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The best pass defense is a sack and NFL coaches know it. The edge rusher has become one of the most valuable positions in football due to the ever-growing threat of big-play passing offenses. Rushers are asked to do everything from dropping into coverage to defending gaps in the run game, making them the most versatile players on the field. Their one job that trumps any other is getting a sack and these players the best in college football at doing so:
1. Drake Jackson, USC
HT: 6’4” WT: 255 lbs.
2019 Statline: 20 Total Tackles, 5.5 Tackles for Loss, 2 Sacks, 1 Interception
Drake Jackson is the edge rusher that walks the walk and talks the talk. He is violent with his hands at the point of attack and bench presses tackles with his long arms. He is a terror in the run game, setting the edge and stopping running backs in their tracks with good form tackles.
Jackson shows good speed to power conversion when rushing the passer but he does need to add moves to his arsenal to be more effective at the next level. He has the versatility to play in any defensive front and has active hands at the line of scrimmage to bat down balls. Jackson is a top pick next year for any team, he is the blue-chip pass rush prospect of 2021.
2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
HT: 6’6” WT: 269 lbs.
2020 Statline: 15 Total Tackles, 0 Tackles for Loss, 0 Sacks, 0 Interception
Aidan Hutchinson is one of the most versatile edge rushers in college football. His ability to play up and down the line and attack the quarterback is elite. He is violent with his hands and is constantly active, never stopping until the ball carrier is down.
He has a lot of J.J. Watt like qualities to his game such as being active at the line and batting balls down as well as simply moving men out of his way. He is quick off the line with his first step and can play with speed when needed. His overall talent is great and he will be an instant asset to any defense at the next level.
3. Brenton Cox, Florida
HT: 6’3” WT: 250 lbs.
2020 Statline: 21 Total Tackles, 9.5 Tackles for Loss, 4 Sacks, 0 Interceptions
Brenton Cox is one of the few players who played better than his numbers indicate. As a pass rusher, Cox is like lightning off the edge and can flatten to the QB with ease. He is very active at the line as well, routinely batting balls down and or getting in the line of sight of the QB.
Cox is slightly built and despite his weight gets halted by big tackles and tight ends too often. He relies on his speed too much to get around the edge, lacking primary or secondary moves. Cox will be solid but will take some time to develop his skills to be a pro.
4. George Karlaftis, Purdue
HT: 6’4” WT: 270 lbs.
2020 Statline: 4 Total Tackles, 2 Tackles for Loss, 2 Sacks, 0 Interceptions
George Karlaftis has been a terror since he stepped foot on Purdue’s campus and has no signs of slowing down. His motor, coupled with one of the most elite bull-n-pull moves in the class makes him a blue-chip pass rusher off the edge. Karlaftis has a bevy of counter moves to beat tackles and uses his hands well to keep them off his body.
Though he is great at getting to the QB, there are questions about how well he will do against the run. He gets tunnel vision when rushing, making play action easy to use to counter him. He may be a pass rush specialist in his first season in the league but will develop quickly with good coaching and experience.
5. Nolan Smith, Georgia
HT: 6’3” WT: 235 lbs.
2020 Statline: 22 Total Tackles, 2.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 Sacks, 0 Interceptions
Smith looks the part of an NFL 3-4 outside linebacker already. His overall physical make-up lends itself to his play style perfectly and he knows how to use it. He is physical at the line, ragdolling blockers in route to the QB but finds himself on the ground often.
He is fast and can track down mobile quarterbacks with ease. He allows tackles to get into his body, which he overcomes with strength but at the next level will be washed out of plays. He will need to develop pass rush moves as well to be successful but is an easy day one candidate for a team in need of pass rush help.