Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders’ trajectory over the course of the 2021 season and through the 2022 NFL Draft process has certainly been a roller coaster.
Sanders was largely overlooked to start the 2021 season, but rose to prominence along with the Bearcats’ rise to the College Football Playoffs. Sanders was an integral part of a defense that played a big role in Cincinnati’s undefeated season. However, he seemed to sink down draft boards over the next few months.
Sanders was smaller than expected at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, and while he performed well enough in practices, questions began to creep in. Those questions only got louder at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine when Sanders weighed in at a shockingly light 228 pounds. He didn’t perform up to expectations as well, which only compounded concerns looking ahead to the NFL. Of course, it was quickly revealed that Sanders lost about 20 pounds fighting an illness and was competing at the Combine despite not being at 100 percent. That quelled some of the questions, but Sanders’ draft stock remains depressed.
When he’s at his best, Sanders is a twitchy, explosive, and versatile EDGE with a knack for disruption. The New York Giants are certainly in need of a player with those traits. Could Sanders’ recent difficulties make him a mid-round steal?
Prospect: Myjai Sanders (21)
Games Watched: vs. Georgia (2020), vs. Notre Dame (2021), vs. Central Florida (2021), vs. Houston (2021)
Games Played: 48
Tackles For a loss: 24.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 12
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 7.5
Forced Fumbles: 0
Passes Defensed: 5
Best: Twitch, explosiveness, agility, versatility
Worst: Size, play strength
Projection: A rotational pass rush specialist EDGE with starting upside.
(Sanders is Cincinnati EDGE number 21)
Myjai Sanders is a lean, athletic, and versatile EDGE prospect from the University of Cincinnati.
Sanders has a long, lean frame at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds and primarily lines up as an edge defender. He has experience playing out of a 2-point stance as a stand-up rusher and a 3-point stance as a down lineman.
Sanders typically keys the snap well and has a good get-off. He is able to fire out of his stance (both 2 and 3-point) with good leverage and flashes an explosive first step. Sanders generally does a good job of firing his hands to stagger blockers and places them well to gain inside leverage. Likewise, he almost always plays with good hip and pad level to get under blocker’s pads and maximize his own play strength. He has the ability to blow up tight end blocks and even drive offensive tackles back when he converts speed into power.
Sanders shows the ability to rush with a plan throughout the game, and typically builds his plan on power moves. He uses his first step and speed-to-power to bull rush blockers, before building off of the bullrush with a push-pull or forklift move. Sanders seems to try and “train” defenders to expect power moves over the first part of the game, before transitioning to speed counters later in the game.
He is a disciplined run defender and rarely runs himself out of the play despite his speed off the edge. He does a good job of setting a firm edge – particularly against tight ends – with his hand usage and agility allowing him to shed blocks and make plays on ball carriers.
Sanders has some ability to drop into coverage, although he was only rarely asked to do so. His agility should allow him to mirror tight ends and running backs in zone coverage. Sanders does a good job of getting his hands up to clog passing lanes when he can’t get to the quarterback in time to pressure him. He has 12 passes defensed, including 5 as a senior, which is impressive for a player who isn’t in coverage.
While Sanders’ willingness to be a power rusher offers him some advantages in run defense, it can play against his strengths and limit his ability to consistently pressure passers. He relies on his quickness and explosiveness to generate his power, and he can struggle to disengage from blockers when they’re able to absorb his initial rush. He also doesn’t have many pure speed moves in his pass rush repertoire, and adding moves to capitalize on his quickness and agility should help him be more consistently productive at the NFL level.
Likewise, Sanders’ frame is likely close to maxed out and his lack of mass can impact his game. He has a narrow lower body and can be knocked off his rush fairly easily by chip blocks, or even incidental contact from the side.
Overall Grade: 7.5
Myjai Sanders projects as a situational pass rush specialist early in his career, though he has the potential to earn an important part in a defensive front rotation with a bit of development.
His future team would be well-served to work on developing the speed portion of his game and moving him around the defensive formation. While Sanders can be an absolute menace when the Bearcats’ defense starts to swarm late in games, he lacks consistency on a play-to-play basis. He plays almost like a power rusher trapped in a speed rusher’s body, and that can lead to him staying blocked once a lineman is able to engage. Sanders would likely be more successful if he is able to use speed as his primary attribute and counter with his power.
He has enough explosiveness to his game that he can be a headache for blockers when he aligns at a 9-technique, and enough agility that he could exploit the A or B-gaps as a looper on twists or blitzes as well.
Whether or not Sanders becomes a “starter” might depend on the situation in which he lands. Teams that ask their EDGE defenders to set the edge first will likely want to look in other directions.
Sanders is unlikely to play much over the 248 pounds he weighed at the Cincinnati Pro Day, and more traditional defenses might look at him as a pass rush specialist only. However, his run defense is good enough that a defense that stresses athleticism or more “multiple” team could eventually be able to feel comfortable with him on any down.