The Ohio State Buckeyes’ phenom Chase Young headlines the list of top edge prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft, with Iowa Hawkeyes’ stud A.J. Epenesa following close behind. To be successful in the modern-day NFL, it is essential for teams to find electrifying pass-rushers. Whether it is via the draft or free agency, NFL teams are getting more aggressive in order to find the next Von Miller. In 2019, we saw the impact that rookie Nick Bosa has had for the San Francisco 49ers defense. Also, this season we saw the Green Bay Packers go out and spend big money on free-agent pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith, and he has paid huge dividends early in his tenure. Those elite edge rushers are not easy to find, but when you find one, it can change the dynamics of a defense.
The 2020 free agency market is expected to be loaded with top pass-rushing talent, with names such as Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney, Matt Judon, Shaq Barrett, and Dante Fowler headlining those players, which are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. These players will probably get paid in the ballpark of $20 million per year, so turning to the draft puts less of a financial burden on the team’s salary cap.
When it comes to the 2020 top edge NFL prospects, a group led by Chase Young, it is easy to see that it’s a very talented group. Young, Iowa’s AJ Epenesa, and Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos are all likely to be top-15 selections. However, they are not the only talented players in this class. With the first 20 picks of the 2020 draft order now written in stone, it looks like Chase Young will be heading to the Washington Redskins with the 2nd pick in the draft.
Other edge-defenders to become familiar with in the 2020 NFL Draft include Kenny Willekes (Michigan State), Darrell Taylor (Tennessee), Jabari Zuniga (Florida), Anfernee Jennings (Alabama), and Jonathan Greenard (Florida). But today, we will take a look at five players who should be selected between the 20th and 60th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft but will make a big-time impact in the NFL for years to come.
K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU Tigers (6’4″, 250 pounds)
If you watched the beatdown that the LSU Tigers put on the Oklahoma Sooners in the Peach Bowl, you would have noticed #18 from LSU being the best defensive player on the field. That player, K’Lavon Chaisson, was marvelous, notching two sacks against a solid Oklahoma offensive line. Chaisson is a high ceiling player that oozes elite traits. He missed the 2018 season with a torn ACL but has rebounded in 2019 with a vengeance. He is a jack-of-all-trades type of player, as he can provide pass-rush, is stout against the run, and can even cover downfield. He possesses a lethal first step, converts speed to power seamlessly, and excels in space. In 2019, he racked up 6.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and 13.5 tackles for loss.
The upside with Chaisson is real, as he seems just to be scratching the surface as a player. As seen in the clip below, blocking Chaisson with a tight end is not a smart move. He simply pushes the tight end right into the grill of Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts, then finishes the play with a sack:
— InsideTheTigers.com (@InsideLSU) December 29, 2019
In this clip below, Chaisson’s outstanding athleticism is on full display, as he is able to chase down superstar wide receiver CeeDee Lamb from behind. Out of all of the 2020 top edge NFL prospects, not many are as scheme versatile as Chaisson:
Still thinking about this play from the Peach Bowl yesterday. K’Lavon Chaisson is 6’4 pushing 250 and was able to stay stride for stride with CeeDee Lamb, who is probably a 4.5 speed kind of receiver, and tackle him from behind. Freakishly athletic as an outside linebacker. pic.twitter.com/Q34laoGTtx
— colt (@coltbtw) December 30, 2019
Despite some concerns related to his injury history, I fully expect K’Lavon Chaisson to fly up draft boards and become a top-20 selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. He should test well at the combine, and he’s proven to make big plays when the lights are brightest. Teams such as the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, and New York Jets will fall in love with the speed, quickness, and athleticism that Chaisson brings to the table.
Terrell Lewis, Alabama Crimson Tide (6’5″, 253 pounds)
Like K’Lavon Chaisson, Terrell Lewis had his 2018 season cut short due to injury. Also, like Chaisson, Lewis has had a terrific bounce-back season in 2019, accounting for six sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. The first thing you notice about Lewis is his impressive physical stature. In terms of his pass-rush arsenal, he has tremendous length, explodes off the ball, and can bend around the edge with ease. He is quite flexible and consistently pressures the opposing quarterback. You’d like to see him fill the stat sheet more and play under control more often, but with that said, he is an ascending 2020 NFL Draft prospect.
Another thing that impresses when it comes to Terrell Lewis is his violent hands. Take a glimpse at the video below to see Lewis’ hand usage to shed blockers:
Mentioned Terrell Lewis as a potential steelers draft pick earlier today. Dude’s hands are just violent. Check out this jab he gives this Tackle. Violent strike.
Lewis is a damn good player. pic.twitter.com/UPg6q9tPXQ
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) November 2, 2019
There will be some lucky team that will be able to snatch Terrell Lewis at the end of the first round of the 2020 draft. Could you imagine his production if a team like the Baltimore Ravens were able to select Lewis? Pro Football Network writer Scott Gormon chronicles Lewis’ surge as a draft prospect here.
Curtis Weaver, Boise State Broncos (6’3, 265 pounds)
Curtis Weaver isn’t a household name just yet. However, it won’t be long before he becomes a favorite in the draft community. Weaver is insanely productive, as his 13.5 sacks in 2019, which ranks 5th in all of college football, would indicate. In his three-year career at Boise State, Weaver has tallied 34 sacks in 40 games.
Weaver has a thick build and prototypical size to thrive in any scheme. He is extremely powerful, is a stout run defender, and is able to utilize leverage to overcome opposing offensive tackles. He isn’t going to put up eye-popping numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he should still warrant a first-round selection.
Here’s a sneak peek at Weaver’s outstanding hand usage and his ability to win with leverage:
Curtis Weaver from the wide 9 alignment.@curtisweaver99 maintains ½ man leverage on the blocker as he rushes. He then swipes the blocker's hands away & has his hips in a direct line to the QB. Finishes with a sack.
If you beat the hands, you beat the man! pic.twitter.com/cxf4N41yws
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) November 13, 2019
Weaver is a versatile edge-defender who can win inside or outside:
Curtis Weaver (Boise State EDGE 99) has 34 career sacks. One of those versatile edge rushers that can play inside or outside but he seems to find ways to generate pressure on the QB. Here's an example of him executing a swim move pic.twitter.com/rEvPxohzem
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) December 21, 2019
Weaver has the traits that the New England Patriots covet in their defensive ends. At worst case, he will be a top-40 selection in the 2020 NFL Draft who should find playing time at the next level in no time.
Julian Okwara, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6’4″, 248 pounds)
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have a pair of dynamic defensive ends, and both will hear their names called in the 2020 NFL Draft. First, we take a look at the long and bendy weak-side defensive end, Julian Okwara. In 2019, Okwara’s production was underwhelming, accounting for only four sacks and two forced fumbles. Okwara possesses a lethal first step, strong punch, and dynamic ability to flatten around the corner.
With Okwara, there are some warts, which include his struggles against the run. He also needs to get stronger and work on consistency when it comes to his technique. With that said, there are a lot of traits to work with here, and scouts will fall in love with the upside he presents.
One of Okwara’s specialties is his strip-sack, which you can see in the clip below:
JULIAN OKWARA WITH ANOTHER STRIP SACK!!
ADE OGUNDEJI WITH THE SCOOP AND SCORE!!!
IRISH UP 28-17!!! pic.twitter.com/gqbCrI1low
— ND Whiteboard (@ND_Whiteboard) September 28, 2019
Like, he is really good at the strip-sack. He does it again in the video below, but pay attention to his speed off the edge and his ability to bend:
This is why Julian Okwara was getting first round buzz during the off-season. pic.twitter.com/zMg6ONuL4Z
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) September 28, 2019
Okwara is a day-two pick, and he should contribute at the next level immediately. His length and explosion are what will catch the eyes of NFL front offices.
Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6’4″, 265 pounds)
The second part of the Notre Dame dynamic duo is Khalid Kareem. When it comes to 2020 top edge NFL prospects, there might not be a more underrated prospect than Kareem. His game reminds me of the Detroit Lions’ star defensive end Trey Flowers. Kareem possesses elite length, plays with a tremendous motor, and consistently generates pressure from the interior. He may not be an athletic marvel, but he is an adequate athlete who plays with a unique blend of power and quickness. He may not have the most explosive first step or extreme bend around the edge, but they are more than adequate to produce at the next level.
Kareem is a tone-setter, who can set the edge on a consistent basis:
Great stuff here against the run from #NotreDame DE Khalid Kareem.
Set the edge, turned the play inside and then made the tackle for loss. Veteran play. pic.twitter.com/bLdd4OQ0Ss
— Matt Freeman (@mattfreemanISD) September 4, 2019
Not all productive pass-rushers are selected early in the draft. In watching tape of Khalid Kareem, I visualized a fit with teams such as the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions, and New England Patriots. He should thrive as a 4-3 defensive end, as he is able to win with speed and win with power. When the smoke clears, I see Kareem being selected early in round-three and having a long career of playing football on Sundays in his future.
Overall, the 2020 top edge NFL prospects group is a good one, and one that should inject an infusion of dynamic pass-rushers into the NFL. While players such as Chase Young and A.J. Epenesa are getting the well-deserved spotlight, the class is absolutely loaded beyond them. K’Lavon Chaisson, Terrell Lewis, Curtis Weaver, Julian Okwara, and Khalid Kareem are five players that should be high on draft boards.
Want bold? At this time next year, we’re talking NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in regards to Chaisson.