NFL Draft – Deep Dive on EDGE Rushers, Can Jets Find Next John Abraham?

James Kuntz with a deep dive on this year’s edge class and where/when the New York Jets can finally boost the position…

For the last installment in my series on the most important NFL Combine tests for each position, I analyze a positional need that has plagued the Jets for the last two decades: EDGE rusher. This week’s NFL Draft serves as an opportunity for the Jets organization to reconstitute itself to the mission of investing in the most impactful positions in football, such as EDGE. As a result, it’s worth examining what testing metrics the Jets can use in order to find value at this position.

The methodology employed in my previous three articles is also utilized here. I’ve aggregated Combine measurements (and, when necessary, the Pro Day measurements) of all 2020 Pro Bowl EDGE rushers. As evidenced by the data, there are four testing events that are most greatly correlated with success in the NFL: the 3-cone drill, the 20 yard shuttle, the 40 yard dash, and the broad jump. There were some players such as Za’darius Smith and Matt Judon who, despite poor testing across the board, have been very successful in the NFL, but these players are the exception to the rule.

Having identified the most meaningful athletic tests for EDGE rushers, it’s worth examining which players fit this mold:

EARLY DAY 2:

Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Best Events: 7.0 3-cone and 4.27 short shuttle

Weaver was exceptional in his career at Boise State. A freshman all-American and 2019 MWC Defensive Player of the Year, Weaver had consistently been one of the most productive players in the country. Weaver’s best trait is his powerful, instinctual, and refined hand usage. His change of direction abilities are also good, as evidenced by his 83rd percentile 3 cone, 80th percentile short shuttle. The most common criticism of Weaver is that he has a soft build and higher than normal body fat. Weaver is appealing as a high floor player who can contribute high single-digit sacks as a rookie. Ultimately, if he can gain strength and slash unnecessary weight, Weaver has the ceiling of an above average edge rusher who could potentially be selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in a career year. Although the Jets have dire positional needs such as OT and WR to address with their first two picks, if Weaver were to fall to 68, the Jets should seriously consider him.

LATE DAY 2:

Alton Robinson, Syracuse
Best Events: 4.69 40 yard dash, 35.5” vertical jump, 4.32 20 yard shuttle

Alton Robinson entered this year as a potential top-45 pick, but his lack of development has resulted in him being mocked in the 3rd round more often than the second. Quick and explosive, Robinson possesses all the physical traits to be a double digit pass rusher in the NFL, but he is technically raw and currently lacks the pass rush moves to take advantage of these gifts. It is also worth noting that Robinson transferred from Texas A&M to Syracuse due to a second degree robbery charge. It’s not clear if this transgression would disqualify him from consideration as a Jets pick. The confluence of his personal history and lack of refinement as a pass rusher would make it unsurprising if he falls to Day 3. A team should only feel comfortable drafting Robinson if it has a defensive line coach it trusts to develop him.

Alex Highsmith, Charlotte
Best Events: 4.70 40 yard dash, 10’5” broad jump, and 4.31 20 yard shuttle

Highsmith, one of this year’s biggest pre-draft risers, alleviated concerns about his athleticism at the NFL Combine with his 75th percentile 40 yard dash, 92nd percentile broad jump, and 75th percentile 20 yard shuttle. Highsmith projects best as a 3-4 OLB who could be immediately impactful in sub-packages. Highsmith’s upside depends on whether he can add functional athleticism and more pass rush moves to his repertoire. Highsmith is a former walk-on and possesses the high character that scouts love. It wouldn’t surprise me if he went top-75, and he should definitely be in consideration for the Jets in the 3rd round.

MID-LATE DAY 3:

Casey Toohill, Stanford
Best Events: Every event, no really.

Toohill was a physical standout in every event that he participated in. He posted a 90th percentile 40 yard dash, 95th percentile vertical jump, 94th percentile broad jump, 70th percentile 3 cone, and 89th percentile 20 yard shuttle. Toohill is a below average run defender, but an intriguing pass rusher. Aptly described as a “tweener,” meaning that he is too big to be a 3-4 OLB but too small to be a 4-3 DE, Toohill would benefit from adding lean mass to his frame, which would make him a viable backup 4-3 DE on most NFL teams. Toohill could be an interesting depth piece and special teams contributor who might develop into a quality backup in Year 3.

Carter Couglin, Minnesota
Best Events: 4.57 40 yard dash, 36” vertical jump, 10’6” broad jump

With a 95th percentile 40 time, 81st percentile vertical jump, and 94th percentile broad jump, Coughlin was a surprise standout of the 2020 NFL Combine. Coughlin is likely a 6th round pick in this year’s Draft. A nifty pass rusher and capable run defender, Coughlin is a tough player to project to the NFL. He lacks the necessary weight and strength to set the edge in the NFL, but possesses 4 phase special team ability. Coughlin’s success in the NFL will be dependent on his team’s ability to take advantage of his quickness and pass rush skills without playing him in-line. I would be excited if a team with a creative defensive coordinator, hint-hint the Jets, takes him in the last two rounds of the Draft.