2021 NFL Draft prospect Jaylen Twyman can be the next great Pitt pass rusher.
As yet another collegiate football player makes the decision to opt-out of the 2020 college football season, we can begin to take a closer look at the talent entering the 2021 NFL Draft pool.
Pittsburgh 4-3 defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman only played 21 games before opting out for the draft and brings with him an impressive collection of game tape as well as a stat sheet which shows 41 total tackles and 10.5 sacks, which is comparable to another Pitt product who has made one of the biggest impacts in the NFL to date.
Fellow Pittsburgh Panther and current LA Ram Aaron Donald posted similar numbers in his sophomore season, with 47 tackles and 11 sacks. The two players are both undersized and play with quickness and polished technique. Donald managed to change the NFL’s view on defensive tackles, creating a new trend of sack production by beating bigger, slower interior linemen with a blend of power, quickness, and technique.
Training together when Donald would return to Pitt in the offseason, a Jaylen Twyman feature by Pitt LiveWire shows the two training together and practicing their hand-technique.
Throughout the video, the immediate and strongest impression I gained was that Twyman is a strong character who is willing to put in the work to elevate his game. A specific segment showed Twyman stating why he enjoyed the defensive system at Pitt, saying he could go “one-on-one” and “help us make more plays.” This ‘NBA mentality’ is something that has become more popular in the world of sports and can define the good from the great.
Similar to Donald, Twyman is another product of this Pittsburgh program that is looking to become a known producer of modern NFL interior lineman who ‘pierce’ rather than ‘push’ through the line of scrimmage. This applies to both pass-rush and run-defending situations in which Twyman uses his quick and well-paired hands and feet to work past blockers. Some moves in his arsenal include swims, swipes, push-pulls, and other techniques to move laterally to the blocker.
He can also apply this same skillset to run defending, shedding blockers with shucks and moving aside.
Active hands are one of Twyman’s greatest strengths in his draft report, bringing back reminders of MMA fighters rather than NFL linemen. Once outside the hip of a blocker, Twyman displays a unique level of hip-bend for a player at his position, able to chase down escaping quarterbacks with his short-area quickness. Seeing this kind of play makes me think with growth that Twyman could become a star who can slide along the entire defensive line in a 4-3 front.
Working back to the previously mentioned size of Twyman, at under 300 pounds there is only so much that can be done in run defense. Twyman may not even be able to operate as a defensive end within a 3-4 front, but his specific skill set is designed to thrive in a complementary defensive front with players around him who can help spotlight his proficient pass-rushing. Against power-run plays with the offense moving downhill, Twyman is able to hold his own against an individual blocker but will be on the field to open tackling lanes for linebackers ad other, more effective run defenders.
Before moving into the player comparison, the final note to be placed on this scouting report is Twyman’s high floor coming into the 2021 NFL Draft.
Similar to the Bosa brothers of past drafts, Twyman has a well-polished technique that stands out at the collegiate level and will suffice in the NFL and continue to improve with coaching. As quoted in a previous piece “NFL Week 1 Rookie Highlights,” the ‘Bosa theorem’ states: “If a Bosa pass rushes a tackle with equal or better technique than them, they will most likely be locked down by superior athleticism. But if an opposing tackle has inferior technique, the Bosa will succeed.”
Similar to the Bosas, Twyman will rely on superior technique unless there is a significant improvement in physical profile (size & strength). Thankfully, there is a college-football-season sized gap in his schedule to provide the chance for significant physical improvement in the leadup to the 2021 NFL draft.
Player Comparison: Geno Atkins, CIN
I understand that I have made comparisons to Aaron Donald throughout this article. Same college coaching staff, nearly identical builds and playstyles (“3-tech Penetrator”), polished techniques, Twyman can be the next Aaron Donald. But to compare Twyman to a player who is currently revolutionizing the way front offices think about their spending on defense is a very big leap.
Geno Atkins has been one of the most notable interior pass-rushers of the last decade and has been a staple of the Bengals defense. Atkins shares many of the same traits listed above and attended Georgia university, a prestigious and elite program offering the perfect development opportunities. Atkins averaged 9.75 sacks from 2015 to 2018 and has retained value late into his career thanks to technical proficiency.
Twyman has a high floor and can achieve more filling a unique and desired role in the modern NFL defensive landscape. A single season of college football is not necessarily enough to fully understand a player (ex: Mitchell Trubisky).
Watching progression from year to year is also valuable in predicting potential upon entering the NFL. As long as Twyman can market himself well leading into the draft, and shows improvement in his size and strength, he has the potential to be drafted over Florida State nose tackle Marvin Wilson, who is currently the favored interior defensive lineman in the 2021 NFL draft.