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Doubt Calijah Kancey At Your Own Risk, He’ll Continue to Prove You Wrong



There are quite a few people who have doubted Calijah Kancey because of his height. Because of his weight. Because of the length of his arms. Pat Narduzzi has never been one of them.

Narduzzi doesn’t even consider Kancey all that small. “He’s not short, he’s 6-foot-1, 280,” Narduzzi said after Pitt’s Pro Day. “So, he’s not small.” How many people are 6-foot-1, 280 pounds? And how many of those people are able to move like him?

Virtually no one. Of the 1,546 defensive tackles ranked by Relative Athletic Score since 1987, a rating system that evaluates measurables and testing numbers, Kancey ranked 64th. That’s pretty good.

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Kancey only ran one drill at the NFL Combine earlier this month, but that’s all he needed to make an impact. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash by a defensive lineman in decades — just edging out Aaron Donald’s own time nearly a decade prior.

And while he didn’t run again at Pitt’s Pro Day Wednesday, since he had no reason to do so, he showcased elite explosion and agility. A 33.5-inch vertical and 9-foot-4 broad jump were impressive, but his 6.82-second 3-cone would have been the fastest in NFL Combine history. And somehow, he could’ve been even faster.

“I had messed up on my technique, did something I could’ve fixed with that rep, but hey, I gotta take it,” Kancey said Wednesday. 

Kancey felt like he checked off all the boxes Wednesday, showed NFL teams exactly what he’s able to offer on the field. “They thought I was 5-10, I came in 6-1, 283,” Kancey said. “And I kinda surprised a lot of people.” He wanted to show NFL teams that he could move. That his 6-foot-1 height wasn’t fake. 

He measured in at 6-foot-1, 281 pounds at the Combine. He measured in at 6-foot-1, 283 pounds Wednesday. It’s certainly not fake. If you watched the tape, it’s easy to see he’s exactly the player he claims to be, too.

Narduzzi has watched up close for the last three seasons, watching him develop on the field, off the field and even socially. Kancey is obviously a great football player, but it’s more than that. There’s natural ability, of course, but there’s so much hard work.

“When you talk about motor and consistency, I think that might be the place he’s most improved,” Narduzzi said. “When he was a baby, he’d do a play and then take a couple off. Now it’s natural.”

So, as Kancey was testing Wednesday, and his drills came to an end, he asked if that was it. He wanted to do more. 

When it comes to that work ethic, that desire to be great, it’s not about proving the doubters wrong. It’s about proving himself right. He just wants to be the best Calijah Kancey he can be, and that means constantly improving — ignoring the outside noise.

“The height, it doesn’t matter to me, honestly,” Kancey said. “Playing defensive tackle, you’ve gotta play with great pad level, no defensive lineman plays at 6-7. You gotta bend at the point of attack and you gotta play with good footwork, good pad level or you’re gonna get moved around.”

Kancey’s speed and quickness, the ability to rip through and around interior offensive linemen, are his calling cards. He’s impossibly quick off the first step. And that ability to get after opposing quarterbacks (with 27.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks over the last two seasons) is a premium at the next level.

There have been talks about the potential of him lining up outside, being used as an edge rusher, but he definitely prefers lining up inside. He’s a three-technique defensive lineman who is still able to get after quarterbacks.

“I was talking to some coaches today, does he fit more 3-4, four technique, four I, whatever you want to call it, and some said not,” Narduzzi said. “So, I think he’s probably going to go to a four-down place. But everybody likes pass rushers.”

Kancey has felt a lot of love from a lot of NFL teams in the pre-draft process, and while he doesn’t know where he’s going to go (and doesn’t care if he’s called in the first round or not), he just wants a team that falls in love with him. Because at the end of the day, he’s not Aaron Donald or anyone else.

“That’s a great comparison, something to be happy about, but I’m Calijah Kancey.” 

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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