2021 NFL Draft Profile: Jaelan Phillips

Jaelan Phillips NFL Draft

Jaelan Phillips NFL Draft Overview

Position: Edge Defender
Height: 6’-5”
Weight: 260 pounds
School: University of Miami

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2021 NFL Draft: Jaelan Phillips Player Profile

Jaelan Phillips is one of the best pure pass rushers in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Phillips is a tall, agile edge defender with good size, speed, and elite pursuit ability. He gets a fantastic jump off the snap and has great agility to get low and bend around the edge in pursuit of opposition quarterbacks. However, question marks over his long-term health and only one year of production as a transfer to Miami surround Phillips in the pre-draft process. 

A five-star recruit out of Redlands East Valley High School, California, Phillips was ranked the third-best overall prospect of the 2017 recruiting class by ESPN. Graded as an outside linebacker, Phillips received scholarship offers from several elite college programs. He committed to UCLA in April 2016. However, injuries plagued his time with the Bruins. After totaling 3.5 sacks as a true freshman, a serious concussion ended Phillips’ sophomore season after four games. On December 15, 2018, Phillips even announced he was medically retired from football, citing his two injury-plagued seasons with UCLA as the cause. 

However, reports soon surfaced that Phillips was entering the college football transfer portal. In February 2019 Phillips announced he was transferring to the University of Miami. After sitting out in 2019 per SEC rules of players transferring schools, Phillips’ production exploded with the Hurricanes in 2020. Phillips finished second in the ACC in tackles for loss (15.5) and racked up eight sacks. His impressive all-round play earned Phillips All-ACC second team and AP All-American second-team honors. 

Strengths

  • Prototypical size for the pro level;
  • Elite ability to bend and finish to the quarterback off the edge;
  • Versatile scheme fit as an edge defender – can play with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end or standing up as an outside linebacker;
  • Gets a great jump off the snap;
  • High motor – watch him pressure, chase, and bring down Trevor Lawrence in Clemson game;
  • The purest pass rusher in this draft class.  

Weaknesses:

  • Seems to rely on his athleticism sometimes to beat defenders – could get lower on initial engagement with blockers;
  • Health is the biggest question mark – concussion was a major issue at UCLA;
  • Occasionally gets lost in the run game;
  • Hand placement needs to be more consistent – could beat his matchup quicker with more consistent technique;
  • Only one year of consistent production at the college level.

NFL Comparison: Jadeveon Clowney

Coming off an extremely disappointing 2020 season with the Tennessee Titans, this comparison doesn’t seem too favorable for Phillips. However, the size is similar (Clowney 6’-5, 255 pounds), both play strong against the run and offer versatility as edge defenders in terms of scheme fit.

Clowney was an athletic freak coming out of college, but Phillips might have better pure pass rush instincts. A motivated Clowney offers elite pursuit ability to chase down running backs from behind and quarterbacks as they escape the pocket. Speed in pursuit and a high motor are two of Phillips’ elite qualities. Cameron Jordan also makes sense as a comparison in terms of pass rush skills and ability to get home to the quarterback. 

Teams With Need at Position: Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens

Projection: First Round Pick

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Bottom Line on Jaelan Phillips:

Phillips has the talent, physical attributes, and plays at a premiere position that would normally make the defensive end a top-5 pick. However, his injury history while at UCLA is a major concern. The ankle issues aren’t much of a worry, but the concussion he suffered at UCLA that led to initial medical advice for Phillips to retire from football is something NFL teams need to gather information on. All teams should be in consultation with team physicians at UCLA and Miami regarding the players’ past head injuries. 

The injury record makes Phillips a risky selection for teams in the Top 10. Especially with the wealth of dynamic playmakers available with cleaner medical histories than Phillips. That said, teams in desperate need of a boost to their pass rush off the edge will look no further than Phillips if the medical comes back clean. His fellow Miami alum, Gregory Rosseau, chose to sit out the 2020 season. Phillips capitalized on the playing time made available by Rosseaus’ absence to catapult himself up draft boards. Both Hurricanes will likely hear their names called on day one. 

Phillips is the best pure pass rusher in the draft, and is reportedly a great character with a relentless motor. He has already showcased his work ethic to come back from the disappointment he went through at UCLA and turn himself into a top prospect. Phillips should be a first-round pick in a draft lacking premier players at his position.

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