Long before the Von Miller trade edge rusher looked like it would be a priority for George Paton in his second offseason as the Denver Broncos general manager. Paton show interest in Leonard Floyd during free agency in 2021 before the edge rusher elected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Rams, and the Broncos were involved in talks to move back into the first round of the ‘21 draft to acquire the Miami Hurricanes Jaelen Phillips. Neither move materialized, which meant the trade deadline deal that sent Miller to the Rams caused the Broncos’ pass rush to crater.
A three year starter at Cincinnati, Myjai Sanders enters the NFL after helping the Bearcats make their first ever appearance in the College Football Playoffs. Over his four year career he finished with 119 tackles, 24.5 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks, 12 passes defensed and one forced fumble. A 2020 semifinalist for the Bednarik award given to college football’s best defender, he combines a very good burst with good overall athleticism and quick hands in a long angular frame. Fit will be a particularly noteworthy part of his professional success, he could be a more productive in the league than he was at Cincinnati if he’s given more reps as an outside edge rusher.
Myjai Sanders could be a great addition to the Broncos. Combines good athletic ability with the burst and hands to attack backfields on passing downs. pic.twitter.com/XJJTKbL2OP— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) February 23, 2022
At a glance:
A quick edge who shows the savvy to play cat-and-mouse with his rush moves.
Measurables (Senior Bowl)
Height: 6-foot-4 3/8”
Weight: 242 pounds
Wingspan: 79 1/2″
Arm: 33 1/4″
Hand: 9 1/2″
No Official Athletic Testing at this time
Miami (OH) (2021)
Notre Dame (2021)
Good athlete with combination of good agility, explosiveness, and solid lateral quickness. When he gets below opponents pads and latches he does show solid play strength on push/pull and setting edge. Displays solid competitive toughness with a good motor and second effort. Solid mental processor who plays with eyes up to read mesh point and sniff out the play design.
Very good burst and does a good job keying the ball, he displays the ability to time up the cadence to jump the snap. When tasked with wide rushes he is good at attacking upfield. Solid pass rusher who understands how to beat a half man and shows the ability to generate wins rushing inside or out. Is good at diagnosing run plays. Solid run defender against zone blocking concepts and will leverage gaps by beating blocker to their landmarks, capable of setting an edge to force back inside to help. Good use of hands overall with good placement, when he plays with good leverage his length helps him to keep his frame clean to set up rush plan. Toolbox includes a go-to swim, a double swipe, and rip. Limited exposure to a developing push/pull, spin, and long arm. He will use one move to set up an opponent for another later in game. In very limited exposure he looked solid in coverage, with hip fluidity, savvy, and eyes to spot drop.
A lithe edge rusher with a narrow base, at 242 lbs. he is below the 50th percentile for baseline weight for an outside backer. On the ground too often, which suggests adequate balance. Displays adequate play strength overall, and does not generate consistent push as a bull rusher, punch lacks oomph, and will have issues with down blocks at point of attack. Angular build can cause him trouble vs. squatty opponents he can’t beat with twitch, as he won’t always win leverage battle. Best out wide rushing from a two point stance, which exacerbates issues with leverage and pad level. No question about motor, though he missed a fumble recovery vs. USF because he tried to scoop and score.
Adequate ankle flexion limits ability to finish around the arc because because he can’t reliably flatten around a blocker, will occasionally cross step or jump cut to try and overcompensate which exacerbates balance issues. Adequate run defender, will need to improve at taking on pulling blockers as he doesn’t reliably meet with correct shoulder and had one rep vs. USF where he ate the dirt against GT counter. I expect he will have issues against gap schemes in league. Does not have play strength to win with bull rush consistently. Leverage and play strength saps ability to be a difference maker on stunts, whether it’s as a penetrator or looper.
Since learning under Dan Hatman of the Scouting Academy I’ve followed the 7 point grading scale where a 1 (poor) is a trait that fails to meet NFL standards and a 7 (elite) means the player will be among the best in the NFL at that specific trait. Every prospect is graded on five critical factors that influence all football players, while every prospect is also evaluated for traits that will determine success at their likeliest position in the NFL.
Critical factors (universal traits for all prospects)
Athletic Ability: 5/7
Competitive Toughness: 4/7
Play Strength: 3/7
Mental Processing: 4/7
Play Speed: 5/7
Position-specific traits (ED)
Upfield burst: 6/7
Pass rush: 4/7
Vs. Run: 3/7
Use of Hands: 5/7
A three star recruit in the 2018 recruiting cycle who played in 42 career games for the Cincinnati Bearcats, Sanders offers an intriguing combination of good athleticism with quick twitch and active hands. While he only finished with 13.5 sacks in his career, his tape is littered “hidden” production. He’s batted down 10 passes over his last two years and consistently showed an ability to break into the backfield and pressure quarterbacks.
Early in his career Sanders will likely make his hay as a designated pass rusher and special teams contributor. This will give him time to adapt to NFL run games as he tightens up his footwork and gets stronger. In time, he should emerge as a starting caliber player who can bring juice off the edge.
Fit with the Broncos
As I write this the Broncos posses five draft picks in the first 100 picks thanks to the Von Miller trade, which means they should be able to acquire Sanders regardless of how his athletic testing impacts his draft stock. At present I believe he’s a day two prospect who could go in the top 50 picks or slide down to the third round.
Sanders is at his best rushing from wide of the tackle, and he has the burst and hands to create problems for tackles in pass protection. He has a similar profile to Malik Reed in that his frame and play strength will create issues against power run schemes, so the Broncos would need to protect him against opponents that can overwhelm him at the point of attack.
Given the current state of the Broncos’ edge rotation, Sanders looks like he’d compete with players such as Jonathon Cooper, Andre Mintze, and Aaron Patrick in his first training camp. With Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed’s long term status a question mark, he could carve out a bigger role as early as 2023.