The issue of whether college football players should opt out in 2020 will play out in full next week when the NFL Draft kicks off in Cleveland. Many key players across the country chose to opt out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns and to focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. Ja’Marr Chase of LSU, Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech, Penei Sewell of Oregon, and Rashawn Slater of Northwestern all opted out of the 2020 season. If mock drafts from “insiders” are to given a shred of credibility, all should be gone by the time the 2020 playoff teams start selecting in the first round.
One additional highly-touted player to add to that list is Miami’s Greg Rousseau, who as we know opted out of the 2020 season after an explosive 15.5-sack season in 2019. The hype was undoubtedly there. Look for an 2021 draft projection last year with Rousseau outside the Top 10 and you would be hard pressed to find one. Sure, those things may not hold weight with teams, but what does is production on tape, and there’s no doubt Rousseau put together a great one.
But last month, Rousseau stepped onto the field at the Carol Soffer Indoor Facility. Alongside him were fellow Cane defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche, who provided a powerful one-two punch on the Canes’ defensive line last season. Among the vertical jump, bench press, broad jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle run, and 3-cone drill, both Roche and Phillips proved to be a touch better. Phillips stole the show, in fact, flashing an incredible 4.56 40-yard dash and a blistering 4.12 shuttle. Add in the strong season on the field that Phillips just put forth, and suddenly the Canes’ new #15 was seemingly the clear-cut first rounder and first Cane to be taken.
Naturally, the doubt started flowing from the ink and pen club after Rousseau’s less-than-stellar pro day.
I just wanted to be clear on Gregory Rousseau.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) March 29, 2021
If he were being talked about as a late Day 2, early Day 3 pick, we would all be very intrigued.
It's the top-40 buzz that is just too rich to get behind.
Gregory Rousseau is a day three guy— Jeff Cavanaugh (@JC1053) March 29, 2021
These types of takes are absolute knee-jerk, prisoner-of-the-moment insanity.
But, then again, draft infatuations are often not based on production and actual stats....and sometimes more on perceived untapped ability. Forget the tape - how fast does the guy move? Exhibit A: the Miami Herald has reported that the Miami Dolphins are “linked” to Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, who - while disruptive at times - totaled exactly ZERO sacks in seven games last season. But he ran a 4.36, so that’s nice, I guess.
What makes Rousseau worthy of a first or early second round pick? The greatest equalizer to an argument is tape, and Rousseau has an undoubtedly impressive one the last time he stepped on the field. 19.5 TFLs and 15.5 sacks are as attention-grabbing as watching a guy blaze a sub-4.5 40. Or at least they should be.
Rousseau’s forte is also getting to the quarterback, and pass rushing ability is the premium that team’s are willing to pay for and bank on in the NFL. Ergo, why the Dolphins would be looking at a guy with blazing speed - because they think he can get to the quarterback.
Well, he literally didn’t once in 2020, and Rousseau consistently did his last go around. It’s things like this that make the NFL Draft evaluation an absolute clown show sometimes.
But a highly-accomplished Pro Cane came to Rousseau’s defense the other day: Calais Campbell. In response to a tweet from Ian Rapoport raising questions about Rousseau’s evaluation, Campbell posted the following tweet:
I wonder what the scouts were saying when I was coming out? Not athletic enough? Not strong enough? I am not a scout and I know they have a tough job. But I hope they don’t overthink this one. @Greg_R5 can play football. He is a playmaker! Shows up in both the run and pass game— Calais Campbell (@CalaisCampbell) April 21, 2021
It could be a case of Campbell just sticking up for a fellow Cane, but I don’t think it is. I say that because he said something very simple about Rousseau that has gotten lost in the never-ending over scrutiny of the NFL Draft evaulation process: Greg Rousseau can play football. He’s a 6’6”, long-limbed problem who can shift along the defensive line and create pressure in multiple places. He’s young, he has room to grow, and he is a very talented and accomplished pass rusher.
If Rousseau doesn’t hear his name called on Thursday night, I have a feeling that whoever takes him on Friday will be getting a premium player at a premium position at more than a premium value.
Best of luck to Greg and all the other Canes next week in Cleveland. Go Canes.