As of late, many of the USC Trojans’ big name defenders have suffered major draft slides. Once touted as a future top ten pick, Rey Maualuga ended up dropping to the 2nd round. The hard-hitting, arthritic-hipped Taylor Mays suffered a similar fate, and freakish defensive end Everson Griffen slid all the way to the 4th frame.
For that reason, it’ll be particularly interesting to see where the now highly-touted Jurrell Casey’s stock ends up settling. The junior defensive tackle debuted at #34 overall on MockingTheDraft’s 2011 NFL Draft top 75, but based on what’s happened to recent USC prospects, he’ll either eclipse that ranking or freefall way below it.
And after watching tape of Casey against Stanford, Arizona, and Boston College, I can spot reasons why the USC defensive tackle could be a bigtime riser or an unfortunate draft day slider.
Initially, what stands out about Casey’s game is not how he plays but where he ends up: the defensive tackle is an almost constant presence in the opponent’s backfield. His quick, active hands allow him to slip & shed blocks at the point of attack, providing him an unobstructed path into the backfield. When he deploys his excellent swim move, it almost looks as if Casey’s running a 40 yard dash right into the quarterback. With his quick first step, he’s able to get upfield in a jiffy. As a result, he’s great on slants and gives slow-footed fatties fits.
Even when Casey doesn’t make the play, he often manages to disrupt it. His pressure in the 4th Quarter of the Emerald Bowl forced Boston College QB Dave Shinskie into a costly interception, and his multiple pressures made Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Arizona’s Nick Foles scramble and force throws. In addtion, Casey does a good job of getting his hands up to deflect passes and shut down passing lanes.
Given his disruptive play and potential as a pass rusher, it’s easy to envision Casey making a big rise up draft boards. Though he’s not quite on the level of Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, Casey could be very effective in a one gap defense. For a team that only wants to rush four defenders, a guy like Casey could be extremely valuable — read: early to mid-1st round pick.
On the other hand, Casey could be dragged down by some disconcerting flaws in his game. Despite his thick lower body, he’s not very good at anchoring against the run. He’s not the type of interior plugger who’ll hold up well against double teams. Though the stumpy defensive tackle has a low center of gravity, he gets pushed back when his pad level gets too high. If he doesn’t win the initial battle at the point of attack, he lets linemen get into his chest, after which he struggles to disengage. As a result, it’s not all that uncommon to see Casey get into the backfield on one play, then get knocked back five yards on the next one.
Casey often lines up at defensive end when the Trojans employ a three man front, but he appears to lack the strength to play 3-4 end. At 6’1″, 295 lbs., he also lacks the prototypical length for a five technique. His scheme versatility could be very limited; if he doesn’t improve his run defense, even some 4-3 teams could lose interest. If that happens, he’ll have to make the choice between going back to school to improve his draft stock or risk a major draft slide by declaring as an underclassman.
To illustrate Casey’s strengths and weaknesses, here’s a clip of Casey against Stanford. In it, you can spot his ups & downs: what makes him an enticing draft prospect and what could kill his draft stock.