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Raiders 3rd-round pick Arden Key has 1st-round talent

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White says the LSU pass rusher has a couple paths to NFL success.

Alabama v LSU Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Raiders drafted Key with the 89th pick in the NFL Draft.

Arden Key is an interesting prospect if for no other reason than I’m not sure whether he will be an edge player or an off-the-ball linebacker in the league. At close to 6’6 and around 240 pounds, he certainly could fit at either position. In the four games I watched, I saw that he is physical enough and athletic enough to do either.

So, first and foremost any team considering Key is going to have to decide where they are going to play him before they make a final determination about how much they value him as a prospect. I remember doing a breakdown on Anthony Barr when he came out, and I feel like Key is in somewhat of a similar position. Barr, like Key, looked pretty good rushing off the edge, but ultimately the Vikings decided to play him as an off the ball linebacker in a 4-3.

The same thing could definitely happen to Key.

But for the purposes of this breakdown I’m going to go ahead and assume Key will wind up being an edge rusher. If a team drafts him to play off the ball, that’s on them.

As an edge rusher, one thing about Key that really stood out to me is the guy consistently used rip moves to escape off of blocks.

If you have been reading my stuff for awhile you likely already know my bias in favor of rip moves in general. For my money they are the most effective way to consistently be able get an offensive lineman’s hands off you, and keep them off you no matter whether its a running or passing play.

Key used rip moves early and often to great effect. Even though he is pretty tall, he also had really good bend which allowed him to really sink those rip moves in before he drove his arm into the air and forced the blockers to release their grip on him.

He was able to get a bunch of clean wins as a pass rusher because of his rip move, and it also allowed him to get off blocks to make tackles in the run game.

What was a little surprising for me, however, was that although Key was able to win a lot of one-on-ones and he flashed quite a bit as a pass rusher, he only ended up with two sacks and four pressures in those four games.

But that’s just how it is sometimes for pass rushers. That’s why it’s so important to watch how many times a guy can win one-on-one rather than just looking to see how many times he showed up on the stat sheet.

There have been times when I’ve seen guys rack up sacks without really having to beat somebody. I’d much rather have a guy like Key who can create his own pressure, even if he isn’t always the one who ends up being credited with the resulting sack or pressure.

I don’t want to make it seem like Key is a one trick pony by focusing too much on his pass rush potential, however. Even though he appears to have a somewhat thin frame, Key more than held his own as a run defender.

I honestly thought his arms were longer than 33 1/2 inches watching his film. Regardless, he did a really good job with his hand placement and getting full extension with his arms when taking on a blocker lined up in front of him. He shot in with reckless abandon when taking on pullers.

That, to me, said alot about Key’s attitude as a football player.

When it came to getting to the ball this dude would not be denied.

Not when he was pass rushing.

Not when he was chasing down a run.

Not when he was rallying to a completed pass.

Time and time again I watched Key working to get to the ball and trying to blast the ball carrier one more time before the whistle blew.

Sometimes he was really close to a late hit, but he didn’t get flagged in any of the games that I watched. I loved the intensity. Key is a finisher. He loves to finish off plays and I want guys like that on my team.

Hustlers, if you will. *The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes voice*

Even when that ball carrier wasn’t close by, Key would haul ass after them just in case.

After all the whole point of hustling is you never know when your team will need you to make a play that it didn’t first appear you would need to make, or be able to make. Key’s effort was consistently outstanding and it definitely made a positive impression on me.

Now, there were a couple of plays where LSU inexplicably stuck Key inside at three technique, and those plays didn’t end so well for him.

So I think, at least for now, Key is probably going to be an edge only guy, unless he gains a lot of weight and gets just a tad bit stronger with his anchor.

But even on those plays you see the fight in Key. On the first play he gets knocked off the ball but recovers and fights the right guard to a stand still. On the second he gets low and makes a pile right at the line of scrimmage. I’ve seen much bigger guys look much worse against a double team, I can promise you that.

Of a more serious concern was that Key did lose containment a few times, which is a big no-no for edge guys.

I see it as more of a technique thing than anything else, however. He tended to get a little too heavy on blockers and not quite far enough upfield. When the runner bounced outside Key couldn’t bounce with them.

That is something that is very fixable in my eyes and if Key practices with the intensity he plays the games with it shouldn’t take him too long at all to improve.

I see Key as having first-round ability as an edge rusher.

He is has all the tools he needs to get after the quarterback in the NFL, relatively slow 40 time be damned. He also doesn’t have a wide array of pass rush moves yet, so he has plenty of room to continue to grow.

I think he is a no-brainer as a base 3-4 rush linebacker. I think he could handle defensive end in an attacking style base 4-3 defense too.

Although, admittedly, it may take him a little longer to get acclimated to putting his hand in the dirt every play. Three years from now I think he will be thriving in either role.

I want to make sure to specify this is strictly an on-field evaluation only because I accidentally stumbled upon something that implied there may be some off-field issues with Key.

I generally try to avoid write ups about guys I’m breaking down like the plague, so someone else’s opinion doesn’t consciously or subconsciously influence mine. However, I wasn’t looking for that when I found it. Now that I have seen it, I had to throw that disclaimer in because I don’t know how much that stuff will or won’t affect where Key is drafted.

I’m just assessing where I think his talent level is. And for me he showed first-round potential.

I really hope he is able to put it all together in the league and rise above whatever those off the field issues there may be. With that motor Arden, Key could be really fun to watch in the NFL.

Since I don’t have access to all-22 for college football games I use the next best thing for my draft profiles and go to Draft Breakdown where they post the TV copy of a bunch of top prospects’ games already cut up and ready to go. For the purposes of this breakdown I watched Arden Key play against Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss and Alabama. Those represented sixth, seventh, eight and ninth games on LSU’s schedule last season, respectively.