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Pass-Rusher Prospects Could Get First-Round Look From Cardinals

Mentorship from Chandler Jones, J.J. Watt would be valuable to a rookie addition

Florida offensive lineman Jean Delance (56) blocks against Miami defensive lineman Gregory Rousseau (15) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Miami OLB Gregory Rousseau, a projected first-round pick, believes he has a similar skillset to Chandler Jones.

The Cardinals have two of the most accomplished pass-rushers in NFL history on their roster, and draft prospects know this fact well.

Miami's Gregory Rousseau is a projected first-round pick who brightens up at the thought of getting early-career tutelage from Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt.

"I watch Chandler Jones all the time because he has a similar body type," said Rousseau, a 6-foot-6, 266-pound outside linebacker. "He's pretty long, a long strider and he uses his hands well. He's somebody I definitely look up to. To be able to go to a team like that and play with that caliber of players, it would be amazing to learn from them. They have a lot of experience to share, I'm sure, from the years they've been in the league. That would be amazing."

The Cardinals have talent and experience on their defensive front, but they are short on long-term potential. Watt (32), Jones (31) and Markus Golden (30) are all on the backside of their careers, and none is signed past 2022.

While an edge-rusher isn't a pressing need this offseason, a youthful building block could be an enticing option for General Manager Steve Keim at No. 16 overall. Rousseau, fellow Hurricane Jaelan Phillips and Michigan's Kwity Paye are three of the prospects that could be in play in the middle of the first round.

Rousseau had a gaudy 15½ sacks in 13 games in 2019 before opting out of the COVID-19-marred 2020 campaign. The 21-year-old missed hanging with his teammates last season but believes the months spent training for the draft were well spent.

Roussaeau admits he doesn't have much game tape for NFL teams to evaluate after sitting this year, but said "I showed a lot in the times that I did play."

Phillips is a former five-star recruit who suffered three concussions at UCLA and medically retired from football in 2018. However, he returned in 2020 with Miami and had a big year, accumulating eight sacks, 15½ tackles for loss and an interception in 10 games.

While there is no questioning Phillips' athletic ability, the concussions may be a concern to NFL teams. Phillips doesn't think they should be.

"Look, man, the proof is in the pudding," he said. "My play on the field obviously showed (that). I didn't miss a game, didn't miss a workout, didn't miss anything. And if you watched the (spectacular) Pro Day (performance), you saw the risk is worth it. Obviously I'm healthy, so I don't think it's a risk at all. We play a dangerous and violent game, so obviously people get hurt. But I wouldn't be here today if I was a risk."

When Phillips retired from football, he dove into music and worked odd jobs, but realized that the flame still burned bright for a return to the gridiron.

"Everybody's path to success isn't linear," Phillips said. "There are ups and downs. I think all of that gave me a better look at everything. It made me have this chip on my shoulder and gave me a deeper appreciation for what the game is and what it brings to me. I never lost my passion for football, but I just needed a little kick in the butt."

Paye didn't have the same breakout season collegiately as the Miami duo, but the Michigan product is getting Top-10 buzz based on his traits.

The 6-foot-2, 261-pound edge rusher has elite speed for his size and admits it's pretty cool to see his name high up the board in mock drafts. This type of future was something Paye, who was born in a refugee camp in Guinea after his mother escaped war-torn Liberia, did not think was realistic as a child.

"For me, it was all a dream," Paye said. "To look back now, like, man, that's wild. I have a wallet that I've had since sixth grade, and in my wallet I wrote a couple quotes. Every day I'll pull it out and I'll read those quotes. I wrote these in sixth grade and now I'm accomplishing everything I wanted to accomplish. It's unreal, but at the same time, I worked to get here. It feels good."

A look at defensive end J.J. Watt's new Cardinals jersey being created

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