The Pittsburgh Steelers got what many considered a gift with the selection of EDGE Quincy Roche in the sixth round in the 2021 NFL Draft. Many expected the team to address the edge position earlier, having only the likes of Cassius Marsh behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Many considered Roche to be a Late Day Two/Early Day Three selection in the scouting community, so Pittsburgh landing the OLB at pick #216 was considered great value. The thought is Roche fell due to concern of being dubbed a “tweener” at the next level, being a shade under 6’3 and 245lb with average athletic testing numbers for his size.
However, as the Steelers Depot crew has done the last few weeks following the NFL Draft, we see a player skilled in rushing the passer with great hand usage. Tom Mead did a great job in his profile showing Roche’s use of hands around the edge as a pass rusher like we see here on this rep against Clemson, hitting #79 Tristan Carman with the double swipe and rip through as he finishes at #16 Trevor Lawrence for the hit to force the incomplete pass.
Another example here against Pitt where he evades the block and at the QB for the sack.
Against the run, Roche does a great job being an effective communicator on the defense as a team leader in his lone season with the Hurricanes and during his time at Temple. Here against the Panthers, Roche shoots the gap hard and wraps up the ball carrier in the backfield for the loss on the play.
While not a phenomenal athlete, Roche does a good job utilizing his quickness off the snap against bigger offensive tackles against the run, crossing their face on the snap of the football and crashing down to cause havoc up the middle like on this play against the Tigers where Roche rips through the block of Carman and makes the play on #9 Travis Etienne in the backfield.
He isn’t the most fluid mover in space, but is more than competent at performing zone drops into the flat and attempting to cover backs and TEs leaking out in coverage. Here we actually see him make a diving attempt at an interceptable pass along the sideline, being in position to get the turnover.
While he shows good effort and pursuit in run defense, Roche is considered a tad undersized for the EDGE position and can get swallowed up by larger blockers on the outside. On this rep against UNC, we see Roche take on the block but fail to keep his outside leg and arm free to keep outside contain, getting engulfed by the pulling guard who turns his shoulders and thus springs #25 Javonte Williams for the big run.
Knowing what we know about Roche as a prospect transitioning to the league, I wanted to look at Cassius Marsh and see how Roche stacks up to what March currently is as an NFL player. More of a journeyman player who has been with seven teams since entering the league in 2014, Marsh has a similar size profile to Roche, standing at 6’4, 254lb. He has 14 sacks to his name as a pass rusher in that time, mostly serving as a rotational pass rusher. Marsh plays with decent speed around the edge and has the ability to run the arc should he get a step on the opposing tackle.
Here on this rep against the Raiders, he uses a rip move to get underneath the blocker’s reach and turn the corner to the QB where he reaches out for the sack.
We see another example here on this chop/rip on #71 Bobby Evans, getting th corner relatively easily on his pursuit to the QB as Evans is running from behind, not being able to create the arc of the pocket with his vertical set in time.
He too will utilize his superior athleticism against tackles to cross their face as well like Roche did to get inside on his pass rush. Here against #72 Charles Leno at LT, he uses the chop to knock Leno’s right hand down as he finds the inside path to the QB, getting home for the big hit on the sack.
For the most part, though, Marsh wins most of his reps as a pass rusher with effort on broken plays rather than with finesse and technique. On this rep we see him go against RT #70 Bobbie Massie but is unable to get the corner as he fakes inside at the start of the rep but merely hand fights with Massie at the arc of the pocket. Luckily, Mitch Trubisky scrambles out of the pocket and right into the path of Marsh who makes the diving tackle attempt on the QB right at the LOS.
What has been well-documented about Marsh during his time in Pittsburgh and that dreadful loss to the Browns in the playoffs is his inability to effectively hold up against the run. He doesn’t play with a great anchor on the edge and will get washed down or engulfed by size on most occasions like we see here on this rep where RG #77 Wyatt Teller pulls to the left and clears him out of the play, planting him into the ground as #27 Kareem Hunt rips off a good chunk gain.
This has been a problem for Marsh for much of his NFL career as we see on another rep when he was in New England, not keeping his outside leg and arm free on the stretch run play to the right side, getting sealed by the guard on the square pull, giving #28 Melvin Gordon a big hole on the right side which he breaks through for the long TD run as Marsh attempts to dive at his feet, missing as Gordon gallops to pay dirt.
Overall, both Marsh and Roche fit the tweener mold as guys that can be solid rotational pass rushers for more solidified starters but have their warts in run defense due to lack of size and strength. Marsh has the experience in the league over Roche working for him, but after studying the two, I like Roche’s effort against the run more, being more compact to take on blocks and shed blockers compared to Marsh who has mostly been a liability against the run for his whole career. Also, Roche has a better feel as a pass rusher, utilizing multiple moves in his toll box as a savvy technician with his hands with Marsh’s sacks being of less quality.
It may not be Week One, but I would not be shocked if Roche overtook Marsh on the depth chart early on in the 2021 campaign as the #3 EDGE on the depth chart behind the two starters. The team has already expressed interest in potentially adding another body to the room, supposedly having interest in Ryan Kerrigan before he signed with the Eagles. Should they decide to roll with the guys they have going into training camp, I definitely expect to hear Roche pushing Marsh from the get-go, given he shows enough in the pre-season to earn the trust of the coaching staff to play 12-15 snaps a game in relief of Watt or Highsmith as a good developmental third option on the edge and a likely higher upside option than that of Cassius Marsh.
What are your thoughts on the depth at OLB behind Watt and Highsmith? Do you think Roche can win that role as the third man in the rotation, or do you thin Marsh will retain that role given his experience and Roche’s need to adjust to the speed of the game? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!