In a draft class in which the defensive talent is considered the cream of the crop, Nick Bosa of Ohio State and Kentucky’s Josh Allen appear to have established themselves as the premier edge rushing prospects. However, at this point in the process it seems as if one of the best defenders in the SEC last year is being overlooked.
The name of Florida’s Jachai Polite is a common appearance in the first round of mock drafts, but he is not mentioned in the same breath as Bosa and Allen despite an extremely impressive final college season that saw him rack up 11 sacks and flash the potential to develop into a top-tier edge rusher at the next level.
There is plenty of time for conversations to change before the draft in late April but at present Polite isn’t a huge part of the discussion surrounding the very best pass rushers in this class. However, with his skillset, there is no doubt he deserves to be.
Let’s start by looking at his athleticism, which came to the fore on a consistent basis in 2018 as Polite regularly put opposing offensive tackles an immediate bind with his burst off the ball, doing so on the below play against Mississippi State and sacking Nick Fitzgerald after using a rip move to overcome the tackle’s panicky punch and flattening to the football.
The ability to dip and bend around the edge and flatten to the quarterback was prominent throughout his final collegiate season, making him an utter nightmare for tackles when he combined that with his burst off the ball, leading to consistent impact plays such as the fumbles forced against Colorado State and Michigan.
Polite’s explosiveness and flexibility should make him extremely attractive in a league where quarterbacks are getting the ball out quicker than ever. However, the NFL also places a premium on rushers who convert speed to power and, while that may not be Polite’s forte, he makes up for his deficiency with an impressive array of pass rush moves.
The rip is a significant part of his repertoire, but Polite also has an arm-over move to turn to, utilizing it here against Kentucky to draw the tackle to the outside, giving him the angle to burst back inside and pressure the quarterback.
Plays like that would not be possible if Polite were not blessed with excellent foot quickness, something he also frequently made use of when rushing the passer, doing so against Tennessee to work his way past a pair of pass-protecting backs with inside and outside fakes.
Polite’s burst, flexibility and foot speed all play a huge role in what may be his most useful move at the next level, the spin. He honed the spin throughout 2018 and put it to great use in a huge game with LSU, executing to perfection to register a quarterback hit on Joe Burrow as the Gators held off the Tigers.
The victory over the Tigers was a game in which Polite proved he does have some power in his locker and that his size – he played at 6’2″ and 242 pounds in college but weighed in at 258 pounds this week at the Combine – should not be a problem at the next level.
Polite made an impact defending the run game by blowing up tight end Foster Moreau in the open field and forcing Nick Brossette to flatten his angle on a run to the outside for little gain, and then forced a fumble from Burrow as he survived a heavy punch from LSU’s left guard to stay on his feet on an inside pass rush.
Despite his excellent 2018 film, there may be some concern that Polite only has one year of significant production under his belt – he only had four sacks in his first two seasons – yet in his one season where his numbers were impressive, he demonstrated the skill set of an elite edge defender with an outstanding nose for the football.
With explosiveness, flexibility, quickness to work inside and out and a well refined set of pass rush moves, Polite should have little difficulty having the same impact pursuing quarterbacks in the NFL as he did in the SEC. With him having affected the run game – where he displays proficiency at the point of an attack as an edge setter – to the tune of 19.5 tackles for loss, teams can feel confident plugging him in either as a situational pass rusher in a 4-3 or an every-down outside linebacker in a 3-4.
And, yet in comparison to Bosa and Allen, there is little buzz around Polite. He is without a doubt a player who deserves to be talked about much more, but, if his lack of hype is reflected by a draft-day fall, Polite could prove to be one of the steals of this class.