Prior to the college football season, the three top pass rushing defensive ends were Harold Landry, Bradley Chubb, and Louisiana State’s Arden Key. Key was, back then, the most highly touted of the three and was even considered a candidate for the first overall pick.
The Detroit Lions struggled mightily to get to the passer in almost every game they played. While 2016 sixth-round pick Anthony Zettel has been somewhat of a revelation, Ezekiel Ansah has continued to play while limited by injury and the pair are pretty much the beginning and end to the team’s ability to rush off the edge.
Weight: 238 pounds
Current Projection: Top 5 to late first round
Key’s projection will rely heavily on how his medicals check out. From a pure talent standpoint, there is very little to turn you away from him. His size and array of pass rushing moves are excellent, according to Daniel Jeremiah and many others, and despite his slender weight, he is the prototypical pass rusher in any system.
Key has several medical flags, including shoulder surgery during the off-season and more recently a knee injury. There are also some character concerns, though not the normal ‘drugs or arrests’ variety. Key took a leave of absence from LSU due to “personal reasons,” a situation that often calls into question a player’s dedication to football. Such reasons often have a perfectly logical explanation, but since it is often very personal it is kept quiet by the player and teams, so it will probably remain a question throughout the draft process.
This is an area of concern for Arden Key. He is expected to have surgery for a minor finger injury soon in addition to a knee injury he’s been missing time for. That’s just in 2017, as he dealt with a shoulder surgery in 2016 that would ultimately require surgery. In both seasons, Key played through various injuries during the season and was at his most productive despite his 2016 shoulder injury getting worse as the season progressed.
The projected measurements above are based on an average for players at his position within one inch and five pounds dating back to 1987. Pass rushers of Key’s size tend to be explosive with good short area quickness and agility, and each of these traits describes Key quite well. A lower-than-average bench wouldn’t be a surprise either given his long arms and below expected weight.
2015 - 41 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 6.5 TFL
2016 - 55 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 12.5 TFL, 2FF, 1FR, 3PD
2017 (so far) - 33 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 5.5 TFL, 1FF
If Teryl Austin remains the Lions defensive coordinator in 2018, Key would fall below the normal size that he prefers in his pass rushers. His height and very long arms are typical, however, and surely a player with the same level of technical prowess he possesses would be a fit in this defensive system even if the team would have to bulk him up a bit first. If Austin is no longer with the Lions, as many suspect this should be the year he finds a head coaching position, a player of Key’s caliber will undoubtedly provide the injection of talent the team needs to improve on one of the team’s weakest areas.