FanPost

2022 NFL Draft: Profile of Kentucky DL Joshua Paschal

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Trophy Cases

As much fun it is to be the fan of a Super Bowl Champion, I felt more elation and pride when I saw that Andrew Whitworth won the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. In my opinion, that was a huge deal and a well deserved honor. Plus, it was unexpected. I knew he had been nominated, but I didn't know he was even a favorite to get the award. Pro football is a big money business. It also is just a game and there is more to life than playing ball games. Is it more important to have a full heart or a full trophy case? Credit to Whit for being awesome, but also credit to the Rams organization. A team's coaches, GM and scouting department get plenty of focus this time of year during draft season, but there are other people in a team's front office who do important work too, including helping the players with various community engagement and charitable endeavors. So thanks to those folks, not just with the Rams but across the NFL for what they do in their communities.

Last season, Kentucky defensive end, Josh Paschal, won what might be considered the college equivalent of the Payton award, the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award. The Witten award recognizes leadership both on and off the football field. Paschal was involved in different social justice and volunteer activities, but is best known for being a cancer survivor.

John Schlarman was a popular offensive line coach for Kentucky. In 2018, Paschal and Schlarman were both diagnosed with cancer within days of each other. In fact, Kentucky's head coach was notified of the situation with both men on the same day during a span of minutes, a double gut punch of reality. Schlarman had a rare form of bile duct cancer, while Paschal had an aggressive form of skin cancer that had spread to his groin and lymph nodes. In the fall of 2018, after an emotional early season victory against Florida, the team dedicated the game ball to Schlarman and Paschal.

At first, Paschal thought that a small growth on the bottom of his right foot was just a blister. The team's trainer initially didn't think it was serious either, but when it didn't go away, Paschal went to see a dermatologist and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He had 3 surgeries on his foot and underwent immunotherapy treatment. He was able to recover in time to play in the final 3 games of the 2018 season.

Schlarman passed away in November of 2020. He was only 45 years old. Schlarman had been an All-SEC offensive guard as a player at Kentucky (around the same period as Tim Couch) and to pay tribute to Schlarman, UK came out in their next game on offense with only 10 players, leaving an empty spot at the guard position next to center Drake Jackson (who is on the Rams roster).

In 2021, Paschal made his own All-SEC team, collecting 5 sacks and making an important blocked FG that was returned for a TD. His stellar season could make Paschal a Day 2 pick in the draft.

Draft Board Rankings

There are diverging draft expert opinions about Kentucky defensive end, Josh Paschal. Lance Zierlein really likes Paschal, giving him a 6.30 draft grade and comparing him to Emmanuel Ogbah. A former 2nd round pick, Ogbah had an injury plagued stint with the Browns, then was traded to the Chiefs prior to the final year of his rookie contract. He blossomed in his 5th and 6th NFL seasons playing for the Dolphins. PFF recently named Ogbah the 17th best free agent in the NFL for 2022. Ogbah has had 9 sacks in each of the last 2 seasons and last year posted a career best 77 PFF grade.

LZ's high grade would have made Paschal the 2nd best DE in last year's draft, behind only Payton Turner, who with a 6.31 grade (barely better than Paschal) was the 28th overall pick. Paschal has a higher grade than Joe Tryon and Joseph Ossai. Among the other DE prospects from past drafts who had similar grades are AJ Epenesa (6.35, 2nd round in 2020), LJ Collier (6.30, the 29th overall pick in 2019) and Sam Hubbard (6.30, 3rd round in 2018). Paschal has a better grade than Preston Smith and Danielle Hunter. Historically, Paschal's draft grade has translated to DEs drafted anywhere from the bottom of the 1st round to the middle of the 3rd round.

Other draft outlets also like Paschal. PFF ranks him 72nd overall and Draft Countdown's consensus board has him 75th overall, both of which would be in the 3rd round. If Paschal ends up being drafted before the middle of the 3rd round, there would be no point in me profiling him for consideration as a Rams selection. He'd be gone before we got to the area of the first Rams draft slot.

Other experts are not high on Paschal. Tony Pauline for PFN has him ranked 168th overall (5th round, about where the Rams took Earnest Brown last year.) Drafttek has him ranked 149th overall (5th round). If Paschal were still on the board late in the 5th round, then not only would the Rams have an opportunity to draft him, but they could wait until their 3rd pick in the draft to make the selection. If you think that LZ has the evaluation right and Paschal would be a solid late 1st to early 2nd round pick, it would be outstanding value to be able to land him in the 5th round.

Paschal's highlights were fun to watch. He leaves a strong first impression that he could be a really good player. He's undersized to play defensive line, but several smaller defenders, including Aaron Donald, have shown how players who don't meet the traditional size requirements for DL can still succeed in the NFL. Shorter defenders can win the leverage battle against offensive linemen by having lower pad level, as well as attacking the edge of blocks using quick moves.

When I studied full games on Paschal, I wasn't as impressed with him. I think he's graded too high by LZ. Paschal reminds me of DeMarcus Walker, who I liked as a prospect in 2017. Walker was a 2nd round pick (51st overall) by the Denver Broncos. Lance Zierlein's profile on Walker compared him to Mario Edwards, an early 2nd round pick in 2015. Paschal, Walker and Edwards are all similarly sized players. Walker has never developed into more than a rotational backup in the NFL. For a 2nd round pick, he's been a disappointment. Back in 2017, I thought Walker would make more of an impact as a pro. Getting burned by the DeMarcus Walker outcome is why I'm hesitant to go all in on the Paschal draft hype.

Due to questions about his durability and small size, Paschal could experience a draft day slide and still be on the board in the 2nd half of the draft. Is he a future starter who could fall into the lap of the Rams? Or should the Rams pass on this prospect if he's still available at the end of the 3rd round?

Lance Zierlein 6.30 draft grade (translates to prospect who "will be a starter within first 2 NFL seasons")

PFF 72nd overall (early 3rd rd)

PFN (Tony Pauline ) 168th overall (5th round)

Drafttek 149th overall (7th best 5-tech DE) (5th round)

DraftCountdown 75th overall (consensus board) (3rd round)

Background

Name: Joshua Paschal

Position: DE

School: Kentucky

Size: Listed at 6'3'' tall, 278 pounds. Redshirt Senior.

Three time team captain, which is very rare. Degree in family science with minor in health promotion. Academic honors. Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year award winner for 2021 season. Older brother was a LB for Kentucky.

Had 15 TFLs and 5 sacks in 2021. Has 13 career sacks, 3 FFs and a long INT return (he got caught from behind just short of the end zone.)

Coaches rave about his character. Had religious awakening months prior to his cancer diagnosis. Nickname "JP". Humble, positive personality. Was in comedic commercial for pediatric dentist's office (similar to the Terry Tate office linebacker Super Bowl commercial.)

Coach said he was hampered by nagging injuries in 2021. Reaggravated undisclosed injury in team's final regular season game and DNP in bowl game due to injury. Later reported to be substantial groin injury. Was invited to Senior Bowl, but withdrew due to the injury.

Strengths

Lined up in variety of spots, pass rushing from around edge as OLB, as DE on odd man front, inside as DT over the G or against C. Lined up as 3 tech on 3rd down, explodes into chest of center, sheds quickly with 2 hand discard, then hits the QB.

More than one move in his pass rush arsenal. Rips under defenders. Arm over swim move. Beat guard with 2 hand swipe. Ripped under guard and flushes QB from pocket, drawing a holding penalty. Has counter moves and gives secondary effort as a pass rusher.

Wins after the snap with quick moves. Swam over the top of a drive block and penetrated into the backfield for a TFL.

Some plays has better play strength relative to his size by gaining leverage and getting under the pads of the blocker. Stacked a TE on run play. Stacked up the guard on 4th&1 run, holding his ground.

Stays in balanced stance when he's an unblocked edge containment defender, reading read options and reacting to the RB or QB. Made good reaction on option and tackled the RB.

Good awareness to sense passes developing to flat on his side of field.

Solid effort and fight. Stacked guard on run play. Occupied multiple defenders on run.

Shows decent agility on T-E twist to loop inside.

Had good rep against Evan Neal (who is projected to be the 1st overall draft pick in this year's draft) on run play where he gets his shoulder under Neal on the backside of a wide run, gets off the block and penetrates into the backfield. On wide zone run play, versus a guard who was a 6th round pick last year, stacked the guard, ripped under the block and tackled the RB.

High character individual with leadership experience, work ethic, intelligence and team first attitude.

Showed decent speed on INT return, can also block kicks, so could be good ST player for a DE.

Even if he can't win starting job, could be suited to play Morgan Fox type role as a rotational backup DE who pass rushes from the inside against C or G. While he might never be an elite pass rusher who gets a ton of sacks, as long as he's a better pass rusher than your NT (eg SJD) there is some value there.

Weaknesses

Highlights are better than his down-to-down game performance.

Tweener who doesn't have a natural NFL position. Not athletic enough to play OLB, too small to look the part of a DE or DT. Undersized even as a 4-3 DE, let alone playing DE in a 3-4 scheme.

Insufficient length to trouble good OTs. Completely eaten up and neutralized by Evan Neal on pass plays. His pass rush stalls when blockers grab him, he can't break their grasp consistently and stays stuck on the block. On run plays a similar issue, he can't disengage quickly enough and gets delaying getting to the runner and joining the action. Neutralized on 3rd&1 run to his size, can't get away from the blocker to get in on the stop.

Bull rush is not strong or powerful. Tried to bull rush guard on one play and ended up getting stuffed then knocked onto his rear end.

Got blown off of the LOS by combo block on wide run. Outside zone running play to his size, solo against OT, as DE tries to flow laterally he gets driven 3 yards off of the LOS, unable to hold his ground at the point of attack. Multiple other wide zone runs, he got pushed sideways down the LOS, unable to control his gap. Other plays pushed 2 to 3 yards off of the LOS. Got destroyed by OT on inside zone run. Mashed up by OT and TE chip block, knocked to ground. Had run play vs Evan Neal where initially it is a stalemate at LOS after snap on run up middle, but OT keeps legs churning and like a tug of war contest where one team falls down, suddenly DE loses his base and gets driven backwards 6 yards. As edge defender in GL situation, a TE knocked him to the ground right off of the snap.

Inside pass rush move gets stuffed when the guard recovers.

Tight hipped. Very ugly trying to backpedal and drop into coverage. Not natural in open space. Very average change of direction ability. Balance problems. Needs to do better job staying off of ground. Stumbles and face planted after snap. Slipped and fell trying a counter move. Knocked to ground by chip block. Tightly wound build, doesn't seem suited to develop more physically, whether in terms of adding strength and muscle or trying to become faster and more athletic, might be close to being maxed out as an athlete.

Unable to bend the edge as a pass rusher. Once he gains an advantage, he lacks flexibility and burst to finish the play by getting around the corner, instead allows the blocker to recover and push him past the QB. Similar inability to redirect on run plays if he penetrates but has to change direction sideways to the RB, not good at adjusting to moving ball carrier.

Doesn't have explosive get off after the snap. Lacks 2 yard burst to close in on ball carriers and the QB in short area. RB just outside of his grasp due to limited closing ability.

Motor not hot, doesn't have large pursuit range when he's on the backside of plays. Doesn't make many plays outside of his area.

Does not link together pass rush moves well. Beat the OT with swim move, but when the G helps, DE doesn't have an effective 2nd move ready to beat the G, so the pass rush stalls.

Some lapses in awareness. Got fooled on play action play. Should have stayed on TE and jammed him up at LOS as he read play action pass, but makes poor decision to go after QB, leaving the TE wide open in the flat. Overran the play flowing laterally on backside of wide run, opening a big cutback lane.

Appears to get winded and tired on long drives. Questions about durability and conditioning. Needs to pass physicals without a medical flag, his most recent injury is a question mark.

How would he fit with the Rams? Jonah Williams and Michael Hoecht are both good athletes. The Rams just drafted Earnest Brown last year. Maybe Paschal could be tried as a 3-tech, especially if AD retires at some point, but not sure exactly what his role would be on the team.

Pro Comparison and Grade

DeMarcus Walker (2nd round 2017, Denver Broncos, Florida State), 5th round grade.

Walker was 6'3 3/4'' tall, 280 pounds, 33'' arms, 10.5'' hands, 80.5'' wingspan. He was a 1st team All American after a 16 sack season (2nd highest in the nation that year), plus 68 tackles and 21.5 TFLs. He ran 4.88 sec in the 40. Lance Zierlein's profile on Walker said that he was a base end, not a sack artist, suggested that a conversion to a 3-tech DT was a possibility, lacked the size and traits to be an edge rusher, but who was suited to reduce down and pass rush from the interior on passing downs. Walker suffered a foot injury his final year at FSU.

A tweener without a natural position, Walker was initially tried as an OLB his rookie season with the Broncos and lost weight as part of the conversion. After this experiment failed, he was moved back to DE and had to add weight back on. He had almost no playing time on defense his first 2 seasons.

Under Vic Fangio as the new Broncos coach, Walker performed better in Fangio's scheme. He had 4 sacks, playing 33% of the team's defensive snaps. His PFF grades were just mediocre, better as a run defender than as a pass rusher. The following season, he played 43% of the team's snaps, had a career high 4 starts and a career best 4.5 sacks.

Denver didn't keep him after the end of his rookie contract and Walker signed a cheap one year $1.5 million contract to join the Houston Texans last year. He played 52% of their snaps and had 2 sacks, with a 61.2 PFF grade.

If Paschal turns out to be similar to Walker, where would you draft a player like that? A team can make flyer picks in the later rounds and take chances, but in my opinion if you're going to draft a DE or DT in the early rounds, I would rather get a bigger player or a prospect who has more consistent performance on his game tapes. While a 3rd round pick isn't super high, how much bust potential should the Rams be willing to take with that selection, considering that it is their first pick this year?

Paschal is easy to root for and he has a nice personal story. For the Rams, I don't consider Paschal to be a priority target in the 3rd round. I don't think Paschal is that good of a prospect and I don't think he has a high ceiling in the NFL. More likely to be a backup than a starter. Maybe he could be a candidate to circle back to later in the draft, but not a day 2 pick.