2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Pitt DL Calijah Kancey

From now until the 2023 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 Pitt DL Calijah Kancey.

#8 Calijah Kancey, DL, Pitt (R-Junior) – 6000, 280lb


Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Calijah Kancey 6’0, 280lb N/A N/A N/A
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press

The Good

— Possesses impressive twitch and quickness for the position
— Wins with his get-off on the snap as a gap penetrator against IOL
— Plays chase well against the run, having the speed and acceleration to track down runners in the open field
— Has a great motor when pursuing the ballcarrier or the QB in the pocket
— Flashes nuanced hand usage to fend off blocks including a club/swim, two-hand swipe,
— Shows flashes of winning with power to push the pocket
— Wins with leverage against bigger OL, playing low to the ground to work around blocks
— Small stature helps him sit low and hold point of attack against the run
— Shoots gaps effectively as a pass rusher as well as against the run
— Well-utilized on twists and stunts to get him in open space with a path to the football
— Has played all over the defensive front from head-up on the center to outside the tackle

The Bad

— Vastly undersized by DL standards in the league when it comes to height, weight, and length
— Play strength is present, but isn’t going to consistently beat OL with power
— Lack of length makes it difficult to get off blocks once engaged with blockers
— Often is taken out of the play if the blocker gets hands on him at the snap
— Relies on shooting gaps and winning with quickness rather than a combination of speed and power
— Lacks size and strength to hold his spot due to lack of anchor, getting washed in the running game or pushed backward
— Dominated against college competition, but will face bigger, stronger, and more refined competition in the pros
— Isn’t a defender you want taking up blocks often on the inside
— Lack of size and length presents problems regarding taking down defenders outside of his frame


— Redshirt Junior Prospect from Miami, FL
— Born March 1, 2001 (age 21)
— First-team All-Florida Class 6A defensive lineman for Miami Northwestern, helped team to back-to-back Florida 6A state championships
— Committed to Pitt and playing in one game in 2019, redshirting his first season on campus
— Played in all 11 games, starting four in 2020 and posted 27 total tackles (12 solo), seven TFLs, 1.5 sacks, and two PBUs
— Started all 14 games at defensive tackle in 2021 and posted 33 total tackles (23 solo), 13 TFLs, seven sacks, one forced fumble, and one PBU
— Started 11 regular-season games at defensive tackle in 2022, missing two to injury and posted 31 total tackles (17 solo), 14.5 TFLs and 7.5 sacks
— Unanimous All-American (2022), ACC Defensive Player of the Year (2022), 2× first-team All-ACC (2021, 2022), third-team Associated Press All-American (2021)
— Administration of justice major

Tape Breakdown

Calijah Kancey is the latest Pitt Panther defensive tackle that starred at the college level now making his transition to the pros. The Miami native stole the show on campus the last two seasons, being named a two-time All-ACC selection and a unanimous All-American in 2022 after posting 21.5 TFLs and 14.5 sacks the last two seasons combined. When watching Kancey on film, you see an athletic, twitched-up defender that wins with speed and quickness on the interior. You see that speed and burst on display as a pass rusher, quickly shedding blocks as you see here against UNC and Virginia as he clears the block and gets home to take the QB down for the sack.

Kancey flashes impressive hand usage as a pass rusher, having multiple tools in the toolbox to get off blocks and pursue the QB. Watch Kancey use the club/swim here against Tennessee to clear the LG and wrap the QB up in the backfield on the attempted QB draw.

Kancey is well-utilized on twists and stunts along the defensive line, using his quickness to get into gaps and pressure the passer. Watch Kancey cross the face of the center here with the club/swim again, getting to Hendon Hooker, but falls off the QB when he tries to bring him down. Still, he forces Hooker out of the pocket instead of completing the pass downfield.

He is a fluid mover thanks to his leverage and playing low to the ground, being able to round the corner like on this play to pursue the back and tackle him from behind.

On this rep, watch Kancey’s effort in pursuit of the football down the field, quickly accelerating in open space to the receiver on the screen pass and making the tackle.

Calijah Kancey lacks size as a defensive lineman, but you do see flashes of him holding his own as a run defender and playing with power as a pass rusher. In the first clip, watch how Kancey stands up the LG of Tennessee at the LOS, reaching out to wrap up the back at the LOS for a minimal gain. In the second rep, watch how Kancey explodes into the center off the snap, getting his hands inside the blocker’s chest as he walks him back into Hooker’s lap forcing him to throw hot over the middle.

Still, there is no denying that Kancey is an outlier when it comes to measurables at the DL position. He is painfully small in terms of height, weight, and arm length, leading to him getting neutralized on plenty of reps when he doesn’t win with speed and quickness. His overall lack of size and mass make it easier for OL to wash him in the running game as you see in the clips below, the first one showing Kancey getting dropped to the ground with the second one showing Kancey getting kicked out of the play when he doesn’t win with quickness into the gap.

Kancey lacks the arm length to fight off blocks once a bigger, longer OL gets a hold of his chest plate, taking him out of the play. Here is one example on tape against Tennessee where Kancey battles the RG on third-and-long, but Kancey is engulfed right on the snap by the OL who gets his hands inside Kancey’s chest, walking him away from the play as Kancey flails his arms in an attempt to get off the block.


Overall, Calijah Kancey is a difficult evaluation regarding his production in college and if it will translate to the NFL level. He is a twitchy, explosive defender that wins with quickness, refined technique, and the ability to penetrate gaps thanks to his small stature. However, his size can also be his greatest weakness when it comes to getting off blocks, defending the run, and consistently pushing the pocket. He will need to be utilized in a scheme that allows him to shoot gaps regularly and not take on blocks as a space-eater in order to have success at the next level.

While many in the media have tried to compare Kancey to fellow former Pitt Panther Aaron Donald, the fact of the matter is that Kancey doesn’t have Donald’s pure strength and power that makes him such a good, well-rounded defender.

Instead, I would compare Kancey more to another former Pitt Panther in current Dolphins DL Jaylen Twyman as well as Vikings DL Sheldon Day. Both Twyman and Day are undersized, Twyman being 6’2, 285lb and Day being 6’1, 285lb. Both Twyman and Day show good athleticism for the position, having the quickness to win off the snap and speed to beat slower IOL. Still, they both lack pure size and strength to routinely hold up against the run and can be neutralized fairly quickly if the OL wins early in the rep.

I foresee a similar role for Kancey in the league that Day and Twyman have as a rotational interior defender that excels best as a gap penetrator. He would do best playing more on passing downs or when the defense looks to run games upfront with their DL. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in need of DL, but they need more of a base 3-4 DE that can play alongside Cam Heyward or a pure NT than a tweener-type in Kancey who would have to have a specific role to see the field. Drafting Kancey would still leave the team needing to address both DL spots with starting-caliber options, making me believe that his best fit would be for another team rather than in Pittsburgh.

Projection: Day Two/Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.4 – Rotational Player (4th Round)
Games Watched: vs Tennessee (2022), vs West Virginia (2022), at UNC (2022)

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