NFL Draft Report Super Sleeper: DE Gayle

Virginia Tech's James Gayle has a "perfect blend of strength and quickness" to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. His game is analyzed by the NFL's head scout in 13 categories and is compared to a former Vikings defensive end.

Called by ESPN one of the toughest players in college football prior to the 2013 season, James Gayle‘s final campaign did not greatly improve his draft stock, as expected. A position shift to strong-side defensive end took the senior time to adjust after playing on the weak side for his first three seasons. It was not that he was overpowered or double-teamed often, but just needing time to get comfortable with different hand placement and angling that saw him deliver just "pedestrian-like" figures.

Gayle might not have been as impressive statistical-wise as scouts had hoped for, managing just 138 tackles in 53 games that included 39 starting assignments. He did come up with 22.0 sacks and post at least double-digit stops-for-loss in each of his last three seasons, closing out his Tech tenure with 40.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Where Gayle did excel was being disruptive in the backfield, delivering 93 quarterback pressures for the Hokies during his career, including 34 as a senior and 27 as a junior.

Much like his predecessor, Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh Steelers), the Hokie has a perfect blend of strength and quickness off the snap, evident by his performance while shifting between the strong-side and weak-side edge positions.

Scouts agree that Gayle has a bright future playing on the left side in a 4-3 defensive scheme, where he can utilize his outstanding hand usage and punch to beat the bigger offensive tackles when working on an island. He takes good angles in pursuit and works well flowing laterally along the line to string out plays. Gayle is very active using his hands to keep blockers away from his body and displays the sudden burst needed to slip past lethargic blockers to flush the quarterback out of the pocket.

Much like Worilds, Gayle has experience playing in a two- and three-point stance, as he has the retreat quickness to drop back in pass coverage and does a nice job of keeping plays in front of him when asked to perform in the second level (hybrid outside linebacker) and challenge runners and slot receivers on underneath routes.

Gayle might be the team's most tenacious player, but he is a solid citizen with no known off-field issues, a respected team captain and one the staff says will one day make excellent coaching material. He is not the type that will get loud and vocal about his performance, preferring to take the "assassin's approach" with the way he plays the game.

The Tech senior put on an impressive show for teams while attending the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. Even though he checked in at 259 pounds, his frame looked muscular and when he stepped into the weight room and put up the 225-pound bar 26 times in the bench press test, he proved to all that he has the power to stand up to the bigger blockers.

Gayle was timed at 4.70 seconds in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and then raced to a 1.63-second clocking in the 10-yard dash during Tech's annual Pro Day. His 37-inch vertical jump was third-best for all down linemen at the 2014 Combine and he then "skied" to a 10'02" broad jump, making teams wonder if he had such impressive leaping ability, why did he only bat down two passes at the line of scrimmage during his career.

James Gayle

Virginia Polytechnic (Tech) Institute Hokies

Body Structure

Gayle has a well-built, thick frame with impressive muscle tone in his shoulders, chest, arms and back. He has a good bubble with thick thighs and calves, along with good arm length to stave off blockers and big hands to wrap and secure as a tackler. He looks to have room to add at least another 15 pounds of bulk without it affecting his overall quickness and timed speed.

Athletic Ability

Gayle has above-average timed speed for a player his size. He fires off the snap at a low pad level, keeping his hands inside his frame to prevent blockers from getting into his chest. He is a combative type that hits with a thud and displays more than enough hand strength to dislodge the ball from the running backs. He is genetically gifted, as he flashes excellent acceleration closing from the backside and the powerful burst to be quite effective splitting double teams and impacting pocket pressure when working towards the inside gaps. He has that short, sudden burst off the line to surprise a lethargic offensive lineman and has shown excellent leaping ability (has a verified 37-inch vertical jump), along with the long reach to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage (78 1/2-inch wing span). His suddenness off the snap allows him to consistently gain penetration. The thing that impresses the most on film view is his ability to bend and flatten in attempts to get to the quarterback. He has the change-of-direction agility and speed to handle counter moves and shows very good balance and agility slipping through blocks to make plays in traffic.

Football Sense

Gayle has Jared Allen-like field instincts, as he is always alert to his surroundings and will not bite on play action. He needs just minimal reps to retain plays and is like a quarterback on the field, knowing everyone's assignments and how to make sure teammates play within the system. He might play with excellent aggression, but is not reckless (will not draw foolish penalties). He has an outstanding feel for the outside running game and while some teams might consider him to be an outside linebacker, he is much better pursuing the ball or playing downhill rather than having to drop off into the second level for pass coverage. He has no problems adjusting to game situations (see 2013 East Carolina, Miami and Maryland games).


Gayle has this Pete Rose "can't quit" attitude. Tell him he's not capable of doing something and he will prove you wrong. Foolish scouts that think he might be too small to be an every-down lineman in the NFL should spend more time watching film, as they will see that he is an all-out combatant who will never back down from blockers much bigger than him (his main blockers in 2013 averaged 302.6 pounds). He has more than enough strength to discard blockers and makes plays because of his hunger to do so, as you will never see him throttle down until after the whistle. Despite started each of his last 37 games, he still volunteered for additional duty, logging 135 plays as a member of the special team coverage units since the start of the 2011 campaign.


Gayle has an impressive blend of quickness and power, especially as a pass rusher. He has that initial explosion to fly past slower offensive linemen and simply beats most blockers coming off the edge. He has the balance and change-of-direction agility to slant and shoot the gaps, staying low in his pads while using his reach to keep blockers away from his legs. When he moves laterally, you can see the way he easily blows past the gaps. He has the same burst whether standing up or in a two-point stance and consistency gains advantage with his ability to pin the offensive tackle's ears back. He has that low center of gravity to quickly crash inside coming off the snap and very good balance when bending back inside. With his hand usage, upper-body strength and punch, more often than not, he can walk any offensive tackle back into the quarterback (see 2013 North Carolina, Western Carolina, Maryland and Virginia games).

Strength at Point

This is an area where Gayle is greatly underrated. With a 500-pound bench press, 370-pound jerk and a 400-pound power clean, along with big hands and long arms (78 1/2-inch wing span), he is a nightmare for offensive tackles in one-on-one battles. He might get too caught up in trying to overpower his man at times, but he utilizes his quickness and explosion off the ball, along with active hands to consistently gain block separation. He showed much quicker counter moves the last two years than in previous seasons (resulting in 61 QB pressures, 11 sacks and 21.5 stops-for-loss since the start of 2012) and shows the lower body strength and leg drive to get opponents off-balance when shooting the gaps. He uses his hands well to discard blocks and even when double teamed, he's not blocked for long, as he uses his strength well to lock out and shed. He also uses his hands with force when attempting to rip through holds.

Use of Hands

Gayle is a master at chasing down the quarterback and disrupting the backfield, as his array of moves, especially powerful rip and club moves allows him to get almost immediate separation from the offensive lineman trying to lock on. He has very good ability to swipe at and knock down offensive linemen coming off blocks, as his hand quickness is very beneficial when executing pass rush moves. He uses his length like a weapon — constantly stabbing in attempts to gain separation. He is also very effective when trying to pull and jerk on offensive tackles to break free coming off the edge.

Lateral Pursuit/Effort

Some teams might consider Gayle linebacker material due to his pursuit quickness and ability to work down the line. He is more effective locating the ball on the move, as he will give up some size working in traffic, but he plays with a high motor, giving good effort while remaining patient for the play to develop (not the type that will overpursue). He takes very good angles to the ball and flashes the short-area burst needed to maintain acceleration while pressuring and chasing the quarterback (see 2013 Western Carolina, Marshall and Virginia games). The thing you notice on film is his outstanding eyes, as he always seems to be able to locate the ball through a crowd and give chase.

Tackling Ability

Gayle is a solid wrap-up tackler with good range, especially when making plays from the backside. He hits with a good thud and knows how to bring his arms to wrap and secure. He is not the type that will take a side, which results in a few runners getting away. He shows good vision working at the X's and comes to balance quickly to stave off low blocks and make plays when clogging the inside run lanes. The only concern is his lack of a lot of tackles (138 in 53 games, including 39 starts), as he is very good at chasing quarterbacks and ball-carriers in the backfield with 40.5 stops-for-loss.

Run Defense

Gayle is a beast when giving chase in the backfield. Since the beginning of his junior year, runners have averaged minus 0.35 yards on 66 carries in his area (see 2013 East Carolina, Miami and Maryland games). He has that instinctive ability to know when to shoot his hands in attempts to hit and shed. He plays much bigger than his size indicates in run force and has the lower body strength to hold ground firmly at the point of attack. He runs and chases the ball down all over the field and is very consistent in finding the football when on the move.

Pass Rush

Gayle has that sudden initial step to gain advantage coming off the edge. His balance is evident by his ability to easily bend back inside. He has the leg drive to get under offensive tackles and push his man back into the pocket. He flashes the short-area burst needed to shoot the gaps and very good ability to dip and rip while turning the corner. He bends and flattens with good body control and speed, but he also knows to compensate for size limitations, that he has to keep his hands active and not allow himself to get tied up at the X's to have the success he has had pressuring and collapsing the pocket.

Closing on the QB

Gayle has explosive long pursuit speed. He shows valid initial explosion off the snap to gain penetration and very good urgency in his effort to give chase. He has the valid speed needed to get in the backfield and regularly disrupt the pocket (see 2013 Western Carolina, Marshall, North Carolina and Boston College games). With his ability to come off the edge, using him standing up in a 3-4 alignment could see him wreak havoc vs. the passing game, but he is also just as efficient with his hand down playing on the front wall.


Gayle has that innate ability to quickly spot blocking schemes, making plays before they can even develop. He has patience while playing in run containment and the balance to change direction to shut down the reverse. He shows very good eyes to locate the ball on the move (see 2013 Pittsburgh, Maryland and Marshall games). He knows how to use his arm length to get block separation while he locates the football and consistently shows the ability to make plays when working down the line.

Compares To

JARED ALLEN, Chicago: Like Allen when he was coming out of college, Gayle does not get the "true love" he deserves from professional scouts and media, alike. He is a high motor type who plays until the whistle and consistently beats blockers with his blend of strength and foot quickness. He's a throwback to the days of Howie Long — playing smart, but playing with aggression.

Dave-Te' Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. With the NFL Draft Report, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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