The Cincinnati Bearcats were one of college football’s best stories last season. Almost single-handedly, the Bearcats took steps toward legitimizing the Group of Five. Luke Fickell’s squad ended the American season undefeated, won the conference championship, then took SEC juggernaut Georgia right to the wire in the Peach Bowl. Cincinnati finished the year ranked eighth, and with many of their core players returning, they’ll look to improve on that number in 2021. Cincinnati DE and NFL Draft prospect Myjai Sanders is one key part of that returning class, and as his scouting report shows, he has the tools to keep making an impact on Sundays.
Myjai Sanders NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive End
- School: Cincinnati
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 258 pounds
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Myjai Sanders Scouting Report
In a defensive end class that includes Kayvon Thibodeaux, Drake Jackson, and Zach Harrison, Sanders has naturally flown under the radar to this point. He doesn’t have the pedigree or the Power Five prestige of his counterparts, but in truth, he may deserve to be viewed on a similar plane.
The Cincinnati DE quietly broke out in 2020, but his ascension might not be over yet. Sanders was one of the more consistent edge defenders in the nation last year, with at least a half-sack in over half his games and at least 1 pass deflection in two more. It’s possible that he could be even better in 2021, and it all starts with his athletic foundation.
Myjai Sanders’ athletic profile
Immediately, Sanders’ physical skill set stands out. The Cincinnati DE stands at around 6’5″, 258 pounds, and he appreciates the boons that come with that size. Sanders has a long, looming frame that affords him natural leverage. His frame also allows him to wrap up smaller ball carriers with ease, as well as disrupt passing windows. Additionally, Sanders has long stride lengths coming downhill, which magnify his speed of motion.
Of course, length alone only gets edge rushers so far. Luckily for Sanders, he has a complete combination of skills, which allows him to produce in several ways. He has torrid natural explosiveness to pair with his length. He accelerates briskly and with ease, and he can adjust his stride lengths when needed. He converts speed to power with exceptional efficiency, and his length serves as an excellent conduit for his initial burst. On top of his straight-line explosiveness, Sanders also has solid lateral athleticism and twitch.
Explosiveness and length are two very valuable traits in conjunction, but bend is another crucial quantity for edge rushers. Sanders shows this in flashes. His hips have some stiffness, but he possesses quality torso flexibility. Furthermore, he shows glimpses of substantial ankle flexion. He’s quick to recoil and lash back forward when hit, and he owns solid balance and recovery athleticism against power.
Still, Sanders can be more consistent with his bend. Nevertheless, his overall capacity is impressive, and this offers him exciting upside.
Execution beyond the athletic traits
With his length, explosiveness, and bend capacity, Sanders has a physical foundation that’s bristling with potential. As the Cincinnati DE moves into his senior year, he can take steps to better channel his athletic traits. There are some intangible attributes present that further compound the promise seen on tape.
Sanders is incredibly instinctive when anticipating the snap. He can key in on hard count patterns throughout a game and time his launches to get a step ahead of his blocker. When engaged one-on-one with tackles along the edge, Sanders flashes fast hands and targeted maneuvers. He’s also shown the ability to stack rushing moves. Sanders already has a sturdy arsenal, complete with bull rushes and swipes.
In run defense, Sanders boasts similar progression. His length allows him to establish strong anchors in run defense. Moreover, he’s displayed that he can disengage in a timely manner and burst toward the ball carrier. Sanders’ run defense isn’t perfect, but he still plays with palpable energy and good pursuit speed.
Areas for improvement
Sanders’ NFL Draft scouting report has been surprisingly complimentary to this point. However, as enticing as Sanders is with his physical upside, there’s still plenty of work to do in Year 4.
Physically, Sanders can further build his strength. His lower body isn’t very dense, and he doesn’t always have the raw power to break opposing anchors in run defense. Larger linemen can easily handle his frame with plus grip strength, and he sometimes gives up too much surface area by habitually turning inward.
Although Sanders is stronger as a pass rusher, he can improve there as well. The Cincinnati DE can make a concerted effort to get lower and utilize his bend capacity more often. To do this, he’ll need to refine his footwork and coordination further. His movement can become choppy when trying to sink to the ground. Additionally, Sanders can sustain his speed through rushes with more consistency.
Among other things, he can sometimes be indecisive when reading options and play fakes. Furthermore, his eagerness to jump the snap might get him in trouble at the NFL level, where veteran quarterbacks have more success deceiving younger defenders with hard counts.
Myjai Sanders’ 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview
He doesn’t have the notoriety of the aforementioned 2022 defensive end prospects, but Sanders could ultimately join the upper echelon by the season’s end. Sanders’ scouting report boasts all of the necessary traits to catalyze a senior-year rise. He’s long and explosive and shows the ability to bend below the tackle in spurts.
Sanders will need to do a better job controlling and channeling his traits in 2021. He has the burst, bend, hand speed, and his arsenal clearly underwent development in 2020. However, he has yet to use his traits in conjunction with one another on a consistent basis. That active multi-tasking ability is significant for edge defenders, and it’s often the difference between NFL starters and the next level down.
If Sanders can hone his natural traits and couple them with fast, precise hand movements, he can be a truly exciting player. He checks many of the physical boxes, and on rare occasions, he has displayed the ability to sustain acceleration while cornering the edge. Sanders is a definite riser candidate, but it’s ultimately up to him to realize that potential.
Myjai Sanders’ Player Profile
Thibodeaux and Harrison were both five-star recruits. Jackson was a four-star recruit and managed to crack the Top 150 in his respective class. Sanders, meanwhile, didn’t have nearly as much fanfare coming out of high school.
Sanders was a three-star recruit in the 2018 class and a middling one at that. Ranked as the 73rd player at his position and the 135th overall player in Florida, many Power Five programs overlooked Sanders.
Of course, Sanders was easier to overlook back then. As a senior at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Sanders was a mere 6’4″, 215-pound defensive end. He generated decent athletic testing numbers, but that wasn’t enough to earn him additional prestige.
Nevertheless, Sanders still had offers from schools like Kentucky, Maryland, Ole Miss, and Rutgers. However, nothing beat the chance to play for Fickell and the budding Bearcats.
Myjai Sanders’ career at Cincinnati and NFL Draft ascension
The Bearcats were patient with Sanders as he grew into his frame at defensive end. Still, he put in the work to size up against Division I-A competition. By weigh-in day ahead of his true freshman season, Sanders was already 6’5″, 233 pounds. It was a marked improvement from his high school weight, but he only saw limited playing time in Year 1.
The taste of action drove Sanders to keep working, and he arrived as a true sophomore at his current size — 6’5″, 258 pounds. At last, he was ready to take on a starting role, and he didn’t disappoint. The Cincinnati DE started all 14 games in 2019, amassing 40 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.
In 2020, Sanders expanded on his early success as a starter. He became one of Cincinnati’s driving forces on defense. Once again, the Florida product was a regular in the starting lineup. Over the Bearcats’ 10-game slate, Sanders put up 31 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. For his production, Sanders was named a first-team All-AAC selection, alongside teammate Ahmad Gardner.
Now, Sanders is back. Like his teammates, he’s hungry for a championship. But farther down, Sanders might be hungry for more respect as well. And if he keeps trending up, he can easily earn it.
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