Good luck if looking for pass rushers in the 2021 draft

Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh (28) rushes against Ohio State in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. He's is one of the top pass rushers in the draft, but had 0 sacks last season. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)
Penn State defensive end Jayson Oweh (28) rushes against Ohio State in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. He's is one of the top pass rushers in the draft, but had 0 sacks last season. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Here’s the eighth story of our position-by-position NFL draft series. Today, we’ll look at the top pass rushers.

NFL scouting departments will be stressed looking for the next pass-rushing threat in the draft, which is set for April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland.

This edge-rusher group is really, really tough to sort out and figure out because you’ve got a mixture of guys who were opt-outs (and) didn’t play this year,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “You’ve got like Jayson Oweh from Penn State, who’s going to run in the 4.3s as a dynamic athlete who didn’t have a sack this year, so you’ve got to kind of figure that out.”

The NFL has turned into a passing league and finding defenders to get to the quarterback is key to any defense’s success.

“You’ve got Kwity Paye from Michigan, who is going to test like a freak at his Pro Day, but they moved him all around,” Jeremiah said. “I thought he was out of position a little bit. So you’ve got to sort through that.”

Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, of Marietta High, has a shot to be selected late in the first round. The third-year sophomore likely could have improved his draft status if he returned to Athens for another season.

“Azeez Ojulari is a really good player on tape, and the more I’ve watched him, the more I’ve liked him,” Jeremiah said.

While Oweh, Paye and Ojulari are intriguing, they are far from locks to become big-time NFL pass rushers.

“There’s a lot of questions on these guys is what I’m getting at,” said Jeremiah, a former NFL scout with the Ravens.

Some pass rush-starved team is going to a flyer on Miami’s Gregory Rousseau. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper had Rousseau going to the Falcons in the second round (35th overall) of his latest mock draft.

Azeez Ojulari led Georgia in sacks during the 2020 season, including three in the team's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati.
Azeez Ojulari led Georgia in sacks during the 2020 season, including three in the team's Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati.

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA

Credit: Tony Walsh/UGA

“Rousseau has some really good tape,” Jeremiah said. “He only had one year of it, but you’re talking about somebody who’s 6-7, 260 pounds, who’s got 15-and-a-half sacks in the ACC. He’s got some accomplishments to work off of here.”

He might not be available in the second round. He was projected to go in the top 15, but has slipped in the pre-draft process.

Rousseau likely would have benefitted from playing in 2020, but he opted out of the season.

“If he had another double-digit sack year in that conference, then I think you would say, OK, this kid will be a top-5 pick because you couldn’t ignore it,” Jeremiah said.

Washington’s Joe Tyron, a 6-5 and 262-pound third-year sophomore who opted out, is in the same group with Rousseau.

“With Tryon, he’s got size, he’s got length,” Jeremiah said. “He’s got really active, good hands. He’s a little bit stiff in the ankles. You see that when he gets to the top of his pass rush. But this is somebody that has the ability to collapse the pocket.”

Tryon could go in the first round or early part of the second.

“Teams are all over the map on these edge rushers,” Jeremiah said.

After the top rushers are gone, teams will be searching for sleepers.

The first edge rusher I have outside my top 50 is a kid Payton Turner from Houston, who’s really interesting,” Jeremiah said. “He lost some weight a little bit coming into this year. He was pretty dominant at the Senior Bowl. At 6-5, 270 pounds, and he can play with his hand down or up.”

Turner played four seasons for the Cougars and started his final three seasons. He was named to the All-American Athletic Conference second-team after he had 25 tackles, 10.5 for losses and five sacks over five games. He missed two games because of injury and opted out of the New Mexico Bowl.

“He’s got really active hands,” Jeremiah said. “He’s got speed to power. He’s an interesting player.”

Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins was one of the fast risers through the pre-draft process.

After getting suspended for testing positive for marijuana in an NCAA-administered drug test, Perkins was suspended for six games. In 2020, he played in only six games, limiting game video.

He tried to explain his situation during interviews with teams during the pre-draft process. Teams like to know why a player was using drugs, even when he knew that he’d be tested.

Decision-making is the test.

“I don’t really feel like I had to defend my character,” Perkins said. “That’s the stuff that comes with making bad decisions like that. If you’re going to make a bad decision you have to be prepared for what comes with it. Explaining myself and explaining my character, that’s going to come with making a bad decision.”

University of Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau wears the turnover chain during a 2019 game against Central Michigan. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)
University of Miami defensive end Gregory Rousseau wears the turnover chain during a 2019 game against Central Michigan. (Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Oweh ran a spectacular 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds at Penn State’s Pro Day. He posted a vertical jump of 39.5 inches and a broad jump of 11 feet, 2 inches. He’s 6-foot-3 and 246 pounds, with 31¼-inch arms and 11-inch hands. John Abraham, the last elite pass rusher the Falcons had, played at 255 pounds, so Oweh is a little lighter.

His lack of production will be troubling for some teams.

“As far as the zero-sacks thing, it’s obviously there,” Oweh said. “But if you really are a savant of the game and really understand what is going on in the game, and you watch film, you don’t just look at the box score.”

Oweh contends that he can get to the quarterback.

“You understand that’s not even who I am, that’s not even the type of player I am,” Oweh said. “I’d say (against) Indiana, I could have had five sacks that game. It was just a split second off. I feel like even if I did have five, six sacks, people still would come up with things to say.”

Oweh sounds like he’s making excuses.

“My best football is ahead of me,” Oweh said. “This is probably the best thing that could have happened to me because I’m using that as motivation.”

AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES

QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs

RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs

WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs

TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs

Falcons’ 2021 draft position: Here are the top 10 picks in D. Led’s Mock Draft 4.0:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson)

2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, (QB, BYU)

3. San Francisco 49ers: Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

4. Atlanta Falcons: Penei Sewell (OT, Oregon)

5. Cincinnati Bengals: Ja’Marr Chase (WR, LSU)

6. Miami Dolphins: Kyle Pitts (TE, Florida)

7. Detroit Lions: DeVonta Smith (WR, Alabama)

8. Carolina Panthers: Jaylen Waddle (WR, Alabama)

9. Denver Broncos: Trey Lance (QB, North Dakota State)

10. Dallas Cowboys: Patrick Surtain (CB, Alabama)

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