When you think of names such as Sheldon Rankins and DeAngelo Brown, you think power, dominance and excitement. Drawing eyes into the trenches, the pair of Louisville graduates have done more than make an impact since entering the NFL and that’s something that Drew Bailey looks to emulate. Following in the footsteps of greatness, Bailey’s path to the NFL Draft has been an interesting one to watch and it’s only just beginning.
But before that path opened, another journey had to close. Bailey returned to Louisville one final time to workout before a calm before the storm. One month of waiting and his life would change forever. On a day headlined by one Lamar Jackson, it was the defensive tackle who was causing a stir and drawing attention.
“I was so comfortable, I was in my own backyard. You’re used to the turf, the weight, everything.” Bailey said, still clearly excited from a day where his best was on show. “I just enjoyed being back home in Louisville. It felt good hitting the bags, flipping my hips, seeing old teammates. It felt so surreal to be back in Louisville, working out for the last time.”
Unlike many however, his love for Football originates in an unlikely place. The world of wrestling and more notably, The Rock.
“I was probably about 11 years old, I came from a music family.” Bailey told me. “I wanted to be a wrestler and all wrestlers used to be Football players. My favorite WWF Superstar was The Rock so I decided to play Football like him. I played linebacker at first but I wanted to hit and blow someone up, show everybody how strong I was.”
It didn’t take long for that desire to wreak havoc to turn into production. Bailey became a 3-star prospect and evolved into one of Mississippi’s most coveted defensive lineman, with 10 sacks at Pearl River Community College. Going down the JUCO route is always risky, but it shifted a perspective for Bailey, who found a new understanding and appreciation or the game he so quickly fell in love with.
“It was a lot of long nights, but it was all worth it.” Bailey explained. “It got me to where I am today. I had 3 years of eligibility left and Louisville was my first choice. Eating Ramen Noodles, seeing guys you grew up with playing D1 Football on TV, ‘I told them I’ll see y’all at the top soon’. I didn’t set goals, I set objectives and my objective was always to go D1.”
The motivation and drive was clear as he relived those difficult times, it was almost as if that Chip on the shoulder had never left. When he arrived at Louisville, Bailey went through a complete transformation both on and off the field.
“My goal was to go into Louisville and sack the quarterback.” The 6’5, 294 lbs defensive tackle told me. “I didn’t understand run-schemes and pad-levels, so when I got to Louisville I wanted to go vertical.” When I got used to playing under these great coaches, they taught me technique and to fill my gaps. It took a minute to learn that, but I learned how to play disciplined.”
The progress made between 2015 and 2016 was clear. With 9 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and 58 tackles, Bailey proved he could be dangerous as a pass-rusher or a run stuffer. Leaning on the shoulders of Sheldon Rankins and a great defensive staff aided that development. His mindset was no longer just getting to the quarterback, but understanding how to fill gaps and how to win on lost plays. The structure of the game became clear and as he sought to take after his inspirations like Jervon Kearse and Ndamukong Suh, Bailey’s playing style became more composed, more dangerous and more well-rounded.
Of course, this was aided by going up against one of the most electrifying athletes in all of college football every day in practice, Lamar Jackson. The dual-threat quarterback has become one of the most discussed names in this year’s draft class and when you look at the likes of Russell Wilson, Carson Wentz and Marcus Mariota, franchise signal-callers who can turn nothing into everything, being able to understand and prepare against a talent like Jackson did not go unappreciated.
“I’ve seen Lamar do some crazy stuff.” Bailey said excitedly. “I love Russell (Wilson) and I’m not used to a quarterback standing back there waiting to get hit. Lamar is going to be mobile, move around, do his thing and explode.”
An ankle injury pushed a dagger into Bailey’s final season, but it didn’t stop him from coming in and making impact plays, as well as once again adding a new level of understanding. The injury sparked a new-found hunger and re-ignited that flame that burned so brightly during his time at JUCO.
“My mindset is outwork my opponent. Man under your opponent, impose your will on your opponent. I guarantee I will be the first one in and last one out. I’ll always ask questions.”
Bailey brings that tenacious dog on a chain mentality to the table for any NFL team and with Tennessee, Kansas City and Atlanta all pressing hard to learn as much as they can about the big-bodied, versatile defensive tackle, it’s not hard to see why his stock is rising.
Even though his mentality is one that’s eager, understanding and one coaches would love due to his want to ask questions and learn about every aspect of the game, he still carries that rawness needed to succeed at the position. Bailey is sending one message to NFL teams who are eyeing up his potential.
“You’re getting a dog. You’re getting a savage. You’re getting a baller.”
Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports