College: Youngstown State
College Stats: 173 tackles, 37.5 sacks, 56.5 tackles for loss, 3 fumble recoveries, 4 forced fumbles.
When you have a player like Rivers on the radar, the first thing you look at is his history. Did he start at a FBS program and transfers, did something hold him back from playing at a higher profile program, how did he end up at Youngstown State? For Rivers, it was a combination of being overlooked in the recruiting process and turning into one of the best players in program history for the storied Penguins.
The North Carolina native was a model player and student during his time at Youngstown, slowly building up to the player his is now. It did not hurt that he ended up with a great defensive head coach that could teach him how to play at the next level. Rivers is a true success story and proof that NFL scouts will find players no matter where they go to school.
Production. Rivers was one of the most productive players in the FCS for a majority of his career. After only 2.5 sacks as a freshman, Rivers produced at least right sacks and 15.5 tackle per loss in the following three seasons. Villanova’s Kpassagnon was more productive in a single season last year, but that was his only extraordinaire season of his career. Rivers has been producing for years.
Rivers has a first step that drives offensive linemen mad. Before they can even get set to block, Rivers is blazing around the edge looking to add to his sack total. He not only gets to the quarterback quite often, but he also forces so many penalties on the offensive line with his ability to disrupt. When he is able to get his hands on blockers, he has the pure strength to control the line of scrimmage.
Rivers is among the strongest DE/OLB combos in the draft, but he does not possess the arm length of top NFL tackles. Therefore, he is susceptible to getting controlled by lengthy offensive linemen. He could run into problems if he is put into a defense that needs him to handle two gaps.
As he was a pass rusher, there is not much film to see how well he can handle space on a regular basis. Rivers projects to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 in base sets and then make the move to a rush defensive end on passing downs. NFL scouts are on the fence about his ability to become a three down linebacker at the next level.
Where will Rivers be drafted?
The only reasons Rivers does not go any higher than late in the second round are the inability to project his effectiveness at OLB and his “short” arms. Atlanta and Pittsburgh seem line natural fits for him due to their attacking defenses and desire to collect as many quality pass rushers as possible.
A dark horse candidate could also be Kansas City, but I have them more pegged to go with Kpassagnon if they go the pass rushing route. He will take a couple of seasons to build into the player these teams want and only one of the three I mentioned is fine with nurturing prospects in that manner.
I predict Derek Rivers going to the Pittsburgh Steelers with the #62 pick of the second round.