Ranking the Big 12's space force units: Ranking edge-rushers

Ian Boyd

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Jan 14, 2014
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Keep up with the full 2020 space force series:
-The importance of wide receivers
-Ranking the league's receivers
-The importance of left tackles
-Ranking the league's left tackles
-The importance of cornerbacks
-Ranking the league's cornerbacks
-The evolution of the edge rusher


Defense is evolving pretty rapidly right now and it can be hard to keep up. Traditionally you want elite athletes on the edge rushing the passer and wide on the perimeter locking down the top receivers. But teams are adjusting to be able to help outside at the cost of rushing the edge as effectively before flipping back to normal "man coverage and edge pressure" formulas on third down.

So just as we broke down receiving corps not only for having chain-moving players who can beat man coverage but also speedy home run hitters and deep threats, we'll have to treat the edge-rush similarly. The criteria will include how teams rush the passer on first-and-10 as well as how they handle things on third-and-eight.

The early down pass rush is important, you need to be able effect the quarterback and disrupt the offense's rhythm when they try to throw the football traditionally or even with play-action. But it's on passing downs where true pass-rushers become truly important as the offense has to switch to progression reads on dropback passes rather than throwing RPOs or play-action.

No. 1: WVU

Standard downs edge rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Jeffery Pooler

VanDarius Cowan was a former blue chip player at Alabama who got into trouble and landed at West Virginia. He flashed in limited opportunities in 2019 before getting injured and missing most of the season. West Virginia plays him in a hybrid role (the bandit) that's moved around even a little more than Joe Ossai at Texas, but given his size (6-4, 240) and knack for getting into the backfield they’ve shown a different approach for him than their smaller bandits. He’ll play on the line some in a 4-down look and in their 3-down will occasionally line up as a will linebacker while the will is split out in coverage so he can blitz from different angles in the box.

Both Dante and Darius Stills are effective pass-rushers from multiple angles but the standard down defense puts Jeffery Pooler opposite Cowan as the field defensive end. He's solid but not offering another high end pass-rusher.

Passing downs edge-rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Dante Stills
Dante Stills exploded in 2019 playing alongside his similarly talented older brother Darius, he finished with eight sacks despite serving as a part-time starter while Darius had six sacks. The passing downs approach by West Virginia will probably feature Dante as a defensive end and Cowan as an inside linebacker blitzing from either the edge or inside, isolated on guards.

Main weapons
VanDarius Cowan: 6-4, 235. RS junior. 4-star from SFL/Alabama transfer. 1 sack in 2019
Dante Stills: 6-3, 275. Junior. 4-star from WV. 8 sacks in 2019
Jeffery Pooler: 6-2, 250. RS senior. 2-star from OH. 2.5 sacks in 2019

No. 2: Texas

Standard down pass rusher: Joseph Ossai

Joe Ossai spent much of 2019 playing inside linebacker in dime packages or even lining up out in space like Iowa State’s Mike Rose. Despite his gift for bending around the edge and using his 6-4, 250 pound frame in the pass-rush, Texas' 3-down base dime asked him to help shore up their inside linebacker position.

Ossai moved to playing as a true 3-4 outside backer in the bowl game against Utah and made six tackles for loss and three sacks. The plan in 2020 is to play him as a traditional jack linebacker, occasionally dropping him into coverage but typically either shooting him off the edge or looping him inside in the pass-rush. Behind Ossai things are less strong, the current no. 2 is a converted mike linebacker named Jett Bush who was a walk-on. Texas is also playing more of a 4-down front, despite Ossai's hybrid role, with the opposite edge manned either by solid pass-rusher Jacoby Jones or the more run-stuffing Moro Ojomo. They'll also be looking to push the pocket with defensive tackles, particularly converted defensive end Ta'Quon Graham.

Passing downs pass-rusher: Joseph Ossai
Because Texas' standard downs plan includes the utilization of a traditional edge-rusher in Ossai, not much changes on third down. They'll probably flank him with more speed and coverage but he's still the tip of the spear.

This is a good part to mention they intend to utilize DeMarvion Overshown heavily in the blitz package. The 6-4, 217 pound converted safety playing inside linebacker in their 3rd down package in 2019 and is a gifted blitzer.

Main weapons
Joseph Ossai: 6-4, 253. Junior. 4-star from HOU. 5 sacks in 2019
Jacoby Jones: 6-4, 264. Senior. 3-star from MO/KS JUCO. 0 tackles in 2019
DeMarvion Overshown: 6-4, 217. Junior. 4-star from ETX. 2 sacks in 2019
Ta'Quon Graham: 6-4, 294. Senior. 4-star from CTX. 3.5 sacks in 2019

No. 3: Kansas State

Standard downs edge rusher: Wyatt Hubert, Khalid Duke

Hubert is arguably the most proven pass-rusher in the Big 12 and had 7.5 sacks in his first year as a starter in 2019. The Wildcats love him and have big plans for his 2020 season as they retool the rest of the defensive line around him. He has some legitimate burst and quickness but also just a lot of pure power and is now 6-3, 270 pounds after another offseason of lifting.

Khalid Duke was a 200 pound safety/wide receiver in high school that filled out to 215 in time for the 2019 season and played some on third downs. Now he's up to 244 and has taken to defensive end like a fish to water. The Wildcats had some JUCO transfers and the elder Boom Massie at end whom Duke has apparently supplanted so his quality as an edge piece should be apparent.

Passing downs edge-rusher: Khalid Duke, Felix Anudike, Wyatt Hubert
Because of his superior power, the Wildcats often moved Hubert inside on passing downs to attack guards in space created by wide rush lanes from Duke and the other defensive end. Look up some of his sacks against Texas or Oklahoma and you'll see him whipping Junior Angilau or Marquis Hayes in space created by their multiple defensive end package.

The Wildcats will probably move him around as a featured component, but will use Duke and explosive freshman Felix Anudike on the edge pretty often.

Main weapons
Wyatt Hubert: 6-3, 270. RS junior. 3-star from KS. 7.5 sacks in 2019
Khalid Duke: 6-3, 244. Sophomore. 3-star from GA. 2 sacks in 2019
Felix Anudike: 6-3, 244. Freshman. 3-star from MO. HS senior in 2019

No. 4: Iowa State

Standard downs edge rusher: JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O’Rien Vance

JaQuan Bailey had 6.5 sacks in 2017 and eight in 2018 as the best pass-rusher in the Cyclone front three and then missed 2019 with injury. He’ll be back for one more go and Iowa State badly needs him to recover the lost form and give their three-man rush some teeth once more. The big issue for the Cyclones last season was that they didn’t have another defensive end that could hold up in their run game and still get a consistent pass-rush. His back-up Zach Petersen showed promise here and could be a solution if he's made an offseason leap and/or Bailey isn't quite back on form.

Both are similar to Hubert, with some legitimate quickness but also uses power and active hands to beat tackles and then a high motor to run down plays when the quarterback is flushed or trying to move around for a better angle to throw. Early in the season without Bailey's presence, the Cyclones would bring more four and five man pressures involving middle linebacker O’Rien Vance, who brought a lot of force downhill and was effective until opponents started to adjust.

Passing downs edge rusher: Will McDonald, JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O'Rien Vance
In the first five games of 2019, Vance had 6.5 sacks working as a regular blitzer. Then in the last eight games he had zero as their blitz package found less purchase. However, the Cyclones figured something out at the end of the season. They turned to redshirt freshman Will McDonald who'd auditioned as a sam linebacker in fall camp but ended up losing the gig to Mike Rose. They moved McDonald back to defensive end and would just trot him out on third downs, in those limited snaps he had five sacks in the last three conference games (six on the year). He’s a typical edge-rusher with tremendous burst off the line, the ability to bend the corner, and long arms to thwart tackles’ attempts to control him with jabs.

The Cyclones may have to work out how to tweak their scheme to use him as a full-time starter but at the very least he's going to be their top passing downs edge rusher in 2020. That would probably look like McDonald starting in something like TCU's "flip front" in which he stays as a 5-technique and the other guy (Petersen or Bailey) is a five-technique or 4i and then their normal boundary defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, who's conspicuously bulked up to 6-6, 310 this offseason, moves to nose tackle. Or they could play more 4-down fronts but then have to give up on the flyover design.

Main weapons
Will McDonald: 6-4, 230. RS sophomore. 3-star from WI. 6 sacks in 2019
JaQuan Bailey: 6-2, 261. RS senior. 3-star from NoFL. 8 sacks in 2018
Zach Petersen: 6-4, 267. Junior. 3-star from IA. 2 sacks in 2019
O'Rien Vance: 6-1, 248. RS junior. 3-star from IA. 6.5 sacks in 2019

No. 5: Oklahoma State

Standard downs edge rusher: Trace Ford, Tyler Lacy, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Brock Martin

Trace Ford was a guy that Mike Gundy was pretty excited about as a pure athlete coming out of high school in 2019 and he ended up getting a lot of work during the season while flashing some of the twitchiest pass-rushing skills in the league. He’ll be a sophomore in 2020 and hopefully disciplined enough to play a little more under control.

The Cowboys really emphasize this position in their defense, not just playing him standing up on the edge but moving him all over the place and allowing him to shoot interior gaps OR rush the edge at the snap. It’s just hard to know for sure where Ford will be after the snap which makes it difficult to set protections in his direction. Here's the kind of tactics they'll regularly use with him:

OSU 4-2 under match 3.jpg

As an aside, the way Oklahoma State fires Ford from different directions or mugs him up in a gap before having him drop back like a linebacker really sets them up to popped in the run game when they’re caught. That puts pressure on their linebackers and safeties to clean up for him and make him right. Tyler Lacy is more of a true defensive end but Cameron Murray will work on the edge at times as well when Ford is blitzing inside.

Passing downs edge-rush: Trace Ford, Calvin Bundage, Amen Ogbongbemiga
The other top pass-rushers for the Cowboys are linebackers. Amen Ogbongbemiga is an explosive athlete who’s dangerous on the blitz and the Cowboys get back blitzing linebacker Calvin Bundage this season, who will probably be a part of some sort of exotic third down package. Mostly it’s on Ford.

Main weapons
Trace Ford: 6-3, 248. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 3 sacks in 2019
Tyler Lacy: 6-4, 265. RS sophomore. 3-star from ETX. 1 sack in 2019
Amen Ogbongbemiga: 6-0, 225. RS senior. 3-star from Canada. 5 sacks in 2019
Calvin Bundage: 6-2, 210. RS senior. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2018

No. 6: Oklahoma

Standard downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, Marcus Stripling, David Ugwoegbu, DaShaun White, Ronnie Perkins

The Sooners have 1.5 edge positions that rush the passer sporadically in what is a sort of hybrid 46 defense. The main one is the jack linebacker position, which will be manned by redshirt sophomore Nik Bonitto. They hybrid outside-backer position is their middle linebacker, played by Kenneth Murray a year ago (4.5 sacks). It’s not clear who will play that spot in 2020 but they’ve tested Bonitto’s backup David Ugwoegbu there in fall camp.

Oklahoma 5-1 vs trips.jpg

Bonitto was pretty solid in 2019 as an all-around outside linebacker. He definitely has some speed around the edge but he’s going to need to show he’s really grown with his pass-rush technique to be a major feature this season. Ronnie Perkins was a star as the field side end in 2019 but is apparently suspended for the first five games of the season. Boundary end/tackle Jalen Redmond was also very disruptive but has opted out for the 2019 season. Nose tackle Neville Gallimore, who feasted in the 1-on-1 matchups and full coverage of their 46 fronts, is off to the NFL.

Passing downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, David Ugwoegbu, Ronnie Perkins
The goal with the 46 defense is to create 1-on-1 matchups across the entire front to do damage by isolating or stunting the interior D-linemen. In 2019 their best pass-rush came from stunting D-linemen Jalen Redmond and Ronnie Perkins from different angles around star nose tackle Neville Gallimore. Perkins had six sacks, Redmond had 6.5, and Gallimore had four. Things will really hinge on getting enough disruption from a completely turned over three-man line to set up Bonitto to do some damage.

If Ugwoegbu doesn't win the starting mike linebacker job it still seems likely he'll be subbed in on third downs to help the Sooner pass rush. I'm guessing he'll end up winning the job on standard downs as well, if not in fall camp then at some point during the season.

No. 7: Texas Tech

Standard downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard

Eli Howard is the mainstay, he's a strongside end but also a solid pass-rusher who's gotten an awful lot of playing time now and is a fourth year starter for the Red Raiders. Brandon Bouyer-Randle lost the job for Michigan State's outside linebacker position, which isn't the same as the outside linebacker position in Lubbock but more of a hybrid edge role. Nevertheless, he's evidently moving there for the Red Raiders.

He did get a fair amount of work in the pass-rush for the Spartans in their third down package and given how little production they've had from that position of late, he's probably not a downgrade.

Passing downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard, Riko Jeffers
This year is Jeffers’ to shine after finishing second on the team in tackles in 2019 while bumping Jordyn Brooks to inside linebacker where he put together a big season that got him drafted in the first round. He’s long shown some athleticism and ability but hadn't really demonstrated himself to be a particularly fearsome pass-rusher yet, but now he's moving to inside linebacker to replace Brooks. He'll probably get some work in the pass-rush on third downs working along with the other two.

Main weapons
Eli Howard: 6-4, 275. RS senior. 0-star from WTX/UNT transfer. 5 sacks in 2019
Brandon Bouyer-Randle: 6-2, 230. 3-star from MI/MSU transfer. 4 sacks in 2019 (Michigan State)
Riko Jeffers: 6-2, 245. Senior. 3-star from ETX. 3 sacks in 2019

No. 8: Baylor

Standard downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King

The Bears took in grad transfer William Bradley-King from Arkansas State to give them more proven ability at their edge position in 2020 while they developed the younger prospects left behind by Matt Rhule. Bradley-King was solid at the G5 level, he had 8.5 sacks in the Sun Belt a year ago but he’s at his best working on the edge or in space.

Aranda’s preference for slanting and stunting this position into multiple rushing lanes didn't make Bradley-King an ideal fit and he evidently lost the battle for starting jack linebacker to redshirt junior Ashton Logan. A converted high school safety, Logan was a physical player that wasn't quite taking to inside backer and made the move outside early for Baylor and evidently took control of the job.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King, Terrel Bernard, Dillon Doyle, Jalen Pitre, Matt Jones
It seems a safe guess given the oversized, 3-4 depth chart offered by Dave Aranda for week one that he plans to blitz the linebackers a considerable amount in 2020. He'll surely have some third down packages, maybe he'll even bring back the 2-4-5 from his Wisconsin days and start Logan and WBK together against faster opponents. At any rate, the hole left behind with the departure of James' Lynch and Lockhart looks sizable.

Main weapons
Ashton Logan: 6-1, 238. RS junior. 3-star from CTX. 0 sacks in 2019
William Bradley-King: 6-4, 248. RS junior. 2-star from MO/Arkansas State transfer. 8.5 sacks in 2019 (Ar State)
Terrel Bernard: 6-1, 220. RS junior. 3-star from HOU. 4.5 sacks in 2019

No. 9: TCU
Standard downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks

Heading into 2019 Gary Patterson was working two different angles. First he was building up Ochaun Mathis as the next great defensive end at TCU, secondly he was taking in grad and JUCO transfers at the position from anywhere he could find them. Eventually the Frogs settled on playing true freshman Colt Ellison opposite Mathis. The team ended up being lead in sacks by linebacker Garrett Wallow and nose tackle Ross Blacklock, who each had 3.5. Mathis finished with 2.5, Ellison had none. They’re both true athletes but it’s hard to gauge how close they are to putting it all together between a lackluster 2019 season and then TCU missing out on bowl practices and spring practices.

For 2020 Patterson continued to develop Ellison and Mathis, along with JUCO transfer Parker Workman who was solid in 2019, and then took a few more high profile transfers. Mark Jackson Jr, who played some jack linebacker for Oklahoma in 2018 before Alex Grinch buried him on the depth chart, and LSU 5-star transfer Marcel Brooks. Obviously Brooks is the interesting guy to watch here as a jack linebacker, he's a truly explosive athlete LSU planned to heavily involve at inside linebacker before he transferred.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks
Same deal but surely more 3-down fronts. The dream scenario would be that Mathis, who's filled out for his second year as a starter, could play some as a 4i-technique and allow Brooks to be the jack linebacker in their 3-down, flyover package.

Main weapons
Ochaun Mathis: 6-5, 247. RS sophomore. 3-star from CTX. 2.5 sacks in 2019
Marcel Brooks: 6-2, 210. Sophomore. 5-star from DFW/LSU transfer. 1.5 sacks in 2019
Parker Workman: 6-3, 245. Junior. 3-star from UT/UT JUCO. 1 sack in 2019
Colt Ellison: 6-4, 246. Sophomore. 3-star from DFW. 0 sacks in 2019

No. 10: Kansas
Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker

Steven Parker is a redshirt freshman but he had great talent coming out of Dallas last season and nearly ideal size at 6-4, 230 pounds. Parker can bend around the edge, change direction, project power through his hips, etc. Playing as an off ball pass-rusher he can come from multiple angles and be a problem much like Trace Ford or Joe Ossai. He’s still inexperienced and raw though and the rest of the Kansas front is rebuilt and unproven.

Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker, Kyron Johnson, Gavin Potter, Dru Prox
The additional two names are other linebackers for the Jayhawks that were strong in 2019 and have some perhaps underrated athleticism. None of them are very big but they'll surely be heavily involved when the Jayhawks want to turn up the pressure on an opposing quarterback.

Main weapons
Steven Parker: 6-4, 230. RS freshman. 4-star from DFW
Kyron Johnson: 6-1, 230. Senior. 3-star from DFW. 1 sack in 2019
Dru Prox: 6-1, 215. Senior. 0-star from DFW. 2 sacks in 2019
Gavin Potter: 6-2, 215. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2019


There's a fairly significant drop-off after the top five, all of which look very strong, to the next five. There's also not a big difference between the top five teams nor between the bottom five. All of our top five have dangerous edge rushers and strong component parts, the bottom five don't appear near as strong barring sizable leaps from players we haven't seen much from yet (always very possible).

Our bottom five will probably have to manufacture a pass-rush by scheme, which is a very dangerous game to play in the Big 12. When you have three to four guys, headlined by a real threat on the edge, you can trust to consistently effect the quarterback then you gain a sizable advantage.
 
Aug 28, 2020
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Neal Brown has been heralded since the hire. IMO, there is no excuse for him to not go 6-4/7-3 this year. The whole narrative that WVU had a huge rebuilding job last year is very overblown. They completely controlled the LOS against almost all B12 teams without blitzing. Their issue wasn't a lack of talent, it was Neal Brown taking 8-9 games before finding the competent QB on the roster.

That DL scares me again this year.
 

Ian Boyd

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Neal Brown has been heralded since the hire. IMO, there is no excuse for him to not go 6-4/7-3 this year. The whole narrative that WVU had a huge rebuilding job last year is very overblown. They completely controlled the LOS against almost all B12 teams without blitzing. Their issue wasn't a lack of talent, it was Neal Brown taking 8-9 games before finding the competent QB on the roster.

That DL scares me again this year.
They had a tough time on offense. Interior OL was totally rebuilt, that better QB was trying to redshirt (success, btw), and the skill positions were totally reloading.

Holgs seemed to pick his top wideouts and give them all the reps and snaps and then use heavy offseason reps to reload when they left.

New schemes on D also, they didn’t really figure out what they were doing until the end of the year. Grace from me for how Brown did in year one, I was impressed. Year two is the time to start surprising people.
 

system poster

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For Texas Tech, Colin Schooler, the Arizona transfer, ended up beating out Bouyer-Randle for the outside linebacker spot. Not sure what to make of that as Schooler played inside for Arizona. Maybe that reflects well on Kirshon Merriweather to hold down the mike spot. Or maybe it's just easier for Schooler to pick up that position in the short time since he's transferred.

Also, Adrian Frye was beat out by McPhearson and Adrian Hogan at cornerback. Hopefully that means Hogan is going to be good.
 
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Ian Boyd

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For Texas Tech, Colin Schooler, the Arizona transfer, ended up beating out Bouyer-Randle for the outside linebacker spot. Not sure what to make of that as Schooler played inside for Arizona. Maybe that reflects well on Kirshon Merriweather to hold down the mike spot. Or maybe it's just easier for Schooler to pick up that position in the short time since he's transferred.

Also, Adrian Frye was beat out by McPhearson and Adrian Hogan at cornerback. Hopefully that means Hogan is going to be good.
Oh boy. I bet we're on the same page in expecting that this defense will probably be terrible.

Any word on the LT battle?
 

system poster

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Yeah, there are a ton of questions that will have to be answered positively for us to even tread water with where we were last year, which wasn't very good. There aren't very good replacement for Broderick Washington at tackle or Brooks at linebacker, and while Douglas Coleman wasn't a great player by any means, he snagged a bunch of interceptions. We might be better in the secondary just by virtue of not having to play freshmen and if Eric Monroe, the LSU transfer works out. But then there are still the schematic issues you've pointed out before. Starting three inside linebackers isn't going to work in the Big 12, especially since Schooler doesn't offer anything by way of rushing the passer. And while it was listed as an "OR" designation, the spur position, our nickle back, had another inside linebacker, 225 pound Kosi Eldridge listed as the starter. My guess is the spur position will be opponent dependent, and we'll play a DB there against most big 12 competition, but just a matter of showing that Patterson understands the Big 12, it doesn't inspire confidence.

Ethan Carde, the 6'8 juco transfer won the left tackle battle. Burger, the Wofford transfer is starting at right tackle. Strangely, Casey Verlhurst, who played some at both tackle spots last year (I think, he may have just played right tackle), was listed down the depth chart at guard. Zach Adams, who was also floated as a potential tackle is a backup guard. Not great for us, obviously, but it was expected. Our only hope was that someone like redshirt freshman Landon Peterson would come out of nowhere and take the job, but that was always a long shot.

Wells did hint that the depth chart was being impacted by guys testing positive for Covid, so maybe that explains some of the weirdness at corner and tackle on the depth chart.
 

Gerry Hamilton

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Keep up with the full 2020 space force series:
-The importance of wide receivers
-Ranking the league's receivers
-The importance of left tackles
-Ranking the league's left tackles
-The importance of cornerbacks
-Ranking the league's cornerbacks
-The evolution of the edge rusher


Defense is evolving pretty rapidly right now and it can be hard to keep up. Traditionally you want elite athletes on the edge rushing the passer and wide on the perimeter locking down the top receivers. But teams are adjusting to be able to help outside at the cost of rushing the edge as effectively before flipping back to normal "man coverage and edge pressure" formulas on third down.

So just as we broke down receiving corps not only for having chain-moving players who can beat man coverage but also speedy home run hitters and deep threats, we'll have to treat the edge-rush similarly. The criteria will include how teams rush the passer on first-and-10 as well as how they handle things on third-and-eight.

The early down pass rush is important, you need to be able effect the quarterback and disrupt the offense's rhythm when they try to throw the football traditionally or even with play-action. But it's on passing downs where true pass-rushers become truly important as the offense has to switch to progression reads on dropback passes rather than throwing RPOs or play-action.

No. 1: WVU

Standard downs edge rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Jeffery Pooler

VanDarius Cowan was a former blue chip player at Alabama who got into trouble and landed at West Virginia. He flashed in limited opportunities in 2019 before getting injured and missing most of the season. West Virginia plays him in a hybrid role (the bandit) that's moved around even a little more than Joe Ossai at Texas, but given his size (6-4, 240) and knack for getting into the backfield they’ve shown a different approach for him than their smaller bandits. He’ll play on the line some in a 4-down look and in their 3-down will occasionally line up as a will linebacker while the will is split out in coverage so he can blitz from different angles in the box.

Both Dante and Darius Stills are effective pass-rushers from multiple angles but the standard down defense puts Jeffery Pooler opposite Cowan as the field defensive end. He's solid but not offering another high end pass-rusher.

Passing downs edge-rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Dante Stills
Dante Stills exploded in 2019 playing alongside his similarly talented older brother Darius, he finished with eight sacks despite serving as a part-time starter while Darius had six sacks. The passing downs approach by West Virginia will probably feature Dante as a defensive end and Cowan as an inside linebacker blitzing from either the edge or inside, isolated on guards.

Main weapons
VanDarius Cowan: 6-4, 235. RS junior. 4-star from SFL/Alabama transfer. 1 sack in 2019
Dante Stills: 6-3, 275. Junior. 4-star from WV. 8 sacks in 2019
Jeffery Pooler: 6-2, 250. RS senior. 2-star from OH. 2.5 sacks in 2019

No. 2: Texas

Standard down pass rusher: Joseph Ossai

Joe Ossai spent much of 2019 playing inside linebacker in dime packages or even lining up out in space like Iowa State’s Mike Rose. Despite his gift for bending around the edge and using his 6-4, 250 pound frame in the pass-rush, Texas' 3-down base dime asked him to help shore up their inside linebacker position.

Ossai moved to playing as a true 3-4 outside backer in the bowl game against Utah and made six tackles for loss and three sacks. The plan in 2020 is to play him as a traditional jack linebacker, occasionally dropping him into coverage but typically either shooting him off the edge or looping him inside in the pass-rush. Behind Ossai things are less strong, the current no. 2 is a converted mike linebacker named Jett Bush who was a walk-on. Texas is also playing more of a 4-down front, despite Ossai's hybrid role, with the opposite edge manned either by solid pass-rusher Jacoby Jones or the more run-stuffing Moro Ojomo. They'll also be looking to push the pocket with defensive tackles, particularly converted defensive end Ta'Quon Graham.

Passing downs pass-rusher: Joseph Ossai
Because Texas' standard downs plan includes the utilization of a traditional edge-rusher in Ossai, not much changes on third down. They'll probably flank him with more speed and coverage but he's still the tip of the spear.

This is a good part to mention they intend to utilize DeMarvion Overshown heavily in the blitz package. The 6-4, 217 pound converted safety playing inside linebacker in their 3rd down package in 2019 and is a gifted blitzer.

Main weapons
Joseph Ossai: 6-4, 253. Junior. 4-star from HOU. 5 sacks in 2019
Jacoby Jones: 6-4, 264. Senior. 3-star from MO/KS JUCO. 0 tackles in 2019
DeMarvion Overshown: 6-4, 217. Junior. 4-star from ETX. 2 sacks in 2019
Ta'Quon Graham: 6-4, 294. Senior. 4-star from CTX. 3.5 sacks in 2019

No. 3: Kansas State

Standard downs edge rusher: Wyatt Hubert, Khalid Duke

Hubert is arguably the most proven pass-rusher in the Big 12 and had 7.5 sacks in his first year as a starter in 2019. The Wildcats love him and have big plans for his 2020 season as they retool the rest of the defensive line around him. He has some legitimate burst and quickness but also just a lot of pure power and is now 6-3, 270 pounds after another offseason of lifting.

Khalid Duke was a 200 pound safety/wide receiver in high school that filled out to 215 in time for the 2019 season and played some on third downs. Now he's up to 244 and has taken to defensive end like a fish to water. The Wildcats had some JUCO transfers and the elder Boom Massie at end whom Duke has apparently supplanted so his quality as an edge piece should be apparent.

Passing downs edge-rusher: Khalid Duke, Felix Anudike, Wyatt Hubert
Because of his superior power, the Wildcats often moved Hubert inside on passing downs to attack guards in space created by wide rush lanes from Duke and the other defensive end. Look up some of his sacks against Texas or Oklahoma and you'll see him whipping Junior Angilau or Marquis Hayes in space created by their multiple defensive end package.

The Wildcats will probably move him around as a featured component, but will use Duke and explosive freshman Felix Anudike on the edge pretty often.

Main weapons
Wyatt Hubert: 6-3, 270. RS junior. 3-star from KS. 7.5 sacks in 2019
Khalid Duke: 6-3, 244. Sophomore. 3-star from GA. 2 sacks in 2019
Felix Anudike: 6-3, 244. Freshman. 3-star from MO. HS senior in 2019

No. 4: Iowa State

Standard downs edge rusher: JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O’Rien Vance

JaQuan Bailey had 6.5 sacks in 2017 and eight in 2018 as the best pass-rusher in the Cyclone front three and then missed 2019 with injury. He’ll be back for one more go and Iowa State badly needs him to recover the lost form and give their three-man rush some teeth once more. The big issue for the Cyclones last season was that they didn’t have another defensive end that could hold up in their run game and still get a consistent pass-rush. His back-up Zach Petersen showed promise here and could be a solution if he's made an offseason leap and/or Bailey isn't quite back on form.

Both are similar to Hubert, with some legitimate quickness but also uses power and active hands to beat tackles and then a high motor to run down plays when the quarterback is flushed or trying to move around for a better angle to throw. Early in the season without Bailey's presence, the Cyclones would bring more four and five man pressures involving middle linebacker O’Rien Vance, who brought a lot of force downhill and was effective until opponents started to adjust.

Passing downs edge rusher: Will McDonald, JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O'Rien Vance
In the first five games of 2019, Vance had 6.5 sacks working as a regular blitzer. Then in the last eight games he had zero as their blitz package found less purchase. However, the Cyclones figured something out at the end of the season. They turned to redshirt freshman Will McDonald who'd auditioned as a sam linebacker in fall camp but ended up losing the gig to Mike Rose. They moved McDonald back to defensive end and would just trot him out on third downs, in those limited snaps he had five sacks in the last three conference games (six on the year). He’s a typical edge-rusher with tremendous burst off the line, the ability to bend the corner, and long arms to thwart tackles’ attempts to control him with jabs.

The Cyclones may have to work out how to tweak their scheme to use him as a full-time starter but at the very least he's going to be their top passing downs edge rusher in 2020. That would probably look like McDonald starting in something like TCU's "flip front" in which he stays as a 5-technique and the other guy (Petersen or Bailey) is a five-technique or 4i and then their normal boundary defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, who's conspicuously bulked up to 6-6, 310 this offseason, moves to nose tackle. Or they could play more 4-down fronts but then have to give up on the flyover design.

Main weapons
Will McDonald: 6-4, 230. RS sophomore. 3-star from WI. 6 sacks in 2019
JaQuan Bailey: 6-2, 261. RS senior. 3-star from NoFL. 8 sacks in 2018
Zach Petersen: 6-4, 267. Junior. 3-star from IA. 2 sacks in 2019
O'Rien Vance: 6-1, 248. RS junior. 3-star from IA. 6.5 sacks in 2019

No. 5: Oklahoma State

Standard downs edge rusher: Trace Ford, Tyler Lacy, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Brock Martin

Trace Ford was a guy that Mike Gundy was pretty excited about as a pure athlete coming out of high school in 2019 and he ended up getting a lot of work during the season while flashing some of the twitchiest pass-rushing skills in the league. He’ll be a sophomore in 2020 and hopefully disciplined enough to play a little more under control.

The Cowboys really emphasize this position in their defense, not just playing him standing up on the edge but moving him all over the place and allowing him to shoot interior gaps OR rush the edge at the snap. It’s just hard to know for sure where Ford will be after the snap which makes it difficult to set protections in his direction. Here's the kind of tactics they'll regularly use with him:

View attachment 60640

As an aside, the way Oklahoma State fires Ford from different directions or mugs him up in a gap before having him drop back like a linebacker really sets them up to popped in the run game when they’re caught. That puts pressure on their linebackers and safeties to clean up for him and make him right. Tyler Lacy is more of a true defensive end but Cameron Murray will work on the edge at times as well when Ford is blitzing inside.

Passing downs edge-rush: Trace Ford, Calvin Bundage, Amen Ogbongbemiga
The other top pass-rushers for the Cowboys are linebackers. Amen Ogbongbemiga is an explosive athlete who’s dangerous on the blitz and the Cowboys get back blitzing linebacker Calvin Bundage this season, who will probably be a part of some sort of exotic third down package. Mostly it’s on Ford.

Main weapons
Trace Ford: 6-3, 248. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 3 sacks in 2019
Tyler Lacy: 6-4, 265. RS sophomore. 3-star from ETX. 1 sack in 2019
Amen Ogbongbemiga: 6-0, 225. RS senior. 3-star from Canada. 5 sacks in 2019
Calvin Bundage: 6-2, 210. RS senior. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2018

No. 6: Oklahoma

Standard downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, Marcus Stripling, David Ugwoegbu, DaShaun White, Ronnie Perkins

The Sooners have 1.5 edge positions that rush the passer sporadically in what is a sort of hybrid 46 defense. The main one is the jack linebacker position, which will be manned by redshirt sophomore Nik Bonitto. They hybrid outside-backer position is their middle linebacker, played by Kenneth Murray a year ago (4.5 sacks). It’s not clear who will play that spot in 2020 but they’ve tested Bonitto’s backup David Ugwoegbu there in fall camp.


Bonitto was pretty solid in 2019 as an all-around outside linebacker. He definitely has some speed around the edge but he’s going to need to show he’s really grown with his pass-rush technique to be a major feature this season. Ronnie Perkins was a star as the field side end in 2019 but is apparently suspended for the first five games of the season. Boundary end/tackle Jalen Redmond was also very disruptive but has opted out for the 2019 season. Nose tackle Neville Gallimore, who feasted in the 1-on-1 matchups and full coverage of their 46 fronts, is off to the NFL.

Passing downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, David Ugwoegbu, Ronnie Perkins
The goal with the 46 defense is to create 1-on-1 matchups across the entire front to do damage by isolating or stunting the interior D-linemen. In 2019 their best pass-rush came from stunting D-linemen Jalen Redmond and Ronnie Perkins from different angles around star nose tackle Neville Gallimore. Perkins had six sacks, Redmond had 6.5, and Gallimore had four. Things will really hinge on getting enough disruption from a completely turned over three-man line to set up Bonitto to do some damage.

If Ugwoegbu doesn't win the starting mike linebacker job it still seems likely he'll be subbed in on third downs to help the Sooner pass rush. I'm guessing he'll end up winning the job on standard downs as well, if not in fall camp then at some point during the season.

No. 7: Texas Tech

Standard downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard

Eli Howard is the mainstay, he's a strongside end but also a solid pass-rusher who's gotten an awful lot of playing time now and is a fourth year starter for the Red Raiders. Brandon Bouyer-Randle lost the job for Michigan State's outside linebacker position, which isn't the same as the outside linebacker position in Lubbock but more of a hybrid edge role. Nevertheless, he's evidently moving there for the Red Raiders.

He did get a fair amount of work in the pass-rush for the Spartans in their third down package and given how little production they've had from that position of late, he's probably not a downgrade.

Passing downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard, Riko Jeffers
This year is Jeffers’ to shine after finishing second on the team in tackles in 2019 while bumping Jordyn Brooks to inside linebacker where he put together a big season that got him drafted in the first round. He’s long shown some athleticism and ability but hadn't really demonstrated himself to be a particularly fearsome pass-rusher yet, but now he's moving to inside linebacker to replace Brooks. He'll probably get some work in the pass-rush on third downs working along with the other two.

Main weapons
Eli Howard: 6-4, 275. RS senior. 0-star from WTX/UNT transfer. 5 sacks in 2019
Brandon Bouyer-Randle: 6-2, 230. 3-star from MI/MSU transfer. 4 sacks in 2019 (Michigan State)
Riko Jeffers: 6-2, 245. Senior. 3-star from ETX. 3 sacks in 2019

No. 8: Baylor

Standard downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King

The Bears took in grad transfer William Bradley-King from Arkansas State to give them more proven ability at their edge position in 2020 while they developed the younger prospects left behind by Matt Rhule. Bradley-King was solid at the G5 level, he had 8.5 sacks in the Sun Belt a year ago but he’s at his best working on the edge or in space.

Aranda’s preference for slanting and stunting this position into multiple rushing lanes didn't make Bradley-King an ideal fit and he evidently lost the battle for starting jack linebacker to redshirt junior Ashton Logan. A converted high school safety, Logan was a physical player that wasn't quite taking to inside backer and made the move outside early for Baylor and evidently took control of the job.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King, Terrel Bernard, Dillon Doyle, Jalen Pitre, Matt Jones
It seems a safe guess given the oversized, 3-4 depth chart offered by Dave Aranda for week one that he plans to blitz the linebackers a considerable amount in 2020. He'll surely have some third down packages, maybe he'll even bring back the 2-4-5 from his Wisconsin days and start Logan and WBK together against faster opponents. At any rate, the hole left behind with the departure of James' Lynch and Lockhart looks sizable.

Main weapons
Ashton Logan: 6-1, 238. RS junior. 3-star from CTX. 0 sacks in 2019
William Bradley-King: 6-4, 248. RS junior. 2-star from MO/Arkansas State transfer. 8.5 sacks in 2019 (Ar State)
Terrel Bernard: 6-1, 220. RS junior. 3-star from HOU. 4.5 sacks in 2019

No. 9: TCU
Standard downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks

Heading into 2019 Gary Patterson was working two different angles. First he was building up Ochaun Mathis as the next great defensive end at TCU, secondly he was taking in grad and JUCO transfers at the position from anywhere he could find them. Eventually the Frogs settled on playing true freshman Colt Ellison opposite Mathis. The team ended up being lead in sacks by linebacker Garrett Wallow and nose tackle Ross Blacklock, who each had 3.5. Mathis finished with 2.5, Ellison had none. They’re both true athletes but it’s hard to gauge how close they are to putting it all together between a lackluster 2019 season and then TCU missing out on bowl practices and spring practices.

For 2020 Patterson continued to develop Ellison and Mathis, along with JUCO transfer Parker Workman who was solid in 2019, and then took a few more high profile transfers. Mark Jackson Jr, who played some jack linebacker for Oklahoma in 2018 before Alex Grinch buried him on the depth chart, and LSU 5-star transfer Marcel Brooks. Obviously Brooks is the interesting guy to watch here as a jack linebacker, he's a truly explosive athlete LSU planned to heavily involve at inside linebacker before he transferred.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks
Same deal but surely more 3-down fronts. The dream scenario would be that Mathis, who's filled out for his second year as a starter, could play some as a 4i-technique and allow Brooks to be the jack linebacker in their 3-down, flyover package.

Main weapons
Ochaun Mathis: 6-5, 247. RS sophomore. 3-star from CTX. 2.5 sacks in 2019
Marcel Brooks: 6-2, 210. Sophomore. 5-star from DFW/LSU transfer. 1.5 sacks in 2019
Parker Workman: 6-3, 245. Junior. 3-star from UT/UT JUCO. 1 sack in 2019
Colt Ellison: 6-4, 246. Sophomore. 3-star from DFW. 0 sacks in 2019

No. 10: Kansas
Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker

Steven Parker is a redshirt freshman but he had great talent coming out of Dallas last season and nearly ideal size at 6-4, 230 pounds. Parker can bend around the edge, change direction, project power through his hips, etc. Playing as an off ball pass-rusher he can come from multiple angles and be a problem much like Trace Ford or Joe Ossai. He’s still inexperienced and raw though and the rest of the Kansas front is rebuilt and unproven.

Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker, Kyron Johnson, Gavin Potter, Dru Prox
The additional two names are other linebackers for the Jayhawks that were strong in 2019 and have some perhaps underrated athleticism. None of them are very big but they'll surely be heavily involved when the Jayhawks want to turn up the pressure on an opposing quarterback.

Main weapons
Steven Parker: 6-4, 230. RS freshman. 4-star from DFW
Kyron Johnson: 6-1, 230. Senior. 3-star from DFW. 1 sack in 2019
Dru Prox: 6-1, 215. Senior. 0-star from DFW. 2 sacks in 2019
Gavin Potter: 6-2, 215. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2019


There's a fairly significant drop-off after the top five, all of which look very strong, to the next five. There's also not a big difference between the top five teams nor between the bottom five. All of our top five have dangerous edge rushers and strong component parts, the bottom five don't appear near as strong barring sizable leaps from players we haven't seen much from yet (always very possible).

Our bottom five will probably have to manufacture a pass-rush by scheme, which is a very dangerous game to play in the Big 12. When you have three to four guys, headlined by a real threat on the edge, you can trust to consistently effect the quarterback then you gain a sizable advantage.
Covered VanDarius Cowan and lived four miles from where he went to high school ... boy has he always been in trouble. It's followed him everywhere. But... he's so talented Alabama took a chance on him.
 

Justin Wells

Inside Texas Web Editor
Staff member
Jul 22, 2013
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Keep up with the full 2020 space force series:
-The importance of wide receivers
-Ranking the league's receivers
-The importance of left tackles
-Ranking the league's left tackles
-The importance of cornerbacks
-Ranking the league's cornerbacks
-The evolution of the edge rusher


Defense is evolving pretty rapidly right now and it can be hard to keep up. Traditionally you want elite athletes on the edge rushing the passer and wide on the perimeter locking down the top receivers. But teams are adjusting to be able to help outside at the cost of rushing the edge as effectively before flipping back to normal "man coverage and edge pressure" formulas on third down.

So just as we broke down receiving corps not only for having chain-moving players who can beat man coverage but also speedy home run hitters and deep threats, we'll have to treat the edge-rush similarly. The criteria will include how teams rush the passer on first-and-10 as well as how they handle things on third-and-eight.

The early down pass rush is important, you need to be able effect the quarterback and disrupt the offense's rhythm when they try to throw the football traditionally or even with play-action. But it's on passing downs where true pass-rushers become truly important as the offense has to switch to progression reads on dropback passes rather than throwing RPOs or play-action.

No. 1: WVU

Standard downs edge rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Jeffery Pooler

VanDarius Cowan was a former blue chip player at Alabama who got into trouble and landed at West Virginia. He flashed in limited opportunities in 2019 before getting injured and missing most of the season. West Virginia plays him in a hybrid role (the bandit) that's moved around even a little more than Joe Ossai at Texas, but given his size (6-4, 240) and knack for getting into the backfield they’ve shown a different approach for him than their smaller bandits. He’ll play on the line some in a 4-down look and in their 3-down will occasionally line up as a will linebacker while the will is split out in coverage so he can blitz from different angles in the box.

Both Dante and Darius Stills are effective pass-rushers from multiple angles but the standard down defense puts Jeffery Pooler opposite Cowan as the field defensive end. He's solid but not offering another high end pass-rusher.

Passing downs edge-rusher: VanDarius Cowan, Dante Stills
Dante Stills exploded in 2019 playing alongside his similarly talented older brother Darius, he finished with eight sacks despite serving as a part-time starter while Darius had six sacks. The passing downs approach by West Virginia will probably feature Dante as a defensive end and Cowan as an inside linebacker blitzing from either the edge or inside, isolated on guards.

Main weapons
VanDarius Cowan: 6-4, 235. RS junior. 4-star from SFL/Alabama transfer. 1 sack in 2019
Dante Stills: 6-3, 275. Junior. 4-star from WV. 8 sacks in 2019
Jeffery Pooler: 6-2, 250. RS senior. 2-star from OH. 2.5 sacks in 2019

No. 2: Texas

Standard down pass rusher: Joseph Ossai

Joe Ossai spent much of 2019 playing inside linebacker in dime packages or even lining up out in space like Iowa State’s Mike Rose. Despite his gift for bending around the edge and using his 6-4, 250 pound frame in the pass-rush, Texas' 3-down base dime asked him to help shore up their inside linebacker position.

Ossai moved to playing as a true 3-4 outside backer in the bowl game against Utah and made six tackles for loss and three sacks. The plan in 2020 is to play him as a traditional jack linebacker, occasionally dropping him into coverage but typically either shooting him off the edge or looping him inside in the pass-rush. Behind Ossai things are less strong, the current no. 2 is a converted mike linebacker named Jett Bush who was a walk-on. Texas is also playing more of a 4-down front, despite Ossai's hybrid role, with the opposite edge manned either by solid pass-rusher Jacoby Jones or the more run-stuffing Moro Ojomo. They'll also be looking to push the pocket with defensive tackles, particularly converted defensive end Ta'Quon Graham.

Passing downs pass-rusher: Joseph Ossai
Because Texas' standard downs plan includes the utilization of a traditional edge-rusher in Ossai, not much changes on third down. They'll probably flank him with more speed and coverage but he's still the tip of the spear.

This is a good part to mention they intend to utilize DeMarvion Overshown heavily in the blitz package. The 6-4, 217 pound converted safety playing inside linebacker in their 3rd down package in 2019 and is a gifted blitzer.

Main weapons
Joseph Ossai: 6-4, 253. Junior. 4-star from HOU. 5 sacks in 2019
Jacoby Jones: 6-4, 264. Senior. 3-star from MO/KS JUCO. 0 tackles in 2019
DeMarvion Overshown: 6-4, 217. Junior. 4-star from ETX. 2 sacks in 2019
Ta'Quon Graham: 6-4, 294. Senior. 4-star from CTX. 3.5 sacks in 2019

No. 3: Kansas State

Standard downs edge rusher: Wyatt Hubert, Khalid Duke

Hubert is arguably the most proven pass-rusher in the Big 12 and had 7.5 sacks in his first year as a starter in 2019. The Wildcats love him and have big plans for his 2020 season as they retool the rest of the defensive line around him. He has some legitimate burst and quickness but also just a lot of pure power and is now 6-3, 270 pounds after another offseason of lifting.

Khalid Duke was a 200 pound safety/wide receiver in high school that filled out to 215 in time for the 2019 season and played some on third downs. Now he's up to 244 and has taken to defensive end like a fish to water. The Wildcats had some JUCO transfers and the elder Boom Massie at end whom Duke has apparently supplanted so his quality as an edge piece should be apparent.

Passing downs edge-rusher: Khalid Duke, Felix Anudike, Wyatt Hubert
Because of his superior power, the Wildcats often moved Hubert inside on passing downs to attack guards in space created by wide rush lanes from Duke and the other defensive end. Look up some of his sacks against Texas or Oklahoma and you'll see him whipping Junior Angilau or Marquis Hayes in space created by their multiple defensive end package.

The Wildcats will probably move him around as a featured component, but will use Duke and explosive freshman Felix Anudike on the edge pretty often.

Main weapons
Wyatt Hubert: 6-3, 270. RS junior. 3-star from KS. 7.5 sacks in 2019
Khalid Duke: 6-3, 244. Sophomore. 3-star from GA. 2 sacks in 2019
Felix Anudike: 6-3, 244. Freshman. 3-star from MO. HS senior in 2019

No. 4: Iowa State

Standard downs edge rusher: JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O’Rien Vance

JaQuan Bailey had 6.5 sacks in 2017 and eight in 2018 as the best pass-rusher in the Cyclone front three and then missed 2019 with injury. He’ll be back for one more go and Iowa State badly needs him to recover the lost form and give their three-man rush some teeth once more. The big issue for the Cyclones last season was that they didn’t have another defensive end that could hold up in their run game and still get a consistent pass-rush. His back-up Zach Petersen showed promise here and could be a solution if he's made an offseason leap and/or Bailey isn't quite back on form.

Both are similar to Hubert, with some legitimate quickness but also uses power and active hands to beat tackles and then a high motor to run down plays when the quarterback is flushed or trying to move around for a better angle to throw. Early in the season without Bailey's presence, the Cyclones would bring more four and five man pressures involving middle linebacker O’Rien Vance, who brought a lot of force downhill and was effective until opponents started to adjust.

Passing downs edge rusher: Will McDonald, JaQuan Bailey, Zach Petersen, O'Rien Vance
In the first five games of 2019, Vance had 6.5 sacks working as a regular blitzer. Then in the last eight games he had zero as their blitz package found less purchase. However, the Cyclones figured something out at the end of the season. They turned to redshirt freshman Will McDonald who'd auditioned as a sam linebacker in fall camp but ended up losing the gig to Mike Rose. They moved McDonald back to defensive end and would just trot him out on third downs, in those limited snaps he had five sacks in the last three conference games (six on the year). He’s a typical edge-rusher with tremendous burst off the line, the ability to bend the corner, and long arms to thwart tackles’ attempts to control him with jabs.

The Cyclones may have to work out how to tweak their scheme to use him as a full-time starter but at the very least he's going to be their top passing downs edge rusher in 2020. That would probably look like McDonald starting in something like TCU's "flip front" in which he stays as a 5-technique and the other guy (Petersen or Bailey) is a five-technique or 4i and then their normal boundary defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike, who's conspicuously bulked up to 6-6, 310 this offseason, moves to nose tackle. Or they could play more 4-down fronts but then have to give up on the flyover design.

Main weapons
Will McDonald: 6-4, 230. RS sophomore. 3-star from WI. 6 sacks in 2019
JaQuan Bailey: 6-2, 261. RS senior. 3-star from NoFL. 8 sacks in 2018
Zach Petersen: 6-4, 267. Junior. 3-star from IA. 2 sacks in 2019
O'Rien Vance: 6-1, 248. RS junior. 3-star from IA. 6.5 sacks in 2019

No. 5: Oklahoma State

Standard downs edge rusher: Trace Ford, Tyler Lacy, Amen Ogbongbemiga, Brock Martin

Trace Ford was a guy that Mike Gundy was pretty excited about as a pure athlete coming out of high school in 2019 and he ended up getting a lot of work during the season while flashing some of the twitchiest pass-rushing skills in the league. He’ll be a sophomore in 2020 and hopefully disciplined enough to play a little more under control.

The Cowboys really emphasize this position in their defense, not just playing him standing up on the edge but moving him all over the place and allowing him to shoot interior gaps OR rush the edge at the snap. It’s just hard to know for sure where Ford will be after the snap which makes it difficult to set protections in his direction. Here's the kind of tactics they'll regularly use with him:

View attachment 60640

As an aside, the way Oklahoma State fires Ford from different directions or mugs him up in a gap before having him drop back like a linebacker really sets them up to popped in the run game when they’re caught. That puts pressure on their linebackers and safeties to clean up for him and make him right. Tyler Lacy is more of a true defensive end but Cameron Murray will work on the edge at times as well when Ford is blitzing inside.

Passing downs edge-rush: Trace Ford, Calvin Bundage, Amen Ogbongbemiga
The other top pass-rushers for the Cowboys are linebackers. Amen Ogbongbemiga is an explosive athlete who’s dangerous on the blitz and the Cowboys get back blitzing linebacker Calvin Bundage this season, who will probably be a part of some sort of exotic third down package. Mostly it’s on Ford.

Main weapons
Trace Ford: 6-3, 248. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 3 sacks in 2019
Tyler Lacy: 6-4, 265. RS sophomore. 3-star from ETX. 1 sack in 2019
Amen Ogbongbemiga: 6-0, 225. RS senior. 3-star from Canada. 5 sacks in 2019
Calvin Bundage: 6-2, 210. RS senior. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2018

No. 6: Oklahoma

Standard downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, Marcus Stripling, David Ugwoegbu, DaShaun White, Ronnie Perkins

The Sooners have 1.5 edge positions that rush the passer sporadically in what is a sort of hybrid 46 defense. The main one is the jack linebacker position, which will be manned by redshirt sophomore Nik Bonitto. They hybrid outside-backer position is their middle linebacker, played by Kenneth Murray a year ago (4.5 sacks). It’s not clear who will play that spot in 2020 but they’ve tested Bonitto’s backup David Ugwoegbu there in fall camp.


Bonitto was pretty solid in 2019 as an all-around outside linebacker. He definitely has some speed around the edge but he’s going to need to show he’s really grown with his pass-rush technique to be a major feature this season. Ronnie Perkins was a star as the field side end in 2019 but is apparently suspended for the first five games of the season. Boundary end/tackle Jalen Redmond was also very disruptive but has opted out for the 2019 season. Nose tackle Neville Gallimore, who feasted in the 1-on-1 matchups and full coverage of their 46 fronts, is off to the NFL.

Passing downs edge rusher: Nik Bonitto, David Ugwoegbu, Ronnie Perkins
The goal with the 46 defense is to create 1-on-1 matchups across the entire front to do damage by isolating or stunting the interior D-linemen. In 2019 their best pass-rush came from stunting D-linemen Jalen Redmond and Ronnie Perkins from different angles around star nose tackle Neville Gallimore. Perkins had six sacks, Redmond had 6.5, and Gallimore had four. Things will really hinge on getting enough disruption from a completely turned over three-man line to set up Bonitto to do some damage.

If Ugwoegbu doesn't win the starting mike linebacker job it still seems likely he'll be subbed in on third downs to help the Sooner pass rush. I'm guessing he'll end up winning the job on standard downs as well, if not in fall camp then at some point during the season.

No. 7: Texas Tech

Standard downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard

Eli Howard is the mainstay, he's a strongside end but also a solid pass-rusher who's gotten an awful lot of playing time now and is a fourth year starter for the Red Raiders. Brandon Bouyer-Randle lost the job for Michigan State's outside linebacker position, which isn't the same as the outside linebacker position in Lubbock but more of a hybrid edge role. Nevertheless, he's evidently moving there for the Red Raiders.

He did get a fair amount of work in the pass-rush for the Spartans in their third down package and given how little production they've had from that position of late, he's probably not a downgrade.

Passing downs edge rusher: Brandon Bouyer-Randle, Eli Howard, Riko Jeffers
This year is Jeffers’ to shine after finishing second on the team in tackles in 2019 while bumping Jordyn Brooks to inside linebacker where he put together a big season that got him drafted in the first round. He’s long shown some athleticism and ability but hadn't really demonstrated himself to be a particularly fearsome pass-rusher yet, but now he's moving to inside linebacker to replace Brooks. He'll probably get some work in the pass-rush on third downs working along with the other two.

Main weapons
Eli Howard: 6-4, 275. RS senior. 0-star from WTX/UNT transfer. 5 sacks in 2019
Brandon Bouyer-Randle: 6-2, 230. 3-star from MI/MSU transfer. 4 sacks in 2019 (Michigan State)
Riko Jeffers: 6-2, 245. Senior. 3-star from ETX. 3 sacks in 2019

No. 8: Baylor

Standard downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King

The Bears took in grad transfer William Bradley-King from Arkansas State to give them more proven ability at their edge position in 2020 while they developed the younger prospects left behind by Matt Rhule. Bradley-King was solid at the G5 level, he had 8.5 sacks in the Sun Belt a year ago but he’s at his best working on the edge or in space.

Aranda’s preference for slanting and stunting this position into multiple rushing lanes didn't make Bradley-King an ideal fit and he evidently lost the battle for starting jack linebacker to redshirt junior Ashton Logan. A converted high school safety, Logan was a physical player that wasn't quite taking to inside backer and made the move outside early for Baylor and evidently took control of the job.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ashton Logan, William Bradley-King, Terrel Bernard, Dillon Doyle, Jalen Pitre, Matt Jones
It seems a safe guess given the oversized, 3-4 depth chart offered by Dave Aranda for week one that he plans to blitz the linebackers a considerable amount in 2020. He'll surely have some third down packages, maybe he'll even bring back the 2-4-5 from his Wisconsin days and start Logan and WBK together against faster opponents. At any rate, the hole left behind with the departure of James' Lynch and Lockhart looks sizable.

Main weapons
Ashton Logan: 6-1, 238. RS junior. 3-star from CTX. 0 sacks in 2019
William Bradley-King: 6-4, 248. RS junior. 2-star from MO/Arkansas State transfer. 8.5 sacks in 2019 (Ar State)
Terrel Bernard: 6-1, 220. RS junior. 3-star from HOU. 4.5 sacks in 2019

No. 9: TCU
Standard downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks

Heading into 2019 Gary Patterson was working two different angles. First he was building up Ochaun Mathis as the next great defensive end at TCU, secondly he was taking in grad and JUCO transfers at the position from anywhere he could find them. Eventually the Frogs settled on playing true freshman Colt Ellison opposite Mathis. The team ended up being lead in sacks by linebacker Garrett Wallow and nose tackle Ross Blacklock, who each had 3.5. Mathis finished with 2.5, Ellison had none. They’re both true athletes but it’s hard to gauge how close they are to putting it all together between a lackluster 2019 season and then TCU missing out on bowl practices and spring practices.

For 2020 Patterson continued to develop Ellison and Mathis, along with JUCO transfer Parker Workman who was solid in 2019, and then took a few more high profile transfers. Mark Jackson Jr, who played some jack linebacker for Oklahoma in 2018 before Alex Grinch buried him on the depth chart, and LSU 5-star transfer Marcel Brooks. Obviously Brooks is the interesting guy to watch here as a jack linebacker, he's a truly explosive athlete LSU planned to heavily involve at inside linebacker before he transferred.

Passing downs edge rusher: Ochaun Mathis, Parker Workman, Colt Ellison, Marcel Brooks
Same deal but surely more 3-down fronts. The dream scenario would be that Mathis, who's filled out for his second year as a starter, could play some as a 4i-technique and allow Brooks to be the jack linebacker in their 3-down, flyover package.

Main weapons
Ochaun Mathis: 6-5, 247. RS sophomore. 3-star from CTX. 2.5 sacks in 2019
Marcel Brooks: 6-2, 210. Sophomore. 5-star from DFW/LSU transfer. 1.5 sacks in 2019
Parker Workman: 6-3, 245. Junior. 3-star from UT/UT JUCO. 1 sack in 2019
Colt Ellison: 6-4, 246. Sophomore. 3-star from DFW. 0 sacks in 2019

No. 10: Kansas
Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker

Steven Parker is a redshirt freshman but he had great talent coming out of Dallas last season and nearly ideal size at 6-4, 230 pounds. Parker can bend around the edge, change direction, project power through his hips, etc. Playing as an off ball pass-rusher he can come from multiple angles and be a problem much like Trace Ford or Joe Ossai. He’s still inexperienced and raw though and the rest of the Kansas front is rebuilt and unproven.

Standard downs edge rusher: Steven Parker, Kyron Johnson, Gavin Potter, Dru Prox
The additional two names are other linebackers for the Jayhawks that were strong in 2019 and have some perhaps underrated athleticism. None of them are very big but they'll surely be heavily involved when the Jayhawks want to turn up the pressure on an opposing quarterback.

Main weapons
Steven Parker: 6-4, 230. RS freshman. 4-star from DFW
Kyron Johnson: 6-1, 230. Senior. 3-star from DFW. 1 sack in 2019
Dru Prox: 6-1, 215. Senior. 0-star from DFW. 2 sacks in 2019
Gavin Potter: 6-2, 215. Sophomore. 3-star from OK. 1.5 sacks in 2019


There's a fairly significant drop-off after the top five, all of which look very strong, to the next five. There's also not a big difference between the top five teams nor between the bottom five. All of our top five have dangerous edge rushers and strong component parts, the bottom five don't appear near as strong barring sizable leaps from players we haven't seen much from yet (always very possible).

Our bottom five will probably have to manufacture a pass-rush by scheme, which is a very dangerous game to play in the Big 12. When you have three to four guys, headlined by a real threat on the edge, you can trust to consistently effect the quarterback then you gain a sizable advantage.
The fact OU and TCU are so low just seems crazy to me.