Pass-rushers are a hot commodity around the NFL. Disruptive defensive lines are the backbone of any elite defense. Teams want guys who can pressure the quarterback, plain and simple.
Looking at this year’s sack leaders you’ll see many high-profile names. Then, not far from the top, you’ll stumble upon a name that you don’t recognize. A name you probably can’t even pronounce correctly.
Yannick Ngakoue (pronounced “IN-gah-kway”), the Jacksonville Jaguars’ second-year defensive end is currently tied for the 6th most sacks in the league. Impressively, he also leads the NFL in forced fumbles (6).
Unlike most of the names on the leaderboard, Ngakoue was not a first round draft pick. In fact, he wasn’t selected until the third round (69th overall) in 2016.
Ngakoue left the University of Maryland after his junior year to declare for the NFL Draft. He left on the heels of a season in which he racked up 13.5 sacks, setting a new school record. Despite excelling in the Big Ten, Ngakoue’s draft profile was not very favorable.
After reviewing his game tape, some scouts claimed that “several sacks [were] the result of extended plays or being unblocked“. His name wasn’t projected to be called until the 4th or 5th round. His NFL player comparison was to a guy that is currently playing in the Canadian Football League.
Needless to say, scouts did not anticipate this elite level of production from Ngakoue. Especially not this early in his career. Experts said he needed a “more developed skill set” if he wanted to “become a factor in the NFL as a starter”. In year two, he has become much more than just a “factor” for Jacksonville.
Ngakoue is second on the team in sacks, a primary contributor on the best defense in the AFC. Disregarding the popular opinion among scouts, Jacksonville took a chance on him and it is paying off handsomely.
While Yannick Ngakoue may not be getting Pro Bowl attention this season, he’s working his way to becoming a household name. Just make sure you pronounce it right.
For the previous entry of the Under-the-Radar Stars series, click here.
The Underdog Newsletter
A bite-sized rundown of the best underdog stories in sports – handpicked and delivered to your inbox every Tuesday!Subscribe Now