The Utah Utes have quietly become a hotbed for NFL talent over the years. They have produced numerous NFL talents in recent drafts, with notable players such as Cody Barton, Marquise Blair, Garrett Bolles, and Marcus Williams all coming out in the last few years. This year appears to be on the same track, as there are already five Utes who have accepted invites to this year’s Senior Bowl.
While all five of those players are great in their own right, the player with perhaps the most to gain from the week-long showcase is pass rusher Bradlee Anae. One of the NCAA’s best kept secrets in recent years, Anae has quietly become one of the Nation’s most consistent and productive pass rushers. His 29.5 sacks in his career is tied for the Utah school record and is fourth-most among active FBS players. He was also a two-time First Team All-Pac 12 honoree in his four collegiate seasons.
As a senior, Anae was named as one of the captains of the defense. After receiving this honor, he broke out for his best collegiate season yet. He finished the season tied for seventh in the FBS with 12.5 sacks as he took home the Morris Trophy for the Pac-12’s most outstanding defensive lineman. He also finished as a finalist for the coveted Lombardi and Bednarik awards.
With that production and the notable locker room leadership that comes with a team captaincy, Anae is a fairly easy evaluation on paper for the 2020 NFL Draft. The fun in evaluating his game, though, is seeing how he wins as a pass rusher. He does not possess great bend or elite strength on the outside. Rather, he wins with excellent technique and polish that very few pass rushers coming out of college possess. Let’s jump into some film to see the multitude of ways that this talented pass rusher wins on the edge.
Club Move (Go-To Rush)
Let’s start with one of Anae’s go-to moves. He loves to use his right hand as his club hand and swat away the extended arm of opposing offensive tackles. As you will see in the clip below, he does this with great hand quickness and strength. That ‘club’ arm breaks the grip of opposing tackles and frees him up for an outside rush with ease.
He performs this club from many different stances and starting points in order to keep opposing offensive tackles guessing. Sometimes he starts with a hesitation off the line before quickly engaging and disengaging with the club. Sometimes the move is a stab-club, where he makes quick initial contact to get the tackle’s arm to extend before clubbing down and working outside. Other times, it is even a bull rush paired with a club to knock the tackle off balance before taking away their leverage. Anae uses this go-to move to his advantage and is absolutely devastating with his combination of hand quickness and power.
Dip/Rip Move (Go-To Rush pt.2)
It is often stated that a rusher with one go-to move is going to be a pretty good player in the NFL. Once that second go-to move is established, though, is when the real fun begins. Anae is prolific with his club move, but another move that he often relies on is the dip/rip to the outside. This move pairs perfectly with the club because the initial motion starts the same. From his engaged position, tackles are often forced to guess what Anae is going to do because he brings the ability to do either on any given play.
The dip/rip is typically most effective with “bendy” edge rushers. While Anae has decent bend on the outside, it is a struggle for him to truly turn the corner on some rushes with his somewhat limited flexibility. Where he is able to make up for this is with good burst/timing off of the line of scrimmage and good technique to the outside. He is quick off the line and gets opposing tackles on their heels. From there he is able to soften his rush angle with good footwork and get to the outside without great bend. He will occasionally get run out of the play or fall on the outside due to this slight stiffness, but his ability to utilize his footwork and his ability to wall off tackles with his inside arm makes this an effective secondary move.
Spin Move in development?
Another move he is working on? Yup, Anae has also been working on a spin move as a senior in 2019. It may not be his most refined move, but it does keep opposing tackles honest. The biggest advantage to adding this move to his repertoire going forward is how it forces tackles to play him. With his strongest moves being outside moves, adding a strong inside spin keeps tackles from overplaying to the outside to stop his main rushes.
Anae has generally good technique already with this spin move. He sets up the outside rush well on this move to get opposing tackles to open up their stance. From there, he does a good job of staying balanced and working back inside quickly with his spin. It appears to be a bit in the early development stages, and Anae doesn’t resort to it too often, but it is a nice move to mix in with his go-to ones every now and then.
It all starts with good footwork, active hands, and a strong punch.
Anae is a really refined pass rusher in a pretty solid edge class. What truly separates him is what is seen in the clips above. It’s isn’t just that he is a good athlete with go-to moves; it is how these moves were formed. He possesses extremely active and strong hands, which is the core foundation of these moves he has perfected. With a good punch and powerful mitts, he can manipulate tackles however he wants on the outside. When you add in that he is very precise with his footwork, then you have a pretty good pass rusher in an already good draft class.
Active/strong hands are the base of it all, and it can be seen in the clips below. Even when he is not performing his go-to moves from above, he his constantly working his hands and finding an opening on the line. These hands allow him to work on other moves that are seen in these clips, from the push-pull technique to the two-hand swipe technique. While it is easy to get caught up in his hand work, also watch his steps as he softens and baits offensive tackles. He is able to consistently keep the opposing tackle guessing, and that is another truly valuable trait in Anae’s game.
Bradlee Anae may not be the most discussed pass rusher in this class, but that should change after the Senior Bowl. With his technique and polish rushing the passer, he offers a good baseline floor that teams will look for in the middle rounds. When you add in that he has had production and has that locker room element of being a team captain, there is a lot to like in this edge rusher.
For teams looking for a player with a solid athletic skill set who has maximized his ability with excellent technique, look no further than Bradlee Anae. There are some questions in his game, and he may not be a flashy star in the NFL, but the team that drafts him will definitely be getting a day-one contributor. Look for Anae to have a very good week in Mobile for the Senior Bowl and work his way into early day-two consideration come NFL Draft time.