2025 Draft: Does James Pearce have Edge as No. 1?


Edge rusher James Pearce Jr. from Tennessee is regarded as the top edge rusher in the SEC heading into the 2024 season. He is also projected as the top edge rusher for the 2025 draft, with many viewing him as the No. 1 overall pick.

Teams and scouts are excited about Pearce’s tremendous height and length — 6-4, 242 pounds — with long arms to create space against opponents on a pass rush and in run support. Despite playing in all 13 games as a 2022 true freshman, Pearce was unable to stand out, recording only five total tackles, two TFL, and two sacks. But in 2023, he put his name on the map with 28 total tackles, 14.5 TFL, 10 sacks, one PD, one INT, one TD, and two forced fumbles in 13 games.

Although Pearce logged only three starts in 26 career games, his campaign last season was so dominant it earned him a 2023 First-Team All-SEC honor from the coaches and the Associated Press. He twice earned SEC defensive lineman of the week, against Texas A&M and South Carolina.



Pearce possesses the length scouts covet at the next level. His long arms give him an edge in both phases on defense, whether long-arming an initial punch in pass pro or stacking in run support at POA to make it easier to find the ball and shed that initial block at LOS. He is an extremely twitchy athlete, has a plus first step off the ball to get the opponent on his heels, and great lower body bend/flexibility to the corner and finish around the edge at a high level. Pearce’s ability to win with speed around the edge is exceptional, and with his get-off and rip move, he makes it hard for opposing tackles to get a proper angle on him and contain the corner with their kick steps, especially tackles with muddy foot speed.

Pearce has great get-off transitions in run support and is good at getting upfield vs. both zone and gap concepts. This gets him into the backfield to disrupt a runner's initial path and makes it difficult for pullers to get down the line fast enough to cut off his angle. He also displays a positive motor and overall effort, does a good job following the play when it’s flowing away from him and consistently plays to the whistle.

With his lean frame and superior athletic ability, Pearce has versatility in coverage. He is fluid in his movements in space, turns and runs and can change direction effortlessly. Because of that, he will be able to drop in zone coverage and provide production when asked. Do not sleep on his ball skills, as he has shown he can make plays on the ball. After nabbing a pick-and-pass deflection last year, he took it to the house. Those types of plays indicate he is a special, spectacular overall athlete.


Pearce’s athletic traits definitely give him a high ceiling, but he is not yet a finished product. Although he overcomes it with quickness and finesse, Pearce appears to have a lack of raw physical strength as a pass rusher. He lacks a bull rush and the ability to covert speed-power to work straight through his opponent, so he can easily get stalled out vs. stronger tackles, sometimes getting taken to the ground on stunts/twists when confronted by double teams. Overall, his technique and timing on double/counter moves are adequate, but his hands are a bit sloppy on the inside, and the timing on double moves is sometimes off a tick to really sell that first move in those situations.

In run support, Pearce sometimes struggles because of his inadequate strength and marginal ability to generate a push at POA. With his great length, he does have potential to learn how to convert leverage into improved production at LOS. Still, he could use more muscle to overcome struggles against stronger tackles and to disengage quickly when bigger opponents square him up, which is when he can get lost and taken out of play. That lack of great strength makes it difficult for him to secure tackles against bigger, more physical backs who can break his tackles, both around LOS and in space.

At about 242 pounds, Pearce possesses a thin frame for an edge rusher and will likely be a rotational player at the next level unless or until he bulks up. His difficulties holding ground in run support play a big role in why he is often subbed out on running and short-yardage/goal-line situations. To see more playing time this season and find a consistent role at the next level, adding muscle will be key to Pearce’s success going forward.


James Pearce’s impressive 2023 campaign and his natural abilities put the national spotlight directly on him. He is viewed as possibly the best edge player in the country and is projected as a top-10 pick in the 2025 draft. Pearce is an impressive athlete and overall talent, and possesses the ceiling to be a cornerstone for an NFL franchise. But this upcoming season, Pearce must show improvement in key areas to solidify himself as a true blue-chip prospect and put to rest some concerns teams may have. If he shows growth and development, Pearce may just put up even better numbers this season and make a bid to be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 draft.

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