The NFL is such a copycat league that scouts are always comparing current prospects to former pros. This is especially true when evaluators assess pass rushers and project their games to the next level. One pass rusher quietly generating a buzz based on his exceptional play is Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt sophomore has developed into one of the top pass rushers in college football, with 6.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in nine games. Most importantly, Calhoun has scored three defensive touchdowns, while exhibiting explosive speed, quickness and athleticism in the open field.
Part of Calhoun's impressive athletic traits can be attributed to his experience on the hardwood as a highly regarded basketball prospect (Calhoun averaged 17.5 points and 10 rebounds as a senior at Middletown High School). He entered Michigan State weighing only 218 pounds with an exceptional combination of length, athleticism and body control. Calhoun spent his freshman season working on the scout team, where he developed his overall game as a run stopper and pass rusher off the edge. (Calhoun was named Scout Team Defensive Player of the Week three times -- the most of any player on the team.)
Although the light didn't completely come on as a redshirt freshman, when he recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries in 13 games as a backup defensive end, Calhoun stood out on tape based on his impressive physical dimensions and athleticism. Those traits are now one of the biggest reasons he is the fastest rising defensive prospect on draft boards around the league.
Against Michigan, Calhoun continued to show the combination of strength, power and burst scouts covet in elite pass rushers. He overpowers right tackles with his long arms and lower-body strength, while exhibiting a relentless motor to track down quarterbacks on extra effort. Sure, Calhoun's technique remains a work in progress at this point, but his overall effectiveness at left defensive end is exactly what NFL coaches desire in a base defensive end (defensive end typically aligned to the tight end).
In the pro game, most defensive coordinators will place their biggest, strongest edge defender at left defensive end to hold the point against double teams (right tackle and tight end combination blocks). Additionally, savvy defensive coaches will put a nimble athlete at the position to take advantage of lumbering right tackles in pass protection. Just think about the effectiveness Michael Strahan enjoyed during his illustrious 15-year career rushing primarily from the left side. The seven-time Pro Bowler notched 141.5 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and 15 fumble recoveries as a menacing presence off the edge.
With Calhoun exhibiting some of the traits Strahan showcased during his career, the Michigan State star is the kind of difference maker every NFL team desires in the starting line up.