Gregory Rousseau is one of the most compelling draft cases ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rousseau could prove to be the cream of the crop in a draft shallow at the edge position, with elite size and skill, and room to grow into a game-changing presence.
In any other year, Rousseau would have used 2020 to prove his development after just 14 college games in two seasons at Miami and could have vaulted into the top of draft boards. However, the COVID-19 pandemic altered that plan. His opt-out last season leaves scouts projecting his trajectory.
Thus far, those forecasts have been all over the map.
On Tuesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport underscored the challenge scouts have in evaluating the Miami edge rusher. One scout told Rapoport that Rousseau looked like a "skinny little guy" on tape. When the 6-foot-7 pass rusher showed up 25 pounds heavier at his pro day after the year off, it made scouts reconsider their stance. Rapoport noted some view Rousseau as a physical talent but projecting his leap in the NFL is a tricky proposition at this stage.
Former Hurricane pass rusher Calais Campbell, who grew into a perennial Pro Bowler and overall game-wrecker, took issue with the report, tweeting at Rapoport:
"I wonder what the scouts were saying when I was coming out?" Campbell wrote. "Not athletic enough? Not strong enough? I am not a scout and I know they have a tough job. But I hope they don't overthink this one. (Rousseau) can play football. He is a playmaker! Shows up in both the run and pass game."
On Wednesday morning, Rousseau's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, chimed in on the scuttle bug.
"A lot of media speculation about (Rousseau). I've already had multiple teams tell me that they will take him in the 1st round if he is there when they pick," Rosenhaus tweeted.
It's Rosenhaus' job to promote his clients, so it's not a surprise to see the agent bolster Rousseau's profile at this stage.
Between anonymous quotes that run rampant this time in the NFL calendar, which have the potential for ulterior motives -- scouts saying negative things about players they hope fall to them in the draft -- and agents fostering support for their clients, the truth lies somewhere in the vast gray middle.
Few question Rousseau's talent, but like many players who opted out, projecting his improvement is challenging for teams and scouts. Over the years, we've seen plenty of players who make the leap in college into a dominant force. Others have withered on the vine. Players have gone from projected first-rounder to mid-round players and vice-versa.
Rousseau looked like he was on an upward trajectory. The pandemic sideswiped our opportunity to see that on the field last fall.
Plenty believe Rousseau will turn out to be the best edge rusher to come out of this draft.
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has Rousseau ranked as his No. 13 overall prospect and top edge rusher. The limited game-film on the hyper-long, athletic Rousseau, however, makes him a conviction-based gamble. Surely, some scouts would pound the table to draft Rousseau in the first round. Others might shy away from taking that perceived gamble.
The 2021 draft is one of the oddest in NFL history, with fewer players and the added uncertainty that came after a disrupted 2020 college season. Rousseau's case underscores the difficult discussions likely going on behind closed doors around NFL facilities ahead of next week's draft.