2023 NFL Draft

Players That Bear Watching: Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey

2023 NFL Draft

Over the course of this football season, the focus of these player profiles revolved around likely first round prospects. Owning the first overall selection in the 2023 draft, it’s possible that through trades Chicago may acquire additional high end picks.

Between now and draft day, player evaluations will be fluid as these athletes will have competed in all-star games, the NFL combine and their prospective pro days. The Chicago Bears will need to select talented players at various positions and most will come from the later rounds in the draft.

Today’s profile focuses on a position of need, although where to draft this talented prospect is a mercurial dilemma that changes daily.

Name: Calijah Kancey

Position: DL

School (Year): Pittsburgh (RJR) * Redshirt Junior

Measurables: 6’1”, 281 lbs / 4.67 40-Time / Arms 30 ⅝

Career Notes: [2022] First Team All-American (AP, FWAA, AFAC, Sporting News, Walter Camp, CBS Sports, ESPN, PFF); [2022] National Defensive Tackle of the Year (College Football Network);[2022] ACC Defensive Player of the Year; [2022] First Team All-ACC; [2021] First Team All-ACC; [2021] Third Team All-American (AP); [2020] Freshman All-American (FWAA, the Athletic)

Best Game: Every so often, a player performs better against certain teams or their schemes and for various reasons may dominate the matchup. In back to back seasons (2021 and 2022), Kancey dismantled Virginia’s offensive line, combining for eight total stops with six and a half tackles for loss and five sacks. His most dominant performance against the Cavaliers occurred this past season on November 12th. On Virginia’s first possession, Kancey beat his man and applied pressure on the quarterback, forcing an errant pass that led to a pick six score. Kancey registered four total stops with three and a half tackles for loss and three sacks that game, helping the Panthers secure a convincing win (37-7). Kancey proved to be a matchup nightmare for Virginia over the past two seasons, and the Cavaliers are probably relieved he’s entered the NFL Draft.


RELATED: 2023 NFL Mock Draft: What should Bears do with No. 1 pick?

What he's saying:It’s my speed and my quickness. Playing with good leverage, getting underneath the thigh pads of bigger offensive linemen, that’s my advantage I have against bigger offensive linemen.”

Skill Set: Kancey is a compact ball of twitchy, explosive sinew who explodes in and around offensive linemen startled by his suddenness. Considered short and light by NFL standards for interior defensive linemen, Kancey uses his underestimated size to his advantage every snap. Staying lower than his opponent, Kancey utilizes his coiled quickness and lower body strength to out leverage them. A creative and effective interior pass rusher, he employs a variety of moves and counters; striking with quick violent hands, or quick lateral movements to confound blockers. Kancey competes with a consistent motor fueled with a determination to overcome any size disadvantage.

Why Chicago? The Bears are equally desperate along their defensive front as much as they are by a need to protect incumbent quarterback, Justin Fields. Currently, Chicago’s base defense operates within the structure of a 4-3 scheme (four down linemen and three linebackers), and the interior 3-technique position is critical when it comes to generating pressure on the quarterback. Kancey’s explosive quickness combined with his ability to stay low and out leverage blockers, while maintaining a lateral shiftiness to disrupt run or pass plays is special. Although it may be a bit unfair to compare him to future Hall-of-Famer, Aaron Donald, the size and playing style are eerily similar. Serious questions and doubts surround defensive lineman Jalen Carter, who many considered the best overall talent in this draft class. If the Bears pass on selecting the embattled Carter, Kancey may be a fortuitous second option for Chicago.

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