2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Youngstown State OLB Derek Rivers

From now until the 2017 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to examine as many prospects as possible and showcase both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

Derek Rivers/OLB Youngstown State – 6’4/1 250

The Good

– NFL height and weight, average-ish length but overall size for the position
– Nuanced pass rusher with excellent hand use, leverage and placement
– Has a clear go-to pass rush move, dip/rip, to high degree of success
– Tremendous flexibility around the edge, able to corner and rarely taken up the arc
– Heavy handed pass rusher with a strong initial punch
– Gets the most out of his length, shows arm extension and creates space between he and the blocker
– Able to convert speed to power, above average first step
– Works hard to get off blocks in the run game, able to get and stay disengaged and fights through trash, works off reach blocks from backside on zone schemes well
– Experience playing in two and three point stance
– Does well to keep contain as a pass rusher, doesn’t freelance, and rarely taken out of the play
– Lots of starting experience, durable, no real injury history

The Bad

– Length for height is not great (32 3/8 inches)
– Lacking a strong counter move, will have to fill out pass rushing repertoire, will lean on OTs when his first move fails
– Want to see stronger effort chasing the ball away from him and past the LOS
– Played against worse competition, will have to make jump from FCS level
– Didn’t move around that much, mostly on the left side, minimal experience dropping into coverage


– Three year starter
– Career: 56.5 TFL, 37.5 sacks, 3 FF
– Linebacker/tight end in high school
– Played football and basketball in HS
– Originally went to Fork Union Military Academy out of school because of poor test scores, played one season there

Tape Breakdown

Rivers is one of many in a long list of talented EDGE rushers who will probably be gone within the first 45 picks. Some still view Rivers as a third, or heck, even fourth round pick, but I think after the Combine, people will realize he is going to go much higher.

He’s a really nuanced pass rusher with great hand use. Isn’t just winning with his first step, speed, or strength. He wins with his hand use; his initial punch, ability to shed, and his best move.

This is against Illinois State, far from a powerhouse, but it came against a senior right tackle, not some freshmen making his first start. And Rivers made him look as silly as a pass rusher can.

You see the hand use, knocking down the tackle’s hands, dipping his inside shoulder, and cornering on his way to the quarterback.

He’s a strong athlete. This play against Northern Iowa shows it. Zone read, watch him squeeze the back, forcing the QB to keep, and then he pushes laterally to tackle him, too.

Or here, showing off his ability to convert speed to power. And it’s important to note it came against Wet Virginia, not an FCS-level team.

Again, against the Mountaineers, we see his technique. Arm extension, not completely flexed, elbows still hinged, but extended, with his hands inside the numbers of the tackle, creating power on his rush.

The negatives are, frankly, difficult to find. He doesn’t have much experience dropping into coverage, but there is some, and he looks fairly competent to do it. Enough for a baseline feel to say, yeah, he shouldn’t struggle there too mightily.

One of the bigger ones is one I gave Javon Hargrave, who I also struggled to find a clear list of negatives with. When the ball goes away from him and past the line, I’d like to see his effort level be a little higher. Finish every play. But for an every down player in college, it’s not uncommon, and I don’t think he’s dogging it out there the way a guy like Gerod Holliman did.

Frankly, I’m talking myself into entertaining him at 30th overall. I think he’ll make that push by the time the draft comes around and will be one of the first small-school selections off the board.

Projection: Mid-Day One (late first/early second)

Games Watched: vs West Virginia, vs Illinois State, vs Northern Iowa, Senior Bowl

Previous 2017 NFL Draft Player Profiles
Deshaun WatsonHaason ReddickMarshon LattimoreCorey ClementTim Williams
Jourdan LewisTakkarist McKinleyBrad KaayaNathan PetermanO.J. Howard
Charles HarrisAlvin KamaraTyus BowserDavid NjokuDeMarcus Walker
Chidobe AwuzieDeShone KizerMarlon MackCameron SuttonZach Cunningham
Corey DavisCarl LawsonPatrick MahomesKareem HuntEvan Engram
Budda Baker

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Man I’d be pumped to have him on the steelers as a Penguin myself

  • falconsaftey43

    Really nice player. Seems to have one of the better bends in this class. I wouldn’t mind him at 30. Tough to think Steelers would take FCS that high though.

  • Spencer Krick

    He’s probably my favorite EDGE of this class, I’d have no problem taking him at 30. Might even be a chance he’s hanging around in the 2nd because of a loaded EDGE class combined with the lower competition.

    Hey, that’s how we got Hargrave in the third.

  • CP72

    Good point. Making the jump from the FBS level is difficult, but Hargrave showed it wasn’t impossible.

    I still thinks teams will shy away from him because of his small school background. If we would hit another position in the 1st other than edge rusher it would be an absolute home run to pluck Rivers in the 2nd.

  • VinHuddle

    I have to agree with the 3-4th rd predictions. A 1st is too high imo but could be a real get with a 3-4th.

  • falconsaftey43

    What do you see missing that would cause you to say 3rd-4th round?

  • Jeff Papiernik

    I still say round 2 or later. Too risky with the level of competition. But I do like him. Imagine getting both McKinley and this guy in rounds 1 and 2

  • NinjaMountie

    You know, Alex, it’s almost to the point where playing at the FCS level shouldn’t be listed as a bad. These guys are getting better and better. Certainly, the rosters aren’t as deep but a good portion of the starters are FBS starters that just got overlooked. I’ve become more and more impressed with FCS schools the last several years. I think there are a couple QBs at that level that have more upside than Kizer.
    I like this kid here. I wouldn’t cry if we ended up with him.
    Thanks for all the work you put in on this.

  • VinHuddle

    My biggest concern is level of competition. Hargrave showed that wasn’t a concern though. Plus maybe I’m a little weary of guys I’m not that familiar with and he seemed to burst onto the scene during the college all star gms but I could be wrong on that as well…not too many Youngstown St gms on where I live.

  • PapaJuju

    Yur insane if you think he’ll be there in the 3rd.

  • The Chin

    I’d be happy if OLB was the first two rounds. Seriously.

  • Applebite

    People are going to undercut him, thinking 3rd-4th rd, but I think Rivers will surprise a lot of fans. Don’t judge a book by it’s title of Youngstown St. If he had played at a WVU, VT, OU or elsewhere of the like, he’d be mentioned as a 1st-2nd rd pick. My guess is 2nd rd, he’s not going to last clear into the 3rd and beyond. If he does, they would have found some sort of health concern.

  • VinHuddle

    Oh I’m guessing he’ll be long gone come the 3rd

  • Spencer Krick

    You and me both, Mr. Chin.

  • capehouse

    Sign me up! I always have a draft crush coming out of the Senior Bowl and this guy was it this year. Noah Spence last year and David Johnson the year before being the most recent. I’ve had Rivers pegged for rd 2 and always my go-to pick for mocks if I skip edge rusher in rd 1. I can’t wait to see what he does at the combine and I agree he could go day 1 if he has a great showing. If I can’t get Myles Garnett, Tim Williams or Carl Lawson then this is my pick for rd 1. Lawson might only be a DE because he hasn’t played much coverage, and Williams has those character concerns, so who knows Rivers might end up my favorite for rd 1.

  • capehouse

    To be fair, and I’m sure you agree, not being familiar with him and level of competition are not strong arguments against him. It’s what he’s put on tape that matters most.

  • Alex Kozora

    Right, that’s the only problem. Curse you, Colbert.

  • Geoffrey Benedict

    I love this guy. Would take in the first.

    Only question mark is how fast he can adapt to NFL level.

  • LucasY59

    there are a lot of FCS defensive players I like and since they had good luck with Hargrave last Draft I hope the Steelers FO is open to drafting more small school players, Rivers is probably the best of the group (but only got 2nd team All American, and wasnt really in the running for FCS DPOY)

    I think since Hargrave made it to the 3rd rd last yr there is a chance Rivers makes it there this yr as well (just like DT last yr, the Edge rusher group is deep in this draft, so that combined with small school makes me think he is available a rd later than he should be) I would be fine with Rivers as a 2nd rd pick (especially if they dont get a OLB in the 1st)

    here is a quick list of the FCS guys I like
    Derek Rivers OLB (pretty obvious since I am commenting on his draft profile)
    Tanoh Kpassagnon DE, Villanova (6’7″ 280#, good size, versatile pass rusher)
    Lorenzo Jerome S, St Francis (6′ 195#, play maker for the secondary)
    Keionta Davis OLB/DE, Chattanooga (6’4″ 265#, later rd pass rusher)
    Nick DeLuca ILB, N.Dakota St (6’3″ 245#, late rd ILB)
    David Jones S, Richmond (6’3″ 210#, later rd safety)
    Caleb Kidder DE, Montana (6’5″ 260#, late rd DL, cut weight to play outside his SR yr, could bulk back up to 285 again and play 5 tech, could also be a versatile DL like Kpassagnon)
    Karter Schult OLB, N.Iowa (6’2″ 265#, FCS DPOY, probably more of a 4-3 DE, but like I said with Kpass & Kidder sub package is pretty much 4-3 now so he could be useful and will be available late in the draft)

  • The Tony

    I agree, I think that there has been a negative connotation with guys playing in the FCS. A lot of these guys made their mistakes coming out of high school and ended up in the FCS even with their high pedigree on the field. It’s always a cause of concern for off the field issues, but I typically do not worry too much about a prospects grades in high school.

  • VinHuddle

    Agreed but those a a cpl of reasons why I’d be a little hesitant to use a 30th pk. Personally I liked what I saw of him at the all star gm but I can’t say that merits the late 1st rd.

  • VinHuddle

    Agreed capehouse

  • pkeats86

    Same here!

  • pkeats86

    The main reason I would love this pick… other than the fact that I am from Youngstown… is because he would allow Bud to Move weak side. What a duo they would be.

  • tequila0341

    I’d take him over McKinley or Charles Harris. Love his flexibility and hand use. None of our other OLBs has this other than Harrison.

  • SouthernSteel

    Right now he’s a 4th round pick…but hopefully he won’t move up past the 3rd and we can pounce on him in the 3rd like Hargrave. …think he will fall like Hargrave because level of competition. ..but seems like teams are less and less weary of drafting small school kids…but this is a loaded draft

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Steelers will not take him in the 1st.

  • popsiclesticks

    I don’t get the hype with this guy. I’m probably wrong but I just don’t see it when I watch his games.

  • popsiclesticks

    He just does not stand out to me, and on a D-2 field. He’ll get chipped at times but he’s rarely doubled, he doesn’t look explosive, I just don’t get it.

    Then I watched Kpassagnon against SDSU and he looked like a mutant alien. He has another game where he looks terrible but in that one, he was truly doubled at times and still looked like a monster. I’d be petrified by the thought of Rivers at 30.

    Now watch him make 10 Pro Bowls.

  • popsiclesticks

    Same, just like Andrew Billings.

    Ya never know!

  • Superdriller316

    Just saw a video over at DraftWire where Rivers threw up 225 34 times doing a mock combine.

  • Darth Blount 47

    The more I watch, the more I like. If this kid somehow fell to us in the 2nd Rd… I may do jumping jacks. As much as I hope we go CB – OLB or OLB – CB….. I could easily be talked into OLB – OLB… if this kid is one of the two. I need to see and read a little more to feel enamored. But I like this guy’s potential as we sit here in February.

  • Perry

    Excellent write up Alex. I truly enjoy watching you progress as a writer and as an analyst. Strong work. I still lean towards McKinley or Lawson in the first but I think Rivers is a distinct possibility as a second round choice if 1st round rated edge rushers are gone at #30. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see us go with a CB in the 1st (King or Tankersley maybe?) Rivers in the 2nd and QB in the 3rd if Peterman is still on the board.