Sunday May 15, 2022

In 2021, Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati team became the first AAC squad to represent the conference in the College Football Playoff. A big reason for that was the team’s group of veterans — many of whom will hear their names called in the 2022 NFL Draft. Cincinnati DE and NFL Draft prospect Myjai Sanders was one key part of the Bearcats’ returning class in 2021, and as his scouting report shows, he has the tools to keep making an impact on Sundays.

Myjai Sanders NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Defensive End
  • School: Cincinnati
  • Current Year: Senior
  • Height: 6’5″
  • Weight: 258 pounds

Myjai Sanders Scouting Report

In a defensive end class that includes Kayvon Thibodeaux, Aidan Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and others, Sanders has naturally flown under the radar to this point. He doesn’t have the pedigree or the Power Five prestige of his counterparts, but should he be viewed on a similar plane, regardless?

The Cincinnati DE quietly broke out in 2020. He was one of the more consistent edge defenders in the nation that year, with at least a half-sack in over half his games and at least 1 pass deflection in two more. His 2021 season didn’t pop quite as much on the stat sheet, but the film matters most in Sanders’ evaluation. What does the film show?

Sanders’ athletic profile

Immediately, Sanders’ physical skill set stands out. The Cincinnati DE stands at around 6’5″, 258 pounds, and he appreciates the boons that come with that size. Sanders has a long, looming frame that affords him natural leverage. His frame also allows him to wrap up smaller ball carriers easily and disrupt passing windows. Additionally, Sanders has long stride lengths coming downhill, which magnify his speed of motion.

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Of course, length alone only gets edge rushers so far. Luckily for Sanders, he has a complete combination of skills, allowing him to produce in several ways. The Cincinnati DE has torrid natural explosiveness to pair with his length. Sanders accelerates briskly and with ease, and he can adjust his stride lengths when needed. He converts speed to power with exceptional efficiency, and his length serves as an excellent conduit for his initial burst. On top of his straight-line explosiveness, Sanders also has great lateral athleticism and twitch.

Explosiveness and length are two valuable traits in conjunction, but bend is another crucial variable for edge rushers. Sanders shows this in flashes. His hips have some stiffness, but he possesses quality torso flexibility. Furthermore, he shows glimpses of substantial ankle flexion. He’s quick to recoil and lash back forward when hit, and he flashes balance and recovery athleticism against power.

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Sanders can still be more consistent with his bend. Nevertheless, his overall capacity is impressive, and this offers him exciting upside.

Execution beyond the athletic traits

With his length, explosiveness, and bend capacity, Sanders has a physical foundation that’s bristling with potential. He can take more steps to better channel his athletic traits, but some intangible attributes are present that further compound the promise seen on tape.

Sanders is incredibly instinctive when anticipating the snap. He can key in on hard-count patterns throughout a game and time his launches to get a step ahead of his blocker. When engaged one-on-one with tackles along the edge, Sanders flashes fast hands and targeted maneuvers. He’s also shown the ability to stack rushing moves. Sanders already has a sturdy arsenal, complete with speed-to-power conversion, push-pulls, bull rushes, arm-overs, and rips.

In run defense, Sanders boasts similar progression. His length allows him to establish anchors and establish half-man relationships, even if he isn’t the strongest player. Moreover, he’s flashed the ability to disengage in a timely manner and burst toward the ball carrier. Sanders’ run defense isn’t perfect, but he still plays with palpable energy and good pursuit speed.

Areas for improvement

Sanders’ NFL Draft scouting report has been complimentary to this point. However, as enticing as Sanders is with his physical upside, there’s still work to do, even after his fourth year.

Physically, Sanders can further build his strength. His lower body isn’t dense, and he doesn’t always have the raw power to break opposing anchors in run defense. Larger linemen can easily handle his frame with plus grip strength, and he sometimes gives up too much surface area by habitually turning inward.

Although Sanders is stronger as a pass rusher, he can improve there as well. The Cincinnati DE can make a concerted effort to get lower and utilize his bend capacity more often. His movement can become choppy when trying to sink to the ground, and he loses his balance easily in these situations. Additionally, Sanders can sustain his speed through rushes and hand usage with more consistency. He has a working arsenal but can be uncoordinated and lack control at times.

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Among other things, Sanders’ eagerness to jump the snap might get him in trouble at the NFL level. Veteran quarterbacks have more success deceiving younger defenders with hard counts. He did get better at reading option plays in 2021, which is a promising sign.

Sanders’ 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview

Sanders didn’t quite take on the senior leap that some were hoping to see from him. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of high-level traits to mold with Sanders. Although he’s a bit lighter and not as strong or naturally powerful as other rushers, he’s long, explosive, and shows the ability to bend below the tackle in spurts. He also has visible quick twitch and lateral athleticism, which he can use to generate displacement.

Sanders will need to do a better job controlling and channeling his traits in the NFL. He has the burst, bend, hand speed, and enough moves in his arsenal. He can also generate power with his explosiveness and length. However, he has yet to consistently use his traits in conjunction with one another. That active multitasking ability is significant for edge defenders. Sanders has shown it in flashes, but he can still be more reliable on a down-to-down basis.

If Sanders can hone his natural traits and couple them with fast, precise hand movements, he can be a truly exciting player. He checks many of the physical boxes, and on rare occasions, has displayed the ability to sustain acceleration while cornering the edge.

With other EDGE prospects rising, Sanders is likely a Day 2 pick. But as a 3-4 stand-up edge rusher, he has enticing potential. He can be an impact starter at his max projection.

Sanders Player Profile

Players like Thibodeaux and Zach Harrison were both five-star recruits. Drake Jackson was a four-star recruit and managed to crack the top 150 in his respective class. Sanders, meanwhile, didn’t have nearly as much notoriety coming out of high school.

Sanders was a three-star recruit in the 2018 class and a middling one at that. Ranked as the 73rd player at his position and the 135th overall player in Florida, many Power Five programs overlooked Sanders.

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Of course, Sanders was easier to overlook back then. As a senior at Raines High School in Jacksonville, Sanders was a mere 6’4″, 215-pound defensive end. He generated decent athletic testing numbers, but that wasn’t enough to earn him additional prestige.

Nevertheless, Sanders still had offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Ole Miss, and Rutgers. However, nothing beat the chance to play for Fickell and the budding Bearcats.

Sanders’ career at Cincinnati and NFL Draft ascension

The Bearcats were patient with Sanders as he grew into his frame at defensive end. Still, he put in the work to size up against Division I-A competition. Sanders was already 6’5″, 233 pounds by weigh-in day ahead of his true-freshman season. It was a marked improvement from his high school weight, but he only saw limited playing time in Year 1.

The taste of action drove Sanders to keep working, and he arrived as a true sophomore at his current size — 6’5″, 258 pounds. At last, Sanders was ready to take on a starting role, and he didn’t disappoint. The Cincinnati DE started all 14 games in 2019, amassing 40 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble.

In 2020, Sanders expanded on his early success as a starter. He became one of Cincinnati’s driving forces on defense. Once again, the Florida product was a regular in the starting lineup. Over the Bearcats’ 10-game slate, Sanders put up 31 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. For his production, Sanders was named a first-team All-AAC selection, alongside teammate Ahmad Gardner.

Sanders came back hungry for more in 2021. On the stat sheet, he didn’t get it. He put up 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 5 pass deflections over the course of the year. But much of Sanders’ impact remained off the stat sheet. He made a steady impact and helped anchor a defensive unit that led the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff. Now, his attention turns to the NFL Draft. With a strong Senior Bowl showing and good numbers at the NFL Combine, he might be able to maximize his stock.

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