Following an excruciating bowl game loss to finish up a tremendous career at Virginia Tech, James Gayle has put in work with hopes of being one of the top sleeper picks in this week’s NFL Draft. Gayle was a terrific pass rusher as a Hokie from the defensive end spot, but NFL teams may prefer him to back off the line into the outside linebacker position. However, this transition may come easy for Gayle, given his tremendous speed and footwork, and it seems that he is willing to make the switch.
Here is Gayle’s Stat-line as a Hokie:
2010: 2 Starts, 13 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 12 Hurries
2011: 13 starts, 38 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 20 hurries
2012: 11 Starts, 43 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 27 hurries
2013: 13 starts, 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 34 hurries
(Stats from hokiesports.com)
At Virginia Tech, Gayle was an exceptional pass rusher who would continuously put pressure on the opposing quarterback. His stat-line is fairly similar throughout his last three seasons, with his quarterback hurries continuously increasing each year.
Gayle was also a force on special teams as a Hokie, which is where NFL teams would most likely have him play. Gayle had the potential to have higher numbers throughout his career at Tech, and scouts may hold that against him. In my opinion, the number of times Gayle made the opposing quarterback rush to get the ball out of his hands (Gayle led the team with 34 hurries last year, according to hokiesports.com) makes up for the lower number of sacks, because many of the interceptions by the Hokies secondary came because of the defensive lines rush on the quarterback, which Gayle contributed to often. One more thing that caught my attention is that Gayle played in 53 games in his career, which represents his durability and lack of injuries, which is something NFL personnel directors like to see.
A Gayle Highlight Video:
NFL Combine in February
At the NFL Combine back in February, Gayle measured in at 6’4, and he was able to bulk up to a respectable 259 lbs. His performance at the NFL Combine, as listed below, shows that his strong athletic ability has given scouts something to keep an eye on.
40-Yard-Dash: 4.70 seconds (this ranked 6th amongst DE and tied 13th amongst OLB)
Bench Press: 26 reps (this ranked 5th amongst DE and tied 3rd amongst OLB)
3-Cone: 7.19 seconds (this ranked 5th amongst DE and 13th amongst OLB)
Vertical: 37.00 (this ranked tied for 3rd amongst DE and 8th amongst OLB)
Broad Jump: 122 (this ranked 7th amongst DE and tied 5th amongst OLB)
Gayle’s numbers from the Combine prove he still has a rare tremendous mix of size, speed, and footwork, and these numbers will cause teams to give Gayle’s name multiple looks come the draft.
Gayle at the Combine:
It currently seems that Gayle will be selected in the middle rounds of the NFL draft this weekend. Gayle’s versatility to play both on and off the line, as well as on special teams, is something that teams like to see. Teams using the 3-4 system seem like a better fit for Gayle given his ability to rush the quarterback and his slightly small size for a defensive lineman, but it is possible that he can stay on the line of scrimmage as an end. So it seems that Gayle would be a great fit for any team that is in need for depth at either defensive end or outside linebacker, as well as on special teams.
In my opinion, James Gayle’s athletic ability and body type closely resembles that of former defensive end Jason Taylor. Taylor went in the third round of the ’97 NFL Draft, so many teams passed up on him at first. He was never the bulkiest player on the field, but he was able to become a tremendous pass rusher off the end, and was very durable throughout his career. Gayle’s body type and speed, as well as being a strong pass rusher, really makes me hope that he can adjust to the NFL and have a long career similar to Taylor's. Gayle’s athletic ability to go along with his size gives him loads of potential, and come draft night, I’m hoping the NFL scouts see this Hokie alum’s potential as well.