After a breakout sophomore season in 2011 in which he led the team in sacks, Gayle was dubbed the next great Hokies pass rusher by the Virginia Tech coaching staff. He recorded similar numbers in each of his next two seasons as a starter in Blacksburg, but was unable to take his game to another level, raising questions about whether he's maxed out. After redshirting in 2009, he spent the 2010 season as a back-up defensive end, registering 13 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. He earned Second Team All-ACC honors in both 2011 (38 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks) and 2012 (43-11-five) but dropped to third team honors as a senior despite posting a career-high 44 stops (but dropping to 10.5 tackles for loss and six sacks). Gayle offers some intriguing traits but given the fact that he's started three years, he isn't as polished as you might expect.
STRENGTHS: Gayle lacks imposing size, but is strongly-built throughout his frame with the natural burst and quickness to explode off the edge with flexibility and raw power. He is balanced enough to dip under the reach of pass blockers and has functional flexibility, allowing him to turn the corner and close. He has experience rushing out of the three-point and two-point stance, showing burst to cross the face of tackles from either role. Gayle locates the ball quickly and shows good effort laterally and downfield in pursuit. Has some experience dropping back into coverage, showing reasonable awareness and the ability to drive on the ball, though only average fluidity, overall. WEAKNESSES: Gayle offers burst off the ball and a solid frame but does not possess great lateral agility so opponents too often are able to avoid him in close quarters. Too frequently he appears to be in position to make the play but struggles breaking down in space against quicker athletes. This stiffness is also evident when he's asked to drop into coverage, as Gayle struggles to change directions fluidly. Further, he is too reliant on his initial burst, offering only a reasonably effective slap and a bull-rush to complement his speed, making him too much of a one-trick pony, considering that he's a three-year starter. COMPARES TO: Jeremy Mincey, Denver - Gayle has enough burst off the snap to create pressure and could emerge as an effective NFL rusher, whether in a 4-3 or 3-4 role. He doesn't possess ideal flexibility, however, and doesn't possess the array of pass rush techniques one might expect given his 53 career games played. --Rob Rang
04/15/2014 - Five players who should be on the Denver Broncos' draft radar: DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech: The combination of Miller and Ware should be formidable but the Broncos are still expected to address the position in the draft given the loss of veterans Robert Ayers (Giants), Jeremy Mincey (Cowboys) and Shaun Phillips (Titans) via free agency. The Broncos could see Gayle as another intriguing developmental pass rusher to bring along with 2013 fifth rounder Quanterus Smith. Gayle started his last three seasons with the Hokies and while not as productive as his athleticism indicates, he could impress in a part-time role on a defensive line this talented. - Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com