After Jalen Carter, Pittsburgh Panthers defensive tackle Calijah Kancey is considered the best at his position in the 2023 NFL Draft. For teams who may not be in a position to select the Georgia star, Kancey could be the top target.
Kancey is far from the biggest defensive lineman in football, but he certainly has a chance to be among the quickest interior linemen in the NFL. Yet, that same advanced athleticism doesn’t come without great concern as well, with some teams wondering how well a player with his smaller stature can hold up against the biggest, best players in the world.
There’s real hope Kancey could be among the best defensive linemen to come out of this year’s prospect pool, but there are legitimate reasons why teams may be hesitant to use their top pick on the former Pitt star. We’ll get into Kancey’s strengths and weaknesses down below in his draft profile.
Calijah Kancey measurables
- Calijah Kancey height: 6-foot-1
- Calijah Kancey weight: 281 pounds
- Calijah Kancey 40 time: 4.67 seconds
Let’s dive into our Calijah Kancey scouting report and NFL projection.
Calijah Kancey stats and background
Size has always been a bit of a concern for Calijah Kancey. Even coming out of Miami Northwestern Senior High School, Kancey was only viewed as a three-star recruit, according to 247 Sports. Despite recording over 200 tackles during his final two seasons in high school, Kancey didn’t receive a ton of interest but found a home with the Pitt Panthers.
Even then, it’s not like Kancey was this instant sensation. He only played in one game as a freshman and started just four more as a sophomore. Yet Kancey broke out in 2021, establishing himself as a 14-game starter where he’d continue to dominate his senior season.
Related: 2023 NFL defense rankings
Kancey became a unanimous All-American in 2022 while winning ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a two-time first-team All-ACC selection. He has nothing left to prove in college.
|Calijah Kancey stats||Tackles||Sacks|
|2021||33 (13 TFL)||7|
|2022||31 (14.5 TFL)||7.5|
Hailing from the same college program as future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Aaron Donald, some can’t help but draw similarities between the NFL game-wrecker and Kancey. Both are of smaller stature, have a quick yet powerful first step, and are known for their pass-rushing prowess.
But that doesn’t mean the two players are alike or that Kancey will have anywhere near the same level of success as his predecessor. Still, Kancey’s traits are impressive on their own and certainly deserve a closer look.
Calijah Kancey scouting report
Already entering the pre-draft process as a likely first-round pick, Calijah Kancey solidified his status as a first-day selection with a record-breaking performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. His 4.67 40-yard dash is the quickest by any DT at the Combine since 2003.
Once he dominated Combine testing drills, Kancey erased all doubts and established himself as a surefire first-round prospect. But those who have spent all year watching Kancey on film already knew this.
Pro Football Focus had Kancey rated No. 1 among all interior defensive linemen with a 92.4 pass-rushing grade in 2022. Most of his work comes along the interior, but his athleticism should allow Kancey to see a few reps along the edge as a down-lineman as well in 3-4 schemes.
No matter what, Kancey is best when pinning his ears back and pushing the pocket where he creates problems for opponents. Showing up as a run-defender could pose bigger problems, which may cause Kancey to have a limited role in the NFL, at least to begin with.
But as a pass-rusher, good luck finding many interior linemen who can create more pressure as Kancey’s non-stop motor keeps him in attack mode all game long. Kancey’s 30 5/8″ arms could make life challenging at the next level with lengthier, stronger athletes in his path. But as long as Kancey’s quick first step continues catching opponents off-guard, he’ll be just fine.
- Calijah Kancey draft grade: 76/100
- Calijah Kancey draft projection: First-round pick
NFL projection for Calijah Kancey
Calijah Kancey could very well become the next great interior pass rusher who takes the league by storm, generating double-digit sacks each season. He has the potential to be that good.
But his ability to dominate on all three downs? That idea has us much more skeptical. Unless he’s paired with a gap-plugging, space-eating run stuffer, it’s hard to imagine Kancey’s defense being stout at stopping the run.
Yet, this is a quarterback-driven league, and if Kancey can prove to be among the premier sack specialists in football, he’ll do just fine at the next level too. He won’t be knocked for any run-stopping deficiencies if Kancey is able to come anywhere close to getting ten sacks per season.
Kancey’s perceived weaknesses may prevent him from becoming a top-ten pick, but his range could start anywhere in the teens. Kancey doesn’t seem likely to drop out of the first round altogether thanks to his pass-rushing prowess.
As far as potential landing spots, Kancey could be a fit at No. 12 in Houston, No. 17 in Pittsburgh, No. 18 in Detroit, No. 19 in Tampa Bay, No. 20 in Seattle, or a number of other destinations in the final tier of the first round.
No matter where he goes, Kancey will be expected to generate pressure from the interior, but teams will want to have a plan on how he can develop into a better run stuffer, or pair him with a dominant defender next to him in the trenches.