To steal a term from the NFL, the Big 12 is a “passing league.” The unique brand of football that the conference has adopted has assuredly changed the way coaches recruit. A premium is put on pass rush ability, as it can usually slow down an opposing team’s main offensive strength.
Last season the Big 12 produced Dorance Armstrong and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, two mid-round selections in the NFL Draft. This season, with the conference as a whole currently shifting recruiting focus to the EDGE, there are even more NFL-caliber pass rushers.
1. Ben Banogu, TCU (6’4, 249)
Ben Banogu is the Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and, naturally, the top ranked edge rusher in the conference. Banogu was the anchor of the Horned Frogs excellent defense in 2017, racking up 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He possesses a long, athletic frame which he couples with a good get-off at the snap. Banogu is known for a high motor, and he never stops his pursuit to the football. He has a lethal spin move that he uses as a counter, and shows the awareness to raise his hands and deflect passes when he doesn’t disrupt the pocket.
Banogu’s movement skills give him the highest ceiling among Big 12 EDGE’s, but that doesn’t mean he comes without flaws. He will too often rush without a plan, relying on his club-rip move far too often. Despite his motor, he can sometimes disappear against the run as he too often penetrates into the backfield and over-pursues.
Banogu has the ceiling of a Day 2 pass rusher with his athleticism, but will need refinement playing against the run to reach that draft status.
2. Breckyn Hager, Texas (6’3, 255)
Breckyn Hager is a relentless worker who plays each play until the echo of the whistle. His first step is his best attribute as a pass rusher, but he also does a nice job of converting speed to power. Hager is a pretty nimble athlete for his size, and he has fluid hips and cornering ability. Hager has refinement as a pass rusher with multiple moves and counters, and always rushes with a plan. Hager played a variety of roles for the Longhorns, as he’s able to get into his drop pretty well and actively scan for crossers.
Hager has a limited anchor and struggles to hold his ground. Additionally, he can get caught with his eyes down and attempting to penetrate too far upfield. As a result, he was taken off the field for stretches of time because of his ineffectiveness against the running game.
Hager sticks out on film with his flowing hair and solid burst, but his play will help him get noticed by NFL scouts as well. He has the necessary frame and athleticism to project him as a high floor/low ceiling, mid-round EDGE prospect.
3. Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State (6’3, 250)
Jordan Brailford has an NFL-ready body and frame with good length and active hands. He uses an array of moves as a rusher, consistently dismissing the offensive lineman’s punch. Brailford works hard throughout his rush, and has proven his ability in working from a variety of positions.
Though Brailford does a great job of knocking away offensive lineman’s hands, he doesn’t utilize multiple pass rushing moves beyond that. He relies on his athleticism and length to get the job done, but is inconsistent with his first step. Brailford lacks the lateral quickness and isn’t the most nimble athlete.
Brailford has the potential to reach a draftable grade, but has yet to show the necessary refinement in his repertoire to warrant that at the moment.
4. Kolin Hill, Texas Tech (6’2, 245)
Kolin Hill is a quick, smooth athlete with who can bend the edge with speed. Hill has long arms, which he uses to win the leverage battle and brings a solid pop to offensive lineman. Hill possesses the long speed necessary to pursue ball carrier from the backside, and does a good job of keeping contain when being used as a force player.
Hill lacks the sand in the pants necessary to anchor against more physical offensive lineman. Though he keeps contain well, the edges can get soft as he allows too much space inside. He has shown flashes of converting his speed into power, but playing with more consistent leverage will make this more regular.
Hill has high-level potential traits, but has yet to produce up to his physical upside to this point in his college career. In order to prove his status as a draftable player, the production needs to take a step forward this season.
5. JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State (6’2, 251)
JaQuan Bailey is a tireless rusher, pursuing the ball with his motor running hot. Bailey’s rushes are usually based off of his power, and he brings some violence behind his attack. Bailey has a clean swim move that he relies on to defeat the offensive lineman’s hips before getting after the quarterback. Bailey has the first step and strength combination to remain clean while rushing on stunts.
Bailey relies on his power because he isn’t the most bendy, flexible athlete. He has the propensity to get stone-walled, and lacks the necessary counters to continue getting penetration. Like others on this list, Bailey can get too focused on the pass rush and caught reacting slowly to the running game. His hands need to become more active, as he is too often latched on to and knocked off-balance.
Bailey may have a future as a late-round pick, and he already has the body and strength needed for the next level. However, his lack of quick-twitch movements limit his ceiling.