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Notre Dame Football

Uyeyama's Scouting Notebook | Looking for an Edge

May 28, 2024

Whether it’s Athens, Columbus, Tallahassee, or South Bend, everyone is looking for an edge in college football.

I’m not talking about having Connor Stallions on the payroll. I’m talking about pass rushers. Specifically, the ones who can line up off the edge and impact a game, especially on third down.

Notre Dame has had some good ones in recent years. They’ve had six selected in the last five NFL Drafts. They’ve been on a nice run there after only having one in the previous five drafts.

I started to look at what all of those players had in common and found one athletic testing marker that stood out: vertical jump.

It didn’t matter how big they were or what their short shuttle was or even how much they weighed when they were rising seniors in high school. They all were explosive leapers.

Julian Okwara (31.5), Khalid Kareem (29), Daelin Hayes (30), Isaiah Foskey (32) and Ade Ogundeji (30.2) all jumped 29 inches or above. Jamir Jones went undrafted, but he jumped 33.6. We can go back to Romeo Okwara and he jumped 30.1.

It didn’t seem like a coincidence and it isn’t. Explosiveness. Twitch. Power. That’s what we think of with vertical jump testing and those are all important traits for pass rushers. This inspired me to dig a little deeper into it to find if there is a cut off for players who developed into elite edge defenders in college.

I went back and dug up all the available testing for edge defenders drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft from 2016-2024. There have been 122 edge defenders taken during that time, but there was only testing data publicly available for 65 of them.

There were plenty of 4 and 5-stars in this group, but there were lower ranked players as well. There were physically mature individuals and there were rail thin athletes who barely scratched 200 pounds. There were linebackers who grew into defensive ends and even some safeties who did the same. What the majority of them had in common was the vertical part of their athletic testing.

In terms of undersized edge prospects, explosiveness is the most important trait to have. Future first round pick Brian Burns was a skinny 209 as a recruit, but he jumped 33.9 inches in high school. Another future first rounder, Jermaine Johnson, weighed 214, but his vertical was 33.5 inches. Future second round pick BJ Ojulari’s vert was 37.2 inches at 209 pounds. Future third round pick Myjai Sanders, a lower ranked gem that played for Marcus Freeman at Cincinnati, jumped 32.1 inches at 215 pounds.

Out of the 65 with recorded verticals, 58 of them jumped 29.3+ inches (89.2%). Only two of the 65 recorded a vertical of under 27.9 inches, so 96.9% were at that mark or higher. The average vertical for those players was 32.5 inches.

There’s way more that goes into evaluating defensive ends than one athletic testing marker. That explosiveness has to translate to the football field and there are other physical boxes that need to be checked like arm length or wingspan. But the fact that so many day one or day two NFL Draft picks reached a minimum standard in one test is something that matters when projecting players who can develop into impact edge defenders in college.

With that in mind, it’s worth mentioning that current Notre Dame edges Jordan Botelho (30.7), RJ Oben (31), and Loghan Thomas (31.5) hit those markers with their high school athletic testing. 2025 Notre Dame commit Chris Burgess‍ had a verified 28 inch vertical at a camp as a rising junior last year.

What about the ones who don’t have available testing numbers?

There were 57 others who didn’t have a recorded vertical that I could find, but chances are many of them had completed athletic testing for programs at evaluation camps like the three Notre Dame will conduct in June (Irish Invasion and two others).

These camps are something that the current Notre Dame staff has emphasized heavily since Freeman took control of the program. Although I don’t have a recorded vertical for 2025 commits like Dom Hulak‍ and Joseph Reiff‍, Notre Dame definitely does as both worked out for the Irish coaching staff last summer.

Bryce Young also earned an offer after working with Al Washington in a camp as a rising junior as well.

Even without that information for the other 57, I looked for other common factors from that group. I combed through the scouting reports from Dane Brugler’s annual draft guides and unsurprisingly found that the vast majority of them were multi-sport athletes (most of the 65 were as well). The other sport that 36 of the 57 (63.2%) had in common was basketball. (Several of the individuals who had available testing numbers also were basketball players)

I’m sure many have seen the recent debate about NBA players playing in the NFL and vice versa. It's a fun hypothetical argument, like the one I used to make about the USA dominating international rugby if they trained the best NFL players for a couple of years to compete in that sport.

There isn’t a debate that there are a lot of athletic traits that are important in basketball that translate to football. With edge rushers, I think of reactive athleticism and quick lateral movement that are equally as valuable to defend on the field or the court.

Arm length is extremely valuable as well. Brugler pointed out in several reports that basketball was the first love for many of these athletes, but they weren’t long enough to become a “3-and-D” wing in the NBA. They were long enough to play edge in the NFL, though.

Notre Dame defensive end Josh Burnham played multiple positions for his high school football team and also played basketball. I didn’t need to see how many inches he can jump to know he has explosive athletic traits.

Recent Notre Dame commit Gordy Sulfsted‍, who the Irish staff project to grow into a defensive tackle, is also a basketball player and a pretty good one.

Track results and other things

Track and field results are now commonly looked at to measure elite athleticism with football recruits.

Western Michigan edge Marshawn Kneeland (second round pick) was not a blue-chip recruit, but he had an elite high jump result for an edge defender. Oregon’s DJ Johnson (third round pick) and UCLA’s Takk McKinley (first round pick) had elite 100m times. Clemson’s Kevin Dodd (second round pick) had elite shot put results.

Notre Dame freshman Bryce Young had both an elite 100m and elite triple jump at his size, in case his film wasn’t enough to convince people of his athleticism.

Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard (third round pick) and Florida Atlantic’s Trey Hendrickson (third round pick) were lacrosse players. San Diego State’s Cameron Thomas (third round pick) was a volleyball player. It doesn’t have to be just basketball because these other sports can translate as well.

I’d be lying if I said 2024 Notre Dame signee Bodie Kahoun’s lacrosse background (he was once an Ohio State lacrosse commit) and his reported 35 inch vertical didn’t make me envision him eventually moving to Vyper for Notre Dame. Hulak is also a lacrosse player in addition to playing hockey.

Still looking for an edge?

As of this moment, I’m not sure Notre Dame will look to add another edge with their 2025 recruiting class. If they do, these are two I think they should at least kick the tires on.

Talib Graham‍ is an Ole Miss commit with 33 inch arms and 34 inch vertical recorded at an Under Armour camp earlier this year. Every one of the major sites has him as a 3-star, but I think he’s a blue-chip talent.

Tyshun Willis‍ is a Mississippi State commit who 247Sports has a 4-star and I’m in agreement with them. He has a 78.3 inch wingspan, had a 1.71 10-yard split, and a 30.8 inch vert. He excels at multiple positions, but he has awesome potential as an edge rusher.

As for 2026, Notre Dame has already hosted top edge prospects like Rodney Dunham‍ (29 inch vertical) and Elijah Golden‍ (29.75) this spring who fit the profile of future high NFL Draft picks. They’re likely going to get more of them on campus at camps next month.

The eye-test does matter with evaluations. How these players compete during camp matters. They do the athletic testing for a reason, though. Getting a verified vertical might not seem like it should matter that all that much for a defensive end, but the numbers say differently.

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