Sometimes you have to ask yourself: Is it better to be really good at one thing, but poor in other important aspects of your duties, or would you rather be at least okay in everything without any stand-out traits?
That's the question the Detroit Lions will have to ask themselves when considering a pass rushing prospect like Florida's Jachai Polite. Polite has a reputation as a dangerous pass rusher, but the general consensus on his abilities in run defense or dropping into coverage are fairly uniform and not positive. The Lions have scouted the University of Florida probably note than any other school the past couple of seasons, so they've likely got a pretty good read on Polite's abilities. Are those abilities a clean fit for a Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni defense?
Jachai Polite, OLB, Florida
Height: 6020 (6 feet, 2 inches) | Weight: 242 pounds
2016 Stats: 6 Solo Tackles, 11 Total, 2.0 Sacks, 1.5 TFL, 1 FF
2017 Stats: 11 Solo Tackles, 22 Total, 2.0 Sacks, 3.5 TFL, 1 FF
2018 Stats: 27 Solo Tackles, 45 Total, 11.0 Sacks, 8.5 TFL, 4 PD, 6 FF
NOTE: Sacks removed from TFL totals
Current Draft Projection: First Round
Some notes from his team profile here.
A heavily-recruited, four-star recruit out of Florida, Polite’s recruitment was based largely on athletic potential over production. His final season saw him notch only six solo tackles and 4.0 sacks, though his junior year was far more productive with 13.0 sacks and 43 solo tackles. He was coached by Mainland’s Scott Wilson, who also coached Jets first-round pick, 2015 All-Rookie, and 2016 Pro Bowl defensive end Leonard Williams as well as Falcons starting safety Ricardo Allen.
Polite makes his living off what appears to be a top-tier athletic toolset along with a nose for the football that saw him with the most forced fumbles in the NCAA last year (six). In 2018, Polite became a serious playmaker for the Florida Gators, racking up 11.0 sacks, the aforementioned fumbles, and an impressive four pass deflections.
His ability to burst off the line and create distance between himself and the man assigned to block him was at times astounding, as he’d get so far past his blocker that he didn’t even need to bend the edge to get to the quarterback; it was basically a straight shot.
Polite plays on both sides of the line, and while he’s significantly better standing up, he has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt if called upon. He appears to be fast and explosive, and while I don’t see elite bend in his toolset, I don’t see poor bend either. (Note: this is an update on my previous comments after watching more tape on him, as his previous year’s tape looked quite stiff in that area.)
Whenever a player comes in billed as an elite pass rusher, the cliche is that they’re not good in run defense. It happens every year with players like Polite, and often it’s far more complicated. Polite is not a great run defender. He posted a respectable 8.5 TFL in 2018, but that wasn’t really indicative of how he played the run in general. When blockers got their hands on him, he rarely had the length or strength to break free and his lack of counters shows up on virtually every game you watch.
His speed in pursuit is quite impressive, but his understanding of what angles to take in pursuit is rudimentary at best and often poor. I noted struggles with length in about a third of the games I watched, which suggests either an actual lack of length or a lack of understanding for how to use it effectively. While he can play both sides of the line and is able to play with a hand in the dirt, he’s not the movable chess piece a play-caller like Matt Patricia prefers.
Position Specific Traits
Clearly his specialty, Jachai Polite displays a decent repertoire of pass rushing moves, though he has his preferences trying to tear around the edge or use an impressive spin move. He lacks much in terms of counters, so his first move has to be special for him to be as productive as he is.
One of the most explosive players off the edge this season, Polite displays a keen understanding of his opponent’s snap counts and the lower body burst to get up field in a hurry. Previously, I had knocked Polite for his bend, stating that he relied almost exclusively on his explosiveness to win, but after watching more of him I think his traits in that area are fine, though probably not top tier. He does rely on his burst to win more often than not, but it’s more a case of having one great trick than having only one trick.
Polite isn’t a flawless pass rusher, he will get eaten up by blockers if his first move doesn’t work, and he has a tendency to completely overrun his rush, a product of a play style that favors getting past his blocker over beating him with moves.
Part of the perceived issues with Polite’s run defense involve how he’s used. Florida played to his strengths and had him attacking the backfield nearly every play. That occasionally put him way out of position. Acknowledging that, when Polite was used in run defense and tested, he often struggled with his assignments. These were mostly mental, processing the route the running back was taking and finding the best way to get there.
The biggest issue with run defense for Polite, however, was how much more his pass rushing problems show up in the run game. As a pass rusher, Polite can get eaten up by blockers if his burst doesn’t work, and due to his style, he can overrun his assignment. In the run game, those issues get exposed far more than in the passing game since his strengths as an explosive rusher can become liabilities that offenses can scheme for.
I have no concerns over Polite’s athletic ability and expect him to test well. His size is going to be concerning for the Lions’ defense, as they prefer players at all pass rushing spots that are bigger, and Polite’s frame doesn’t leave much room to grow.
Polite’s projection has been a bit all over the place, but I’ve seen him as high as the Lions pick as eight and out of the first round altogether. His upside as a pass rusher is through the roof and this is a passing league. I think his projection is going to be around Bruce Irvin area, middle of the first round. Irvin came out with a projection as a pass rushing specialist with schematic limitations and that’s pretty much the same with Polite.
For the Lions to gain his services, they’d either have to take him at eight or nab him after trading down. Of course, the latter would be preferable because it means more picks, but this is a tougher draft to sell a trade up and thus, a trade down.