In what continues to be one of the odder college football seasons in recent memory, we saw multiple games postponed or cancelled this week as a result of COVID-19. In what has become the norm, pivotal matchups are cancelled weekly and we also are starting to see notable name prospects opt out of the season to explore their NFL aspirations.
Even though the anticipation isn’t as attractive as years past, the showdown between Alabama and LSU is always filled with plenty of future NFL prospects. With that game being postponed to a later date, we are now forced to pivot to some other intriguing matchups from around the country.
This week's edition of Reiding Between the Lines discusses the impending debate about the top edge rusher in the 2021 class, dissecting Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses’ struggles, and a valuable lesson that teams in search of their franchise quarterback can learn from the Bengals.
Coming into the season, one position group that had lots of question marks was defensive end. All of the hype surrounded former Miami edge rusher Gregory Rousseau as he was coming off of a remarkable redshirt freshman season where he recorded 19.5 tackles for loss to go along with 15.5 sacks. After opting out of the 2020 season, it was unclear as to who would be the next player to fill the void and take the next step in their development. With Rousseau now training for the next steps in the process, Michigan’s Kwity Paye has been on a tear this season.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Paye has already recorded 25 pressures in only three games this season. To put this into greater context, the next best pressure totals for the Wolverines is seven. While the scoreboard hasn’t been indicative of his dominance, it doesn’t take long to find No. 19 and point out how well he’s played through the early stages of the season.
The great aspect about the NFL draft process is seeing prospects continue to grow and develop, which is what we have seen from Paye so far this season. The most common comparisons for the Wolverines pass rusher that make sense are Melvin Ingram and Brandon Graham. Seeing shades of both players in him gives you an idea of his skill set and how much of an immediate presence that he potentially could be for a defense on the next level.
What’s Wrong With Dylan Moses?
Prior to the 2019 Week 1 season opener against Duke, the news of Moses tearing his ACL during the practice leading up to the game hit the draft world like a ton of bricks. Moses is a player that has been in the spotlight since he was offered a scholarship by the Crimson Tide in eighth grade. Coming off of a promising 2018 season, Moses made the transition from strong side linebacker to the middle of the defense. Throughout his time in Tuscaloosa, Moses has played nearly every position—even spending some time as an edge rusher during his freshman season. Now at the center of all of the controls, Moses is struggling to gain a consistent grasp of the position.
Many ask what’s the difference between playing on the weak or strong side opposed to being in the middle. The answer is simple: space. With each position being formational based, when in the middle and forced to make plays in either direction, there’s a small margin of error that can be made with gap integrity. Moses' biggest bugaboo is that he’s an extremely aggressive player. While at MIKE linebacker, team’s have schemed against him specifically by using misdirection and play-action or run-pass option specific passing concepts to counteract his violent vertical steps toward the line of scrimmage.
What’s noticeable about Moses through seven games is that his eyes have often been caught wandering and he frequently is caught “taking the cheese” of misdirection or heavy influenced play-action mesh fakes. Labeled as a first-round prospect coming into the year, Moses shows minimal limitations with his athleticism and looks to be fully recovered from his knee injury, but being able to slow the game down and mentally process the action happening in front of him from a different platform has been an inconsistent transition for him thus far.
Even if his play doesn’t return to its previous form, he will likely be labeled as a player that has to play on either side of the formation as his belligerent mindset possibly makes him a liability in the middle of the defense due to voiding gaps.
Because of his athleticism, Moses will also be well liked. His type of fluidity and easy movement skills are what teams have long seeked at the position in pass-happy league. The thought process of him still recovering and playing a step slow is still out there as well. Even though it isn’t quite as highly debated right now, he will be one of the most talked about prospects heading into draft season and could be a beneficiary of a weak class overall at the position.
Learning from Joe Burrow’s Injury
72. It was the number of hits that Joe Burrow surrendered heading into last week’s game against Washington. Tied for the most through nine games with Daniel Jones and the most since 2000, the Bengals were on the wrong side of history with their rookie franchise quarterback. Now, in what seemed like an unfortunate, but predictable ticking time bomb of an injury, Burrow suffered a significant knee injury. While no one envisioned him getting hurt to the degree that he did, experiencing an injury of some sort was very predictable.
With Burrow now sidelined for 9-12 months, there’s an underlying lesson in this for a lot of teams that are projected to select a quarterback early in 2021. For teams like the Jets and Jaguars, the message is simple: don’t put your highly drafted quarterback in no man’s land.
Possessing all seven picks in the last draft cycle, the team opted to wait until the sixth round to select protection for Burrow in offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji. With plenty of options left on the board, there was a plethora of players that the team could’ve elected to take, but they opted to select a receiver, who has played well, and back-to-back linebackers.
With the Jaguars set to have 12 draft picks and the Jets with three possibly inside of the top 35, they are fortunate enough to have more ammo in order to surround their young signal caller with protection. Not only that, but there are headliner names in free agency such as Brandon Scherff, Joe Thuney, Taylor Moton, and Trent Willams as well. Both teams must learn the valuable lesson of protecting the quarterback before all else to help him survive the physical demands of a long season and to prevent mental and physical scars that could hinder their career.