We know his teammate on the Illinois defensive line is likely a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but how does Keith Randolph Jr. — a DT prospect with comparable production — project next April? Can he join Jer’Zhan Newton in the early rounds?
Keith Randolph Jr. Draft Profile and Measurements
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 300 pounds
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Illinois
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
It’s safe to say Randolph Jr. slipped through the cracks as a high school recruit.
He was only a three-star prospect out of Belleville, Illinois. And while he had offers from several Power Five schools — among them Michigan State, Indiana, Florida State, and Iowa — the blue-blood programs largely overlooked his physical tools.
Luckily for Randolph, there was an NFL development opportunity on his doorstep, at Illinois University. After an exhaustive recruitment process, he made the almost three-hour trip northeast to Champaign and joined up with the Fighting Illini.
It took time for Randolph’s collegiate career to get off the ground. He played sparingly in 2019 and 2020. But in 2021, he emerged as a legitimate disruptive force on the Fighting Illini front, amassing 42 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and four sacks.
In 2022, Randolph upped his production even more. This time, he was one of the Big Ten’s leaders in tackles for loss with 13, and he added 4.5 sacks to his total. He earned third-team All-Big Ten honors — but he’s seeking even more in 2023.
Randolph Scouting Report
- Has a well-sized, proportionally-sound frame with good height, mass, and length.
- Explosive and energetic off the line, and uses long-track explosiveness to attack gaps.
- Twitched-up rusher who can use that energy to load high-efficiency torque in his hips.
- Can exert sudden, acute bursts of power with high-energy torque on swims and swipes.
- Leg churn and power capacity enable him to bowl over unsuspecting tackles on stunts.
- Has the foot speed and freedom of motion to line up as far outside as 5-tech and 7-tech.
- With agility and torquing capacity, can stunt across alignments and generate movement.
- Has the strength to establish a half-man relationship against blocks and peek gaps.
- Has an excellent sense of timing when attacking run blocks, exploiting lurching blockers.
- Can slab run blockers with powerful extensions and hold the line while one gap.
- Has shown progression with his pass-rush arsenal in 2023, adding club-swim counters.
- Can combat extensions with efficient double-swipes and sear into interior gaps.
- Can naturally align his base and acquire proper pad level into contact with knee bend.
- Shows glimpses of solid change of direction and chasing speed in pursuit.
- High-motor, high-effort defender who fights on the second effort and in pursuit.
- Initial explosiveness off the line can be inconsistent, as upright gait stalls momentum.
- Doesn’t have the burst and flexibility to threaten the apex from 5-tech as a pass rusher.
- Has a modest degree of ankle flexion, but has fairly average bend capacity at best.
- Can do a better job managing his pad level up to and through contact as a pass rusher.
- Sometimes struggles to sustain speed and precision through pass-rushing reps.
- At times, extends prematurely and fails to load or leverage momentum into contact.
- Can more consistently employ leg drive and hip alignment to sustain power rushes.
- The tendency to drift upright early in reps can stall power exertions and kill rushes.
- At times, lacks the hip flexibility to fully hinge around the front side of zone blocks.
- Exhibits moderate stiffness in the torso and can’t always bend around blocks.
- Lacks the playing strength to shed across the face and regain leverage versus moving blocks.
- At times, can be more disciplined with angles when flowing frontside ahead of zone runs.
Current Draft Projection and Summary
Heading into the 2023 season, Randolph Jr. was graded as a fringe Day 2-Day 3 prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft. Currently, he grades as a priority Day 3 prospect and a potential top-100 pick if he can finish the year on a strong note and provide answers to some of his bigger questions.
There are a few elements of Randolph’s profile that provide extra security. He’s a fifth-year veteran and a team captain. He’s incredibly alignment-versatile at 6’5″ and 300 pounds. And he’s a superb run defender, with the strength to one-gap, peek, shed blocks, and prevent displacement at the point of attack.
MORE: 2024 NFL Draft Big Board
Also encouraging is Randolph’s growth as a pass rusher thus far in 2023. He’s not perfect, but he’s improved at stacking counters past initial power moves, and he’s also expanded his pass-rush arsenal, employing club-rip combos and double-swipes with effectiveness — weaponizing his high-energy athleticism and torque.
An over-arching lack of quantifiably elite traits does work against Randolph. While he’s very explosive and powerful, he’s not an overwhelming raw power threat. And playing alongside Jer’Zhan Newton, the discrepancy in bend capacity is stark. Randolph visibly struggles to bend under blocks and attack gaps with ankle flexion, and it impacts his ability to finish plays.
Randolph’s subpar bend component dilutes his upside and lowers his projection. Nevertheless, he’s a sturdy and active run defender who also has a definite niche as a pass rusher. He has the athleticism, torque, and motor to thrive inside or be utilized on stunts, and as he continues to reach greater heights with his consistency, his value will only rise.
Overall, Randolph is worth middle-round capital in the 2024 NFL Draft as a rotational defensive lineman in hybrid-front schemes. His starting upside might be capped as a result of his limited flexibility, but he has the burst, power, strength, block-combating skills, and pass-rush chops to provide early two-phase utility.
NFL Draft Scouting Reports
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