Justin Graver pretty handily won his battle versus Johnathan Boren in our last installment of Broadway Battle. However, it is not without controversy.
The Broadway Sports Gaming Commission has had allegations of a potential cheating scandal brought to them recently. So while Mr. Graver currently holds a victory, it will be with an asterisk until the investigation has concluded.
Today’s battle: The Case for and against Gregory Rousseau at 22 overall.
In the red corner, with strength of at least two dads, he has the heart of a Memphis tiger clogged with Gus’s Fried Chicken, presenting the case for why the Tennessee Titans should drafted Rousseau at 22, Wes “Not Wisely” Wisley!
And in the blue corner, he’s drifted in from Baylor University to tell you why the Titans should say “No to Rousseau,” some of you may think he’s Titans Film Room, but really he’s Joshua Hong a.k.a Titans Tape!
As always, at the very end of this article and on Twitter will be polls. These polls will determine the winner of the fight.
The Case for Gregory Rousseau at 22
Wes: Gregory Rousseau is the most intriguing EDGE prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. His path to the draft is an interesting and impressive one if you consider just how meteoric it was. He went from graduating high school a year early to ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year to a first-round NFL prospect in 3 years.
Rousseau’s work ethic at such a young age is one of the traits that will serve him well at the next level. He became the first student at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Florida to graduate early. During his final year, he would go to school from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., then football practice from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and end his day completing online classes.
Throughout the year, he never missed a single practice. He took his final exam the day before his early enrollment, becoming an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Miami. You have to respect that kind of dedication and achievement, and this should go a long way into how teams evaluate his character during the draft process.
His 2018 season was halted by an ankle injury early in the year, so he rehabbed the rest of his freshman campaign and then exploded onto the scene in 2019 as a redshirt freshman. Starting 2019 as a backup, he made the most of his limited playing time, forcing his way into the starting lineup by the sixth game.
He finished the season with 54 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, one pass deflection, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. What makes these numbers so impressive to me is this was only his second full season as an EDGE rusher, with his first season being his last year in high school. If this is the kind of production he can generate after only one year of playing at this position in college, then the sky is the limit for this athletic freak.
Speaking of “athletic freak,” Rousseau’s God-given athletic traits are a coaches dream. At 6-7 and 260 pounds, he offers unique length at the EDGE position. He uses that length to his advantage and consistently keeps himself detached from offensive lineman creating space to make plays as a run defender and pass rusher. His long limbs coupled with his never ending motor and effort has proven he can make plays that very few can make. He’s constantly working to make a play on the football from whistle to whistle.
One of the most interesting parts of his game is having the ability to line up in multiple positions across the defensive front four. He made guards and centers look silly at times winning one-on-one matchups and against double teams. Being effective at multiple positions shows Rousseau can be a valuable chess piece for defensive coordinators to deploy and will force offensive coordinators to gameplan for him.
Rousseau is not a finished product, and some evaluators are worried about what he can become at the NFL level. While I agree he needs to improve his pass rush skill set, I just can’t ignore the fact that he has tons of production even though he is still learning how to be an EDGE defender.
Thanks to his unique athletic traits, I believe he has the highest ceiling of all the 2021 EDGE prospects, and he is a player who can still be productive while learning, improving and polishing his skills. Don’t overthink it. Just get him on the field and let him work.
The Case against Gregory Rousseau at 22
Josh: Gregory Rousseau has the size, the length, the burst, and even the production. He is the perfect edge prospect. That is what someone who hasn’t watched his film would tell you – the ultimate box score scout.
Let me preface this by saying, I do think Rousseau is still a good, not great, prospect, but just not for the Titans in the first round. He feels like a better value somewhere in the second round. So, what’s the issue with Rousseau then? Why is he not worth a first-round pick? I will go point by point to deconstruct some of the biggest arguments for Rousseau.
“He has the production. He had 15.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman.”
Well, you know who else also had tremendous sack production in college? Jaylon Ferguson and Sutton Smith. Do you know how many sacks they have combined in four total seasons in the NFL? Just 4.5 sacks. Sack production is great for an edge prospect, but it can be deceiving. The context and the quality of those sacks are much more important. How is Rousseau getting this high sack production? The answer to this question will tell us if it will be translatable to the NFL.
So, I actually went back to the film and tracked all 15.5 of his sacks for quality and where he lined up. Out of his 15.5 sacks, nine of them came from either the 0-tech or the 3-tech. He did have 6.5 sacks playing at the edge, but only two of those were quality sacks. The rest were either coverage or clean-up type sacks.
This means that most of Rousseau’s production was coming from the interior (where he won’t usually be in the NFL) beating up against guards and centers. I mean, he had four sacks — all from the interior — against some of the worst interior offensive linemen at Florida State.
This also means that only two of his 15.5 sacks were actually high quality sacks on plays where Rousseau beat his man off the edge. This is concerning because that is where he will actually be playing most of his snaps in the NFL. That is where he has to win at the next level, but he hasn’t shown he can.
“He has elite physical traits.”
I agree. Gregory Rousseau has tremendous length and a very muscular frame with very little “bad weight” on him. I wouldn’t say he is the twitchiest athlete, but he is a solid one at the edge position, especially in a straight line. Especially at edge, the argument is that you always have to draft these elite traits in the first round. However, I don’t think draft evaluations should be that simple. You have to decipher how these traits can translate to production based off the film.
Obviously, this takes some projection, but I need something to work off of from the film. This was my main issue with Rousseau. I just didn’t see him utilizing his elite length. He would expose his torso too often and rarely used his hands to manipulate defenders, especially as a pass rusher. Like I wrote above, he very rarely won his one-on-one matchups outside on the edge as a pass rusher.
This is because he lacked any real pass rush moves or a pass rush plan. He was mostly just running out there trying to out-athlete the opposing offensive tackles. It rarely worked in college; I highly doubt it gets better in the pros.
“He has potential. He could be the next Danielle Hunter.”
I would be a little more optimistic about drafting a raw toolsy prospect like Rousseau if I had any ounce of confidence in the Titans’ coaching staff to develop him, but I don’t, especially given the team’s track record developing the position. Rousseau simply has a ton of work to do if he wants to become a premier pass rusher.
On the 2 for 1 podcast’s interview with Rousseau, he talks about how he has been working on a couple of pass rush moves such as the cross chop and various counter moves. This is exactly what he should be saying and doing. However, I have heard plenty of edge rushers talk exactly like this before, such as Harold Landry.
Adding pass rush moves is truly easier said than done. No matter how much you work on it in the offseason, nothing replicates the in-game intensity going up against the top NFL tackles. So what Rousseau is saying is encouraging, I still need to see it to believe it. I understand why he opted out of the 2020 season, but it would’ve been nice to see him put some of these new moves to work on the field. Without that, it’s all a projection.
Once again, I repeat; Rousseau is not a bad prospect at all. He is actually a very good one, but he’s as raw as they come as a pass rusher, despite his production. With some really good development, Rousseau could become a great edge rusher in a couple of years, but the Titans need edge help NOW.
Especially after an all-time bust of a pick in Isaiah Wilson last year, Jon Robinson needs to choose a safer prospect and one that can contribute right away in the first round.
My suggestion would be to attack edge rushers aggressively in free agency, go best player available in the first round, and draft your raw toolsy edge rusher (maybe Jordan Smith from UAB) later on in the draft.
That’s for you to decide. By next week, before the next article in this battle series, we will close voting here and on Twitter. So tell us who won by voting, and leave your thoughts in the comment section below!