Overview – Calijah Kancey
Calijah Kancey has been a riser in this year’s draft process so far, moving from a mid-Day 2 pick to a potential late first-rounder. Kancey combines a rare combination of speed and strength at the interior defensive line position. With the NFL Combine rapidly approaching, the Pittsburgh defensive lineman can combine his on-field production with a great combine performance to help move him up draft boards. As seen on the Pittsburgh Panthers team website, Kancey posted 34 tackles for loss and 16 sacks in his 3 years as a contributor, with 14.5 of the tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks coming in just his senior year.
Kancey is an incredibly twitchy and fluid mover on the interior defensive line. He was able to line up as a 0 tech over the center, anywhere from a 2i-3 tech, and occasionally as a true edge, all with success. When lining him up over the center, Pittsburgh would often run stunts, sending Kancey outside to beat the tackle around the edge, where he was able to showcase his speed and surprisingly great bend. As a 2i or 3 tech, Kancey was able to show off his plethora of pass rush moves, going most often to a spin that could be supplemented with rips, swims, and straight up bull-rushes. Despite his arms being on the shorter side, he was often able to make up the difference with his burst out of the snap to initiate first contact. When he uses his hands they are active and effective, swatting away jabs and jolting past guards and centers alike.
Calijah Kancey will be slighted for his size. Standing at just 6’0” tall and 280 pounds, it is undeniable that he is undersized for his position. This is most notable in run defense, where Kancey can struggle to get the desired push a team would want from an interior defensive lineman, which is an issue that might keep him from being a 3 down player early in his career. Kancey also really struggles against double teams, where he often lacks the strength to make any sort of push against two blockers, much less shed and get into the backfield. His shorter arms mean that he has to be great at anticipating the snap, as even the difference of half a second could be the difference between a successful and unsuccessful rep. Finally, he sometimes can lose the ball looking through a crowd, sticking his eyes on the running back in play action for too long.
A lofty one for sure, but the closest pro comparison for Calijah Kancey right now is Aaron Donald. Now, this is in no way setting the expectation for Kancey to produce at the level of Donald at any point, setting the line to be a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year would be absurd. However, in terms of make-up and style, there are noticeable similarities between the two players. Both played at the University of Pittsburgh, and measure out about the same, with Donald having just an inch and 10 pounds over Kancey. They are both pass rushers first, who had great speed and power coming out of college. Kancey doesn’t have to be the total game wrecker that Donald is to be a very effective member of an NFL defensive line.
Round Projection: Late 1st – Mid 2nd Rounder
This is a difficult draft to evaluate for player draft positions, because outside of the top 10-15 players there seems to be high variance in where players are getting mocked. Teams like the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, or Philadelphia Eagles could be interested towards the end of the first round, but he also might fall as far as the Atlanta Falcons at pick 45, or the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick 50. Kancey is projected to have an excellent combine, which could help ensure he is taken in the sooner end of this range.
Calijah Kancey is a player who can offer immediate impact as a pass rusher, and has the upside to potentially become a decent run defender as well. He will struggle to be a 3-down player early on in his career, and will have trouble in the run game against bigger NFL interior offensive lineman, but the tools and athletic potential that Kancey already possesses gives him a high ceiling to improve towards.