Summary: Key could be one of the best values of the 2018 NFL Draft, and that is because he is one of the most risky players to select. There is no doubt that Key is immensely talented as a player, but he has huge off-the-field issues that could cost him a NFL career. Thus, Key is a huge gamble.
Key flashed a ton of potential as a freshman for LSU, totaling 41 tackles with 6.5 for a loss, five sacks and one pass broken up. In 2016, Key played better, had a bigger presence, and impacted the game more than Texas A&M's Myles Garrett, who went No.1 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Key recorded 56 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up on the year. Key's sophomore season was on a par with dominant sophomore years from the likes of Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Joey Bosa.
Key totaled 33 tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble in 2017. Early in the season, Key missed two games and had to work himself back into playing shape after shoulder surgery limited his offseason training along with off-the-field issues that caused him to take a leave of absence from the program during the spring. Eventually, Key got into playing shape, and he put together quality games against Mississippi State, Auburn and Florida. Key made a sack to clinch the comeback win over Auburn. He played well against Alabama, and the Crimson Tide struggled to block him.
Key is phenomenal to use his speed to get upfield, sink his hips to dip underneath the block, and then rip with his inside arm to prevent blockers from getting a hold of him. From there, Key uses his tremendous closing speed to finish the rush and will put some hard hits on quarterbacks. Key has excellent agility with fluid athleticism. That allows him to be very agile in the open field and easily redirect to the quarterback.
Key is an adequate run defender, too. He isn't a liability and should improve as he develops more grown-man strength in the NFL. Key has the frame to add weight if his pro team desires, but keeping him fast in the 255-265-pound range is probably best. For the NFL, Key should continue to work on adding more pass-rushing moves as well. While there are concerns, scouts also say that Key loves football and has worked of his own volition with pass-rushing guru Chuck Smith to develop his skills.
For the NFL, Key could be a dynamic edge defender with the ability to take over games and help neutralize an elite franchise quarterback. One of the only ways to stop an elite quarterback is dominate in the pass rush at the point of attack. Key could be a game-changer and defensive franchise player if he is able to avoid suspensions and focuses on being the best player he can possibly be.
However, Key has massive off-the-field issues that are weighing down his draft grade. Team sources say the character issues are similar to Randy Gregory or Tim Williams, who both struggled with smoking. As a result, Key is a huge boom-or-bust prospect. In the 2018 NFL Draft, Key is likely to be second-day pick like Gregory or Williams.
Player Comparison: Danielle Hunter. Hunter is another former fast LSU edge rusher. Hunter (6-5, 252) entered the NFL with concerns about his makeup that caused him to slide to the third round along with the view of him being an underachiever at college. Key was definitely a better college player, but both of them are dynamic pass-rushers when they are playing well. Hunter has 25.5 sacks in his three seasons, and I think Key could be a similarly productive pass-rusher. However, that all depends on if Key can avoid suspension and works hard to be the best he can be. Hunter was a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and Key is probably going to be a second-day pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
NFL Matches: Indianapolis, San Francisco, Oakland, Miami, Green Bay, Seattle, Detroit, Carolina, Tennessee, New Orleans, Kansas City and New England
There are a lot of teams that could target Key late in the first round or early on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft. This is a weak edge-rushing class, and that is a premium position in the NFL, so Key could have another teams considering him even with his serious off-the-field issues. With his ability to put heat on the quarterback, Key should have some teams targeting him.
In the first round, Seattle could be possibility for Key. Michael Bennett was traded away, and Cliff Avril could be nearing the end of his time with the Seahawks. Key could make sense for Seattle as a long-term replacement. The Seahawks are without a second- and third-round pick, so taking a top-10 talent in Key could provide them with more bang for their buck with only one early-round pick.
The Lions need an edge pass-rusher to go across from Ziggy Ansah. However, Key's character issues probably aren't a fit for Detroit general manager Bob Quinn.
In the NFC South, Carolina can't count on Julius Peppers playing much longer, and Key would make sense as an immediate rotational pass-rusher. New Orleans could use an end upgrade across from Cam Jordan. They would have to take Key in the first round, however, as they are without a second-round pick and he won't get to their third-round pick. New Orleans is in win-now mode, and Key could provide an immediate impact for the organization.
The Titans also could use a young edge rusher. Their pass rush needs to be improved, and Key could fit as an outside linebacker for Mike Vrabel. However, Key's character probably isn't going to work with the culture Vrabel is trying to instill.
New England also needs more young talent at defensive end and outside linebacker. The lack of edge rush really hurt the Patriots in the Super Bowl, so bringing Key to Boston could make sense for them. New England could target him with one of its second-round picks. Bill Belichick has taken chances on players with off-the-field issues, and the Patriots are in win-now mode, so Key could be in consideration for them.
The Colts have three second-round picks and need more edge-rushing talent. Key could be a fit in their 3-4 defense.
Chicago could use an edge rusher to go across from Leonard Floyd. Key would be a nice fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Vic Fangio's scheme.
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has stated the team needs more edge-rushing talent. Key could interest Lynch to replace Elvis Dumervil and finish off their four-man line going with Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead.
Staying in the Bay area, the Raiders badly need more front seven talent. Key could be a good fit for Oakland as an edge rusher across from Khalil Mack.
The Dolphins could consider Key in the second round, as they could use an end to go across from Charles Harris. Green Bay also could use more edge talent, and Key could give the team some speed off the edge. Key probably wouldn't fit the character type that the Packers go for.
The Chiefs moved on from Tamba Hali, and Dee Ford is a disappointment. Andy Reid has taken chances on players with character issues, so Key could be a fit for Kansas City.