If I were to ask you what the three most important positions in the game of football are, what would you say? Chances are you’d start with the quarterback, then maybe the guy protecting the quarterback (usually the left tackle), and most likely the guy trying to hit the quarterback (usually the EDGE). Football, at its core, is a game about the quarterback and stopping the quarterback. The 2021 NFL Draft features a number of very good EDGE prospects, including some not getting the love they deserve. Among them is Wake Forest edge rusher Carlos Basham Jr.
The edge rusher is one of the premier positions in the modern NFL game and for a good reason. With offenses getting the ball out quicker and quicker, you need a dominant force who can disrupt the timing of an offense and give your back-end guys a chance. Top-end edge rushers — like 2020 product Chase Young — are almost a lock for a top-10 selection in the NFL Draft every year, and 2021 will be no exception. But if you’re not bad enough to pick that high, there’s still plenty of talent available.
The 2021 draft class has a lot of pass-rushing talent that is being overlooked at this stage of the game. Today, I’m going to kick off a series looking at some of the best pass rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft that not enough people are talking about. We start with Wake Forest EDGE Carlos Basham Jr.
Who is Wake Forest pass rusher Carlos Basham?
If Basham’s last name sounds familiar to you, it should! Carlos is the cousin of former Ohio University and current New York Jets outside linebacker Tarell Basham. The younger Basham came to Wake Forest as a 3-star recruit out of Roanoke, VA. Basham was recruited by the likes of Cincinnati, NC State, and Pittsburgh, but ultimately decided to stick close to home with the Demon Deacons.
After sitting out his freshman season on a redshirt, Basham entered the lineup for the Demon Deacons in his redshirt freshman season, providing a steady contribution to the team’s front four and earning his first letter. It was his second season where Basham started to take off and put the college football landscape on notice.
As a redshirt sophomore in 2018, Basham finished fourth in tackles for the Demon Deacons and began to hone his craft as a pass rusher. Basham led the team with 11 tackles for loss in 2018 and added 4.5 sacks. He also notched 11 quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.
Basham’s steady improvement continued into his redshirt junior season, where he notched 57 tackles and exploded for 11 sacks. Basham had established himself as a force to be reckoned with and could have declared for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Our NFL Draft expert Tony Pauline gave Basham a third-round grade this summer, but the Wake Forest product decided to come back for his senior season. This year, he looks to improve upon that draft grade and establish himself as not only one of the best pass rushers in the ACC but one of the top EDGE prospects in the entire nation.
What makes Wake Forest senior Carlos Basham a player more people should be talking about? What aspects does he still need to improve to become a top-flight prospect?
Where Basham excels
When you throw on tape of Basham, it’s impossible not to notice his inside counter. This move is Basham’s go-to pass rush move, for better or worse (more on that later). Basham excels at setting the tackle up outside, then giving a quick swim move inside the tackle’s shoulder. From there, it’s all about speed. Basham isn’t the fastest guy on the field, but he has plenty of speed once the tackle is beat.
A good inside move and adequate speed isn’t always enough to get home, however. When that doesn’t get the job done, Basham still makes plays thanks to his high motor. Basham is a high-effort player who doesn’t quit moving when his first move doesn’t work.
He has a spin move that is effective, and he always keeps his head on a swivel. He’s always looking to make a play, and more often than not, he finds himself around the ball. A good portion of Basham’s sacks have come on the second effort, finding a way to get to the quarterback when the first move failed.
Being a one-trick pony doesn’t get you very far, even at the college level. Basham’s inside move can be deadly, but there’s more to his pass rush plan than just that. The first-team All-ACC recipient has a surprising amount of power for a player given his frame. He’s very good at getting his hands inside the tackle and simply muscling him out of the way to get where he wants to go.
His strength also shows up in how Wake Forest used Basham. He wasn’t strictly an outside rusher for the Demon Deacons; they also trusted his strength enough to use him inside. Basham lined up many snaps as an inside rusher, even playing some defensive tackle.
What needs to improve
Basham is very good, but he’s far from a finished product. He has improved every season for the Demon Deacons, but there are still a couple facets of his game to button up if he wants to sniff the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The biggest of these is an improvement in the run game.
If Basham is going to be a three-down player in the NFL and not simply a situational pass rusher, he’s going to have to improve “setting the edge”. He has a great inside counter move as mentioned, but far too often, this can work against him. Basham is so eager to get that inside shoulder on the offensive tackle that he can be driven completely out of a play.
Far too often on run downs, instead of coming up strong and preventing the running back from getting the edge, Basham will try his patented inside move and completely remove himself from the play. Basham needs to learn when to use that move versus when he needs to just man-up on his guy and hold his responsibility on the outside.
The heavy reliance on the inside counter isn’t just a problem in the run game for the Wake Forest product. Basham frequently finds himself stoned at the line when he’s gone to the well one too many times with the inside move.
Basham has good strength and can overpower a lot of college tackles, but that’s not going to be the case at the NFL level. Even at the college level, Basham doesn’t use that strength as much as he could.
If he’s going to be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Basham will need to develop more of a plan for his pass rush- vary it up a bit more with the strong-arm moves to complement the inside counter.
Basham has shown he has a good spin move, but he frequently only uses it after the inside move has failed, making him late in pursuit of the quarterback. If he can put that spin move into his repertoire as a first option instead of a last resort, he could get home more often.
If he puts everything together, Basham could give Wake Forest a huge presence in the draft. The Demon Deacons have never had multiple players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft, and Sage Surratt and Basham could change that for Wake Forest.
Chris Spooner is an NFL Draft contributor for @PFN365. You can follow him on Twitter @CSpoonerNFL.