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Top 10 pass-rushers in the NFL Draft

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  • Top 10 pass-rushers in the NFL Draft

    Aside from good Quarterback play, rushing the passer may be the single most important aspect of today’s NFL. Like Cornerback, teams’ simply can’t have enough players that fill this role successfully. Due to its significance in the game, demand is always extremely high for these types of players and many will be deemed worthy of very high selections. This year’s pass-rushing crop looks to have the potential to be the best and deepest in quite some time. The following list will illustrate the ten best pass-rushing prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft how I see them.

    1. Von Miller – Outside Linebacker – Texas A&M
    Very rarely will you come across a college Linebacker that flies around the field and gets after the passer like Von Miller. The Aggies used him primarily as a blitzing Outside Linebacker, allowing him to use his speed and explosion in pursuit of the ball. As a pass-rusher he’s no one-trick pony; he is extraordinarily quick and can beat Offensive Tackles on the edge and interior Offensive Linemen alike. At 6’2 ½ 244, Miller possesses the size, speed (4.49), and burst to wreak havoc in NFL backfields. He’s very fluid in space for his size and can dip and bend with the best of them. If he can’t simply run around blocks, he shows the ability to beat them by slipping under them. When engaged he uses his long arms and hands well, even flashing an explosive spin move to disengage at times. He projects best in any 3-4 or 4-3 attacking scheme that will allow him to pin his ears back and get after the Quarterback. Some NFL personnel have even drawn the parallel between he and former Chief legend Derrick Thomas. Miller is a cinch Top 10 pick and may even be selected among the draft’s first five picks.

    2. Justin Houston – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Georgia
    When watching SEC football, the speed of the athletes and quality of the coaching really stands out. No pass-rusher in the conference exemplified this to the extent of Georgia’s Justin Houston in 2010. Perhaps the most versatile pass-rusher on this list, Houston lined up at Right End, Left End, and Outside Linebacker for the Bulldogs. As a down lineman he explodes off the snap, does a nice job staying low to the ground, and keeps his eyes on the ball. He shows the ability to dip his shoulder, bend at the waist, and manipulate blockers on the outside. Opposing teams must be conscious of his location at all times, as he’s a player that’s equally as effective standing up and rushing the passer. He may lack great maneuverability and fluidity in space, but he plays with tremendous instincts and is relentless in pursuit. No matter where he lines up, his first step is one of this class’ best and his on-field awareness makes him a threat. At 6’3 270 Houston possesses the size to be an excellent end in any Cover-2 scheme, but he’ll also entice several Linebacker-needy 3-4 teams with his instincts and burst. Expect him to come off the board some time in the Top 20 in April’s draft.

    3. Robert Quinn – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – North Carolina
    Had he played in 2010, Robert Quinn may have made the Tarheels a BCS Bowl-caliber team in the ACC. He fits the prototype for a great 4-3 Right End edge-rusher with the size (6’4 265) and athleticism to be a star at the next level. Although a bit raw in terms of strength and pass-rushing moves, Quinn excels due to his terrific burst and recognition skills. He’s a very fluid athlete who bends at the waist, dips his shoulder to gain position, and changes directions remarkably well for his size. He uses speed and explosiveness to keep blockers off balance and is an absolute terror in pursuit. He possesses quick hands but could afford to polish up his technique to improve disengaging from blocks. The work ethic appears to be there, as he was one of the most relentless pass-rushers in college football in 2009. His best fit may be at end in a 4-3 scheme but expect 3-4 teams to take a close look due to his speed and maneuverability in space. Don’t expect him to fall out of the Top 15 despite not having played this past season.

    4. Ryan Kerrigan – Defensive End – Purdue
    At the 2011 Senior Bowl, offensive linemen were polled by Denver Post columnist Jeff Legwold on which pass-rusher gave them the most trouble. The unanimous answer from the players was Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan. He had an incredibly productive career in the Big Ten and lived in opponents’ backfields. Though he may not be the best athlete on this list, he makes up for it with NFL size (6’4 267), instincts, technique, and sheer relentlessness. He does a great job anticipating the snap and is very quick to move up-field. Though he lacks fluidity and maneuverability, he’s extremely effective in pursuit due to his closing speed, variety of counter moves, awareness on the field, and secure wrap-up tackling. He shows the ability to dip his shoulder and out-leverage blockers on the outside and has the quickness to beat interior linemen with his inside move. Kerrigan does a nice job using his hands and will rip himself off blocks to disengage. He’s capable of playing in most 4-3 schemes at either Left End or Right End and should enjoy a long career as an effective pass-rusher. The 3-4 Linebacker talk is premature, however, and I think he is a bit too linear to work out there. I expect him to come off the board somewhere in the late First Round but could fall due to schematic limitations.

    5. Da’Quan Bowers – Defensive End – Clemson
    After failing to live up to lofty expectations during his Freshman and Sophomore seasons, the dormant pass-rusher within came to life in 2010. Da’Quan Bowers’ production soared this past season and he actually led the nation in sacks with 15.5. As one of the draft’s most coveted defensive players, he possesses the size (6’3 ½ 280) and rare athleticism required to be a disruptive force in the NFL for a long time. Though he lacks an elite first step off the snap, Bowers possesses top-notch recognition skills and incredible closing speed. He does a very nice job controlling blocks with his hands and uses his eyes to track the ball simultaneously. He never gives up on plays and can be scary in pursuit due to that speed and acceleration. He’s one of the class’ more versatile pass-rushing threats, showing the ability to rush from either side as well as inside at 3-Tech. His best fit appears to be at Left End in most 4-3 schemes, though he could conceivably attract hybrid 3-4 teams as a potential 5-Tech. With recent injury concerns, it looks possible that Bowers could fall a bit further than previously thought; however, he’s still got the goods to be a Top 10 pick come April.

    6. Nick Fairley – Defensive Tackle – Auburn
    It’s a bit of a surprise to see a Defensive Tackle on this list, but perhaps no player in the country gave offenses fits the way Nick Fairley did this past season. As a rotational player coming into the season, no one could have expected him to have anywhere close to the impact that he had in the Tigers’ biggest games. He’s blessed with terrific natural athleticism, quickness, and explosiveness for his size (6’4 297.) Few players these days play the game with the type of fire and physicality that Fairley does, as he often puts an exclamation point at the end of plays. He beats interior linemen with that burst and is extremely hard to block when he slants to the inside. He’s very active and even violent at times with his hand use and will rip blockers from his path. He’s your prototypical penetrator at Defensive Tackle with all the talent necessary to translate his skills to the next level. He’ll be looked at primarily by 4-3 teams at the 3-Tech position, but it wouldn’t be a shocker if a hybrid 3-4 team took a look were he to fall on draft day. It appears very likely that Fairley will be a Top 10 pick.

    7. Brooks Reed – Outside Linebacker – Arizona
    After playing four years in college at Defensive End, it looks like Brooks Reed is destined for a role standing up and rushing the passer at the next level. As a down lineman, he lacked the strength and power needed to be a dominant force. He made it very clear, however, at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, that he was quite athletic enough to make the full-time move to Outside Linebacker. In addition to possessing excellent speed for his size (6’2 ½ 260), Reed shows tremendous burst off the edge along with the athleticism to dip his shoulder, bend at the waist, and get after the Quarterback. He appears very fluid in space and already possesses a small array of pass-rushing moves, including an explosive spin move. He lacks elite instincts but is a very hard worker that should flourish as a player with the move to Linebacker. His best fit will likely come as a rush ‘backer in a 3-4 scheme, though a 4-3 team could like his fit on the strong-side, moving down to end on passing downs. He’ll come off the board in the late First to early Second Round range.

    8. Jabaal Sheard – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Pittsburgh
    In 2009, it’d be debatable whether Jabaal Sheard was the best pass-rushing end on his team; however, this past season he cemented himself as one of the biggest difference makers in the Big East. His anticipation of the snap is excellent and he fires out of his stance. He’s very active using his hands and displays several pass-rushing moves and counter moves, including a spin move to beat blockers to the inside. Though he lacks elite change of direction ability in space, Sheard demonstrates very good speed for his size (6’3 264) and works hard in pursuit. His first step allows him to get blockers off balance and his quick hands allow him to disengage and eliminate would-be blockers. He shows the ability to dip his shoulder, keep blockers on his hip and out-leverage or out-run them on his way to the Quarterback. He displays a good motor and is a very active player along the defensive front. He’ll likely draw the most interest from 4-3 teams, where he could potentially play Left or Right end. Many think there is a chance that 3-4 teams could covet him at Linebacker, but I think he will attract earlier attention as a down lineman. Expect Sheard to come off the board in the Second Round.

    9. Aldon Smith – Defensive End – Missouri
    In 2009 I’d often watch Missouri looking at Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, though one of their young ends frequently caught my eye. I soon learned that player that kept showing up on tape was then-Sophomore Aldon Smith. His build resembles that of a power forward at 6’4 ¼ 263 with vines for arms (35 ½”.) Though he plays a bit too upright to threaten as an edge rusher, Smith has an extremely dangerous inside move. He’s violent with his hands and sheds blocks with a powerful club. He may not be the athlete that some originally cracked him up to be, but he accelerates and closes fast in pursuit. His awareness and instincts are very good, as he tracks the ball well and gets his hands up into passing lanes. He’s able to rush the passer effectively both outside and inside, lined up opposite an Offensive Guard. He’ll likely be looked at only as a 4-3 Defensive End, but adds value as a guy that can move inside and rush the passer from the 3-Tech position on third down. It’s conceivable that Smith could go as high as the mid First Round, but I think he fits in the late First to early Second round range.

    10. Dontay Moch – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Nevada
    There may not be a more explosive pass-rusher in this class (other than Von Miller) than Dontay Moch of Nevada. The trouble in projecting him as an elite pass-rusher at the next level comes due to his lack of size (6’1 ½ 248) and physicality. He dominated the WAC as a Defensive End with an incredible first step and rare closing speed. There is doubt, however, that Moch has the strength and size to be effective as an end. Likewise, there is doubt as to whether he can break it down in space and play Outside Linebacker. He is one of this class’ most explosive athletes and wowed scouts with a 4.44 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. There is some bend to his game, though he lacks instincts and does not appear very comfortable in space. Most 4-3 teams will probably see Moch as a down lineman in the NFL, where he fits at Right End in Tampa 2 or Cover 2 schemes. He’s sure to generate some interest from 3-4 teams at Outside Linebacker as well. It’s expected that he will come off the board between the Third and Fourth Round.

    big props to BoneKrusher for the sig & avatar
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  • #2
    Myself i'd probably have Sheard and Moch just outside the top 10 making room for Sam Acho and Adrian Clayborn. There's some deep depth there.


    • #3
      Originally posted by Babylon View Post
      Myself i'd probably have Sheard and Moch just outside the top 10 making room for Sam Acho and Adrian Clayborn. There's some deep depth there.
      Sam Acho is incredibly underrated. His less than ideal size is really hurting his stock, but with his work ethic and intelligence make him a player I wouldn't bet against.


      • #4
        I really like Jabaal Sheard a lot. It wouldn't surprise me if he ended up slipping into the first. He's better going forward than backward, but I'm not sure he works for every 4-3 team as an every down type DE.


        • #5
          Tough to knock any of the selections on this list.

          Sheard is an unknown to me, haven't watched him exclusively enough.

          If Bowers gained 10# I think he could be an elite 5 tech, if he improves his core strength.

          Aldon Smith and JPP must be distant cousins, they look almost like twins in a uni.

          The more I see of Fairley, the more I think his upside is almost unlimited and except for maturity issues, IMO looks like someone who could develop into a top 5 DT in the pros.
          (After Cam, no player on that Auburn team made more game saving/changing plays on that undefeated Tigers team than Fairley. You take Fairley off that squad, and I don't think they finish the season with a NC or spotless SEC record.)

          I think Brooks Reed is going to be a much better pro than collegian, and Kerrigan is a guy I want on my team regardless.

          It wouldn't shock me to see 7-8 of these guys go in the first 32 picks.
          Again, great write-up Pudge.


          • #6
            Awesome thread, great read! I'm hoping that somehow Houston ends up in Seattle.


            • #7
              I like Sheard...I feel he's underrated now...not sure why he's not talked about more.


              • #8
                Depends largely on system,

                3-4 Von Miller is best.

                4-3 Robert Quinn

                I like Sheard as a sleeper 4-3 rusher steal in the second round

                3-4 steals Brooks Reed and Sam Acho

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                • #9
                  I'm not sure why many, if not most feel that Brooks Reed is a 3-4 fit but Jabaal Sheard is not. They measure nearly identical in all combine evals (Sheard a bit better in fact) and Sheard has been more effective as a pass rusher.



                  • #10
                    Originally posted by phlysac View Post
                    I'm not sure why many, if not most feel that Brooks Reed is a 3-4 fit but Jabaal Sheard is not. They measure nearly identical in all combine evals (Sheard a bit better in fact) and Sheard has been more effective as a pass rusher.

                    Their stats are pretty similar and Reed, at least to me, plays a much tougher level of competition. It could be people are looking for the next Clay Matthews but i dont see a big advantage to either guy.


                    • #11
                      Anyone else have Quinn as their clear number 1? After him, I've got Von, Kerrigan, Bowers, Houston. But I'm really loving Quinn.

                      As mentioned, I like Acho a lot.


                      • #12
                        I think Id have Quinn and Miller as 1a 1b right now because Quinn didnt have a JR year. Solid list though

                        "Just Win Baby"- Al Davis


                        • #13
                          Bit surprised not to see Adrian Clayborn in here. I think he's severely underrated as of now and even though the arm is a bit scary with him, I think he's going to be a beast in the NFL. Looked great at the combine.
                          Originally posted by Mr. Goosemahn
                          The APS is strong in this one.
                          Originally posted by killxswitch
                          Tears for Fears is better than whatever it is you happen to be thinking about right now.


                          • #14
                            Lol, Sheard over Aldon?

                            And I thought I liked you Pudge. Is that serious? I'd have Aldon over Houston if it was purely pass rushers which this seems to be. I'm also quite disgusted you have him lower than guys liek Kerrigan and Reed. That's ridiculous man.

                            Dolphins Dream Draft: 1. Jaylon Smith 2. Artie Burns 3. Landon Turner


                            • #15
                              I have Quinn as the number one pass rusher but like Deathbystat pointed out it all depends on the system..Von is a true OLB where as Quinn is more of a DE but those two are the top 2 for suree id agree if Quinn had played this past season he would be the number one with out a doubt.



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