By Grégory Richard — April 26, 2023 at 10:30 a.m.
Able to bounce back from obstacles, Junior Aho is only a few days away from a possible big dream!
Junior Aho – Defensive End – 24 years old – Senior – SMU
Size : 1m90
Weight : 118 kilos
Estimated draft position: undrafted
NFL Comparison: James Smith-Williams
– Real engine
– Athletic qualities and responsiveness
What a long way for Junior Aho! Tempted by the challenge of US football from the age of 15, the native of Nice went through many stages to claim today to join the NFL: from the Aigles Rouges de Nice to the military institute of New Mexico, passing by the French team, with which he won the European championship in 2018.
New Mexico is therefore the land that allows him to set foot in the country of Uncle Sam to do his lines and catch the eye of recruiters. The historic program Southern Methodist (known to have been the university of a certain Eric Dickerson) finally offers him this opportunity from 2020. Since then, if the course has not been easy, the Frenchman has put his heart to work to make his place.
Basic defensive end, the 24-year-old has had to deal with three different defensive coordinators in three years, while having to reposition himself more sustainably on the inside to gain playing time. An adaptability that paid off in 2022, because the man’s ability to fight in the trenches. Equipped with a real engine and a certain explosiveness, Aho is a ball of energy that you have to know how to contain, because of his active and aggressive hands. Technically, despite a less impressive size than other players in his sector, he knows how to bet on interesting support, with commendable upper body activity. This notably allowed him to often invite himself into the opposing pocket, with 19 pressures and 2 bags on his only year 2022 in Dallas.
Used in the rotation, the Azurean knows how to show real discipline and missed very few tackles in the last exercise (the best percentage of his team, taking into account the defenders at more than 300 snaps). If his reactivity often allows him to be present near the ball carrier, the number 33 composes with real speed and solid changes of direction. Proof of his athletic qualities: the figures of his Pro Day, with an excellent 4.58 over 40 yards, and promising figures on the jumps (vertical and with both feet).
– Lack of finish
– Room for improvement
But any athlete he is, Junior Aho must deal with a rather tortuous course on the side of SMU. Quite involved from 2020, then little used the following season, the Texan has a roller coaster-like trajectory, which is not made to reassure all franchises. Moreover, despite its good activity last season and a number of snaps smaller, the Frenchman was not always happy when finishing in the opposing pocket.
A finishing deficit which can be accompanied by sometimes tricky instincts and which can put him out of the game, due to a range of movements quite limited to counter his vis-à-vis. Finally, if his physical profile allows him to be a precious weapon in college footballnot sure that the transition can be made so easily among the pros, with much more complicated profiles to maneuver in the trenches.
Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts
By becoming an important player in the SMU Mustangs, Junior Aho has already succeeded in an important bet, similar to what Sébastien Séjean, Anthony Dablé or Anthony Mahoungou had been able to do in the recent past: to demonstrate that French players have a place in a NFL roster. To attest to this likelihood, the defender joined the NFL’s international program this winter, theInternational Player Pathway, allowing players from all over the world to participate in a multi-week camp to join league teams. It is in particular by this program that the current tackle of the Philadelphia Eagles, the Australian Jordan Mailata, had been detected.
Junior Aho knows it: he has a real card to play to join an NFL camp. He can count on pure athletic qualities and a real burst of energy to continue to get noticed. Versatility shouldn’t be his main asset, however, and a classic (and occasional?) edge rushing role on a front 4 is probably what awaits him at the top echelon.