Ali Gaye, LSU DE | NFL Draft Scouting Report

After coming to America from The Gambia, can LSU DE Ali Gaye leverage his scouting report into an early 2022 NFL Draft selection?

The 2022 NFL Draft‘s edge-rushing class has been renowned for its depth early on in the cycle. One player who was expected to add to that depth with his own NFL Draft scouting report is LSU DE Ali Gaye. Gaye ultimately chose to return to school for the 2022 season. Nevertheless, he’s persevered to this point, and has a report worth looking at ahead of the 2023 cycle.

Update: Ali Gaye has announced his decision to return to LSU for the 2022 season.

Ali Gaye NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Defensive End
  • School: LSU
  • Current Year: Redshirt Senior
  • Height: 6’6″
  • Weight: 250 pounds

Ali Gaye Scouting Report

Early on in the 2021 season, injuries impeded Gaye’s ability to see the field. But when he was available, he was a productive player. Gaye has certainly come a long way, even dating to just three years ago. He came to football late, and as such, he came to the Division 1-A ranks late. But talent eventually finds its way up the ladder. It happens without fail, and it’s happened to Gaye.

Gaye is now a legitimate 2023 NFL Draft prospect, and there’s a chance he’ll be selected next spring, so long as he gets healthy and more opportunities come his way. LSU has churned out defensive ends in the past, but Gaye is of a different mold. What kind of player is Gaye, and what kind of impact can the LSU DE have at the next level?

Ali Gaye’s athletic profile

Right away, it’s clear that Gaye has some measured upside. The 6’6″, 250-pound defender has a solid frame with good length. Although his length may not be proportionally elite, it’s well above-average. That exceptional length provides a great deal of utility for Gaye. It serves as a good conduit for power when rushing, and it also affords him good leverage when he’s able to anchor in run defense.

Beyond his size, Gaye has some definite athletic upside as well. The LSU DE flashes good explosiveness off the line in pass-rushing situations. That explosiveness equates to good energy, and Gaye can convert that energy into solid power and force at the point of attack. In addition to his straight-line explosiveness, Gaye shows flashes of lateral twitch and stored potential energy. He also has solid lateral agility for his size, and he’s shown he can execute a smooth spin move.

Gaye has good acceleration entering pursuit as well, and he also has decent pursuit speed. When his balance falters, he displays sound recovery athleticism, and he can reset quickly and surge into pursuit. Overall, Gaye is a good athlete, and he also has inspiring size on the edge.

Execution beyond the physical traits

Gaye has undoubtedly come a long way since first starting football in eighth grade. The LSU DE’s hands have violent capacity, and he’s shown flashes of targeted hand usage, even if he doesn’t always convert on that usage yet. Gaye is a high-motor player who always brings energy in pursuit. In that phase, Gaye accelerates fairly well, and he can adjust his tackling angles on relatively short notice. He also has good tackling form, and he can wrap players up with his length.

Going further on Gaye’s pass-rushing ability, the LSU DE shows flashes of hip flexibility. He can dip below blocks a bit and uses his length to maintain balance. When Gaye lowers his pads, he’s a much more efficient mover. He doesn’t do that consistently, but the capacity is there. Additionally, when he does break into the pocket, Gaye is proactive in using his length to bat down passes and disrupt passing lanes.

As a run defender, Gaye is just as promising. He employs quick strides that translate to steady leg drive when anchored. He supplements his extensions with a strong, powerful base. Additionally, Gaye knows when to break contain in run defense and enter pursuit mode. And with his length, he has a trait he can use to effectively set the edge.

Areas for improvement

Gaye is an intriguing talent with promising upside. At this point, however, he can do more to channel that upside. Gaye plays upright — with his pad level too high — more often than desired. That upright style can mitigate his momentum as a pass rusher and in pursuit. Consequently, his explosiveness doesn’t always carry through his rushes, and his hands don’t always carry the same force, either. So much depends on generating momentum by rushing forward as opposed to rushing upright. Gaye hasn’t mastered that yet, and his play strength isn’t at a high enough level to counteract.

Gaye can do better to sustain his hands through rushes as well. He brings a lot of juice and energy, but he needs more synergy between his upper and lower body when rushing downhill. Furthermore, his hands can be more precise and methodical, and he can further refine his pass-rushing plan. There are times when he gets too much depth outside the pocket before attacking, effectively washing himself out of plays. Gaye needs to press the pocket and attack leverage more as a pass rusher.

Against the run, Gaye can improve as well. He doesn’t always play the run strategically. Sometimes, he can stand to establish and hold his anchor more efficiently. The LSU DE can disengage in a more timely manner as well, as he sometimes gives up valuable positioning. Additionally, Gaye doesn’t always have good balance against opposing power. This can make him easy to control when more powerful linemen meet him in one-on-one situations.

Among other things, Gaye can bite hard against play-action fakes at times. He also sometimes takes longer than desired to diagnose plays and react.

Ali Gaye’s NFL Draft scouting report overview

Gaye is an extremely interesting 2023 NFL Draft prospect with solid upside. He has a good combination of length and athleticism, and he also has a strong motor, which NFL coaches will like. He’s not incredibly refined to this point, although he has shown flashes of hand usage with moves like swipes, clubs, and rips. He can be more consistent there, but Gaye is trending up. And more consistently lowering his pad level could unlock his full potential.

Gaye’s listing as a redshirt senior is somewhat misleading. He’ll turn 24 years old in 2022, and he’ll turn 25 years old in his presumable rookie season in 2023. He simply doesn’t have the same amount of peak years left that other players have. Nevertheless, if Gaye can stay healthy, refine his hand usage, and lower his pad level, he has a lot of the physical and mental traits desired in edge rushers. He could also feasibly add more strength and absorption capacity to his frame without sapping that athleticism.

If Gaye didn’t have a ton of upside, his age would be more of a sticking point. Instead, with a mix of athleticism, length, flexibility, and unyielding urgency as a rusher, he’s still intriguing heading into the 2023 cycle. His age likely precludes him from challenging for an early-round pick, barring an explosive breakout. But he could have an NFL future.

Ali Gaye Player Profile

Gaye will likely be in the NFL at some point. But his journey started thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. For the first 12 years of his life, Gaye lived in The Gambia, a western African country just south of Senegal.

The Gambia has a 50% poverty rate, and Gaye grew up in that environment. Education wasn’t a guarantee for every child, nor was quality medical care. Gaye’s family soon realized that a change was needed. His father Omar came to America first, and the rest of the family soon followed.

Gaye, who spoke Wolof as a first language, came to America when he was 12 years old. His family knew it would be a life-changing transition, but for Gaye, the gravity of that change was yet to be realized.

Gaye’s introduction to sports and football

When he came to America, Gaye wasn’t well-versed in the world of football — well, at least not that football. He’d played soccer with his friends back in The Gambia, but he slowly gravitated toward football in America. It wasn’t until the 5’5″ child surpassed 6′ in high school, tried out football as a sophomore, and received encouragement from his teammates that he truly committed to the sport. From there, however, it was full speed ahead.

Gaye’s talent quickly became apparent, and before long, Gaye was a 6’6″, 260-pound three-star recruit in the 2017 class. He drew scholarship offers to play football from a host of Pac-12 teams, including Washington State, USC, Cal, and Arizona State. But Gaye chose to stay in-state and signed with Washington.

A sudden shift in direction

Gaye would never play for Washington. Although he’d committed to the Huskies, he ended up being ruled academically ineligible. By this point, football had become a priority for Gaye, so he kept his head high and sought out other paths. He pursued JUCO opportunities and played for a year at Arizona Western, but that football program eventually folded. He then found himself at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

Gaye played for Garden City in 2019, and against that level of competition, Gaye found himself suddenly emerging as a threat on defense. In 11 games, Gaye logged 44 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a pass deflection, a forced fumble, and 2 blocked kicks.

Gaye’s success at the JUCO level earned him newfound notoriety across the college football landscape. He once again garnered three-star stock — this time on the JUCO recruiting circuit — and was ranked as the 26th-best JUCO prospect in the nation. He signed with LSU, and all at once, his football career started to take shape.

Gaye’s career at LSU and NFL Draft ascension

By 2020, Gaye wasn’t finding his footing in a new country. He wasn’t trying to adjust any longer. Now, Gaye was a football player through and through, and it showed immediately. Gaye was one of the top producers on LSU’s defense. In 10 games, the LSU DE amassed 32 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, an interception, 6 pass deflections, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. In his first season against SEC competition, Gaye earned second-team All-SEC honors. He belonged now. It’d never been more clear.

In 2021, Gaye’s eyes snuck glances at the future — to the NFL, where he aims to venture next. There was a point where Gaye was expected to declare eventually, but injuries held him to just four games, 19 tackles, and 2.5 sacks. So rather than declare on a down year, he chose to exhaust his eligibility, and return to school in 2022.

That return seems underwhelming for a prospect like Gaye. But at one point, years ago, it seemed like an impossibility almost beyond acknowledgment, that he’d even be in the NFL Draft conversation. But Gaye has beaten the odds time and time again. Now, he’s on the league’s doorstep, and he has the tools — physical and mental — to carve out a role.

Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.


Every day, get free NFL updates sent straight to your inbox!