Run defense has never been Yannick Ngakoue’s calling card. He earned sub-60.0 run-defense grades in each of his last two seasons at Maryland (2014-15), and he’s yet to eclipse the 60.0 mark in his three years in the NFL. He slid to pick No. 69 in the 2016 NFL Draft as a result but has since exceeded expectations with the Jacksonville Jaguars because he’s still very good at what he’s always been very good at – rushing the passer.
Ngakoue’s 2015 season at Maryland was special from a pass-rushing perspective, as he recorded a top-15 pass-rush win rate (16.9%) and tossed around some future NFL offensive tackles in the process. He also earned an impressive 82.2 pass-rush grade that season, which ranked inside the top 15 among edge defenders in the 2016 class.
And he’s only improved on his pass-rushing prowess at the next level.
Stepping his game up significantly in Years 2 and 3 of his NFL career, Ngakoue ranks ninth in pass-rush grade (87.6) among the 81 NFL edge defenders with 400 or more pass-rushing snaps over the past two seasons. He also ranks tied for 19th with Los Angeles Chargers’ Melvin Ingram III in pass-rush win percentage (16.0%) among the same group of qualifiers.
At 6-foot-2, 246 pounds, Ngakoue is a blend of great flexibility, athleticism and impressive burst off the snap. He can win with his hands when attacking both the outside and inside shoulders of opposing offensive tackles, and he can even surprise tackles with a powerful long-arm rush.
Ngakoue’s pass-rush grade only gets better when removing screen passes and play-action dropbacks from the mix, as well. He ranks eighth in two-year pass-rush grade (90.2) with the two play types out of the picture; the seven men ahead of him are Demarcus Lawrence (91.7), Von Miller (91.6), Joey Bosa (91.3), Dee Ford (91.0), Khalil Mack (90.5), Myles Garrett (90.4) and Cameron Jordan (90.3) – impressive company, for sure.
Drawing a magnifying glass to his early-down pass-rushing ability, and we see much of the same from Ngakoue. His 87.1 pass-rush grade on first and second downs over the past two years ranked seventh among qualifiers, again falling behind other top pass-rushers in the NFL like Miller, Lawrence, Mack, etc.
Pitted against the rest of the edge defenders in the 2016 class, only Bosa has a higher three-year pass-rush grade than Ngakoue. He ranks ahead of Leonard Floyd, Shaq Lawson, Emmanuel Ogbah, Kevin Dodd, Noah Spence, Kamalei Correa, Carl Nassib – seven of the eight edge defenders draft ahead of him in 2016.
Ngakoue’s successes as a pass-rusher should have Jacksonville’s brass jumping at the opportunity to lock him into a long-term contract. The three highest-paid pass-rushers in the NFL (Aaron Donald, DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark) have all signed contracts worth $20M-plus annually, and Ngakoue is just a strong 2019 campaign away from asking for more than all three of them.