Year in and year out, the SEC is a breeding ground for top-end edge rusher talent. 2021 was no different. Travon Walker and Sam Williams are two of the most popular eligible prospects from the conference, but there’s one more scouting report that needs more hype: Kentucky DE Josh Paschal. Can Paschal surge into the early rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft?
Josh Paschal NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive End
- School: Kentucky
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 278 pounds
Josh Paschal Scouting Report
In such a strong EDGE class like this one, there’s bound to be value found in the middle rounds. It’s one thing to say that over two-dozen edge rushers have the potential to go on Day 2. But raw potential doesn’t always turn into reality. As draft analysts, we have to entertain all possible outcomes — especially when scheme fit is an added variable. But some players just fall farther than they should.
Kentucky’s Paschal might end up being one of those players in the 2022 NFL Draft. The class is strong enough that he hasn’t received a ton of buzz yet. But by the same virtue, he has a very unique set of skills — one that could earn a Day 2 selection from a team that values it highly. What exactly does Paschal bring to the table, and why should he be considered as a potential Day 2 pick?
Paschal’s athletic profile
Paschal isn’t your typical edge rusher. The Kentucky DE stands at 6’3″, 278 pounds, with a long, thickly-built frame. As you might imagine, he’s incredibly versatile with his alignments. He can play standing up or from two- and three-point stances at 5-technique. He can slide inside to 3-technique and even shade above the center.
What makes Paschal so flexible as a player? It all derives from his physical profile. Paschal has great initial get-off. He carries imposing violence off the snap and leverages it into power. His explosiveness and length combine to form elite natural power capacity. Paschal uses that explosiveness and power to knife through gaps and destroy run plays. He also clubs linemen aside and clears open lanes, as well as bulldoze opponents with bull rushes and long-arm moves.
With his power, Paschal consistently collapses the edge, compressing the pocket and making quarterbacks uncomfortable. He’s an incredibly powerful player who can rip down anchors with sudden, devastating force. But he’s also able to gain displacement with his strong straight-line acceleration upfield.
There’s more to Paschal’s athletic profile than explosiveness and power. He has some twitched-up energy in his upper body, and can violently rip away extensions. Going further, Paschal has surprising closing range in pursuit. He can’t go sideline to sideline, but in the pocket, he has the length to envelop runners from behind.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Paschal is a great athlete with enticing power and has eventual starting potential. The question is: How close is he to that point? Being a three-year starter, Paschal has a modest degree of refinement, both as a pass rusher and run defender.
As a pass rusher, Paschal shows great promise. The Kentucky DE lowers his pads and shoots his hands into his opponent’s torso, generating ample point-of-contact force. He can also flash fast and violent hands to set up linemen, then explode forward and capitalize on exposed surface area. Paschal has nice throttle control, in that he can gear up at precise moments to channel his power. It also helps that his motor runs hot constantly. He has angry energy as a rusher, and every rep features constant motion and urgency.
In run defense, Paschal flashes as well. The redshirt senior has the quickness and play strength to set a half-man relationship, sealing the edge. He can keep a strong base and absorb power while standing his ground and clogging up space. Beyond his ability to set the edge, Paschal can also pry free and explode into contact when runners come his way. He can use lateral twitch and targeted physicality to splice his way around blocks.
Going further, Paschal is a strong tackler, who at least has enough lateral mobility to surge into contact and adjust angles in short spaces. He also displays enough patience to read option plays and identify the ball carrier.
Areas for improvement
Like many prospects, Paschal can still refine his game, especially as a pass rusher. The Kentucky DE doesn’t always have a complete attack plan, and he sometimes relies heavily on his traits. He can be more consistent stacking counters in rapid succession, and his hands can also be more precise and coordinated. If his initial rush fails, he can fade out at times. There’s still room for Paschal to add more pass-rushing moves and counters to his arsenal.
There are also modest physical limitations to discuss in Paschal’s pass-rushing profile. While he has great explosiveness and power, he lacks elite bend. He can’t accelerate around the edge consistently or pinch the corner. Additionally, he doesn’t have great hip flexibility or ankle flexion, nor is he an especially fluid lateral athlete. Paschal can’t carry momentum through direction changes very well, and he can get locked up at the apex on rushes. Furthermore, he sometimes goes upright after making contact, which further stalls momentum.
Moving onward, Paschal sometimes opens up his torso to opposing extensions and can get knocked back as a result. He also struggles to disengage in run defense at times. His hands can be placed too high, which allows blockers greater leverage. Paschal also sometimes loses track of the ball in congestion and runs himself out of plays in pursuit. There are times when he’s overly aggressive and plays himself out of tackling angles.
Among other things, Paschal doesn’t have elite pursuit speed or elite length. His range derives instead from his initial burst and effort. While he’s not a liability in space, Paschal can be a bit of a lumbering mover. He’s not always quick to change directions.
Paschal’s 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview
Paschal’s combination of raw power and explosiveness grants him great upside in the right scheme. At 6’3″, 278 pounds, he’s almost built like a pure 3-technique. But Paschal can line up just about anywhere. He has high-end explosiveness, which he uses to gain displacement at 5-technique and outward. Meanwhile, at 3-technique, his athleticism and power can be a devastating mismatch for guards.
Paschal doesn’t have elite bend or lateral agility, so he’s always going to be more of a power rusher on the outside. But with his elite power, he can make a living out-muscling tackles and driving them back at the point of attack. He needs to expand his pass-rushing arsenal, but the physical tools are there for him to be an impactful, versatile rusher. And as a run defender, he translates well with his natural leverage, initial burst, and strength.
As mentioned earlier, Paschal can play several different roles. Thus, it’s best not to pigeonhole him into one alignment. Preferably in a scheme that employs hybrid fronts, Paschal can be a force at 5-technique. But he can also shade inside to 3-technique and shadow several other spots beyond that.
Scheme fit may be especially important in determining where Paschal goes, but he has Day 2 potential. And in the right place, he can be an impact player.
Paschal’s Player Profile
Some guys are just built differently. Paschal is one of those guys. Physically, Paschal is a gifted athlete. He had a 4.75 40-yard dash and a 39-inch vertical jump out of high school. But mentally, Paschal has persevered and endured hardship off the field, and it’s helped mold him into the player and person he is today.
With his talent, Paschal was predictably a coveted prospect coming out of Olney, Maryland. A four-star recruit in the 2017 class, Paschal fielded scholarship offers from schools like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma. Many expected Paschal to pick one of those programs as his destination. But Paschal instead chose Kentucky, where he’d join a roster headed by head coach Mark Stoops.
Paschal’s career at Kentucky
Paschal was expected to have an immediate impact for the Wildcats. And at first, he did. The Kentucky DE played in all 13 games with one start in his true freshman season, amassing 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Expectations were high heading into 2018, but a medical development in July halted his momentum. Paschal was diagnosed with malignant melanoma on his foot.
Paschal attempted to play in 2018, but immunotherapy treatments would dominate most of his time. He ended up appearing in only two games while working to beat his cancer. He underwent three surgeries, and eventually, in August 2019, he completed his treatment plan and was cleared.
To the delight of his teammates and coaches, Paschal returned to the fold as a starter in 2019. He also earned captain status for the first of three times in his career. Through 2019 and 2020, Paschal accumulated 66 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception, a pass deflection, and 2 forced fumbles. He could have declared but instead decided to come back in 2021 and close out his career with his brothers.
Paschal had a career year in 2021, putting up 52 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Shockingly, he surpassed his totals from the past two campaigns combined and earned second-team All-SEC honors as a result.
Paschal’s NFL Draft ascension
Paschal’s talent won’t be the only thing that draws evaluators’ attention this draft season. The Kentucky DE is also a phenomenal character off the field. Not only was he a strong academic performer at Kentucky and a three-time captain, but Paschal is also extremely active in his community. He was the Wildcats’ representative on the SEC’s Football Leadership Council and a finalist for the 2021 Pop Warner Award.
Paschal has a bright future waiting for him after football. But for now, he’s tasked with making a difference on the field first. With his explosiveness and power capacity, Paschal projects as a versatile, impactful defender at the next level — as well as a stellar locker room addition. With the testing numbers he’ll put up, as well as a Senior Bowl appearance, Day 2 is very much in play.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Josh Paschal
Positives: Explosive college defensive lineman who flashes pass-rushing ability. Plays with proper pad level and gets leverage on opponents. Quick off the snap, slices between blocks to penetrate the line of scrimmage, and effectively uses his hands. Quick, explosive, and possesses a closing burst. Fast up the field, bends off the edge, and immediately alters his angle of attack. Displays a closing burst to the ball. Sudden and flashes on the scene. Gives effort defending the run.
Negatives: Lacks bulk and is easily turned from the action or out-positioned by opponents. Comes with average size and does not have a lot of growth potential.
Analysis: Paschal was out of position at defensive end in Kentucky’s three-man line last season and moves towards April as one of the more underrated defensive prospects in the draft. He offers possibilities as a situational pass rusher who can come out of a three-point stance in a four-man line or stand over tackle. Paschal may not be a three-down defender, but he has the tools to make a final roster.