The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Louisiana State defensive end Arden Key.
Junior | 6’6″ and 265 Pounds | Born May 3, 1996 (Age: 21) | Projection: Round 1
While NC State’s Bradley Chubb combines consistent production with a tantalizing NFL-ready skill set, Key is the draft’s self-proclaimed best pass rusher. Shoulder and finger injuries over the past year haven’t helped him fully develop, but the two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference defensive end still demonstrated his immense upside by setting the Tigers’ single-season sack record (12) as a sophomore. The school’s latest quarterback-tossing freak athlete will face questions surrounding his four-month leave from the program for personal reasons, but war daddy pass rushers are at a premium.
Key won’t be confused with the world’s most-technically gifted pass rusher, but his size and athleticism were often enough to give even the best SEC tackles fits. This is evidenced by his team-high nine quarterback hurries as a true freshman and SEC-high 54 total pressures in 2016. Still, Key’s greatest gift doesn’t come without a price, as PFF graded him outside of their top-100 defenders against the run in 2016. He managed just four sacks in eight games as a junior, but he continued to show an affinity for rising to the occasion in big games. Overall, Key racked up seven sacks in nine career games against Auburn, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Whatever team drafts Key will ultimately decide if his future is as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he’ll be utilized to rush the passer regardless of whether his hand is consistently in the dirt. Without a refined pass-rushing repertoire, he was mostly unleashed by the Tigers as a speed rusher who would occasionally twist inside. These two tricks alone managed to befuddle most of the SEC.
Key’s struggles as a run defender are a bit overblown; he manages to fill and hold his gap while offering chase-down potential nearly every play. Still, he’s lost battles against tight ends in the run game, and the lack of consistent push in his pass rush could be magnified at the next level.
Just 16 defensive ends have been top-10 picks at or before turning 22 years old over the past 25 years. Simeon Rice, Julius Peppers, and Joey Bosa are the only three who finished their rookie seasons with double-digit sacks. Key has the talent to become a sack artist with a more technically-sound approach and years with an NFL training staff. Still, his current status as a great pass rusher/average run defender who heavily relies on athleticism indicates that his floor might be something close to Gaines Adams. The Tigers haven’t had a defensive linemen drafted in the first round since Barkevious Mingo in 2013, but Key’s ability to rush the passer happens to be one of the most-sought after attributes in the league at the moment. A strong three days at the combine could lock up a Day 1 selection — we currently have him as a top-10 selection in our most recent mock draft — but he’s unlikely to be a high-impact pass rusher as a rookie.