When evaluating an entire NFL draft class, you start to form groups of prospects in your head, a collection of players with similar skill sets, athleticism, and physical profiles.
To provide a unique view of the edge-rusher position through this perspective, I've pieced together the class as a whole by type. Here's a look at five different groupings, along with one sleeper.
Supreme athletes with polished technique and quality production
Chase Young, Ohio State
K'Lavon Chaisson, LSU
Curtis Weaver, Boise State
Zack Baun, Wisconsin
This quartet represents the cleanest edge rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft. Young, of course, checks all the boxes. To me, he's just about on par with Joey and Nick Bosa when they entered the league in 2016 and 2019, respectively, and reminds me of a more explosive version of Bradley Chubb. To some, Chaisson doesn't have typical production you'd like to see from a first-round edge rusher. I disagree with that notion. After missing basically all of 2018 with a serious injury, Chaisson recorded 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as a 20 year old in 2019. Considering his relative lack of experience, those elementary statistics are good for him. More importantly, Chaisson's size (6-foot-3 and 254 pounds), explosive athleticism, easy-to-spot bend, and variety of pass-rushing moves make him a stud edge-rusher prospect.
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For reasons unbeknownst to me, Weaver is widely considered a second-tier prospect in this class. At 6-2 and 265 pounds, he has an NFL body, he recorded 34 sacks and 47.5 tackles for loss during his three seasons at Boise State, and he plays with excellent bend and a nice arsenal of pass-rushing counters. He crushed his combine too with a 7.00 second three cone, which is phenomenal for his height/weight ratio.
As for Baun, he's only 6-2 and 238 pounds and has off-ball linebacker versatility. But his bend/dip is arguably the most impressive in the class, he knows how to use his hands to counter off his patented outside speed rush and registered 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss at Wisconsin in 2019. Baun also had a 7.00 three-cone drill at the combine, great for his size profile.
High-level athletes with who must improve arsenal of pass-rush moves
Josh Uche, Michigan
Johnathan Greenard, Florida
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Jonathan Garvin, Miami
Trevon Hill, Miami
If you like Baun, you like Uche, and they're both inside the top seven edge rushers on my board. Why is Baun in the first, more well-rounded group and Uche in this one? Baun's a little better with his hands. They're both legitimate hybrids who flash as situational edge rushers. Uche converts speed to power outstandingly, and his inside move off his speed rush is tremendous because he's so explosive around the corner. Pass-rushing moves? Well, they pop on occasion but need to improve because for as springy as he is, Uche isn't Von Miller.
Greenard has first-round highs. They just need to happen more often. At 6-3 and a rocked-up 263 pounds with the ability to tightly wrap the corner, the Florida product looks the part. With more active hands, he could be one of the best value picks on Day 2. Okwara is similar in that his play can be stupidly dominant. He's strong with long arms and looks decently flexible. In my notes I wrote his pass-rushing moves as "adequate."
As for Zuniga, Garvin, and Hill, they're nearly identical prospects, with the length, explosiveness, and flashes of bend that'll likely make them Day 3 selections. They simply are woefully ineffective using their hands and rarely lean on pass-rushing moves to win around the corner.
Average athletes with outstanding handwork technique
Bradlee Anae, Utah
Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame
Alton Robinson, Syracuse
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
Carter Coughlin, Minnesota
Anae has the most advanced repertoire of pass-rushing maneuvers of any edge rusher in this class. You name the move, he has it and deployed it over the past four years at Utah. At 6-3 and 257 pounds, he sets a sturdy edge and looks like an NFL defensive end today.
Willekes is nearly identical. Neither tested particularly well at the combine -- slow 7.44 and 7.39 in the three-cone, respectively -- but the Michigan State star too is a master with his hands. He gives you a little more juice. Anae is a touch more powerful.
Kareem is an oversized edge rusher with lead pipes for hands he effectively flashes. He didn't work out in Indianapolis, but at 6-4 and nearly 270 pounds with a slow first-step and lacking speed once he begins his rush, he needs to be phenomenal with his hands. Robinson probably has the most athletic springiness of anyone in this group but isn't very bendy. He will occasionally win through a blocker with a nice pass-rushing move and is pretty explosive off the line. Jennings is comparable to Kareem in that he's a thick, heavy-handed outside rusher, he just won't beat NFL offensive tackles with an outside speed rush, so his counters won't be as effective as they were in college.
Coughlin looked like a potential first-round pick in 2018 but regressed in a big way this past season. While he ran 4.57 and had a vertical in the 81st percentile and a broad jump in the 93rd among edge rushers, he doesn't play that explosively yet is keenly aware that at 6-3 and 236 pounds, he needs to be a technician with his hands, and he is.
Unspectacular athletes with good hands and awesome length/size
A.J. Epenesa, Iowa
Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
Terrell Lewis, Alabama
Darrell Taylor, Tennessee
I wrote about Epenesa right after the combine as a prospect with a poor performance in Indy about which I wasn't too worried, mostly because he should be playing inside a fair amount of the time, and for a defensive tackle, the Iowa star is a fine athlete. At 6-5 and 275 pounds with arms over 34 inches long, freaky strength that jumped off the film even in 2018 and a polished set of pass-rush moves, Epenesa is the perfect prospect for this category.
The arrow is pointing up for Gross-Matos. Although his elementary statistics dipped from 2018 to 2019, his one-on-one wins were more frequent during his final season at Penn State. At 6-5 and 266 pounds with telephone poles for arms, he's a defensive end prototype from a physical perspective. While not a molasses-slow athlete, Gross-Matos wins more frequently with power or an inside counter than pure speed/bend around the corner.
Lewis looks like a cornerback on the field. Then you realize he's 6-5 and 262 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms. His Gumby-like frame allows him to win suddenly to the inside off his initial rush and there are moments of stellar athleticism. But he isn't going to be speeding by NFL offensive tackles in a blur and must use his length, power, and counters to become a successful edge rusher in the pros.
Taylor dealt with injuries his senior season at Tennessee, yet as a junior, his bend/dip combination was easily the best of this bunch. At 6-4 and 267 pounds, he's built like a concrete wall to set the edge and understands how to win the leverage battle when grappling with tackles on the outside.
Technicians who produced against lesser competition
Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State
Alex Highsmith, Charlotte
Tuszka had 13.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss at the FCS level in 2019 after 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss in 2018. He's a polished edge rusher with a clear-cut plan on most of his reps, and after the combine, we know he's an NFL athlete. In fact, he's a rather impressive one. His 6.87 three-cone time placed him in the 95th percentile at the position.
Highsmith isn't the athlete Tuszka is -- 7.32 three cone -- but he did run a fast 4.70 in the 40 and had a 125-inch broad jump, the latter placing him in the 92nd percentile. At Charlotte, Highsmith really battled his way to an illustrious career. He had only three sacks to go along with 18 tackles for loss in 2018, then his quarterback takedowns skyrocketed to 15 in 2019. While chiseled, Highsmith is a bit stiff around the corner but understands how to work off his speed rush to keep tackles on their toes.
Sleeper I simply cannot leave off this article
Casey Toohill, Stanford
Toohill quietly had an awesome combine with a vertical and broad jump in the 91st and 92nd percentiles, respectively, at the edge-rusher position. His 7.08 three cone (51st percentile) was actually very good for his size -- 6-4 and 250 pounds -- and his 40-yard dash, vertical, and broad jumps were all in the 90th percentile or higher at the edge rusher spot.
And Toohill's impressive combine shows on the field. His explosive first step instantly translates to the innate ability to tightly bend the edge, and he's rarely complacent with his hands. In his first season as a full-time starter in 2019, Toohill had 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. With more strength and weight on his frame, he could be the steal at the edge-rusher position on Day 3 of the draft.