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Cowboys draft prospect: Defensive end Jachai Polite

If he plummets down draft boards, Dallas might take advantage of Polite’s not-so-polite disposition.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Jachai Polite
School: University of Florida
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 258 lbs

2018 stat line: 13 games, 45 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 6 forced fumbles

Combine results: 4.84 40-yard dash, 32” vertical

Florida’s Jachai Polite has officially become the most confusing prospect in this draft class. Look at his stats and it’s easy to see why Polite was once considered one of the best edge rushers in this draft and likely headed for a top ten selection. But look at his combine numbers, followed by his even worse pro day numbers, and Polite looks more like a guy that could slide down draft boards.

Polite’s slide down draft boards started at the combine when he publicly complained about teams criticizing his game. It wasn’t a good look, and then Polite turned in combine numbers that were below average. Suddenly, Polite started showing up in the second round in a lot of mock drafts. Then came his pro day, where he tested slower than his combine performance, and Polite also said then that he wasn’t “mentally ready” at the combine.

That opens a whole new can of worms, as players usually prepare rigorously for the combine, both physically and mentally, so that they’re prepared for whatever may happen. That Polite wasn’t ready raises concern about his preparedness and work ethic, all of which could drop him down draft boards. But that could turn into a potential steal for the Cowboys.

Even after trading for Robert Quinn, Dallas could use some defensive end depth. I expect DeMarcus Lawrence to sign an extension and play all of the 2019 season, but even then Quinn is only here on a one-year deal. While Dallas seems confident Randy Gregory will play football again, they shouldn’t rely on him being around, and the trio of Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong Jr., and Kerry Hyder are unknown commodities. If Polite does indeed fall as far as some say, he’ll be a tantalizing prospect for Dallas.

But what is the actual scouting report on him? Stats and testing numbers should only be seen as supplements to the tape, so what does the tape show about Polite? Well, it lines up more closely with what the stats show. While Polite has put on two abysmal performances in the combine and pro day, the tape doesn’t reflect that. His first step quickness is so good that the term “explosive” doesn’t do it justice. Polite gets out of his stance and up the field in a blinding quickness, which helps him in rushing the passer.

Not surprisingly, Polite relies on his speed a lot to get to the quarterback, and it works very well considering he sacked the quarterback 11 times last year. However, Polite is not solely a speed rusher. He has some solid pass rushing moves, though it’s not a deep bag of tricks. He’s seen success with swim moves, arm-over moves, and spin moves. There’s nothing that is a signature or go-to move yet, but Polite does a good job in employing a diversity of moves, and he seems to have a good understanding of when to use them.

Polite almost exclusively rushed off the edge in 2018, usually in wider sets, and that allowed him to exhibit great body control skills. He is very flexible in his hips and because of that he rarely takes bad angles against offensive tackles. I don’t think I ever saw him get pushed to the ground, and Polite is great at setting the edge and carrying his explosiveness through the point of attack to get off the blocker.

As a tackler, there’s a lot to like here. Polite is a sure tackler and when he gets to the quarterback he does a great job of putting his hand on or near the football in an attempt to knock it loose. These sound fundamentals are part of the reason he forced six (!) fumbles in 2018 alone. Even in run defense, Polite’s athletic ability allows him to move laterally along the line of scrimmage and make the tackle.

However, run defense is where he can get in trouble the most. The strength that he plays with isn’t ideal, and if a blocker gets their hands inside his numbers he can be effectively neutralized. This limits Polite’s ability in run defense, although he still found ways to get through and make tackles, given his 28.5 tackles for loss in his 29 career games played. Most of those come by way of sacks or just shooting into the backfield before the blocker can touch him, which is why he probably isn’t ideal on early run downs.

Overall, the tape on Polite shows the elite edge rushing prospect we once thought he was. There’s more that goes into a player’s evaluation, though, which is why Polite’s draft stock is plummeting right now. It’s really difficult to make a real projection on what player he’ll be, but Polite’s functional athleticism does not match what the numbers indicate.

As for Polite and potentially falling to the Cowboys, it’ll all depend on what Stephen Jones and Will McClay think of him. He doesn’t have the kind of length (32 5/8” arms) that Dallas looks for in edge rushers, but he does have undeniable skill off the edge. With more pressing needs at 3-technique defensive tackle and safety, it might be hard for Dallas to consider him at pick 58. But if he actually fell further than the second, the Cowboys would have to consider it.