Past Young, teams with a real need at this position will be really rolling the dice.
#5 - A.J. Epenesa, Iowa (6-5, 275 lbs.) - Epenesa is another guy that doesn't fit the traditional edge-bending mold at this position. Epenesa is a power player that prefers to bully his opponent rather than going around him with finesse and technique. Ideally, Epenesa could be best suited to playing more of a 3-4 defensive end role where he could utilize his power and deemphasize his struggles with lateral agility, but he has little experience in such a role. He has good length, plays the run extremely well and does his best work in tight quarters. Epenesa's combine performance didn't do him any favors. He really needs to play with his hand in the dirt, but if employed properly, he could be a strong contributor.
#4 - Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State (6-foot-5, 266 lbs.) - Gross-Matos certainly looks the part and is very explosive in a straight line. He really unloads on initial contact and is much more flexible than most edge players with his dimensions. Gross-Matos also can bump inside and create problems on throwing downs. There is a lot to work with here and he is already a plus run defender. His game can get out of control though and Gross-Matos isn't always quick to recognize. When his first move is stymied, Gross-Matos doesn't always have a great backup plan. Gross-Matos is also much better coming forward than playing in space.
#3 - K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU (6-3, 254 lbs.) - Let's just get this out of the way: Chaisson's sack production (or lack thereof) is extremely concerning. This concern gets exacerbated when considering LSU played with a lead much of the time on their way to winning the national title. Yet Chaisson still didn't rack up the sacks. But there is a lot of ability here. Chaisson is a natural edge bender that can get quite low running the arc without losing speed or momentum. His athleticism couldn't be more apparent. Chaisson has tools and traits, but simply lacks production. Every team will value that equation differently.
#2 - Zack Baun, Wisconsin (6-2, 238 lbs.) - Baun and Young are VERY different prospects and although versatility is one of Baun's greatest attributes, his game doesn't fit every scheme and really, he could just as easily be listed with the linebackers. Baun really projects well to how the Patriots have employed Kyle Van Noy and Rob Ninkovich (amongst others) over the years on and off the ball. He can rush the passer. He can play up tight on the line of scrimmage, often over a tight end. Baun can more than hold his own in coverage in the short zones, but also shows very good burst and bend coming after the quarterback. And he is relentless. Baun is a really good football player, but his size is a concern if he is asked to play exclusively on the edge.
#1 - Chase Young, Ohio State (6-5, 264 lbs.) - Young is a very rare prospect. He has it all. He is very close to a truly complete prospect. If you were to build a human body from scratch to play the edge position, it would look basically identical to Young's. He wins with power, speed, bend, redirection, hand usage and pretty much any other way you can imagine. That being said, once in a while his pads get a little high and he is not yet a finished product as a pass-rusher, which is frightening. Young is also a plus run defender. Every year it seems that there is an elite edge prospect. Young is better than all of them and will enter the league as the odds-on favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Dale's Take ...
Elite edge rushers come in all shapes and sizes. And different schemes ask them to do different things.
But nobody is going to ask the top edge rusher in this year's draft, Ohio State's Chase Young, to do anything but rush the passer. He's the best player in this draft and heads the class at what is an otherwise underwhelming position.
#5 - Jabari Zuninga, Florida (6-3, 264 lbs.) - An explosive athlete who shows flashes but doesn't do it on a consistent basis. Also had some issues staying healthy in his career.
#4 - Julian Okwara, Notre Dame (6-4, 252 lbs.) - The dropoff from Young to Okwara is considerable. Okwara has ability, but missed the second half of last season with a broken fibula. Needs to get better against the run.
#3 - K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU (6-3, 254 lbs.) - His ranking is based more on projection than reality. His career-high for sacks came last season with 6.5. A hit-or-miss prospect with a high ceiling but could bust.
#2 - Zack Baun, Wisconsin (6-2, 238 lbs.) - Is he an inside or outside linebacker? He can rush the passer (12.5 sacks in 2019), but he's not the ideal size to do so and could get engulfed in the run game. But he makes plays. Some teams could consider him an off-ball linebacker.
#1 - Chase Young, Ohio State (6-5, 264 lbs.) - Young is capable of playing in any scheme because of his outstanding athleticism. He's a better prospect than either of the the Bosa brothers were coming out of Ohio State. And we've seen how good they are in the NFL.
Mike's Take ...
The need to get to the passer is ever-present in the NFL.
Even the teams that have players capable of getting home from the edge need more of the same.
"I've talked to a bunch of coaches and GMs this week," NFL network analyst Daniel Jeremiah observed during coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine. "You know how many of them have told me they have enough pass-rushers and they don't need any more? Zero
"You never have enough."
The good news heading into the NFL Draft is supply is keeping up with the demand.
"It's outstanding," Jeremiah assessed of the crop of players available who can get to the quarterback. "It's a really good group, especially at the edge rusher position."
#5 - Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State (6-foot-5, 266 lbs.) - He's out after a junior season in which he led the Nittany Lions in tackles for a loss and sacks for a second consecutive season. Those were Gross-Matos' only two seasons as a starter, so the NFL club that drafts him has every right to expect him to continue to mature and get better. And his 17.5 sacks over his last 25 games suggest Gross-Matos is pretty good right now.
#4 - A.J. Epenesa, Iowa (6-5, 275 lbs.) - He might not have the upside Gross-Matos possess, but Epenesa might not need it, either. "I don't think you're gonna miss on Epenesa," Jeremiah observed at the NFL Scouting Combine. "The question is how great of a player can he be?" Great, in other words, is the floor. Dane Brugler of The Athletic praised Epenesa as an "egoless individual" and a "really good teammate," according to Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Epenesa's character apparently doesn't need much upside, either.
#3 - Bradlee Anae, Utah (6-3, 257 lbs.) - This assessment might be a tad more ambitious than most for Utah's career sacks leader (30). Then again, after the show he put on at the Senior Bowl (three sacks, including two on consecutive snaps, and a pressure that resulted in an interception), it might not do Anae justice. "That is textbook hand-usage," Jeremiah gushed at one point. It wasn't an outlier. "Every time I saw him go up against a top-flight (offensive) tackle he found ways to get wins," Jeremiah added. "He's the first one off the ball each and every snap and he's a finisher."
#2 - K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU (6-3, 254 lbs.) - Another three-year player and two-year starter whose production (9.5 career sacks, 6.5 in 2019) pales in comparison to his potential. He was named a captain as a sophomore at LSU and last season wore the prestigious No. 18 (along with center Lloyd Cushenberry III), which is bestowed by LSU's players upon the offensive and defensive teammate who stands out as inspirational.
#1 - Chase Young, Ohio State (6-5, 264 lbs.) - NFL Network analyst Peter Schrager called Young "as polished of a defensive pass-rushing prospect as we've seen in recent years." Schrager meant on and off the field. "He texts with LeBron (James) a lot; this is not too big for him," Schrager continued. "He said, 'I'm not working out for the Combine because I'm not really looking at the NFL Draft. I'm looking at Week One of the NFL season.' So he's looking at himself as a finished product. He went to a Lakers game recently, he sat with Denzel Washington, Gary Payton and Baron Davis. This kid is a star coming into the NFL and it doesn't seem too big for him. This kid is the real deal and he comes in a polished, almost finished product." Jeremiah called Young "a rare, rare, rare rusher and talent." And NFL network analyst Charles Davis said Young "will have a chip on his shoulder because he thought he was going to win the Heisman (Trophy)." That's a lot of boxes checked coming off the edge.