The Dallas Cowboys found themselves a late-round gem in Bradlee Anae. But can the pass rusher have the same impact another Day Three rookie had last year?
Great tape. Terrible combine. That’s basically the story behind the fall of Utah pass rusher Bradlee Anae in the 2020 NFL Draft. And the likely reason he fell to the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the fifth round over the weekend.
Let’s start with the tape. The 6-foot-3, 257-pound Anae has led the Utes in sacks for the past three seasons. As a senior, Anae racked up 41 total tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, a career-high 13.0 sacks, and one forced fumble in 12 games.
Anae was named a consensus All-American and won the Morris Trophy as the most outstanding offensive or defensive linemen in the Pac-12. What makes this award special is the fact the conference’s own offensive lineman vote for the defensive candidates.
And then there was the Senior Bowl. Anae was impressive in the showcase game, racking up 3.0 sacks and several quarterback pressures.
Next was the NFL Scouting Combine. Anae posted a pedestrian 4.93-time in the forty-yard dash. Something the rookie himself believes sent his draft stock tumbling. Throw in questionable arm length (32 1/8-inch) plus perceived overall limited athleticism, and several NFL teams simply chose not to trust the tape.
Yet, in Dallas, Anae has found himself the perfect landing spot. Poised to play opposite of two-time Pro Bowler DeMarcus Lawrence, and with newly-signed veteran defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe manning the interior, the first-year edge rusher could find himself in a very favorable position to post similar numbers to another late-round rookie from last season.
Here’s what NFL.com’s Gennaro Filice wrote about Anae recently after choosing the 179th overall selection as the NFC East’s biggest sleeper of the draft.
"“Ranked as Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 75 overall player, Anae didn’t come off the board until the final pick of the fifth round, 105 slots lower than DJ’s perceived value. … the Cowboys entered this draft needing edge-rushing juice opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. Could Anae be this year’s Maxx Crosby, as a Day 3 edge who provides Day 1 value?”"
Eastern Michigan’s Maxx Crosby was the 106th overall selection in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. The 22-year old defensive end recorded 10.0 sacks as a 16-game starter last season. Four of those sacks coming in a Week 11 win over the Cincinnati Bengals for which he earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
There are some major differences between Crosby and Anae to be pointed out. The former having a much bigger frame, measuring in at 6-foot-5, 255-pounds with 32 7/8-inch arms. Crosby was also a projected sixth-round selection drafted in the fourth, which was a bit of a reach by the Raiders. Yet, both Anae and Crosby had impressive numbers in college, with the latter racking up a combined 18.5 sacks during his final two seasons at Eastern Michigan.
Although Bradlee Anae and Maxx Crosby had very different paths to the draft, fans of the Dallas Cowboys are surely hoping they have similar impacts as Day Three rookies. And with defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory both currently suspended hoping for reinstatement, Anae could have an opportunity to make a big splash in his first season. And that journey should start this summer.