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Ole Miss at the 2020 NFL Draft: Qaadir Sheppard’s raw pass rush is worth a late-round flier

Captain Bronx checks all of the intangible boxes.

Ole Miss Athletics

Qaadir Sheppard - Edge Rusher / Outside Linebacker

Rated a 3-star prospect out of high school, Qaadir Sheppard committed to Syracuse and became one of 15 true freshmen to play for the Orange in 2015. Following his freshman season, the Bronx native transferred to Ole Miss and was forced to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. Though his career may not be as decorated as some of the Rebel defenders that played alongside him, Sheppard played his best season as a junior when he played primarily on the defensive line and finished fifth on the team with 48 total tackles and first on the team with 10 tackles for loss.

His senior season saw a scheme transition, as Ole Miss’ former defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre implemented a 3-4 system that made Sheppard more of a roaming linebacker and edge rusher than his previous season at defensive end. Sheppard began his senior season wearing a protective club on his left hand after a fall camp injury that required minor surgery. He started all 12 games in 2019 and finished with 25 tackles, two for a loss. Despite his drop in production, he received an invite to the NFL Combine.

Measurables:

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 261 pounds

Hand: 10”

Arm: 32 3/4”

NFL Combine Results:

40 Yard Dash: 4.83 seconds

Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches

Bench Press: 28 reps

Broad Jump: 115 inches

Positives:

As someone who has shown flashes of NFL pass rush potential, Sheppard is a raw talent with a long frame and a violent style of play. He showcased his athleticism at the combine and impressed scouts with his strength on the bench press and movement on the field. In the Run the Hoop drill he stayed low, kept his feet, stayed on balance and accelerated through the finish.

When you turn to the tape, the first thing that stands out is Sheppard’s high-energy motor. He finds himself in the backfield quite often, and forces opposing quarterbacks into a play that may not be there.

His job as an edge guy is to keep downfield and crash hard through the 5 or the 9 gap, while the interior defenders (in this case, fellow 2020 Draft prospect Benito Jones) hold the middle. He does his job and does it well.

Though the play went elsewhere, on this down, Sheppard’s physicality shines through as he blows virtually untouched past the offensive line, clobbers the quarterback, keeps his feet and is quickly able to pivot back toward the play and help make the tackle.

When Sheppard is forced inside or stepped out by a tackle, he keeps his pad level low and drives through the block, causing chaos that forces an ill-advised play or makes the tackle himself. In this play against Mississippi State, he shoots off the ball, locks up his man with inside hands and his head at the numbers, extends his arms, forces the block to stand up off-balance and bowls him over.

His 2018 tape provides a better understanding of the player he could become. He got to Oxford and showed growth from sophomore to junior year and was one of the better defensive ends in that season. His explosive get-off allows him to over-power a tight end, and catches a larger tackle on his kick-step before his plant foot is down.

He rarely lined up in a three-point stance in 2019, but he still showed the ability to go toe-to-toe with a bigger block. In this play against the eventual national champions, Sheppard (with white long sleeves on the right end, standing in the 5 spot) beats the tackle off the ball and uses a powerful rip move to brush off the outside punch hand. Once he pushes through the contact, he drives the shallow-based tackle back into the pocket which rushes the Heisman winner Joe Burrow to throw off-balance and into double coverage.

He showed his strong punch and rip during the bag drill at the combine. His speed through the dummies converts to power when driving his legs against a block.

Forced into an uncomfortable position in a 3-4 system in his senior year, he was pushed into coverage and often found himself one-on-one with an opposing skill player. Overall, he did a good job of getting out and covering a running back in the flat.

Against LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who had nine catches for 77 yards against Alabama and seven catches for 51 yards against Auburn, Ole Miss held the running back to four catches for 22 yards— in a game where Burrow threw for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns. Look here how Sheppard gets out in front of Edwards-Helaire’s flat route and uses his big body to hold him from getting downfield and finding space to slip into the end zone.

The Tigers would score on the play, but Burrow didn’t even look at his tailback because he was completely locked up. Should he continue to grow and work on his pass coverage (which as only introduced to him before 2019), Sheppard could develop into a decent coverage option in a zone setting. At the very least, he could be trusted to spy a mobile quarterback or stick with a back into the second level.

Negatives:

Sheppard has a lot of room to grow, and his production fell off significantly in 2019. The problem he faced in his senior year was a direct result of the realigned defensive scheme. As a hybrid between edge rusher and weakside linebacker, he was left in compromising situations that didn’t play to his barbaric first pop from a three-point stance, such as being left in one-on-one coverage with the Biletnikoff Award Winner Ja’Marr Chase. He was embarrassed in coverage outside of the box or the flat.

For someone is in the backfield at an impressive clip, Sheppard has only 1.5 career sacks, which raises the question as to why he couldn’t finish. When a tackle would get his hands firmly locked inside on Sheppard, his pursuit of the quarterback was halted. This is the biggest knock entering the draft, seeing as a pass rusher needs to be able to counter when engaged by a block. Sheppard has a strong first chop, but to see him put together a full pass rush move was a rarity. He has also had some control issues, with mindless mistakes turning into costly penalties.

Bottom Line:

Overall, Sheppard is a raw talent that was on the verge of a breakout season before he was forced into a role that didn’t cater to his abilities. He is quick off the edge and strong against sizable blocks. His pass rush needs work and his run identification and block shedding needs polishing, but he made plays and caused chaos anyway. If a team needs depth on the edge, Sheppard could be of interest during the later rounds as a patience play. He is a true athlete and if the right coaching staff can mold him, he could become a strong player on third down passing situations, at the very least.

Sheppard is not expected to hear his name called before the sixth round unless a front office was blown away by his combine numbers. He will either be taken in the final 32 slots, or sign quickly as a sought-after undrafted free agent.