Why Calijah Kancey Is More Than Just A Pass Rusher


Calijah Kancey was the first round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The defensive tackle out of Pittsburgh was one of the best interior pass rushers in the draft and General Manager Jason Licht couldn’t pass on him with the 19th overall pick. This could turn out to be the steal of the entire draft.


Despite being a consensus All American, Kancey wasn’t expected to be a top ten pick. This is due to his size. At 6 ‘1 and 285 lbs Kancey is extremely small by NFL standards.


This can be overcome with elite athletic ability combined with great technique, which Kancey has. This is what still makes him a high upside pass rusher. However, many have questioned his ability to stop the run at that size.


It will be difficult to outmuscle NFL offensive linemen when Kancey is 30 lbs lighter than them. Even though he looks very strong and was scrappy against double teams in college, the NFL is a bigger, faster, stronger league. Make no mistake, Kancey’s size is a disadvantage.


However, too much is being made of this fact. Not only do I believe that Kancey will be able to hold his own as a run defender, but he will actually be disruptive against it. Here’s how I see Kancey overcoming his small stature.


This Is Not Your Dad’s NFL


We have heard for a long time that the NFL is a passing league. The days of the wing T offense are long gone at the NFL level. Teams now focus on speed and spacing to move the ball.


In recent years, the same concept has transitioned to offensive line play. Every team is looking for the next Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay and the offense they bring. Not only because these offenses are very quarterback friendly, but also because of the rushing attack that comes with it.


Outside zone rushing schemes, like the one the Bucs are bringing in this year, are becoming more and more common around the NFL. This system revolves around getting the offensive line moving down the line of scrimmage and beating their man to a spot and sealing them off from the play. The days of 335 lbs linemen out muscling opponents at the point of attack are becoming a rarity. 


This means that defensive linemen have to not only be powerful, but also extremely quick to not get beat to that spot and be in a position to make a play. It’s not enough to just be phonebooth fast on the defensive line; defenders must be able to stretch plays to the sideline. This is a lot to ask of big powerful defensive tackles.


Obviously, quickness is no issue for Kancey. In fact, even as a rookie he will be one of the quickest defensive tackles in the entire NFL. This makes him suited to be a good run defender against this style of running game. 


Kancey’s Shortcomings


In short, Kancey’s shortcomings are that he’s short. Have I emphasized the shortness enough? It may seem like a little thing, but in reality this shortness can be a big deal.


More specifically, Kancey’s short arms could be the problem. Arm length is important when it comes to trench play. The longer reach a lineman has, the more likely they are to be able to control their opponent’s chest and move them where they want them to go.


In the tale of the tape, Kancey will always be at a disadvantage when it comes to length. However, this is something that can be overcome. Just like with any set of tools, it doesn’t matter whose is better if you don’t know how to use them.


Kancey has shown to be excellent when it comes to his technique. In terms of hand usage, he is as refined as any college prospect to enter the draft in the last several years. This is a big part of what allowed him to dominate the college football level. 


With that said, the NFL will be a whole different animal. Every player is expected to be skilled and athletic. If Kancey can’t dominate with his technique like he did in college, then he will find himself neutralized and beat more often than not. 



Kancey should be a very good pass rusher in the NFL. His quickness off the ball and athletic ability will make him good in this area if nothing else. There will always be value in that.


He should also make an impact as a run defender. Kancey has the athletic ability to maneuver around even athletic offensive lineman in the increasingly popular wide zone rushing attack. This should make him very disruptive and even an above average run stopped.


However, calling this area of his game into question is valid at this point. He will always be very short by NFL standards and gives up a natural advantage with his lack of arm length. This can be compensated for with great technique, which he has demonstrated, but Kancey will see more technically refined opponents at the professional level. 


This means that there will be plays that he gets pushed around and might find himself pancaked once or twice a game. However, he will also make big splash plays as a run defender. His ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage will show itself in his run defense almost as much as it will as a pass rusher.

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