AUBURN, Ala. — Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, analysts don’t quite know what to think about former Auburn football star Jeff Holland.
As a junior last season, Holland produced at a high level with 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus had Holland down for 65 total quarterback pressures, which is the most among any Power 5 edge defender in the draft class.
Holland played “Buck” at Auburn — a defensive end role that was mostly standup like an outside linebacker, but it was almost exclusively focused on rushing the quarterback. And, at 6-foot-1 and 249 pounds, Holland doesn’t project as a prototypical pass rusher at the next level.
“[Holland] is an interesting player because he’s a combination — at Auburn, he was an edge rusher,” Mike Mayock of NFL Network said Friday. “In the NFL, he might have to stand up. There are more of those type of players in this draft than I’ve ever seen, primarily because the college game is getting smaller and quicker to deal with the spread offenses. We’re getting all these undersized edge guys. We have to figure out what to do.”
Mayock has Holland projected as a late fourth- or early fifth-round pick. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. called Holland a third-to-fifth-round pick.
While that draft stock may seem underwhelming to some, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit thought Holland was impressive with how he performed in the SEC at his size last season.
“I think Jeff Holland really helped his draft status with a great year in 2017,” Herbstreit said last week. “Just a relentless approach. Not necessarily a guy that’s just going to blow your mind with how fast he is, but because of his work ethic and because of the way he never really gave up on plays, it allowed him to be very productive.”
Holland’s mix of size, speed and pass-rushing production should lend to an unorthodox role in the NFL. As college-inspired offenses continue their rise in the professional ranks, teams could use players such as Holland in specific spots.
Early on, Mayock sees Holland as a passing-down rushing specialist, much like he was early in his career at Auburn.
“Even though he showed he could rush the quarterback, he’s going to have to be an off- the-ball linebacker that in a subpackage may be able to be a ‘Joker,'” Mayock said. “In other words, moved around a little bit and provide extra value. … I think special teams are going to be important for him early.”