There's always at least one. Every year. A highly touted prospect in first-round mock drafts who just doesn't do it for me. And in the 2021 NFL Draft, that prospect is Miami's Gregory Rousseau.
Before I explain, let's get something out of the way -- I don't believe Rousseau is a brutal prospect. I just don't view him as a first-round prospect. But he's a consensus top 20 prospect, as per every mock draft on the Internet. No, really.
Per Benjamin Robinson of GrindingTheMocks.com, Rousseau started early mock drafts inside the top 5, and while he's gradually dipped, he's currently a staple inside the top 20.
Now, the NFL generally does a good job identifying which prospects can play in its league and picking the best players first. But we all know "busts" arise from the first round every single year. And remember: teams bust, players don't. Unless we're talking about an all-time bust who goes No. 1 overall then is out of the NFL in three years, most busts are typically just third- or fourth-round players who, for one reason or another, landed in Round 1.
What's my gripe with Rousseau as a first-round prospect? Well that answer includes multiple layers, but to summarize at the outset -- he's too raw for my liking. And that's not surprising. He played one full season at Miami, as a 19-year-old redshirt freshman. It'd be unbelievable if he wasn't raw.
On Rousseau's rawness
Easy segue here -- Rousseau is simply not a finished product. Or even close to it. His pass-rush move arsenal is essentially nonexistent. Occasionally, he can swipe his way past a guard. But in terms of starting a play with a definitive "plan" as to how he's going to defeat a blocker one on one? That's simply not in Rousseau's arsenal right now.
And what do I mean by "raw" exactly. Raw with an edge rusher prospect -- and in this case, Rousseau -- typically means they don't have a defined, go-to arsenal of pass-rushing moves, and you need those to consistently win around the corner in the NFL.
Outside of a swipe as he's beating a guard, Rousseau rarely has a "plan" at the snap as to how he's going to win with his hands. In almost every situation, he rushes up the field, contacts the blocker with both of his arms extended and, well, that's it. Being raw can also speak to a prospect's body, and although 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds sounds tantalizing to some, one look at Rousseau and it's obvious he needs to get bigger and stronger to deal with the power of NFL offensive linemen. Is there a chance he's really bulked up during his opt-out year? Absolutely. But there's been no indication of that yet, and the last time I saw him on a football field, he did not appear anywhere close to being "NFL strong."
On Rousseau's size
About a decade ago, a "tweener" was a bad designation for a prospect. Today, we've gotten to the point where having hybrid size is actually welcomed.
And Rousseau is absolutely a hybrid defensive lineman. At 6-7 and anywhere from 255 to 265, he naturally plays very high, making him very easily out leveraged. Sure, he's super long, and that length can help him in battles around the corner. But, again, he doesn't use his hands well, thereby essentially rendering his length moot at this point in his playing career.
The vast majority of Rousseau's one-on-one wins in college came inside -- sometimes even at nose tackle -- and while he's not going to play the latter position in the NFL, his linear explosion -- which is good -- does give him an advantage against guards and centers. However, like most tall players, Rousseau isn't exceptional agile -- changing directions isn't a forte.
There's an outside chance Rousseau can be a destructive interior rusher as a pro. Betting on that at such a tall height and low weight is incredibly risky. Most guards are stocky, low-center-of-gravity technicians in the NFL, and for them, a lanky defensive tackle with minimal power who plays high, is a dream come true on Sundays.
On Rousseau's production
Rousseau rose from obscure redshirt freshman to first-round lock after a 15.5-sack season in 2019. And don't get me wrong, that figure is impressive and rare for such a young player. And, Rousseau's pressure-creation rate that season was a sizable 17.2% -- just one percentage point lower than Chase Young's.
But not all sacks nor all pressures are created equal. Rousseau's film shows a variety of his production coming on clear-cut coverage or clean-up sacks, plays in which he didn't initially win his assignment but got to the quarterback deep into the play. And he won't be able to rely on those occurrences on a regular basis in the NFL. Heck, there's a good chance he wouldn't have had anywhere near the same amount of those instances had he played in 2020.
For context on Rousseau's statistical output in 2019, let's look at average time to sack and average time to pressure in the final collegiate season for Rousseau and the eight edge rushers to be picked in the first round over the past two years.
|Gregory Rousseau||Chase Young||K'Lavon Chaisson||Nick Bosa||Clelin Ferrell||Josh Allen||Brian Burns||Montez Sweat||L.J. Collier|
|Avg Time To Sack (rank)|
|Avg Time To Pressure (rank)|
Those times don't always tell the whole story. They do typically indicate if a rusher is winning against a blocker or if his production is based on external factors, like a quarterback holding the football too long, or a teammate first generating pressure.
And, in general, from the above table, the first-round rushers who've succeed are those with the lower times -- Bosa, Young, Allen, Sweat. Really, Burns is the only one who's become a quality player with "slow" times in each category in his final season in college.
Maybe Rousseau has slimmed down to be more explosive while simultaneously adding power to his game and wants to live on the edge in the NFL. Maybe he's worked on his pass-rush move arsenal. Or, maybe he's well into the 270s and will sell himself as a uniquely sized inside rusher. And, he'll only turn 21 in early April with one year of collegiate experience on his football résumé. So maybe he'll fine-tune his game as he gets well into his early 20s.
But there are just too many "maybes" in Rousseau's game for him to be a first-round prospect on my Big Board.