Just like last year, the 2020 NFL Draft class appears to be loaded with talented edge rushers. It also includes one of the most coveted prospects at the position in recent memory.
There's a strong chance the New England Patriots look to bolster their pass rush at the draft following the departures of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.
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If the Patriots plan on running a 3-4 scheme, drafting an edge rusher in the early rounds could become a priority. Their 2019 third-round selection Chase Winovich is the only defensive end they have signed through next offseason.
Fortunately for New England, there are some attractive options out there to fill the void. Here are the top five edge rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft.
1. Chase Young
College: Ohio State
2019 stats: 32 solo tackles, 16.5 sacks, six forced fumbles
Young is projected to go as early as No. 2 overall and it isn't difficult to see why. The 6-foot-5, 264-pounder is an athletic freak with his rare blend of size, length, and explosiveness. He's elite in his ability to both rush the passer and defend the run. The scariest part is he still needs to add some moves to his pass-rush repertoire, yet he still was able to rack up a whopping 16.5 sacks in 2019. Young has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him.
Projected Round: Early First
2. K'Lavon Chaisson
Class: Redshirt sophomore
2019 stats: 34 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble
Like Young, Chaisson is another freak athlete with game-breaking pass-rush ability. His athleticism and versatility make him a coveted prospect as he can play off-ball and look like a natural in coverage or stick his hand in the dirt. Either way, Chaisson will be a problem for opposing offenses in the NFL and may have some Pro Bowl appearances in his future.
NBC Sports Boston's own Phil Perry has Chaisson marked down as a Prototypical Patriot. Here's what he has to say about the LSU product:
"Chaisson's physical skill set could get him drafted in the top half of the first round, which means the Patriots may never have a chance to get him with their first pick at No. 23 overall. Still, if he's there, he'd be worth considering. He's a dynamic athlete who has the traits to become an effective pass-rusher with a little more polish. He's already good to go against the run, which the Patriots would appreciate.
"His tools didn't necessarily translate to big-time production in the SEC, which could be cause for concern, but he was still named First-Team All-SEC by coaches, and he has high-end football character. He was a captain for the Tigers and wore No. 18 at LSU, which is reserved for players who've exhibited a selfless attitude and are considered the epitome of an LSU football player."
Projected Round: First
3. A.J. Epenesa
2019 stats: 32 solo tackles, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles
Epenesa is far from a perfect prospect but his size (6-5, 275), as well as his blend of power and technique, make him a coveted one. Although he isn't exactly a freak athlete like the two guys above him on this list, Epenesa still has the potential to be an excellent NFL pass rusher.
Projected Round: Late First or Early Second
4. Yetur Gross-Matos
College: Penn State
2019 stats: 24 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks
With all of the talk surrounding the previous three edge rushers on this list, Gross-Matos probably isn't getting the attention he deserves. He's an agile 6-5, 266 defender whose combination of size and athleticism should make him an NFL starter soon. In 2019, Gross-Matos was named to the First-Team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive year.
Projected Round: Late First or Early Second
5. Terrell Lewis
Class: Redshirt junior
2019 stats: 21 solo tackles, six sacks
With Lewis, the concern isn't whether he has the skills to be a solid NFL starter. It's whether he has the durability. The 6-5, 262-pounder played in only 26 games with the Crimson Tide after suffering a torn elbow ligament in 2017 and a torn ACL in 2018. If he's gotten over his injury woes, Lewis' ceiling is remarkably high. He's a freakish athlete who needs some fine-tuning as a rusher, but there's no reason to believe the second-team All-SEC selection can't succeed as a pro if he can just stay healthy.
Here's what Phil Perry had to say about Lewis in his Prototypical Patriots series:
"Lewis would be a big-bodied outside linebacker in this scheme, but that's worked before. With 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands, he has some Willie McGinest-type size to be able to control the point of attack. Lewis is explosive as well, which he proved at the combine with a 37-inch vertical (82nd percentile for linebackers) and a 124-inch broad jump (88th). But he's more than a physical prototype.
"Like Jennings, he has the Alabama pedigree. And like Jennings, he produced — perhaps even to a greater level. He had a pressure rate of 19.8 percent, per Pro Football Focus, which was third in the class of edge rushers with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps. The fact that Lewis has the ability to cover, at that size, is incredibly intriguing. And the fact that he had a strong 2019 after a knee injury forced him to miss all of 2018? That might indicate his best football is still ahead of him."
Projected Round: Second