Evaluating draft prospects and projecting them to the NFL is always some mixture of art and science. It’s far from easy, with plenty of mistakes and misreads in a normal year — and the last year has been anything but normal.
One of the biggest changes to the 2021 draft prep is the number of highly regarded prospects who opted out of the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The NFL will have to make evaluations of a wide swath of players with much less tape (not to mention no Scouting Combine) than they normally would. That complicates matters for prospects who didn’t have much tape coming into the 2020 season.
Pittsburgh defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman was considered one of the top interior defensive line prospects coming into the 2020 season. He exploded onto the scene in 2019 as a disruptive force in the middle of the Pittsburgh defense, racking up 12 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. He is undersized and athletic, which combined with his production as a sophomore, started whispers comparing him to another undersized defensive tackle from Pittsburgh.
Then COVID happened and Twyman was one of the first big names to opt out of the season.
Another season like 2019 could have cemented Twyman as a top defensive prospect, but now his stock is uncertain. Can he continue to build and improve as a pro, or is a one-year wonder? If the former is true, he could be a sleeper and a great value for a team, like the New York Giants, in search of disruptive defenders.
Prospect: Jaylen Twyman
Games Watched: vs. Virginia (2019), vs. Penn State (2019), vs. Central Florida (2019), vs. North Carolina (2019)
Games Played: 21
Tackles For a Loss: 13.5
Passes Defensed: 2
Games Played: 13
Tackles For a Loss: 12.0
Passes Defensed: 2
Best: Quickness, agility, burst, competitive toughness, disruption, versatility, play strength
Worst: Hand usage, snap timing
Projection: A rotational interior defensive lineman in a one-gap defense with starting upside.
Jaylen Twyman is an athletic interior defender with the frame, quickness, agility, and play strength to play multiple positions in a one-gap defense.
Twyman played multiple alignments in Pittsburgh’s defense, manning both the 1 and 3-technique positions in their four-man front as well as the 0-technique and 4i-technique positions in three-man fronts. He also played a variety of other positions depending on the sub-package.
Twyman is a lean defender compared to the historic archetype, but his relative lack of mass is off-set by good play strength to stand up at the point of attack as a run defender and win with power as a pass rusher. He also has good quickness and lateral agility, allowing him to win with speed as well as contribute as a looper on stunts and twists along the defensive line.
Twyman has a good first step with a solid burst out of his stance, which he uses to shoot gaps or jolt blockers backward. Twyman plays with good leverage and pad level as a pass rusher, maximizing his play strength. He has a good long-arm move as a pass rusher, as well as a very effective push-pull. Twyman has very quick feet and the lateral agility to work through traffic along the line of scrimmage. He also has surprising lower body fluidity and bend when rushing off the edge on stunts.
Twyman is both disciplined and disruptive as a run defender. He is capable of shooting gaps or winning one-on-one battles to disrupt running plays in the backfield, as well as holding double teams to allow his teammates to make plays on the ball. Twyman plays with a wide base and good pad level as a run defender, making him difficult-at-best to move off the ball, while allowing him to control blockers. He is also strong and quick enough to make plays off of blocks, and bring down runners as they attack his gap.
Twyman showed considerable improvement over the 2019 season in the mental aspect of his game. He showed much better awareness of the offensive play at the end of the season, with a good sense of when to avoid getting engaged with blockers, so he would be free to pursue the ball on a quick-hitting play. He also improved his hand usage, most notably using his hands to defeat attempted cut blocks.
That said, Twyman needs to continue to improve his hand usage. He can be overly reliant on his swim move as a pass rusher, playing against his natural leverage and opening his torso to blockers playing with good pad level. Twyman can also get tangled up with blockers and needs to continue to improve his hands to disengage more quickly. While he can be disruptive, it’s a little too easy for Twyman to stay blocked throughout the play.
Overall Grade: 7.5 - This player has the traits to be a reliable contributor early in his career, and could potentially develop into a starter.
Jaylen Twyman projects as an important rotational defensive lineman in an attacking one-gap defense.
He has good burst, quickness, agility, and play strength, which should allow him to play a variety of roles in both three and four-man fronts. He might be best served as a B-gap (3, 4i, or 5-technique) defender brought onto the field in passing situations early in his career, but Twyman shouldn’t be thought of as just a specialist.
He has the athletic traits to be an every-down player, with plenty of power at the point ot attack to hold up in the run game. Twyman was frequently double-teamed at the Pittsburgh, and he should be able to stand up to double-teams at the NFL level, though his defensive coordinator would want to try to avoid putting him in position to deal with them on too consistent a basis as a rookie.
That said, he still has some development to do. He is occasionally a bit late off the snap and could stand to improve his snap timing. Likewise, he needs to become more efficient with his hand usage to stay on the field at the NFL level. His push/pull and long arm moves are effective counters to his bull-rushes, but he needs to improve his hand technique to improve to help defeat blocks more quickly. Twyman has a tendency to stay blocked if lineman are able to lock in their blocks, but he also has enough strength to make plays off of blocks. Getting off his blocks quicker and more efficiently would allow Twyman to truly maximize his athletic traits and be a disruptive force in the NFL.
Twyman is another player who will have to overcome a small sample size, but his improvement from 2018 to 2019, and then over the course of 2019, suggests that he could improve markedly under pro coaching.