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2021 NFL Draft: Reinforcing the pass rush

An average class means players could drop

After defensive end Shaq Lawson decided to move on to greener pastures last offseason, the Buffalo Bills decided to replace him with the free-agent veteran Mario Addison, as well as second-round pick A.J. Epenesa. Despite playing a significant amount of snaps in the 2020 season, neither player emerged as the franchise pass rusher that the team so desperately needs. Now entering the 2021 season, defensive end remains a high-priority need for the Bills, with both Jerry Hughes and Addison over the age of 32.

While the upcoming draft lacks elite pass rushers like a Chase Young or a Myles Garrett, that simply means that other positions will be prioritized by other teams and the Bills could have a chance to take advantage of the situation. The players at the top of the draft may not be sure things, but they still can offer a team good starting potential. Below are some options in the draft who may be able to offer just that.

Tier I

Gregory Rousseau (Miami)
Kwity Paye (Michigan)
Joseph Ossai (Texas)

He has the ideal defense frame at 6’6” and 260 lbs and is a pretty darn good athlete for that size, but Rousseau’s lack of experience in college means his technique is lacking and he may need some development as a consequence. Paye makes up for his lack of size and length with short-area quickness and a motor that never runs cold. Originally a traditional linebacker, Ossai became a 3-4 edge rusher in his final season and took to it pretty well. But because he is such a latecomer, he got by on his considerable athletic talent alone.

Tier II

Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)
Jaelen Phillips (Miami)
Joe Tryon (Washington)
Jayson Oweh (Penn State)

Basham isn’t necessarily a player who can threaten a tackle’s outside edge, but he’s wicked strong, smart and, like Paye, he makes effort plays. More than most of the players on this list, Phillips brings along very good burst and pass rush ability, although a history of injuries may scare away teams. Inexperienced but oozing athletic upside, Tryon is yet another player who won’t bend the edge but wins with effort, strength and straight-line speed. Similar to Rousseau, Oweh has elite measurables, including wingspan, but as a redshirt sophomore coming out it’s up to the coaches to develop him into something more than just his talent.

Tier III

Patrick Jones II (Pittsburgh)
Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)
Quincy Roche (Miami)
Daelin Hayes (Notre Dame)

Jones reminds some of a less athletic Jadeveon Clowney; plenty of speed and strength but not much length and the flexibility needed to become a true pass rusher. Jones’s teammate Weaver has the size and length but lacks the requisite athletic ability. He does offer some versatility to kick inside, however. Roche was a much-hyped prospect this year, and his explosion off the snap is decent, but his agility and lack of strength means that he can be handled by good tackles more often than not. Although he would’ve tested very well at the Combine, Hayes didn’t produce much in college and asking him to do so in the NFL might be a stretch.

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