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NFL Draft Profile: Calijah Kancey

School: Pittsburgh

Position: DT

Year: Redshirt Junior

The Good: Calijah Kancey comes into this NFL Draft as one of the prospects with the most recognition, on the back of his unanimous selection to the 2022 All-American Team then 4.67 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine that tied the record for defensive tackles. Putting his accolades aside, on the field Kancey plays with the speed and suddenness that he showcased at the Combine. He can climb from gap-to-gap in a flash, and you can blink and miss when Kancey shoots gaps off the snap. With his extremely active hands on top of that, there are some plays where interior linemen barely touch Kancey before he collapses the pocket. That’s usually how Kancey wins, though he does have some technical rush moves down too.

The Bad: I’ll mainly stick to the pass rushing phase of Kancey’s game with discussion of cons, because he looked small enough against the run in the ACC that I’m not sure it even warrants discussion how he’d phase against the run in the NFL. So, as a pass rusher, Kancey really doesn’t attack linemen with much power – even when he’s able to lock into them. That lack of power aside, Kancey doesn’t stack on top of blockers much because he kinda can’t. Undersized DT prospects are nothing new, but Kancey’s measurables at 281lbs (4th percentile) and 30.5” arms (1st percentile) are still shocking. Naturally, he’s not able to swim over even the shortest of blockers at his dimensions, so his access to a wider array of rush moves is limited. Kancey frequently tries to spin off blockers following initial contact to compensate for this, but it didn’t work much in college and will work even less in the NFL.

The Bottom Line: Yeah…I’m skeptical of Calijah Kancey’s transition to the NFL and totally fade the projection of him as a first-round player. He’s obviously a fun prospect who posted ridiculously high pressure stats in college, but arguably no prospect has had his narrative get more out-of-hand during the elongated pre-Draft process than him. The comparisons to Aaron Donald are expected given their shared status as Pitt alumni at smaller sizes for a defensive tackle, but those are silly. Donald is 1-of-1, and even if he wasn’t, Kancey doesn’t destroy solo blocking nearly to the degree that Donald did at Pitt. I also can’t believe that more attention hasn’t been given to Kancey’s snap shares in college; he was a truly rotational player in 2021 and even somewhat rotational in 2022 as well. He also isn’t particularly versatile, as his pass rush chops didn’t slide over to his occasional reps at EDGE. Kancey missed time with a shoulder injury in 2022 as well…and I’m piling on at this point to a degree that isn’t exactly fair for a potentially impactful and easy-to-root-for role player who shouldn’t have entered the Round 1 conversation in the first place in my opinion. 

Grade: Third Round

Pro Comp: Milton Williams

Games Watched:

  • Clemson 2021
  • Wake 2021
  • West Virginia 2022
  • Tennessee 2022
  • UNC 2022

Plays That Matter [LINK]


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