Could Jaelan Phillips’ injury concerns cause him to fall to the Falcons’ 35th pick?

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Prospects free fall in the draft every year that were once sure-fire top ten picks at one point in their college careers for a wide variety of reasons. Laremy Tunsil fell in the 2016 draft after a video surfaced of the former Ole Miss tackle smoking a facemask bong. Dez Bryant fell in the 2010 draft due to off-the-field issues and was subject to the now-infamous question about his mother by the Dolphins general manager in a pre-draft interview — falling all the way to the 24th overall pick. La’el Collins was one of the most unfortunate draft slides in history, as the former LSU Tiger — projected as a top ten pick — was named in a murder investigation two days before the draft. Even though he was never named a suspect, the police didn’t clear him of any wrongdoing until after the draft, and he ended up going undrafted and signed with the Cowboys.

Sometimes prospects have major injury concerns that cause their draft stock to plummet. Myles Jack was one of the highest-rated players, but a suspect knee caused his fall to the Jaguars’ 36th overall pick. Jaylon Smith, because of a gruesome knee injury, fell to the Cowboys’ 34th overall pick. Rob Gronkowski was once a sure-fire first-rounder and potential top ten pick during his 2008 college season, but a major back surgery pushed his value down — falling all the way to the 42nd pick. This year it could be Jaelen Phillips, who was once considered a top-15 pick.

The former Miami Hurricane and UCLA Bruin should be considered one of the best defensive players in the draft but could be left off some organizations’ draft boards altogether. Coming out of high school, Phillips committed to UCLA as the nation’s top recruit. He played six games as a true freshman, recording 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, despite injuries to both ankles. His first collegiate season would end after his first concussion. Phillips was involved in an unfortunate car accident in his first full offseason that left him with a horrific wrist injury, but he played despite three missing bones. Only to be sidelined yet again by a concussion, two in less than a year.

“I had a lot of expectations, both for myself and from people, and getting those injuries … as an athlete, our body is our asset, so when your body starts failing you, it’s a weird feeling. It derails what you’ve got going on,” Phillips said in October, per ESPN’s Andrea Adelson.

Advised by his doctors, Phillips stepped away from football for a year, where he would go work for his father — who is a lawyer — while simultaneously following his passion for music. Eventually, his former UCLA coach Jim Mora would convince Phillips to get back into football, resulting in a fresh start with the Miami Hurricanes. According to Pro Football Focus, in the shortened 2020 season, he was a second-team All-American and recorded eight sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in ten games — generating three or more quarterback pressures in nine of those.

Phillips is a prime target, outside of the injuries, for Dean Pees’ defense. At 6’5″ and 260 pounds, he is a natural edge-rusher, but his athleticism is what elevates his ceiling. Phillips registered the 14th-best RAS among defensive ends over the last 34 years per Kent Lee Platte. He posted numbers in the 90th percentile or better in the broad jump (10’5″), 40-yard dash (unofficial 4.56 seconds), and short shuttle (4.13 seconds).

Phillips has the ideal combination of size, length, fluidity, and effort to make a difference from the first day of camp. For a man his size, he can dip his shoulder and lean toward the quarterback with ease. His relentlessness is apparent in broken downplays, but his closing speed is on display every time he gets his heavy hands past a tackle or guard. I mentioned his fit in Pees’ defense because of this. At Miami, Phillips rushed from a two-point and three-point stance outside the tackle in a traditional edge alignment and inside over the guard in sub-packages. At the very least, the still 21-year-old is capable of setting the edge as a run defender.

It would be a homerun pick if Phillips fell to the Falcons in the second round if he can stay healthy. Every year a prospect the masses expect to be a first-round pick falls out, but whether it works out or not is a different story. There are multiple success stories of draft falls, but there are just as many draft falls that end in failure. Terry Fontenot might not want to risk something like that so early in his tenure, but he has to be confident Phillips isn’t worth the pick.

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