The 2021 college football season is 92 days away. It’s time to start taking a look at players that Green Bay Packers fans should be watching this fall in preparation for the 2022 NFL Draft.
As it stands right now the Green Bay Packers may have one of the best edge-rushing trios in the National Football League. Za’Darius Smith, Rashan Gary, and Preston Smith combined for 21.5 sacks in 2020.
The 2021 season will mark the third season that the pass-rushing trio has been together. It’s a trio that’s combined for 49 sacks over the past two seasons and could surpass the 27.5 sack total that they put together in 2019.
With more playing time, Gary figures to see an uptick from his five sacks last season and Preston Smith is a bounceback candidate after matching a career-low with four sacks.
The 2021-2022 season figures to be the final season that the trio plays together in Green Bay. Preston Smith was expected to be a cap casualty this offseason, but the Packers kicked the can down the road restructuring his contract in March.
With Preston’s likely departure the Packers will most likely look to draft an edge rusher early in the 2022 NFL Draft. A player for Packers fans to become familiar with is Boye Mafe. The Minnesota Golden Gopher is a player for Green Bay fans to watch this fall during the college football season.
The Minnetonka native recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2019. In six games this past season, Mafe recorded 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
It’s no secret that Packers’ general manager Brian Gutekunst loves athletic freaks, which NFL general manager doesn’t? Mafe checked in at No. 5 in Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks” list.
Very few guys his size can jump the way the 6-4, 260-pounder can. His vertical is 40½ inches. That’s 4½ inches higher than any defensive lineman at the NFL combine this year. He can touch the top of the square on a basketball backboard.
But it’s not just his vertical. All of his numbers are head-turning. Mafe has broad jumped 10-6. He has run a 4.57 40. His 10-yard split is 1.58. His short shuttle is 4.3. He can power clean 400 pounds and squats 653. It’s just a whole lot of wow stuff.
Mafe looks every bit the part of an NFL edge rusher. The Golden Gopher edge rusher checks in at 6-4 and 265 pounds. With his size and rare explosiveness, Mafe possesses the freaky athletic traits that NFL teams covet.
“Mafe has plenty of technical skill and had the numbers last season to back up the claim, but it’s still clear his combine numbers are why he’s getting earlier-round attention,” Nate Dickerson, the host of the Locked on Golden Gophers podcast said. “You don’t see a 4.57 40-yard dashes and 40.5-inch verticals out of players who weigh 265 pounds. NFL teams like Mafe because his biggest weaknesses are the things every NFL team believes it can teach a young player, and he has the potential to become a physical monster in the way you can’t teach.”
It’s already been highlighted, but Mafe is a gifted athlete. That first step explosion makes him a nightmare for offensive lineman. He wins the corner with his quickness and long strides. He has the flexible lower body to bend well and shows great closing burst to the quarterback.
“It seems like Mafe never stops moving when he’s rushing the passer off the edge,” Dickerson said. “The good offensive linemen can push him to one side for a few steps, but it’s very rare to see a single blocker keep him contained in any way. He finds a way to always be taking some sort of angle to the ball and doesn’t care if your tackle comes along for the ride. I imagine Mafe is one of those players linemen hate blocking just because he refuses to give up on the play, and it makes him someone who becomes a thorn in an offense’s side through the course of a game.”
There is no denying that Mafe has the raw athleticism and tools to develop into an elite pass-rusher at the next level.
There are questions about how Mafe holds up against the run. If a team is drafting Mafe, they’re doing so for his ability to get after the quarterback, with hopes that his work against the run will catch up to his pass-rushing chops. He needs to be more disciplined and be stronger at the point of attack.
“The only thing holding back Mafe’s draft stock is the questions in his ability to defend the run,” Dickerson said. “PFF graded Mafe as just an average run defender in 2020 after two near-elite ratings in 2018 and 2019. Some could contribute that slip to a weaker Minnesota defense as a whole in 2020 or just as easily mark it up as a fluke.
This is a player who has already shown he has everything else, so I would imagine the work on run-stopping would be a big focus for Mafe. Luckily, PJ Fleck likely has similar thoughts for the team as a whole after the Gophers allowed at least 175 rushing yards in all but one game in 2020.”
Mafe has all the tools to develop into a game-changing pass-rusher. With a full season, it would not be surprising to see Mafe record double-digit sack totals.
The Golden Gophers edge rusher is a twitched-up athlete that could wind up being a Top 40 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. A team can never have enough pass rushers and Mafe is definitely a player for Packers fans to watch this upcoming college football season.
“Minnesota’s defense sets Mafe up for huge numbers this season,” Dickerson said. “The Gophers have every starter minus Benjamin St-Juste back on defense, and the added help on the line from players such as transfer and former Clemson captain Nyles Pinckney at defensive tackle should help take some of the blocking attention off Mafe. I don’t see a way Mafe’s draft stock goes down this season as long as he continues to progress the way he should.”
At the end of the day, Mafe is a better athlete than a football player right now. It will be exciting to see the growth in his game this fall.
Mafe needs to show a better plan of attack when he doesn’t win with his initial quickness. He needs to be stronger at the point of attack against the run. Having said all that, there is no denying he has the length, athleticism, and strength that NFL teams covet in pass rushers.