When you’re a defensive tackle prospect from the University of Pittsburgh, there will always be unfair comparisons that bring unwarranted expectations. Peel away the program-related presumptions, and Calijah Kancey boasts the scouting report of a special player in his own right ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Calijah Kancey NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Pittsburgh
- Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’1″, 281 pounds
Having helped secure consecutive Florida 6A championships with over 200 tackles, Kancey was a three-star defensive line recruit in the 2019 class. The Miami native held multiple in-state offers, with several HBCU advances, but he ultimately committed to play for Pitt.
Although he saw action in the Quick Lane Bowl in 2019, Kancey redshirted his initial season with Pitt. However, the explosive DT made a name for himself as a redshirt freshman in 2020, making 11 appearances and four starts. In his first season of serious action, he tallied 27 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
Kancey emerged as a star on the Pitt defensive line as the Panthers won the ACC Championship in 2021. Making 14 starts, he tallied 35 tackles with a team-high 13 tackles for loss. The Pitt DT also registered seven sacks while recording his first forced fumble against Clemson. His performances earned Kancey first-team All-ACC and third-team All-American honors.
Despite Pitt’s struggles in 2022, Kancey had his most productive season to date. Tallying 31 tackles in 11 appearances, he registered 14.5 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks, earning College Football Network Defensive Tackle of the Year honors amongst a laundry list of awards. Crowing a college career in style, he was Pitt’s first consensus All-American since 2013.
Calijah Kancey Scouting Report
If you’ve sat down on your sofa on a Saturday afternoon to watch some Pitt Panthers football, you’ll understand that Kancey is an explosive and exciting football player who illuminates whatever football field he happens to be inhabiting.
The national attention that he’s received since his standout NFL Combine performance has been warranted the entire time. Kancey’s scouting report has one major pitfall, but let’s begin with his strengths as a prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Used from several alignments on the interior of the defensive line, Kancey explodes out of his stance with dangerous intentions. The Pitt DT showcases an exceptional first step and is routinely the first Pitt lineman to penetrate the opposition’s offensive line.
He routinely gets his hands on his opponent first. Kancey’s explosion is apparent on every single snap, and in the games studied, there was no let-up in his ability to be first to the point of attack.
The explosion is just one element of an impressive athletic package possessed by the 2023 NFL Draft prospect. Kancey showcases incredibly quick feet, which allow for ludicrous lateral agility.
The Pitt DT routinely demonstrates incredible movement skills for a 275-pound man. As a result, he can effortlessly transition from attacking one gap to another. Meanwhile, he’s been able to loop around and attack off the edge due to his high-level athletic ability.
Furthermore, Kancey showcases impressive body control. This is apparent in several ways. He has the flexibility to get “skinny” between offensive linemen, demonstrating the ability to penetrate even the narrowest of gaps.
Additionally, the Pitt DT is able to manipulate his body to put himself in position to make a tackle against running backs or quarterbacks either behind or beyond the line of scrimmage.
Another element of his body control is remarkable balance. One upside of being a 6’1″, 281-pound DT is that Kancey displays an excellent low center of gravity. This, and consistency in playing with a low pad level, gives him an advantage in the leverage battle. Moreover, his combination of excellent balance and lower body strength makes it so he’s difficult to take to the ground.
While the athletic elements of Kancey’s scouting report are exciting, some of his technical refinement is even more tantalizing. He already possesses a treasure trove of pass-rush moves. He routinely uses swim, spin, and bull-rush moves to make his way to the QB.
It’s almost a prerequisite for Pitt defensive line prospects to have mastered the swim move to a ludicrously high level before they leave the program. Kancey not only possesses a high-level swim move in his armory, but his devastating deployment of it should see him considered armed and dangerous.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
Even more impressive for a young player is that he already has the ability to string rush moves together. Kancey showcases the awareness to put together a pass-rush plan.
With his agility, footwork, and quick handwork, he has the athletic attributes to be able to execute counter moves with the necessary quickness to make them a success.
Rounding out the strengths element of his scouting report, Kancey plays with excellent competitive toughness. Where availability is next to ability as a quality, he has missed just two games since establishing himself in 2020.
Meanwhile, he hustles to the ball on every snap, with multiple examples of the Pitt DT chasing down a ball carrier to make a play long after others might have given it up as a lost cause. Additionally, he showcases football intelligence as a communicator to his teammates on the Pitt defensive front.
Kancey’s Areas of Improvement
Kancey possesses an extremely alluring 2023 NFL Draft scouting report. However, there are some areas for improvement. Furthermore, there is a clear area of concern that could seriously impact not just his NFL draft stock, but also his future deployment in the league.
He’s played across the front for Pitt, lining up at nose on rare occasions, but his size won’t allow for as much positional versatility at the NFL level. Where is his true position at the next level? Can he stay on the field on all three downs in every game situation?
At 6’1″ and 281 pounds, Kancey is likely to be considered undersized at the NFL level. Although he’s been able to use his explosion, lower body strength, and technical refinement to win on the collegiate stage, will he be able to have that same success against substantially more sizeable offensive linemen in the NFL?
While he routinely showcases a decent anchor, he can be moved backward in the ground game by larger, more powerful interior offensive linemen. Kancey sometimes can be washed away from the play with a little too much ease to be comfortable with as it pertains to his NFL projection.
Current Draft Projection for Pitt DT Calijah Kancey
Kancey has consistently been a feature in the top 50 prospects for Pro Football Network’s NFL Draft Analysts, and his ascent into the national spotlight should come as no surprise. His size makes him somewhat of an outlier at the position, and the associated risk might leave some teams questioning whether that presumed risk will be worth using first-round capital on.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft DT Class
However, whichever team selects Kancey in the 2023 NFL Draft is going to get a highly-motivated, technically-advanced, hyper-explosive, hot-motored, and disruptive presence to plug into their defensive front and wreak havoc early in his NFL career. For me, that’s worth the price of a late first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, but I’m not an NFL general manager or head coach.
Calijah Kancey Combine Measurements and Results
Kancey’s Combine performance was one of the most electric and stock-altering that we saw in Indianapolis. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of Combine-related stock enhancement all day long, but there’s no denying that the Pitt DT’s sudden emergence into the top half of multiple mock drafts has a direct correlation to his sensational testing performance.
There were multiple points of uniqueness about Kancey’s appearance at the 2023 NFL Combine. Firstly, it’s rare that a program under-lists a player’s measurements — especially when that has been a sticking point of his evaluation for some — but the Pitt DT actually measured an inch taller and six pounds heavier than his listing on the Pitt roster.
Then Kancey blew the roof off Lucas Oil Stadium with a ludicrous 4.67-second 40-yard dash. The time was the fastest for a defensive tackle since 2003. Meanwhile, he shaved 0.01 seconds off the time set by the former Pitt defensive lineman whose comparison has followed his every move.
Finally, Kancey looked impressively fluid during the defensive line drills. While he didn’t compete in all the testing activities, the Pitt defensive tackle came away from the Combine having asserted himself in the 2023 NFL Draft class.
- Wingspan: N/A
- Arm: 30 5/8″
- Hand: 9 1/8″
- Bench Press: N/A
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.67 seconds
- 10-Yard Split: 1.64 seconds
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report for Calijah Kancey
Strengths: Explosive one-gap defender who projects as a 3-technique. Bends his knees, plays with great pad level, and fires off the snap. Looks like he was shot out of a cannon off the snap, explodes through gaps, and penetrates the line of scrimmage.
Plays with balance as well as body control and easily changes direction or immediately alters his angle of attack. Effectively fights with his hands, moves well about the field, and quickly locates the ball or the action. Nicely redirects and makes the tackle.
Weaknesses: Lacks bulk and strength. Gets knocked around in the middle of the field or pushed to the ground by a single blocker. Has limited growth potential.
Overall: Kancey comes off two incredibly productive seasons and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. Kancey is a scheme-specific defensive lineman who must be used in a one-gap system, but his quickness, mobility, and ability to disrupt the action are attractive.
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