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NFL Draft Prep: Breaking down Joe Gaziano’s game film

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If NU gets disrespected in the draft again, we riot.

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NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Northwestern vs Pittsburgh William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

Professional drafts are a sore subject here amongst the braintrust at Inside NU. We were all heartbroken when Abi Scheid’s name was not called last Friday night and expressed our righteous anger in the following tweet.

While defensive end Joe Gaziano will most likely hear his name called in the upcoming NFL Draft, it’s starting to get a little dicey. Back in February, we published an update which said he was projected to be selected in various mock drafts around the interweb. Most of those mocks had him as a third-rounder who was rising up the boards.

Somehow, only two months later and in the midst of a pandemic, Gaz has fallen, ranked as a sixth-rounder by The Draft Network, while Dane Brugler of The Athletic didn’t recommend his drafting with one of the 255 picks available.


From The Draft Network:

Pros: Experienced redshirt senior who quietly has racked up noticeable career production. Broad frame with proper thickness in his upper body, pushing 280 pounds. Strong in his lower-half and comes out of his stance with proper pad-level. Understands leverage and extension and rarely allows offensive lineman to get underneath him or into his pads. Sets a solid edge when asked, keeping his outside-half free and playing with power. More of a penetrating pass rusher who has found success rushing over guards, causing disruption with his leverage and power moves. Strong rip move to destruct blocks once he sees the backfield develop.

Cons: Lacks any type of bend around the edge track. Not a flexible pass rusher in any sense, unable to clear his hips and corner around offensive tackles. Track gets especially wide because his get-off doesn’t have much burst to it. While he’s able to play with proper leverage, he takes an extra moment to read “high hat” and work his block destruction moves. Gaziano is a bit of a plodder in the open field, unable to run-down any plays from the backside. There have been occasions where he failed to recognize a double team, and was unable to split it or hold his ground as a result.

From The Athletic:

All of this sudden skepticism rearing its ugly head warranted a deep dive into the film of one Joe Gaziano to see whether Northwestern’s all-time sack leader has the makings of a Sunday talent.


Gaziano’s biggest strength, as Brugler notes, is by far his hand strength, particularly when rushing the passer from the outside. Here in this first clip, he easily dishevels the lineman with a quick punch and forces quarterback Tanner Morgan into an intentional grounding and a safety.

The key here is that Gaziano utilizes his power move without slowing down his rush. Lesser ends would have to stop or stutter step to make that move, but he combines his strength with his incessant motor to drop the blocker and disrupt the entire play.

That motor is the second major positive in his prospect resume. It can be hard for dominant defenders to always stay engaged at this amateur level as offensive coordinators often design plays to guide the offense away from said defender, and constantly being left out of the play leads to lackadaisical effort on their part (see: Jadeveon Clowney, 2013). Gaziano isn’t on the same level as those types of players, but he was NU’s best game wrecker the last few years and had to deal with similar treatment.

However, that didn’t stop the Scituate, Massachusetts, native from chasing after plays like he was a walk-on given his first shot by the coach. On this next play, he stays home to contain Justin Fields, effectively doing his job for that play. Most guys stop after that, but seeing that Dobbins is gashing his teammates on a third down, Gaziano does his best to run him down and prevent a big gain.

Even if he was unsuccessful in that situation, that’s a still a good all-around play and a positive indicator of his effort and work-ethic at the next level.

Unfortunately, a lot of the deficiencies that Brugler and The Draft Network detailed earlier are hard to ignore.

He’s not very flexible bending around the edges and ends up taking these big looping paths that simply aren’t quick enough if he wants to get home for a sack or a significant pressure.

That’s still a really good play on his part, but often he’s forced to the periphery of the pocket by a tackle, taking him out of the play altogether. This lack of upper echelon quickness also hurts him in run defense. He reads the gap correctly on the following play but doesn’t disrupt it after he gets through. A better athlete veers straight to the running back with almost no hesitation, but Gaziano is simply left flat-footed as the back goes by him.

His heavy feet are also responsible for his inability to perform high-level, complex pass-rushing moves. This spin is comically slow, and by the time he’s completed it, the lineman has already slid over to the new position he’s in.

In addition, while his outside strength in pass-rushing scenarios is impressive, it is less than stellar on the interior and against run plays. The senior gets completely stonewalled by the Minnesota lineman on this play, as he can’t get the same power in his hands without the boost of downhill momentum (Gaziano is the one who trails the play after the back breaks free).

None of this is to say that Gaziano is limited to only being an outside pass-rusher and an energetic spark plug. He has an innate ability to correctly play read options, something that could be of immense value when facing mobile quarterbacks in the NFL.

That second play by Gaziano is savant-level stuff. He stops his rush in order to trick the quarterback into thinking he’s playing contain defense, which usually opens the whole for the running back. However, this is all part of the act, as he immediately breaks for said running back after the ball has been handed off and nabs him for a fantastic stop.

Gaziano also will benefit from receiving less attention at the next level, as he often faced double- and even triple-teams last year as his cohorts were unable to beat one-on-one matches in order to alleviate him.

What makes that first picture even funnier is how Gaziano is not only double-teamed, but one of the lineman blocking him is Tristan Wirfs, who is considered the best lineman in the draft and a top-10 overall prospect. Needless to say, the Wildcat star simply won’t have as many bodies thrown at him if he gets a chance in the big leagues.

In conclusion, Gaziano probably isn’t the top 150 prospect we thought he might be back in the winter (y’know, that time when civilization wasn’t falling apart). But that doesn’t change the fact that he produced as well as anyone on the field, and that combined with his fierce determination alone should make him worthy of a third-day flier in the draft. Given what we know about him, he only needs a small opportunity to go out and prove everybody wrong.