NFL Draft

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders

From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a edge rusher that starred for a CFP contender this past season that brings limited production to the league, but was often used out of position to what best compliments his traits.

#21 Myjai Sanders, EDGE, Cincinnati (Sr.) – 6052, 228 lbs.

Measurements

Senior Bowl/Combine Invites

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Myjai Sanders 6’5 1/4” 9 1/4” 32 5/8” 79 7/8”
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
4.67 1.62 4.37 N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
10’.0” 33.0”

The Good

— Has the height and length you look for in an edge rusher
— Good athlete that possesses first-step quickness to fly off the ball when he times the snap
— Has impressive snap in his hands when he contacts blockers at the LOS, being able to shock blockers back with power
— Gangly arms and legs can help him recover to make plays on the ball when knocked of his center of gravity
— Will pursue the ball after initial rush fails as a pass rusher or when initially blocked against the run
— Likes using the side swipe/cross chop moves to get around blockers
— Well-utilized on twists and stunts upfront where he loops around and rushes up the middle with his ability to get skinny
— Was asked to play think in Cincinnati’s defensive scheme, showing his ability to hold his own against the run
— Can string out plays to the sideline by keeping contain or create a stalemate with the blocker across from him

The Bad

— Painfully thin frame with long limbs results in him being displaced against size or neutralized on a fair amount of pass rush attempts
— Will anticipate the snap and pick up offside penalties on occasion; needs to be more consistent with his get off
— Has instances where he can bend and turn the corner, but doesn’t play with consistent bend and balance, lacking ankle flexibility and control of his center of gravity around the edge
— Stands up high and upright on counter rushes and when initially stood up, giving linemen an easy target to punch and get knocked around to the ground
— Needs to develop a counter move to shed blocks when initial rush fails, and he gets stood up
— Can be completely neutralized when the blocker gets a hold of his chest
— Has instances where he can convert speed to power, but he can be inconsistent with his hand usage and playing with leverage, leading to him getting pushed back
— Effort in pursuit seems to run hot-and-cold, being in position to chase down the ball from behind, but chooses to let up

Bio

— Senior prospect from Jacksonville, FL
— Born February 27, 2000 (Age 22)
— Three-star recruit in 2018 class who prepped at Camden County HS as a senior and played two years at Raines HS
— Saw action in 10 games as a true freshman and recording seven tackles (two solo)
— Started 14 games as a sophomore and totaled 36 tackles (20 solo), tallied 6.5 tackles for a loss and four sacks, eight QB hurries, two PBUs, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery
— Played and started in ten games in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season and recorded 31 total stops (22 solo), 10.5 TFLs, seven sacks, and five PBUs
— Was a 14-game starter in his senior season where he notched 41 tackles (17 solo), 7.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, five PBUs, and a fumble recovery
— First team All-AAC in 2020 & 2021

Tape Breakdown

Myjai Sanders from Cincinnati is a name that has been discussed as an underrated sleeper in a deep EDGE class for some time now. He was able to see the field as a true freshman for the Bearcats and worked his way into a starting role as a sophomore, developing his game more as a pass rusher and run defender with each season. His production tailed off in 2021 compared to 2020, but that could be traced back to how HC Luke Fickell utilized him in their scheme, having him align more as a base 4-3 DE with his hand in the dirt and even kick inside as a 4i at times rather than play to his strengths as a standup edge rusher.

Fickell acknowledged as much in an interview with NFL Network several months ago, stating that Sanders would likely be a better pro player than he was in college just because he was selfless and was willing to play out of position because that is where the team needed him. My friend and former co-worker Jeremiah Ortiz now coaches the Bearcat Football Strength and Conditioning Program and had this to say about Sanders when I asked him about the prospect:

“Myjai is a competitor and wants to win at anything he does. It doesn’t matter if its rock paper scissors, or a one-on-one rep; he wants to win. Also, he practices how he plays and that is FAST and with EFFORT.” – Jeremiah Ortiz – Assistant Football Sports Performance Coach

When you pop in the tape on Sanders, you definitely can see that play speed J.O. is referring to. Sanders boasts a long, slender build with the long limbs to cover ground quickly in pursuit of the football. Here on this play against Houston, we see Sanders execute a nice inside swim move on the LT and meet #0 Darrian Beavers to the ball on the backside pursuit to wrap up the ballcarrier behind the LOS.

 

His speed and burst also pop with his get off on the snap of the ball as he will try and anticipate the snap and get a good jump to put pressure on the tackle in pass protection as the threatens the edge. This can come back to bite him sometimes as he will get called for offsides, but when it works out like this play against Tulsa where he gets around the corner and makes the QB step up into the pressure for the sack, you appreciate that quick twitch off the snap.

 

While Sanders comes off as light in the pants from a weight standpoint given his frame, you do see instances of him effectively converting speed to power as a pass rusher. He can bring some shock in his hands when he lands his punch, sending tackles backward as he continues his pursuit of the ball. Watch this rep against the Fighting Irish where Sanders gets underneath the LT’s shoulder pads and lifts him back, shedding him and turning inside to the free lane to the QB  where he drills him as he releases the ball straight to the defender in coverage for the INT on the pressure.

 

Here is another example of that speed to power rush against the Cougars where Sanders rushes from a standup position, shoving the tackle back into the LG as he swipes his hands through the blocker’s arms, finishing in the lap of the QB for the shared sack.

 

I asked Sanders at the Combine interviews about his size and ability to play the run given his lack of overall mass, and he responded that size isn’t as important as it is playing with good overall technique in terms of hand placement and leverage to keep outside contain against blocks. When watching his tape, he makes a good point as you see several examples like this one against potential first overall pick #73 Evan Neal where Sanders does a great job fighting pressure and keeping outside contain, string the run play out to the sideline for no gain against a man that outweighs him by over 100lb.

 

Like J.O. mentioned earlier, you do see instances of good effort by Sanders in pursuit of the football. Even when his initial rush fails, we will continue to work to find a way to impact the play like we see in this clip against Notre Dame where Sanders doesn’t win the corner but works back inside to a hole in the middle to put pressure on the passer who ends up throwing an incompletion.

 

Still, when you watch the play above, you recognize that Sanders may not win with a good counter move when his initial rush doesn’t work, but rather on effort, making the “dirty play” than the clean technique play that scouts like to see. The fact of the matter is, Sanders has a difficult time defeating blocks when OL get their hands on his chest. He does have that counter move or the hand usage to rip free like we see on this rep where Sanders gets latched on by the RT and can’t get off the block as the QB scans the field and decided to tuck and run.

 

Even when he does get through, Sanders doesn’t possess the contact balance and bend to fight through blocks without getting thrown around. Here is another play against the Fighting Irish where Sanders wins on this twist to the inside, but comes around high, giving the RG a big target to his chest as he knocks Sanders off his feet as #17 Jack Coan evades the rush and steps up to dump off the pass.

 

For having a lean, lanky frame, Sanders doesn’t have that ankle flexibility to bend the corner around the edge with the body control you would like to see in undersized speed rushers. He tends to get upright too often with his play, and his backside pursuit effort can be inconsistent if he thinks he is out of the play or someone else can make it. Watch this rush attempt against Houston where Sanders does get the corner on the RT with a two-hand swipe/rip combo but can’t flatten the corner into the pocket and stands upright as he begins to stumble, giving little effort after missing out on the sack.

Conclusion

Overall, Myjai Sanders is a Slender Man version of a pass rusher that has the length and traits you like to see in a potential difference maker coming off the edge as a likely fit in a 3-4 scheme as a standup outside linebacker, but his lack of anchor and balance really limits his effectiveness on a play-to-play basis. Sure, there are instances where he can represent himself well against the run or convert speed to power as a rusher, but there are just as many instances where he plays with poor pad level and can’t shed the block, leading to him being a potential liability on run downs where he was often subbed out for bigger bodies during his time at Cincinnati.

Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders Interview: ‘I Like The Scheme Pittsburgh Runs’

Sanders compared himself and his game to that of current Cowboys edge rusher Randy Gregory, which makes some sense given their similar long, lean frames and how they win as pass rushers. However, after watching more of Gregory coming out of Nebraska, I saw him as a higher-ceiling prospect with more was to win currently than Sanders, carrying his weight better overall on his frame. Another slender pass rusher that makes more sense from a pro comparison perspective was former LSU Tiger and current 49er Arden Key.

Key had nearly an identical frame to Sanders coming out of LSU in terms of being a slender, wiry pass rusher and too showed instances where he could show power or win as a pass rusher around the edge, but the inconsistencies as a run defender due to the lack of size and base and inability to execute a proper changeup with his pass rush have limited him to more of a rotational pass rush role in the league now with the 49ers after flaming out with the Raiders.

Sanders likely would be suited for a similar role to start out his NFL career acknowledging that an illness caused him to weigh in significantly lighter than at the Senior Bowl, but that he needs to add functional mass regardless if he hopes to become more than an EDGE #3 and situational pass rusher at the next level.

The Pittsburgh Steelers spoke to Sanders in an informal meeting at the Combine, so some interest could be there about potentially adding him to play behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith as he continues to work to develop his body and refine his game. The upside is there for Sanders to take a leap in his play, playing more in a system that utilizes his traits best like he would in Pittsburgh. However, the potential to flame out is also there for an underweight pass rusher that may become one-dimensional at the next level if he fails to develop.

Projection: Late Day 2 to Day 3

Depot Draft Grade: 7.5 Raw Traits/Upside Prospect (4th Round)

Games Watched: at Notre Dame (2021), vs Houston (2021), vs Alabama (2021), Senior Bowl (2021)

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