As I get deeper into scouting the ACC, I have quickly learned that the conference’s best defensive 2021 NFL Draft eligible isn’t at Clemson this year. Considering the Tigers have produced five defensive first-round picks over the last two drafts and eight since 2015, that comes as a surprise.
Our scouting staff has now completed four full weeks of film study on 2021 prospects and the defensive talent outside of Clemson in the ACC has truly stood out. While the season could see numerous risers out of Clemson, especially given the high-profile recruits all over the depth chart, these five items stood out to me in last week’s work.
Caleb Farley is CB1?
By watching Caleb Farley’s game tape, it’s unfathomable to consider that he’s only been playing defense since arriving at Virginia Tech in 2017 given how polished his game is. A high school quarterback that came to Virginia Tech to play wide receiver, Farley showcased lockdown ability as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.
A wonderful blend of size and athleticism, Farley excels in press-man coverage. It’s amazing how quickly he caps routes and takes his man off the menu for opposing quarterbacks, despite often being left on an island. He’s dominant in press coverage, crowding releases, getting his hands on receivers and disrupting the timing of the play. Farley is sticky down the field and it often feels like he’s running the route for the receiver.
Farley features terrific ball skills, fluid hips, quick feet, ideal long speed and he plays a physical brand of football. While injuries have been concerning so far in college, poking holes in his game is quite challenging. Farley is the best corner in the ACC entering the 2020 season and he could be the first one off the board next April.
Chris Rumph II Is Polished
The ACC had no answer for Chris Rumph II last season and he was far more dominant than the 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks he registered in 2019 indicates. Lining up all over the front seven for the Blue Devils’ defense, Rumph is a polished defender and game-wrecker for Duke.
Rumph is explosive out of his stance, plays with terrific extension, has refined hand technique, endless pass rush moves, and great leverage. His blend of athleticism, flexibility, technique, and processing skills leads to considerable disruption. Because he is so technically-refined, Rumph is able to hold his own and often dominate blockers that weigh roughly 100 pounds more than he does. But that’s the problem; forecasting Rumph to play a true edge role in the NFL at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds is unlikely.
If Rumph can get his weight up to 245-250 then a 3-4 outside linebacker role is well within his capabilities. I can envision him playing a role similar to that of T.J. Watt with the Pittsburgh Steelers given the athleticism, technique, and versatility that he offers. Otherwise, Rumph will likely be viewed as a strongside linebacker in a 4-3 defense.
Rumph is one of those players that is going to find a role at the next level. His competitive spirit, toughness, and effort shine when studying his film. His father played linebacker at South Carolina and is currently the outside linebackers coach for the Houston Texans after coaching at the college level from 2002-2019. He screams “get him on the football team and we will figure it out.” Rumph can flat out play the game.
Jaylen Twyman Is Dynamic
Don’t do it. Don’t compare Jaylen Twyman to Aaron Donald just because they are both undersized defensive tackles from Pitt. Even though they train together, it’s an unfair expectation to place on Twyman, who is an exciting prospect in his own right.
Coming off a sophomore season where he tallied 12 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, Twyman showcased a terrific pass-rushing skill set in 2019 with plenty of room to grow heading into his junior year.
Twyman has terrific first-step quickness, flexibility, and he loves to hit either a push-pull combo or a push-pull into swim. There are times he can simply shoot an interior gap quicker than the blocker can slide to stay square and he can let his quickness, strength, and flexibility apply heat on the quarterback. With that said, fleshing out his arsenal of pass rush moves and introducing more swipes and combos will take his effectiveness to the next level.
The NFL craves dynamic interior pass rushers and Twyman delivers those goods.
Greg Rousseau Is Brimming With Talent
Greg Rousseau is a monster. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 253 pounds, Rousseau logged 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. He did so primarily by using his physical tools. Rousseau does a great job playing with extension, keeping his pads clean, and using his length to extend his tackle radius to make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
While Rousseau is easy to project as a top pick based on physical gifts alone, I can’t wait to see his game develop considering the room for technical growth he has. Rousseau was just scratching the surface of his potential last season and is now part of a pass-rushing trio at Miami that also includes Quincy Roche and Jaelen Phillips.
Clemson Defensive Prospects Disappoint
Perhaps it’s unfair to think Clemson was a literal factory for producing elite defensive talent. Perhaps it’s unfair to think by the end of 2020, the Tigers won’t have a guy or two in the first-round discussion. But as of now, Clemson’s top-billed prospects on the defensive side of the football left me disappointed.
EDGE Xavier Thomas is a common name that you’ll find going high in early 2021 Mock Drafts but he hasn’t come anywhere close to justifying that on tape. His pass-rush plan and technique are severely underdeveloped and his ability to defend the run is highly inconsistent. It’s easy to cling to his recruiting status and that he’s a Clemson defensive lineman, but he needs to take major strides this season to justify his name being called in the first round.
Cornerback Derion Kendrick is wildly raw, which isn’t unexpected given he just started playing cornerback last year. His technique is a major work in progress and his processing skills are severely underdeveloped. As it stands, his route mirroring skills are poor, zone coverage awareness is well below average, and he is a liability if he’s asked to play in press. Given how underdeveloped he is as a player, it’s difficult to gauge his athletic profile on tape, but there weren’t any notable flashes in the games I studied. Kendrick is another example of how a high recruiting status at a program like Clemson leads to false draft hype. While that can change with a strong 2020 season, labeling him a top prospect at this point is wrong.
Thomas is my top-rated Clemson defensive prospect entering the season. Below is a list, in no particular order, of ACC defensive prospects that earned a better preseason grade than Thomas.
CB Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
EDGE Chris Rumph, Duke
DT Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh
EDGE Gregory Rousseau, Miami
EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami
S Andre Cisco, Syracuse
EDGE Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
S Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State
DT Marvin Wilson, Florida State
CB Asante Samuel Jr, Florida State
EDGE Patrick Jones II, Pittsburgh
S Paris Ford, Pittsburgh
EDGE Charles Snowden, Virginia
LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina
EDGE Victor Dimukeje, Duke