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Miami Hurricanes 2021 NFL Draft Profile: EDGE Jaelan Phillips

The Tenacious Pass Rusher Had an Awesome Comeback Story in 2020, but the Tale is Not Done Yet as Phillips Seeks to Become Only the Third Cane Defensive Player Since 2008 Selected in the First Round

In all likelihood, and based on the way things have been trending over the past seven months, Jaelan Phillips will be the first Miami Hurricane selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since David Njoku in 2017, and only the third defensive Cane to be drafted in the first round since 2008. Artie Burns was the last first round Cane defender picked at 25th overall in 2016, and before that was Kenny Phillips at 31st overall in 2008. In fact, the last Miami defender picked earlier than 24th overall was Antrel Rolle in 2005 (8th overall).

How Phillips ended up in this position is certainly a fun story to root for and below is his path to the draft.

EDGE Jaelan Phillips Draft Snapshot:

2021 NFL Draft Ranking* - 19th Overall, EDGE2

(Position Ranking based on composite average of 50 big boards)
Height: 6’05.4” (92nd Percentile)
Weight: 260-pounds (51st Percentile)
Hand: 9 3⁄4 inch (51st Percentile)
Arm: 33 1⁄4 inch (49th Percentile)
Wing: 80 3⁄4 inch

Pro Football Focus (PFF) Grades
- Overall 2018 PFF Grade: 67.0, 159 Snaps, 7 Run Stops, 4 QB Hurries
- Overall 2020 PFF Grade: 86.6, 542 Snaps, 18 Run Stops, 29 QB Hurries

Pro Day Results:

Vertical: 36-inch (81st Percentile)
Bench Press: 21 reps (39th Percentile)
Broad Jump: 10’5” (90th Percentile)
40-yard: 4.56 (93rd Percentile) (10-yard split: 1.59, 88th Percentile)
Shuttle: 4.13 (96th Percentile)
3-Cone: 7.01 (80th Percentile)

Background:

A Comeback Story Worth Repeating

Similar to the prospect of Phillips being one of the top players to be selected into the NFL, the pass rusher was highly touted out of high school. Phillips initially played tight end at Redlands East Valley High (CA) until he switched to defensive end his sophomore year. He immediately thrived on his way to California Defensive Player of the Year and five-star recruit status. In fact, Phillips was the No. 1 recruit at the position in the nation in 2017 as he ended up staying close to home when he chose UCLA.

Thereafter, JP15’s path to the draft was hardly a straight line to where he is now.

Phillips started four games as a true freshman and showed promise as a natural pass rusher with 7.0 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 2 PDs. However, he missed six games due to a sprained ankle. Phillips was subsequently involved in a moped accident prior to the 2018 campaign that necessitated two surgeries (wrist). He returned to the field for the season but sustained three concussions, which shortened his sophomore season. Ultimately, the concussions forced him to medically retire per the recommendation of UCLA doctors. He pursued multiple endeavors including working at a law firm and attending Los Angeles Community College to pursue a music career, one of his passions outside of football. However, the musical dream paled in comparison to his true love.

Phillips orchestrated one of the best comeback stories in college football and the University of Miami’s music/engineering programs served as a conduit to his selection of the U as a transfer destination in 2019. After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Phillips was expected to be a rotational EDGE guy this year behind fellow 2021 draft prospects, Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche. However, Rousseau opted out in the pandemic-riddled season and created an avenue for JP15 to take over a starting role opposite Roche.

Player Profile:

To say Phillips took advantage of the opportunity to start for Miami is certainly an understatement. In fact, Phillips’ name was not featured on any analysts’ draft board until about this past November/December as he was not even remotely in the 2021 NFL Draft picture prior to the 2020 season.

Phillips had a meteoric rise as he played in 10 games where he tallied 45 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss (team-best), 8 sacks (team-best), 1 INT, which earned him an 86.6 grade on his way to 18 run stops and 29 QB hurries, according to PFF (he racked up all of his sacks, as well as 35 QB pressures, during the final seven games). The production led to accolades as the 6-5 pass rusher earned an All-ACC Second Team selection, was a Bednarik Award semifinalist, and three publications deemed him an All-American (one first team, two second team).

2020 put Phillips on the map, which was not a foregone conclusion even though he already had the five-star athleticism. During his year off due to transfer rules, Phillips added on mass to his framework under Coach David Feeley’s Strength and Conditioning Program. Thereafter, he ultimately wreaked havoc on opposing QBs/RBs and put up the five-star production to match in 2020. He also worked on technique with DL Coach, Todd Stroud, a coach who formerly coached 2006 first rounders, Mario Williams and Manny Lawson at NC State, and now seeks to place Rousseau and Phillips into the first round.

The physical freak often relies on his athleticism and first step but plays loose and tenacious. The flexible is obvious as he is able to unlock from blockers pretty well and is often relentless in his pursuit capabilities. These traits only improved as the season progressed as Phillips perfected timing and added shifty moves to his repertoire. He also stays with the ball, which was evident on his tip drill INT against FSU at the line of scrimmage. Phillips displayed immense directional quickness and ability to bend throughout the 2020 season, and also registered an impressive 3-cone drill (7.01) and shuttle time (4.13) at his Pro Day last month.

Phillips was predominantly lined up outside the tackle (522 out of 542 snaps) as opposed to A-gap or B-gap, which makes sense as he plays too long to dominate the interior. However, he does show an ability to swim inside if his outside lane is eliminated. He still considers himself a very raw prospect and, after his Pro Day he said he wanted to continue to work on keeping his pad level low. This is nitpicking for a top tier EDGE guy, but Phillips’ technique and ability to diagnose, both of which are easily coachable, could use some sharpening - especially against RPO schemes.

Strengths/Positives

  • Unteachable Athleticism
  • Ability to unlock from blockers
  • Prototypical EDGE Size
  • High Motor/Energy
  • Effective against Run and Pass
  • 2020 Production

Weaknesses/Negatives

  • Medical History
  • Temporary Retirement
  • One Year as Regular Starter (seven games of production)
  • Still fairly “Raw”

Best NFL Fits (First Round Pick): Everywhere! But mainly... Titans (22), Giants (11), Falcons (4) , Cowboys (10), Vikings (14), Chiefs (31), Colts (21), Dolphins (6, 18), Bills (30), Ravens (27)
NFL Comparisons: Danielle Hunter, Jadeveon Clowney

Bottom Line:

Team may be hesitant to take Jaelan Phillips too early due to his medical history and small sample size at the collegiate level, but his freakish athleticism and natural playmaking ability will ultimately make him one of the first, if not the first, EDGE defenders to have his name called by Roger Goodell on Thursday night - he is in the upper echelon at the position with Kwity Paye (Michigan) and Azeez Ojulari (Georgia). He projects well in basically any scheme but mostly lined up outside the right tackle this year.

As far as his career trajectory, if he avoids any further injury/concussion issues - which is basically the equivalent of telling a NASCAR professional to drive carefully (aka sometimes unavoidable) - then he will be a top tier talent and carry the legacy of great defensive ends at the NFL level out of the U.

Draft Night Projection: (First Round Pick)

11th Overall to the New York Giants.* I put an asterisk here as there have been rumors that the Giants may trade down, which is likely more fitting for Phillips based on the QB/WR-top heavy draft class. The Giants love pass rushers, in recent years they’ve had fellow ProCane, Olivier Vernon, as well as Jason Pierre-Paul and Markus Golden. They also sent a strong contingent to Miami’s Pro Day and they are currently weak at the position. So, there is more of a projection that the Giants will select Phillips somewhere in the first round.