Rolland-Jones is one of the most productive edge players in the country. He has a total of 30.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Red Wolves and it’s easy to see why. The thing that stands out most for me about Rolland-Jones is the way he uses his hands. He has one of the most powerful punches I’ve seen this year on tape; on a consistent basis, he hits OTs – who outweigh him by 60lbs or more – with such force that they look like those cartoon characters who have stars and whistle sounds circling their heads. The UCF game (3Q 5:03) is a good example: he sends the RT tottering backwards in so comic a fashion that any Premier League football fan will be immediately reminded of Paolo di Canio sending referee Paul Alcock flying in 1998 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9CLiDqYfLc) . He has quick feet, decent bend around the edge and can convert speed to power – in short, he is a really good pass-rush prospect. My concerns about Rolland-Jones are twofold: 1) he has spent very little time in coverage and, at 6-2, 245lbs, he is going to have to be an OLB in the NFL and 2) I think his closing speed is good but not great. I do, though, really like Rolland-Jones as a prospect. He is relentless, powerful, disruptive and incredibly productive. He reminds me of a smaller version of the Cardinals’ Markus Golden and I would like to see a team take a chance on him on Day 2.
I saw enough of Harold Landry’s highlights on ESPN last year to know that he was a disruptive player. When I got into his tape, however, I was even more impressed than I had anticipated. Landry, at 6-2, 250lb, will be an OLB in the NFL and I think he’ll be an outstanding one. He is, of course, an exceptional pass rusher, with a quick first step, the ability to bend the edge and a desire to hurt QBs when he gets there – some of his sacks against North Carolina State, Connecticut and Wake Forest are absolutely bone-shuddering. Against top-tier competition, there was no demonstrable drop-off in productivity; he was a disruptive force against Clemson throughout the game, against a top-tier Division 1 offense. It is rare to see a player single-handedly take over a game the way he did in the 4th quarter against Maryland in 2016 – all told, I think he’s an exceptional player. He is far more physical against the run than I’d anticipated and has the strength to stack and shed blockers and set a physical edge. He may not be an elite athlete but he’s at least a very good one and, to my mind, he’s one of the very best players in the 2018 draft. I see him as a top 15 pick and, personally, I’d take him in the top 10 – Harold Landry is an explosive playmaker, with the skill-set to excel in the NFL.
Haynes shows a good level of athleticism for an edge rusher; he is nimble and quick. He can, however, become so fixated on winning his own individual match-up that he loses sight of what’s happening elsewhere in the play and I worry about his size, at 6-2, 225. Against the run, he sets the edge reasonably well but not with such power or effectiveness to really impress – as was the case with a lot of Ole Miss defensive players in 2016, he looked a step slow in reading his keys. This could, of course, have been an issue with coaching, as much as talent. As a pass rusher, there’s nothing remarkable about his first step but he shows speed round the edge and I do like the way he uses his hands to shed blockers; he has a quick, violent punch. He also flashes the ability to bend the edge and has a decent spin move that could benefit from further honing. He played both as a DE and a stand-up OLB but, in the latter role, he never looked completely comfortable in coverage. He’s not the greatest tackler in the world, especially when a ball carrier is running straight towards him but he has a nose for the football and a knack for making the big play – nine forced fumbles over the last three years is a stat that leaps out. He has been a consistently productive SEC edge player, who has a knack of making big plays when his team needs them the most and I think there is a market for his skill-set in the NFL.
Ware is a functional SEC linebacker, who has decent instincts as a run defender and who has been a productive player at Kentucky, with 70 tackles and 5.5 sacks as a sophomore. Kentucky asks a lot of its edge players – they drop into coverage more than a lot of other teams’ edge players do – and it is clear from the tape that Ware really struggles with quick and nimble receiving threats in space. He is a rather lumbering figure, whose athleticism is marginal in the SEC and would be positively problematic at the next level. This is not to say that Ware has no straight-line speed – I suspect that he’d run somewhere in the 4.70-4.80 range, judging from his long fumble return in the South Carolina game – but he has stiff hips and plays too often on his heels, meaning that he finds it hard to change direction. He also really needs to work on his leverage; as a sophomore, he played way too high, struggled to shed blocks and was often eaten up even by tight ends against the run. As a pass rusher, he is tenacious and flashes some power but he has no real go-to move and lacks the explosiveness to make a difference as a pass rusher in the NFL. At this point, I would say that Ware should certainly come back for his senior season, as he does not look to be a draftable prospect at this point.
If I were to pick a play that crystallises why Arden Key has so much potential in the NFL, it would be his sack against Florida, in 2016, with 6.59 to go in the 2nd quarter. The ball is snapped, almost everyone else on the O and D lines is moving at normal speed (David Sharpe, the Gators’ LT, and the Raiders’ 4th round pick in 2017, is moving with the speed of an oil tanker that’s run out of gas), whilst Key is already two yards ahead of anyone else by the time Appleby has his arm cocked to throw. This is the sort of thing that has NFL scouts salivating like ravenous Frenchmen presented with a plate of fois gras. In backside pursuit, Key pursuing a QB looks like a lion in chase of a gazelle, demonstrating exceptional explosiveness, flexibility and speed. Against the run, he is a bit more raw but, even so, it’s still worth noting how seldom he gets pushed back, even if his angles and instincts are occasionally awry. This is impressive, given that he looks like he could carry an extra 20-25lbs on his frame without compromising his speed. In essence, Key is an elite prospect – a top 5 talent in this year’s draft, should he elect to declare. There are, however, some off the field issues which will need to be carefully explored. He was suspended for the A&M game and, earlier this year, he took a leave of absence from the LSU program – these are massive red flags, which will need to be checked out. These issues compromise my grade on Key slightly but, nevertheless, he should be one of the very best players in the 2018 draft.
The most impressive thing about Hubbard is his body control. When setting the edge, he shows flexibility and intelligence in his use of his hands and feet. He plays with his hand down even more than Lewis but I can see him making the transition to OLB in the NFL more easily than his Buckeye teammate – he looks like a more fluid, albeit less powerful, athlete on tape. He has a good motor and won’t give up on a play but I’m not sure he’s got the strength and leverage to be consistently effective against NFL OTs, should he play as a DE. In the 2016 Oklahoma game, for instance, he lost the majority of his battles against Orlando Brown quite convincingly. He has a good bull rush and good speed but neither of them have looked elite so far, leading me to question how often he will win as a pass rusher in the NFL. He does, however, seem opportunistic on tape and opportunism is often indicative of very good instincts. There is certainly something to work with here and I see Hubbard, at the moment, as a 3rd round prospect, who projects best to the LB position at the next level.
Lewis is an aggressive, powerful edge rusher who shows a relentless streak in his pursuit of the QB. He has played mainly with his hand on the ground at Ohio State although, on occasions, you will see him standing up. He is a much better prospect going forward than he is when he’s asked to read and react; he looks almost lost in space and I have doubts about his ability to project to an OLB role in the NFL. As such, he doesn’t look to me to have much scheme diversity, fitting best as a DE in the 4-3. He sets the edge extremely well and uses his hands very effectively, showing impressive strength and power – he is one of the very best run defenders in this draft class. An underrated part of Lewis’ game is the quickness of his feet, which enables him to change direction quite subtly and, as a consequence, attack half a blocker very effectively. His speed off the edge is good but not great at this point – he doesn’t really have an explosive first step and he will have to add some moves to his arsenal if he is to really thrive at the next level. He is a very productive player, who won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a junior and will should in the mix for national preseason awards. At the moment, I see him as a second round guy but I expect NFL scouts to have him firmly in the 1st round discussion.