The Patriots were seemingly uninterested in being real participants in last weeks 2017 NFL Draft. After trading their first round pick for Brandin Cooks, their second round pick for Kony Ealy, and using a fifth round pick to sign Mike Gillislee, the Patriots continued trading picks on draft weekend. They added tight end James O’Shaughnessy from the Chiefs, and twice traded up to make selections, ultimately ending their class with just four players. The first of the four, Derek Rivers of Youngstown State, was one of the biggest steals of the draft.
My 14th ranked player in this class, Rivers inexplicably was there when the Patriots were on the clock at pick 72, and then incredulously was still available after trading down with the Titans and ultimately selected him with the 83rd pick in the draft. Rivers has the chance to be a high-impact player on the edge across Trey Flowers, so it’s worth getting familiar with him now if you aren’t already.
Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State
At 6’5” and 250 pounds, Rivers is an athletic freak with the frame to add some weight on while maintaining his athleticism. Take a look at his athletic web, courtesy of mockdraftable.com.
Rivers had an elite 3-cone time—arguably the most important athletic drill for predicting the success of EDGE rushers, which is arguably the position with the highest correlation from athleticism to success—as well as an elite broad jump, 40 yard dash, and bench press, placing in the 88th percentile or better in each. He also placed in the 74th percentile of the vertical jump, and had an above average 20 yard shuttle. Rivers was part of an EDGE rushing duo at Youngstown State that saw his teammate, Avery Moss, also get drafted. Rivers turns 23 on May 9th. Concerns about his level of competition led to his fall, but he showed out against West Virginia, a team whose style of play is historically hell for EDGE rushers, and was the best EDGE guy at the Senior Bowl as well.
Rivers wins with his athleticism and bend, but also shows a deep understanding of pass rushing strategies and is as technically sound as they come. Ideally a stand up rusher, Rivers can also play with his hand in the dirt, and provide pressure from either position. At 250 pounds, he has the frame to add 10-15 pounds and maintain his athletic profile, which will help him against stronger tackles. Rivers is polished to the point that his floor is probably a reliable 3rd pass rusher—something still very valuable in today’s NFL—and his ceiling is a year-in year-out double digit sack guy.
He has some trouble with length/strength in offensive tackles. He has the foundation of secondary pass rush moves, but needs to continue developing them, and it shows when he faces big, strong tackles. When everything clicks, he can find his secondary move to still beat these kind of players, and there’s nothing to suggest he won’t be able to develop this ability on a consistent basis in the NFL, but this is where he can be neutralized. Rivers also needs to improve his awareness in the run game, as he is often a beat late to disengage from his blocker, missing out on a chance to make a play on the ball-carrier. Outside of these fixable flaws, his only other real weakness was the school he played for.
Here we see his athleticism at work. Rivers wins the edge on the tackle, uses his hands to keep the tackles initial punch from landing, and only a hold from the lineman prevents a sack on the quarterback.
Rivers burst and nuance force this sack/fumble. Rivers starts with a hesitation step before bursting into the hole created by the guard and tackle separating, and uses his speed and acceleration to get to the quarterback before the running back can slide into his position to pick Rivers up.
Even though it doesn’t result in a sack, this might be my favorite Derek Rivers play. He does everything right—he bursts off the line, and lands his punch in the chest of the lineman. He gets his hands above his eyes, which is the goal of every defensive lineman when engaging a blocker—if your hands are above your eyes, you’re doing everything right, and you are most likely going to win the leverage battle on your opponent. After driving the tackle back a couple yards as if he was a sled used in practice, the lineman attempts to set his anchor, and Rivers brings his counter—a rip that leaves the tackle no chance. The quarterback gets rid of the ball after feeling the pressure Rivers provided. Other than not getting the sack, this play should be shown to every high school and college pass rusher in the country.
Rivers has the ability to be a game changer in the running game when everything is clicking. He engages his lineman while reading the play, then disengages and gets across the face of the pulling center, taking away the centers chance to create a lane, and taking away the cutback possibility of the running back.
NDSU’s tackle gets too horizontal out of his stance here, attempting to compensate for Rivers’ athletic advantage. Rivers reads it, and attacks the inside half of the lineman instead of his outside half, blowing by him and wrapping up the QB.
Rivers athleticism allows him to make up for a potentially costly extra step here. Rivers, with no overhang defender behind him, is responsible for holding the edge to his side. He bites on the read-option, and commits an extra step towards the running back before realizing the QB still has the ball. Rivers is able to change direction and chase down the QB before gaining a yard on the play.
Finally, just look at that bend. This is exactly where the 3-cone drill comes into play for EDGE rushers. If he doesn’t have the flex in his hips and ankles, Rivers gets run around the pocket and all the QB has to do is step up to avoid him. Instead, Rivers is able to instantly change his direction and crash in on the QB, giving him no chance.
Derek Rivers likely isn’t going to be asked to be “the guy” across from Flowers in year one, but look for him to be a rotational pass rusher that makes some plays in his first season. By year two, I fully expect Rivers to have a starting position locked up, and by year three we could be talking about Rivers as a legitimate #1 pass rusher, and the steal of the draft.