Just how good is Gregory Rousseau, another prominent 2021 NFL Draft prospect to opt out of the college football season? The colossal 6-foot-7, 260ish-pound edge rusher from Miami registered 15.5 sacks in his redshirt freshman season, a mark that only trailed some random pass rusher named Chase Young in college football last season. He was a three-star recruit in the 2018 class per 247 Sports, and, really, blossomed out of nowhere in 2019 after an ankle injury cost him most of his true freshman season in Coral Gables.
Now, let's go a little deeper on Rousseau, a premier edge rusher prospect, who'll spend the year training for the NFL instead of playing collegiate football in the ACC.
Despite not being a big recruit, Rousseau contributed early in his first season at Miami on a veteran-laden defensive line. The ankle injury -- a fracture to be exact -- occurred in the team's third outing against Savannah State and was the catalyst for his redshirt. Then, with more weight added to his frame, Rousseau erupted in 2019, even though he played nearly half the season as a part-time player. Per Pro Football Focus, through Miami's first five games of the season, Rousseau was averaging just 22 snaps per game. Remarkably, Rousseau had four sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss by then. Miami's coaches smartened, Rousseau's snap-count average more than doubled the rest of the season, and he finished the year with 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Elite production.
Rousseau will be the protagonist in the dreams of NFL defensive line coaches. His frame is that mouthwatering. He's already around 260 pounds but at a towering 6-foot-7, there's ample room to add more weight. Of course, given those measurements, Rousseau has vines for arms.
If you're thinking because he's so tall and lanky, he must be stiff and lack power, you couldn't be more wrong. Rousseau plays with dynamic burst, smooth athleticism -- evident in his hips and ankles -- and packs a powerful punch as a bull rusher. He was born to be utilized on stunts. In traditional, one-on-one situations, Rousseau understands his long arms are his friends, and he extends into tackles to make first contact. His outside speed rush is impressive and bendy. Rousseau is consistently aware when quarterbacks step up in the pocket, and he quickly glides back to the inside the get the sack. As you can probably imagine, Rousseau's closing speed is tremendous and his tackling radius is a country mile.
Because he's so athletic and massive, Rousseau is a prime candidate to slide up and down the line of scrimmage. In fact, he wouldn't be properly deployed strictly as an edge rusher in the NFL. He'll thrive against slower interior blockers who struggle to slide laterally.
Rousseau is far from polished as a rusher. His hand work isn't brutal, but he doesn't lean on a variety of pass-rushing moves at this juncture of his career, which really, isn't shocking nor a major problem. The guy has one season as an edge rusher at the college level -- half of which was spent as a half-time player -- to date.
His height helps him in most situations because of the way he consistently fires his hands early in his rush, but it could hurt Rousseau against NFL blockers who sink low to get the leverage advantage and can get into his chest plate. For as impressive as his power is despite his high center of gravity, Rousseau could certainly get stronger. As a run stopper, he has problems removing blockers and can get tossed around a bit. Added weight would greatly benefit him in the latter facet of playing on the defensive line.
Floor: Michael Johnson
Middle: Jason Pierre-Paul
Ceiling: Danielle Hunter
I'm going with a floor/middle ground/ceiling comparison for Rousseau because it gives a good general idea of the type of player he is and provides a broad range of outcomes for his level of success in the NFL when considering factors outside his control (coaching, scheme, etc.) once he gets to the league. This seems like the best way to handle such a young, raw prospect too.
As a prospect in 2009, Johnson looked identical to Rousseau now -- tall and long-limbed. He was raw as a pass-rusher too. He improved in each of his first few seasons with the Bengals after landing in the second round and set a career-high in sacks with 11.5 in his fourth season. Johnson never developed into a premier pass rusher but long was one of the sturdiest run-halting defensive ends in the NFL.
Pierre-Paul exemplifies a best-case scenario for a raw but highly athletic edge rusher. He only had high-level production in one season at USF but still landed in the top 20 of the 2010 draft and has enjoyed a long, consistent career with the Giants and Buccaneers. He had 16.5 sacks in his second NFL season and has hit 12.5 sacks on two other occasions. His profile and story are, altogether, strikingly similar to Rousseau's.
Hunter is the high benchmark possibility for Rousseau, and the two are comparable strength and weakness wise although Rousseau is a few inches tall. As a prospect, Hunter was lauded for his athletic gifts but his pass-rushing toolbox was underdeveloped. He's added moves to his arsenal and has been one of the most productive edge rushers in the league for a few seasons now. Hunter already has 54.5 sacks in the NFL, and he's still not 26.