When the Cowboys lost Robert Quinn in free agency, it was clear they’d need to find another edge rusher to pair with DeMarcus Lawrence. Randy Gregory’s likely reinstatement to the NFL is promising but nothing to be relied on, as is the case with the recently-signed Aldon Smith, so edge is still a position of need in the draft.
A potential option in the middle rounds is Utah’s Bradlee Anae.
Name: Bradlee Anae
Weight: 257 lbs
2019 stat line: 12 games, 41 tackles, 13 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble
Combine results: 4.93 40-yard dash, 25 bench press reps, 31” vertical, 115” broad jump, 7.44 3-cone drill
Only six other players in the nation had more sacks than Anae did in 2019, which goes to show just why Anae could be a hidden gem in this draft class, especially for the Cowboys.
The best way to describe Anae is as a versatile technician off the edge. At Utah, Anae was deployed in a variety of different ways. They moved him all around the line of scrimmage, frequently switching him between left and right defensive end and occasionally moving him inside based on the matchups.
Anae also had the versatility to operate out of both two-point and three-point stances with regularity. He was able to produce a potent pass rush out of both stances, and even dropped into very shallow zone coverages on occasion without being a liability on defense. That kind of versatility would make him an unpredictable weapon for the multiple defense Mike Nolan wants to bring to Dallas.
Anae operates his pass rush plan of attack with a surgeon-like precision. His calling card is the way he’s able to engage offensive tackles with his hands. He doesn’t have the athleticism or quickness to beat blockers on his own, so Anae has a super deep tool chest of pass rush moves that he cycles through with tenacity, including a devastating cross chop.
And while he isn’t overly athletic, he does display good explosiveness in his first step, as evidenced by his vertical and broad jump numbers. Anae gets off the line of scrimmage with a blistering intensity that matches his overall style of play, and when he gets a step on blockers he’s essentially already won the pass rush.
But the overall lack of athleticism does pop up elsewhere for Anae. He doesn’t have great bend in his pass rush attacks, and more athletic offensive tackles have been able to exploit that deficiency. Anae also lags a bit in working back towards the inside of the line of scrimmage, as his tight hips prevent him from being an agile threat.
Not to say that Anae can’t contribute in run defense though. He’s actually quite effective in that area. He does a really good job of maintaining his run fits, even against bigger linemen, and he has flashed the ability to be a stout edge setter on run plays. He doesn’t have the longest tackle radius, and his aforementioned tight hips hinder that somewhat, but Anae does a good job of positioning himself and regularly makes wrap up tackles on the ballcarrier. He’s not going to make too many arm tackles, but Anae gets the job done; he posted 38 tackles for loss in his three years as a starter at Utah.
As with most of the players on the Utes defense, Anae almost perfectly fits the cliche of a blue-collar play style. He’s not an elite athlete and doesn’t possess top-tier measurements, but Anae has made up for that by becoming a student of the game and hustling harder than his opponent. He knows where to go and has the fundamentally sound technique to get it done.
Utah was able to hide some of his weaknesses by moving him around and using him in unique and creative ways, highlighting his versatility and scheme flexibility. If the Cowboys were to take Anae - likely in the third or fourth round - he’d instantly become a weapon for them to use all over the field. While Anae isn’t ready to be an every-down edge rusher just yet, he could form an effective rotation opposite Lawrence with Gregory, Smith, and anyone else the Cowboys put on the field. Anae could blossom into a star in a scheme that maximizes his versatility, which might just make him an ideal fit in Dallas.