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2023 NFL Scouting Combo Preview: Edge Rushers

The Combine always tries to roll out different exercises to challenge prospects in each position, and my favorite recent addition is the Figure 8 drill, featuring a couple of large circles placed on the ground to form the number eight shape. Pass rushers will be asked to run both circles consecutively, tracing the number and finishing well through a final cone to close it. Things you may notice in this exercise:

Can potential customers stay low and keep their balance while doing the circles?

A huge plus is being able to see the prospect accelerate as they circle. Not only do these players keep their balance and stay short, but they are able to build up speed and continue to gain ground before finishing strong through the cone.

Here are the players who have a chance to shine in these drills:

Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame) – Foskey is a good size at just under 6-foot-5 and over 260 pounds, has impressive athleticism at that size, and has been productive with back-to-back double-digit sack seasons for the Irish. The All-American should surprise people with the way he runs the hoop, because guys with his body type don’t bend over as often as he can. I expect Foskey to get a little more excitement going into Round 1 when the week’s festivities wrap up (he’s been in a lot of mock drafts throughout the spring and summer).

BJ Ojulari (LSU) – Ojulari, whose older brother, Azeez, is a pass rusher for the New York Giants, has an uncanny flexibility around the corner. Listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, the Georgia native has loose hips and impressive lower-body flex that has allowed him to finish second only to Anderson among SEC defensemen in pressure percentage this fall. This drill is made for Ojulari to shine.

Andre Carter (Army) – Carter also happens to be one of the best stories in the draft class, but it’s so much more. The athletic 6-6, 252-pound pass rusher with a pterodactyl-like wingspan has 18 sacks in the past two years due to his explosiveness and corner-turning ability. He’s still raw and will benefit from being able to focus on football full-time in the NFL, but Carter has legitimate tools to work with. He should test well and look good in most bag exercises, but this one in particular should be fine for him.

Isaiah Land (Florida A&M) – The earth is undersized, coming in at just 226 pounds at the Senior Bowl, but don’t let its schooling or frame fool you. Land led the nation with 19 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss in 2021, and backed that up with another productive season this fall, as each offense devoted extra resources to stopping him. An explosive speed rusher who turns the corner very well, look for the All-American to show up well in this exercise.

All of these players have great stories to tell, but who has taken the most unique journeys to get to this point?

Nolan Smith (Georgia) – The Eagles picked up a pair of Bulldogs a year ago and Smith carried the mantle this season as that team’s leader in football until he suffered a mid-season pectoral injury that cost him the rest of the year. A former five-star recruit as one of the top two or three players in the country coming out of high school, Smith comes in a small package at a 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, but is loaded with power, quickness, and explosiveness. The senior was on track for a year of his career, production-wise, until his injury, but his presence off the field is just as important as what he does between the lines. It could be argued that few in this class represent their university and their team as well as Smith, who should impress in every interview and media appearance he makes in Indianapolis.

Habakkuk Baldonado (Pitt) – Nolan Smith was seen as a prodigy straight out of high school and Baldonado was anything but. A three-star rookie despite playing only one year of high school football here in the United States, Baldonado grew up in Italy, where he was first introduced to the game just three years earlier. Before that, the budding pass rusher starred in swimming as a swimmer and practiced mixed martial arts. It’s still a work in progress, but this burly athlete has as high a ceiling as his journey has been tortuous.

DJ Johnson (Oregon) – You’ll often see some pass rushers with unique backgrounds and position changes as teams try to convert jocks into quarterback chasers at all levels of the game. Well, Johnson fits the bill there. The sixth-year senior played tight end for the Ducks just two seasons ago after transferring from the University of Miami, catching 10 passes and three touchdowns as a sophomore. He also dabbled on offense in 2021 before transitioning full-time to defense as a super senior, posting six sacks and 21 rushing (according to Pro Football Focus) in his last season on campus.

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