A defensive end from a Big 10 program coming off his best season is looking to establish himself on a Commanders team that needs DE depth
Washington currently has 14 UDFAs and a pair of 7th round drafted rookies on the roster, but that list of players is subject to a lot of change. In previous years, we’ve put together profiles of players only to see them cut by the team a day before the profile was set to publish (or a day after it did publish). In fact, in just the 4 weeks or so that followed the 2022 draft, we saw a lot of churn in this part of the roster among both UDFAs and veteran free agents.
These articles about the bottom-of-the-roster players are not intended to suggest that any given player is bound for glory; rather, the articles are intended to celebrate the ongoing fight of each player to extend his NFL dream.
For those of you who appreciate the fight of the underdog, I hope you enjoy today’s article and the others that will follow in this “2022 UDFA Spotlight” series.
In what has become something of a theme, Jacub Panasiuk is yet another 5-season college player signed as an undrafted free agent by the Commanders this offseason.
The 23-year-old Panasiuk was on the football field for the Michigan State Spartans for 47 games from 2017-2021, amassing 143 tackles, with 29 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
The Commanders website lists the rookie at 6’4”, 255 pounds, which is pretty typical size for the DE unit he is a part of. If you don’t include the somewhat undersized Shaka Toney, the rest of the team’s defensive ends range between 6’3”-6’6”, and 254-265 pounds (except for 273-pound Bunmi Rotimi).
Typically UDFAs are either small school players who flashed on their teams, or they come from big-college programs but lack in some aspect like athleticism or decision-making.
Panasiuk was a Michigan State Spartan; coming from a top-tier college program, it is his athleticism that limits him, but, apparently, it is his heart and his willingness to ‘leave it all on the field’ that gives him a shot at an NFL career.
Look at this description of his strengths from Sports Illustrated:
Jacub Panasiuk is a high-energy player and leaves it all on the field. He has a tenacity that is overwhelming and can break down opposing offensive linemen. His motor is always burning red hot. He has aggressive hands at the point of attack, showing an ability to fight through blocks. This aids him in shifting opposing linemen to fill rushing gaps at the line of scrimmage. Panasiuk has a powerful upper body which he uses in his second and third pass-rush moves consistently to win with extra effort.
His weaknesses, as detailed in the same SI profile are significant as well:
What Panasiuk provides in effort, he lacks in athleticism. He will never win purely off of athletic traits which unfortunately caps his ceiling. His flexibility is incredibly limited and lacks any sufficient bend coming off the edge to get around offensive tackles into the backfield. He lacks good length to keep linemen off of his chest, and though he has solid functional strength to shed, he plays too upright. This negates any semblance of leverage and is easily moved off his spot.
That profile is also critical of Panasiuk’s tackling, discussing poor lateral agility, hand placement and technique.
The bottom line from SI is, however, reasonably encouraging about his prospects of establishing himself in the NFL:
Panasiuk is a great guy to have on your team because you love his effort. He has a great opportunity to make a mark on special teams and has the chance to be a rotational player at best in the NFL. He has coachable traits, though unfortunately, his lack of athleticism caps any ceiling he possesses. Panasiuk’s best-case scenario is to add mass to his frame and play interior as a three or five-technique. Either way, he is a part-time and special teams player at best at the next level.
Panasiuk’s older brother, Mike Panasiuk, was a three-year starter at defensive tackle for the Spartans and went undrafted in 2020 before spending time with the Raiders and Panthers, so Washington’s new rookie should have a pretty good understanding of the life of a college undrafted free agent in the NFL. The sons of Polish immigrants, Jacub and Mike got to play alongside one another for 38 total games from 2017-19 .
Jacub Panasiuk worked his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2018, playing in all 12 games and starting 11 of them for a Michigan State team that finished 7-6. It was in his junior season in 2019 that Panasiuk started to show flashes of becoming an elite edge rusher in the Big Ten.
Returning as a starter that year, Panasiuk posted 34 total tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss as well as 3.5 sacks. Playing a total of 565 snaps, Panasiuk was named MSU’s Outstanding Underclass Lineman Award on defense for his efforts. In addition to his improved production, Panasiuk got to have a really cool moment with his brother in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, as Jacub deflected a pass that Mike would intercept and take to the house against Wake Forest in the Spartans’ 27-21 win in the brothers’ final collegiate game together.
The 2020 season did not have much to offer for Panasiuk, as much of the Big Ten struggled through a weird pandemic season, and so the senior decided to return in 2021 with the free year of eligibility — a decision that appears to have been the correct one. He had his best-ever season, accounting for 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 3 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
In an interview with Draft Diamonds in March, Panasiuk talked a little bit about himself:
I fell in love with [football] when I was very young. My parents were not big on American football, being from Europe, and so I started in elementary school and every transition I made in the game I fell in love more.
[Going forward] I’m just looking forward to learning from new people and learning new techniques and transitioning from college to professional football.
Personally, I think I was one of the best pass rushers in college football this past season. I have a lot of tools in my pass rush bag. I feel like I set up defensive tackles to stunt very well and I have a high football IQ. I think I am a very big believer in energy and playing with emotion on the defensive line. I think having energy helps with overall getting the whole team going together.
Asked to identify 5 traits that would best define him, Panasiuk said that they are “emotion, energy, enthusiasm, passion and relentless”, which seems consistent with the SI profile referenced above.
He added, “I’m just a big believer in being a player/coach and bringing energy every day in practice. And a firm believer in studying and watching film and using it on game days.”