Jurrell Casey, DT, USC
6’1″, 305 lbs.
Jurrell Casey has been the Trojans’ best defensive lineman the past two seasons and he decided to come out after a productive junior season that saw him improve upon his impressive numbers from the year before. For his efforts, he was named a First Team defensive lineman for the All Pac-10 team this year. Casey started this season on a tear, registering two sacks in week one against Hawaii, ten tackles in week two against Virginia, and nine tackles in week three against Minnesota. Indeed, during those three weeks, Casey demonstrated the kind of impact presence he can bring along the line of scrimmage as both a run defender and pass rusher, and they are a strong indicator of why Casey is such a highly regarded prospect.
Casey typically draws comparisons to Sedrick Ellis, another former disruptive USC defensive tackle. you’ll find this comparison being made by the excellent fellows at CBS and nfldraftscout.com. At nflmocks.com, he’s compared to Mike Patterson, still another former disruptive USC defensive tackle. But as we’re Redskins fans, and since Sedrick Ellis and Mike Patterson play in 4-3 defensive fronts, those comparisons are no good for us. We need to look at where and how Casey might fit into our 3-4 front. To do that, we’re going to have to travel off the path beaten for us by those excellent websites and take a look at some youtube cutups for ourselves:
I want to thank Aaron Aloysius for putting together all of his excellent videos of cutups. This acknowledgement is something you’re going to read several times in my player vignettes down the road. His effort in composing these videos has been indispensable for me in my attempt to get a read on these players. Here is his video of Casey:
vs. Stanford (2009) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txE4oKm5jKI
Let’s also add his sophomore highlights in for good measure:
Alright, first things first, let’s talk about that build. As you can see from those videos, Casey is a squatty, wide-bodied gentleman with an exceptionally thick base. He’s got a low center of gravity and thick bubble and midsection. He’s sloppier around the torso that many of the other top interior defensive linemen in the class and he looks to include every bit of his listed weight. Unfortunately, he’s also a short-armed player that doesn’t own the prototype length to play end in a 3-4 front or the three technique in a 4-3. In view of that, his build gives us some clues as to his best fit in our particular scheme.
I’m referring of course to him playing nose tackle in our defense. Though he mostly played the three technique for USC, it’s clear from the Stanford video that Casey has a high comfort level playing a one technique nose tackle position as well. In fact, he started a few games at nose tackle for SC in 2009, and given his stout, short build, that will probably be his best position in the NFL. Indeed, I’ve done my evaluation on him projecting him as a B.J. Raji style nose tackle. In that role, I’ve concluded that he’s the second best nose tackle prospect in this year’s class, behind only fellow All Pac-10 defensive lineman Stephen Paea in ranking.
Returning to his performance in that 2009 Stanford game, you’ll see that Casey actually stacks up fairly well to Raji from his final year at Boston College, and there are a lot of similarities to draw between the two players. Like Casey, Raji was a cannon ball of a man with below average height and wingspan for the three technique position he played at BC. Casey isn’t nearly as fat as Raji was, weighing about 40 pounds less than the speculated 350 pound Raji weighed his senior season. However, their body types and frames are similar.
As is their play-style. Like Raji, Casey is a disruptive force in the backfield and surprisingly good penetrator who has the quick feet the belie his size. Also like Raji, Casey plays with exceptional instincts and awareness for the position that have allowed him to be an extremely productive interior lineman in college from a statistical standpoint. Casey has no trouble whatsoever in finding the football, and he puts himself into good positions to make plays even when it seems he’s lost the battle with a lineman at the point of attack. One of my favorite things about Casey is that, even when he gets pushed back or jolted initially and has to concede the line of scrimmage or his gap, he doesn’t concede the play. Instead he keeps his eyes in the backfield, his hands engaged, his feet churning, and he snatches victory from the jaws of defeat to make a nice tackle down the field. It also helps that his motor usually runs pretty hot and you will see him make nice plays in pursuit down the field. His exceptional backfield awareness has actually led to several impact plays during his time at SC, including demoralizing sacks, deflected passes, an interception, and several timely fumbles. He’s got a natural flair for the big play.
From a technical standpoint, Casey is very skilled. In general, USC players are usually a pleasure to watch because they benefit from superior coaching. Casey is no exception. He plays with an excellent pad level on a consistent basis, diagnoses his keys quickly, and uses excellent hand technique to create leverage and disengage blockers as the ball comes his way. He’s got a a small but effective set of pass rushing moves including a solid push/pull, bull, and swim. He’s also got an ability to stun offensive linemen with his punch and gets a lot of penetration by virtue of this alone. Casey is a legitimate interior pass rushing threat that can stay on the field for pressure packages.
Casey also boasts exceptional quickness and surprising lateral athleticism for the nose tackle position. His closing burst is impressive and exciting. His tackling ability is my favorite part of his game. Casey is an explosive athlete that can break down quickly and make plays off his frame. He’s got a high level of strength and body control and he can blow a ball carrier up once he gets a bead on him. That’s abundantly clear from his highlight video. His low-bodied power and jarring quickness make him a load to handle when he’s asked to shoot his gap and many a Pac-10 running back has felt his presence when he’s been able to pick up steam downhill.
What he entails for the Redskins
Casey is currently receiving a second or third round projection, and that seems fair to me. He’s not really a scheme diverse player because of his height and length and that limits his draft value. However, I think he’s a terrific fit at nose tackle in a stunting 3-4 defense like the one ours is supposed to be. He’s powerful, quick, smart, instinctive, and capable of both absorbing blocks against the run and getting into the backfield on passing downs. He’s mostly been used as a one gap penetrating three technique in USC’s versatile fronts. But like Raji before him, I believe he’ll fare best by transitioning to the nose at the next level.
Earlier I wrote that I’ve ranked Casey as my second best nose tackle in this class behind Stephen Paea. Casey isn’t the dominating force that Paea has been in college. But he offers a somewhat different set of talents that are no less attractive for our purposes. Namely, he could be a day one starter at nose tackle for us who could bring a truly physical presence to the interior of our defensive line. He’d be a big-hitting tone setter with a proclivity for impact plays, which is exactly what our big-play oriented defense calls for. And on stunting plays and downs where we send the house, Casey would probably be our best penetrating one and three technique outside the largely forgotten Albert Haynesworth.
Where does Casey come in on draft day? Well the strong indication is that he’s going to be buried amongst an exceptional defensive line class despite his talent. Nose tackle is a position with inherently low draft value, and there are a lot of outstanding defensive tackles and ends that will get a higher grade than him. I think it’s likely he’ll be available to us to select at 41. I suspect there’s even a good chance he’ll be available into the third round if we’re able trade down and acquire a selection in that territory. I think Casey would be an excellent choice in that range, and he receives an enthusiastic stamp of approval from me.