Over the next few weeks, the Broadway staff will be taking a closer look at prospects the Titans could look to target in the 2021 NFL Draft based on positional need.
Gregory Rousseau | DE | Miami
Games I watched: Virginia Tech (2019), Virginia (2019), Florida State (2019), Lousiville (2019), Pitt (2019)
A freshman All-American in 2019 and First Team All-ACC defender, Gregory Rousseau is a raw edge prospect out of The U who had an uber-productive final season of college. Still just 20 years old (he turns 21 in April), Rousseau has lots of room to develop and a high ceiling due to his physical traits.
Unfortunately for draft evaluators, Rousseau opted out for the 2020 season due to COVID-19, citing a desire to help his family and calling it “the hardest decision” of his life.
“Really it was just that my mom and dad are both on the front lines,” Rousseau said. “My mom is a COVID nurse and for me to have the opportunity to help them…if I wasn’t able to help them, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.”
Having played only two seasons, Rousseau makes up for his lack of experience with eye-popping production, piling up 19.5 tackles for loss — including 15.5 sacks — in the 2019 season, when he didn’t become a full-time starter until the sixth game of the year after redshirting in 2018.
Rousseau arrived at Miami with no real knowledge of how to play on the defensive line after lining up at wide receiver and safety in high school. But Miami felt they could mold him into an elite pass rusher, and they certainly got elite production out of him in 2019.
Rousseau has tremendous length at 6-7 with a near-prototypical edge build. He is pretty lean and could stand to bulk up quite a bit, but at his size, he possesses the ability to line up effectively all across the line of scrimmage from Nose Tackle to 9-Tech.
On tape, Rousseau is explosive and ferocious when left unblocked. He’s aggressive in backside run pursuit and does a nice job attacking the mesh point on read-option plays. He can set the edge effectively, although sometimes has trouble disengaging from blocks and struggles to win the leverage battle consistently, in part because of how tall he is.
As a pass rusher, Rousseau is better at rushing from the interior than expected. He consistently lined up and rushed over guards and centers. He was frequently used as the “looper” on stunt plays, going both outside-in and inside-out.
Rousseau has the ability to generate power when he gets low, and he does possess a strong long-arm move and effective bullrush, but he doesn’t often get low enough to use those abilities. His go-to pass rushing move is the two-hand swipe, also called the side-scissor, which he was exceptional with from the 3T position against guards but average to below average with on the edge.
While I understand his decision to opt out, I do wish Rousseau had played the 2020 season just to see how much he may have improved his technique since 2019.
To put it simply, Rousseau is very raw. He’s still fairly new to playing on the defensive line and it shows, perhaps too often. He needs to improve his hand usage, timing, and recognition of how the opponent’s play is unfolding. There are far too many snaps where Rousseau appears to have no plan of attack and, to be frank, no idea what he’s doing with his hands, which in my opinion is the most translatable skill from college to the pros. Most reps end with him getting stonewalled after throwing both arms into the blocker with no idea how to win.
Winning with length and athleticism is something that can work in the NCAA but will fail more often than not in the NFL. Technique, and particularly hand technique — timing, anticipation, placement, violence — wins out more often than not. I’m concerned that Rousseau doesn’t have the technical refinement to contribute early in his career. He’s still very young, and again, it would’ve been great to see his progress from 2019 to 2020, but we can only go off of what we’ve seen most recently.
In terms of play recognition, Rousseau rarely sees or anticipates pulling blockers, a further example of his inexperience. I also noticed that he has trouble disengaging against the run when blockers get hands on him, due to his poor hand usage in fighting off opponents. On that same note, he often struggles to win the leverage battle; there were too many instances of smaller tight ends moving Rousseau out of the hole.
The biggest concern for me though is that Rousseau didn’t often win against offensive tackles. While he racked up an insane 15.5 sacks, the quality of those sacks leaves a lot to be desired. Many of his sacks came in clean-up situations or on the inside against weaker competition. It’s not a bad thing to win against less talented players, but it doesn’t translate to what Rousseau will be asked to do at the NFL level if he continues to play on the edge.
He sort of reminds me of Jadeveon Clowney in the sense that he can create disruption and mismatches from the Nose and 3T positions, but he struggles to win around the edge. So much so that I believe Rousseau’s best path will be to bulk up a bit and slide inside on passing downs.
That said, I do have to credit his ability to pursue quarterbacks and “retrace his steps” as a rusher. He doesn’t always keep his eyes in the right place on run plays, but he generally does a good job watching the quarterback and pursuing a scrambling passer attempting to leave the pocket.
Playing on a talented Miami defense in 2019, he was able to pick up sacks without necessarily beating his man — at least not quickly. While you’d prefer your highly touted pass rushing prospects to win one-on-one matchups, being an aggressive finisher is still a valuable skill to add to any defense, albeit not one I’d covet with a premium pick.
Does he fit the Titans?
Rousseau certainly has the traits and production to fit the bill of what the Titans are looking for at the edge position. He has the versatility to slide inside, an ability Mike Vrabel clearly values in his defenders, but Rousseau still has a long way to go in terms of his technique and refinement. Right now, he’s more of an athlete than a football player, and therefore I don’t see him as a day-one starter in the NFL.
Rousseau’s projections are all over the map, but most analysts feel he’ll go in the first round. Players with his size and athleticism along with huge sack numbers usually don’t last long.
I don’t see him ending up on the Titans because Tennessee needs immediate impact from the edge position. Yes, they will likely need to sign a free agent to achieve that, but Jon Robinson also can’t afford to miss with his 2021 first round pick after the Isaiah Wilson disaster, and Rousseau carries quite a bit of risk given how much refinement he needs.
If the Titans can snag him on Day Two, he’d make for a fine developmental edge prospect, but I don’t think he’ll make it quite that far in April’s draft. And while Rousseau could grow into a dominant player, picking him at No. 22 overall might be a huge mistake.
If you’d like to watch Rousseau and get an idea for yourself, here are some cut-ups you can find on YouTube:
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!