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Buccaneers NFL Draft Target: Edge, Jaelan Phillips (Miami)

Phillips is one of the more interesting prospects in the 2021 draft. He has all the talent in the world but there’s an injury history that might make him slide down draft boards.

Miami Hurricanes head into bye knowing true test in No. 1 Clemson is on the other side
Miami lineman Jaelan Phillips displays the tunover chain after intercepting a Florida State pass during the first half of their game
Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Today we’ll be looking at Jaelan Phillips, one of the best edge prospects in the 2021 class who brings an injury history that might raise some questions in NFL Draft rooms.

The former Miami Hurricane came out of high school as a five star recruit and ESPN’s number one ranked outside linebacker prospect who ultimately signed with UCLA. Unfortunately, he had a rocky start as a Bruin through his first two seasons due to an accumulation of ankle injuries and concussions.

However, his lone season at Miami showed the NFL world that he has every bit of talent that was there when he came out of high school. Let’s take a look at what he’s done so far and what he could bring to the Bucs if he slides down to the 32nd pick.

JAELAN PHILLIPS COLLEGIATE CAREER

Phillips began his career at UCLA and racked up three and a half sacks, seven tackles for loss, and 21 total tackles through his first six games in his redshirt freshman season. Going into year two, he looked to build on this success but was significantly hampered by injuries.

In an injury plagued sophomore season, he racked up only one sack, one tackle for loss, and 20 total tackles through four games. After these four games, he was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to lingering concussion symptoms.

It was at this point that Phillips decided to medically retire from football and decided he was going to pursue a career in music. However, after sitting out for a year it seemed as if he missed the game and decided to re-commit to being a football player, ultimately signing with the Miami Hurricanes.

He sat out in 2019 but when he came on the field in 2020, he was absolutely electric coming off of the edge. He finished this 10 game season with eight sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 45 total tackles, with an interception tacked on just for good measure.

While there were some of these flashes at UCLA, they really started to shine during his time at Miami and this is really what propelled him into the first round conversation.

PRO DAY DATA AND ANALYSIS

Miami hosted their Pro Day towards the end of March and Phillips definitely demonstrated his high level of athleticism with the numbers he put up, as we can see here from Austin Gayle of PFF:

For the physical measurables, he comes in at 6’ 4”, 260 lbs with a 33.25 in arm length and 80.75 in wingspan. Looking at arm length, which is a really important number for lineman and edge defenders for creating that separation, Phillips is right up there with the best of them.

As an edge defender, the numbers we’re really looking at here are related to explosiveness and quickness in change of direction. The measurables that pick up these traits are typically seen in the broad jump, three cone drill, and even the 20-yard shuttle.

In these categories, Phillips performed pretty well, especially in the broad jump as he found himself in the 90th percentile for edge defenders. The 7.01 sec three cone isn’t the best in the business or anything but it’s definitely one that helps supplement the film, as he does show a lot of good change of direction and has the ability to turn tight corners.

WHAT HE BRINGS IN 2021

Looking at Phillips, I think he would bring a lot for the 2021 season as a third pass-rusher behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett. While these two guys are obviously the starters for this team going into the season, Phillips would be an upgrade over Anthony Nelson who has been coming on as the third rusher for the past two seasons.

While Nelson is an above-average run defender, he just doesn’t bring anything against the pass, and in today’s NFL, getting to the quarterback is the name of the game. This is where Phillips could come in and wreak havoc while also working to potentially replace Jason Pierre-Paul if he’s not re-signed after 2021.

He would be best suited to come in on guaranteed passing downs in his rookie season as I don’t think he’s quite ready to play full time snaps in front of anyone like JPP or Shaq. Another exciting possibility would be to slide JPP inside and bring in Phillips to rush off the edge.

If Tampa Bay comes to the line with Shaq, Vita Vea, JPP, and Phillips, opposing quarterbacks aren’t going to be too comfortable.

If he were to end up on this team, I see him stepping in right away and getting some snaps in Week One on a rotational basis. This team could use some pass-rush depth and Phillips is definitely a prime candidate to fill that role and even take over down the line.

THREE-YEAR OUTLOOK

I think it’s safe to say that Jaelan Phillips will be a starting edge defender in the NFL within three seasons, if not sooner. He has a lot of the physical traits that you want to see in a pass rusher based on his size and length, but also carries the explosiveness and athleticism that we typically see in the NFL’s best edge defenders.

As of now, he doesn’t really have a strong repertoire of pass-rush moves and often relies on his speed around the edge to get around slower collegiate tackles. He’s also shown that he can counter inside on occasion and has picked up a number of sacks using these moves.

With someone like Todd Bowles coaching and players like Barrett and JPP showing him how to unlock his true potential, Phillips has the opportunity to be a special player. He also brings a lot of the effort you want to see out of a true NFL star.

While some may point to the commitment concerns from his decision to retire from football, it’s evident through his play that he is willing to give it his all. On tape, one of the biggest things that stands out is his high-motor as he will often chase runners downfield after they break the line.

Because Phillips carries the prototypical size at the position, brings the athleticism that you want to see, and plays with an extremely high motor, I can see him garnering some Pro Bowl attention within his first three seasons.

If he ends up in Tampa, he could easily be a starting edge defender in 2022 if JPP doesn’t come back.

STOCK REPORT

From a talent standpoint, Phillips is a first round pick without question. The biggest concern that he brings is his injury history, especially because head injuries are now coming to the forefront in terms of player safety and longevity.

Some mock drafts place him in the top 15, some have him falling to 32. It really depends on the amount of weight that teams will put into his injury history. Looking at the Tennessee Titans from a few years ago, they selected Jeffery Simmons in the first round even though they knew he wouldn’t play a full rookie season due to injury.

However, the nature of that injury was a little different than the concussions that Phillips racked up through his tenure at UCLA. Based on all of this, he has the potential to slide towards the end of the first round where Tampa Bay could look to snag a potential top 10 talent, at 32.

In either case, he will most likely be selected in the first round, it just depends on who is going to take that chance. With a top heavy edge class, teams may choose to take him based on potential alone once all of the other top rushers have come off the board.

ON THE CLOCK...

It’s your turn Bucs Nation, taking a look at the projection, the potential fit, and the different tools he brings to the table, where would you want to hear his name called? Make sure to vote in the poll and leave your comments below!

Poll

For Jaelan Phillips, the Buccaneers should...

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    ...draft him at current projection (day one if available at team’s slot)
    (101 votes)
  • 15%
    ...draft him early (trade up in the first round)
    (23 votes)
  • 4%
    ...take a better player earlier in the draft (trade up even higher)
    (6 votes)
  • 11%
    ...draft this position, but later than he is projected
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    ...not draft this position group at all
    (2 votes)
149 votes total Vote Now