How should teams evaluate an injury risk?
At what point does talent and potential outweigh the risk that the player won’t be on the field? That’s the question NFL teams have to answer when it comes to EDGE Jaelan Phillips out of Miami.
Phillips originally enrolled at UCLA as the consensus top prospect in the nation. But he was forced to medically retire from football in his sophomore year after a slew of injuries his first two seasons. After enrolling at UCLA, Phillips suffered a wrist injury in a moped accident, sprained ankles (both left and right ankles), and most notably, a trio of concussions which ultimately ended his time at UCLA.
He transferred to the University of Miami, intending to get into the music industry, but ultimately got back on the football field in 2020. Phillips finally showed the ability that made him the top recruit in the country last year, but the question remains: What about those injuries?
The New York Giants have a definite, and pressing, need for a pass rusher and Phillips might just be the best one in the class. But just how great is their appetite for risk?
Prospect: Jaelan Phillips
Games Watched: vs. Duke (2020), vs. Virginia Tech (2020), vs. North Carolina (2020), vs. Clemson (2020)
Red Flags: Significant injury history (multiple concussions)
Tackles For a loss: 23.5
Passes Defensed: 5
Games Played: 10
Tackles For a loss: 12.5
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Length, first step, explosiveness, bend, body control, play strength, technique
Worst: Injury history
Projection: A starting EDGE with Pro Bowl potential, assuming he stays healthy.
Miami EDGE Jaelan Phillips has the length, athleticism, first step, and technique to be an immediate impact player at the NFL level.
Phillips played from a variety of alignments, from 9-technique to nose tackle (in certain pressure packages), playing from both the left and right side of the defense. His most common alignment was as the EDGE on the defensive left, across from the right tackle. Phillips routinely played as both a stand-up pass rusher as well as a defensive end from a 3-point stance, and was effective from both stances.
Phillips has an excellent first step combined with good snap timing to make him explosive off the ball. He consistently plays with good leverage, allowing him to get under blocker’s pads, and uses his length well to keep linemen from establishing their blocks. Phillips uses his hands well to keep himself clean, sporting a wide variety of pass rush moves. He mixes speed moves, power moves, and converting speed to power, making him difficult for blockers to anticipate. He also has enough lower body flexibility and fluidity to bend the edge sharply and carry speed throughout his rush.
Phillips is a capable run defender as well, using his length to control blockers while his leverage and play strength allow him to set a firm edge. He is able to shed blocks to make plays on runners, as well as use his long arms to make plays off of blocks.
Miami also asked Phillips to drop into coverage in certain instances. While he didn’t look completely comfortable or fluid in shallow zone coverages, he gained depth quickly enough and did a good job of staying aware of his surroundings.
Phillips’ greatest weakness on the field was a slight tendency to resort to a spin move which was, frankly, ineffective. The much-bigger knock on him is his significant injury history. While at UCLA, Phillips suffered a wrist injury in a moped accident, sprained both ankles, and suffered three concussions. The concussions are the biggest concern and the last of which resulted in the end of his career at UCLA and him needing to take 2019 off from football.
Overall Grade: 8.9 - This prospect has the athletic tools and technical polish to be an immediate starter and impact player. Injury concerns keep him in the fringe 1st/2nd range.
Jaelan Phillips projects as an immediate starting EDGE with the potential to be a Pro Bowl caliber player early in his career.
That is, if he is able to stay healthy and stay on the field.
Phillips has all the tools to be a stand-out pass rusher off the edge, with the burst, bend, fluidity, power, and explosiveness to be a legitimate problem for offenses. He also has plenty of length, good leverage, and the play strength to be a reliable run defender on the edge. Phillips has the versatility to play from a 2 or 3-point stance, slide inside in nickel packages and drop into coverage, allowing him to play in pretty much any defense.
He already has solid technique, good leverage, and good discipline to shorten his learning curve, and should be able to step into a starting role immediately.
If Phillips had been healthy throughout his college career he would likely be an undoubted top-10 or top-5 prospect. But he didn’t say healthy, and those concussions have to be a red flag for teams. Brain injuries are always a concern and previous concussions make future concussions more likely. Teams will need to evaluate where his health stands after the 2020 season, and how likely he is to stay on the field.