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Day 2 Edge Prospects for Cardinals

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 06 Marshall at Boise State Photo by Tyler Ingham/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Edge:

Curtis Weaver, 6-2, 265, Boise St.

All-time Mountain West leader in sacks with 34. In terms of measurements, Weaver compares favorably with former Boise St. edge standout Demarcus Lawrence (6-3, 263, Cowboys’ 2nd Round pick in 2014).

ESPN ratings (1—-exceptional; 2—-above average; 3—-below average)

Production: 1; Ht./Wt./Speed: 3; Durability: 1; Intangibles: 3

Pass rush skills: 2; Versus the Run: 2; Versatility: 2; Instincts/Motor: 3

(Per ESPN): “Weaver wins with his hands and power rushing the passer. He extends and falls inside once he’s even with the quarterback. He has good quickness and average bend for his size. Weaver flashes the ability to make plays in the backfield as a run defender. He’s big and strong enough to set the edge when his technique is sound, but there’s room for improvement when it comes to getting off blocks. He’s an above-average tackler for his size. Weaver is a 3-4 OLB candidate with some experience dropping to the hook, but he’s also an above-average interior pass-rusher who kicks inside at times. He grades out as a starting edge defender early in his career. — July 2019”

Mitch Analysis: Weaver has the physical tools to be a dynamic edge rusher and playmaker in the NFL. The fact that he played in a 34 base defense at Boise St. and was asked to drop back into coverage at times, makes him a good fit at SAM 34OLB with the Cardinals. His play after play motor at Boise St. was good, but not elite. Despite that, his production numbers were outstanding.

Josh Uche, 6-1, 245, Michigan

Michigan’s leading sack artist over the past two seasons, Josh Uche brings excellent versatility as a 34 SAM OLB or 43 WILL OLB in the NFL. Uche turned a number of the scouts’ heads in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.

“He won me over during Wednesday’s practice,” an NFL scout said. “He doesn’t have the typical edge-rusher build but likely projects as an outside ‘backer who can sustain pass-rushing downs in certain situations. Loved how explosive his lower-body movement showed up in individuals. Great bend. They’ll call him a tweener in every draft profile you read, but he’s so versatile that every NFL team could find a role for a guy like this.”

This highlight video showcases Uche’s quickness to the ball:

This video from the Senior Bowl showcases Uche’s pass coverage ability on a TE.

Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy tweeted this: “Hard to believe we’re not seeing this guy in any first-round mock drafts,” he tweeted. “Could make a strong case that (Michigan Football) OLB Josh Uche was the best defensive player at the Senior Bowl. But that’s just what we saw. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE.”

Mitch Analysis: What caught my attention was hearing Jedrick Wills say at the Combine that the best edge rusher he faced in 2019 was Josh Uche. Wills said, “no disrespect at all to the SEC edge rushers, it’s just that Uche was the most difficult to contain.” Thus, I went and watched every snap of Alabama’s Citrus Bowl win over Michigan, and saw that Uche lined up over Wills only a few times in the game, and on a couple of occasions he got a little bend on Wills, but never quite got to the QB.

Then, I went and watched Uche rush the edge versus Iowa and he consistently went up against Tristan Wirfs and while Uche managed to get close to the QB on couple of wide bend rushes that Wirfs fended him off in just enough time, Wirfs pretty much dominated Uche otherwise. However, I was impressed with Uche’s non-stop motor and his versatility in pass coverage. At times, Don Brown, the Michigan DC, dropped Uche into the middle of the field to take away WR and TE crossing routes, which Uche handled with ease.

While Uche is a tweener because he’s 6-1, 245, he reminds me a lot of Shaq Barrett (6-1, 249). Uche is a relentless and quick, bendy edge rusher who is going to get stronger each year in the NFL as Barrett has. I think Uche is a better all-around athlete than Barrett, but has not yet developed the array of pass rush techniques that helped Barrett become the NFL’s sack leader in 2019. Thus, I can see why some scouts are very high on Uche. He’s a baller who brings an aggressive style to all aspects of his game.

Yetur Gross-Matos, 6-5, 266, Penn St.

USA Today describes Yetur Gross-Matos’ strengths as: “He has great length with long arms off the edge, and his frame has the potential to add even more strength to it. He’s impressive from an athletic standpoint, as he fires off the ball well on a consistent basis. Gross-Matos’ flexibility and fluidity is top-notch, too, as he is capable of changing direction seamlessly in space and sinking his hips to rip and dip underneath offensive tackles. He has the agility to cut inside on stunts, and his fluidity in coverage makes him a valuable three-down defender.”

Right away, those strengths work very favorably for Gross-Matos as a SAM 34OL, nickel edge rusher in Vance Joseph’s defense.

As for his weakness (Draft Wire): “Though his physical attributes are enticing, Gross-Matos still has a ways to go as a technician when rushing the passer. His pad level can be more consistent – his ability to generate power in his lower body isn’t all that great, and despite his flexible hips, he struggles with being the lower man on a regular basis. He’s a top-heavy defender who doesn’t offer a lot of anchor strength to hold blocks in run support yet.”

Any NFL LB/DE coach can help Gross-Matos correct those current flaws in his game. The gist is, YGM is a disruptive player who can pin his ears back and get after the QB.

Man, just look at the first two plays of this video—-versus the two best O-lines in the Big 10, Iowa and Wisconsin. On play one, YGM chucks Iowa LT Alaric Jackson to the turf and gets to the QB in a New York minute. On play two, YGM reads the run block by the tackle and on a dime, he storms the C gap to stuff Jonathan Taylor for a 3 yard tackle for loss—-which by the way—-over the past two seasons YGM recorded 17 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss.

Mitch Analysis: Yetur is an Old testament name that means “encircled by family.” Yet, unfortunately, for Yetur and his mother Sakinah (which is Arabic for “God-inspired peace of mind”), they have endured two major family tragedies. The first occurred when Yetur was 2 years old. His 29 year old father, Michael Gross while boating in St. Leonard Creek (a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay) decided to take a dip and once he was in the water, he asked Sakinah to hand Yetur to him. The father and son had a nice little swim in the creek but after Michael handed Yetur back to Sakinah, he had somehow tired to the point where he was drifting away from the boat. Suddenly, Sakinah couldn’t see her husband and started calling for help. A couple of divers pulled Michael out of the creek and after being rushed to the hospital unconscious and after his lungs were pumped, he never regained consciousness.

Yetur wasn’t old enough to remember his father’s passing—-but after Sakinah married Rob Matos, who became father-in-law and coach for Yetur and his older brother Chelal (African for “the one who lights up the fire”), at a rain-soaked baseball field, Chelal went to play catch with a friend and told Yetur to wait by the car—-and just as their father-in-law Rob yelled over to Chelal and his friend to hurry off the field, a bolt of lightning struck Chelal so squarely that his cleats came flying off and could be seen smoldering ten yards away. Rob sprinted over to Chelal and frantically tried to administer CPR, but to no avail.

Despite enduring two horrific family tragedies, the Gross-Matos family is as strong as ever these days—-and they are extremely excited about Yetur’s future in the NFL.

It’s very interesting to see that Yetur Gross-Matos donned the number 55 in high school, because there are many aspects of his game, physically, mentally and athletically that could remind one of Chandler Jones’. Amazingly, when both Chandler Jones and YGM checked into the NFL Combine each was measured at 6-5, 266.

Chandler Jones was a late bloomer (did you know that Chandler only had 10 sacks in 3 years at Syracuse?) and in many ways so is Yetur Gross-Matos. What an ideal situation it would be for Yetur to learn the NFL pass rushing craft from Chandler.

Chandler’s size, athleticism and his 27 career tackles for loss at Syracuse jumped out at the Patriots so much s that they drafted him in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

There’s a chance that YGM will go the same route and be taken in the late portion of Round 1—-or—-because teams are going to be swarming after OL and WRs—-there’s an outside chance that Yetur might be on the board at #40, which is why I’ve highlighted him here.

Bradleee Anae, 6-3, 257, Utah

Here is an edge rusher who won’t necessarily wow you at the Combine, but when you turn on the tape, he and his revved up motor jump off the screen aplenty. Thus, let’s just go right to the highlight reel:

Mitch Analysis: High adrenaline player who gets outstanding jumps off the snap and sports an array of quick-twitch moves that frequently get him to the QB. The fact that when he was asked to drop back into coverage and he showed such good awareness of where the ball was going, he makes a persuasive case as 34 SAM OLB and nickel edge rusher. Player comp: Matthew Judon.

Terrell Lewis, 6-5, 252, Alabama

Mitch Analysis: T-Loo is one of the great enigmas of the 2020 NFL Draft. Big-time 5 star recruit form the D.C. area who played in only 26 games due to a string of freaky injuries. This past season, however, he was able to play and perform at a reasonably high level, garnering 2nd Team All-SEC recognition. For a player of his length, Lewis flashes good, natural speed and athleticism. He has a good sense of when to lower his pads, which can be a challenge for taller players. If you watched the tape, he is excellent in executing DT/DE exchange, (pin and loop) stunts and has the burst to get to the QB in a hurry. He has the length and athleticism the Cardinals typically covet from their edge players—-it’s just a guess as to whether Lewis can stay healthy enough to generate consistent production. The team that drafts Terrell Lewis will hope he’s a late bloomer like the Vikings’ Danielle Hunter.

Conclusion:

I think it’s quite possible that the Cardinals will be looking to take a 34 OLB/nickel edge rusher on Day 2 of the draft. Much will depend on whether the Cardinals address the position in free agency. I believe that Haason Reddick is going to surprise and amaze the fans at SAM OLB this season. But, some have predicted that Cardinals will try to trade Reddick before he even gets his chance. Regardless, the Cardinals need depth at the position—-and like wise football gurus say, you can never have too many pass rushers and/or cover CBs.

My plan would be this—-I think the one player I would take at #40 here is Yetur Gross-Matos. I imagine that #40 is tad too high for the others and thus, I believe there’s a good chance that most or all of the other 4 will be available to the Cardinals at #72.

How would you rank and rate these edge players? Do you have another player in mind?

Fantasy pick (with props to Bob McManaman): K’Lavon Chaisson, 6-3, 254, LSU somehow slips past the first 39 picks. I tell you what...for me...if WR CeeDee Lamb and T Jedrick Wills are off the board at #8, I would trade back a few spots and take K’Lavon Chaisson. This kid is lightning in a bottle.