• A Semi-Professional Opinion: Top 5 Pass Rushers

    The crop of pass rushers, defined by me as players fitting best in the pros as either a defensive end in the 4-3 or an outside linebacker in the 3-4, is rather top heavy. There are a couple of dynamic players that will go in the top ten, a few solid guys who will succeed and make a couple Pro Bowls in the first and second rounds, and a few more guys in the second and third rounds who are very raw with a lot of upside that needs to be developed. The position listed for each player is where I think they will fit best, but not necessarily the only position I think they can play.

    1) Quinton Coples - DE - North Carolina: The prevailing opinion of Coples' 2011 season seems to be that it was rather disappointing - a defensive comparable of the lackluster show put on by Alshon Jeffery this past year. Whereas Jeffery had to deal with an unstable quarterback situation, Coples was just used differently by his coaching staff in a way that ended up being less effective. Watching highlights of Coples from his 2010 and 2011 seasons, I noticed that this most recent season he was used for more often head-up on offensive linemen than he had been in 2010. This doesn't make much sense to me because a player with the tremendous athleticism and explosiveness that Coples has should always be used out in space and given a free reign. To summarize all that, I don't have worries about Coples and I don't think you should either. He is a powerful and explosive pass rusher with a wide array of moves to beat his blocker and bring down the QB, and his long arms combine with his superior strength to create an excellent bull rush as well. He could very well become one of the best run defending defensive ends in a football within the next few years. His strength is just so overwhelming that he can toss blockers aside and split through double teams sometimes without even looking like he's being challenged. Coples is a phenomenal physical specimen with the on-field ability to backup his high draft stock. Look for him to go in the top ten.

    2) Melvin Ingram - OLB - South Carolina: What strength is to Coples, athleticism is to Melvin Ingram. He uses his elite athletic prowess to the fullest and is as much of a terror rushing the passer as the previously covered former Tar Heel. His best fit appears to be as a stand up 3-4 OLB, but his skill set and his build seem more than capable of playing as a defensive end with a hand in the dirt in a 4-3 scheme as well. He isn't all just athleticism and speed however, his pass rushing moves and techniques are also well refined and used effectively. His spin move is probably the best in his arsenal, and at times reminds me of watching Dwight Freeney with the way he spins right off of offensive tackles. Only the best blocking tight ends in the league will be able to handle Ingram one on one, and this applies to both pass protection and run defense. Given the fact that he projects best as a pass rushing OLB, it is a bit of a surprise to see how stout and reliable he is as a run defender. He does need to become more consistent with his reaction time at the snap; he can be either the first guy off the ball or the last on either line to move. For a player as gifted as he is you'd like to see a better explosion. I rank him behind Coples only because there are virtually no holes in Coples' game, but Ingram is every bit as worthy of a top pick in his own right.

    3) Courtney Upshaw - OLB - Alabama: The classic tweener prospect - Upshaw played his career at Alabama as an OLB in the 3-4, yet possesses the prototypical bulk and build (6'2", 272 lbs.) of a defensiive end for a 4-3 scheme. As a pass rusher Upshaw is very proficient in what he does, and his repetoire features a great swim move that allows him to get by most of the blockers I watched him use it on. He's very agile laterally and has the finishing burst you like to see when closing in on the quarterback. He did not drop back into coverage very much during his time at Alabama, but from the limited sample size I watched of him he seems to be fluid and able to cover backs and tight ends, though he will still have to prove he could do so on a regular basis. He uses most of the same abilities he has as a pass rusher (lateral agility, swim move, strong hands) to his advantage in the run game as well. His anchor is very impressive, and he's adept at sealing the edge on outside rushes. One thing I particularly like about Upshaw is how he always seems to be around the ball on misdirections, screens, draws, and plays of such ilk. His instincts and ability to diagnose the play seem to be very impressive. Upshaw isn't of the same elite caliber as Coples and Ingram are, but is still a solid middle of the first round pick for any defense needing a pass rusher.

    4) Nick Perry - DE - USC: The former Trojan is another prospect viewed as a tweener in the eyes of most scouts, but unlike Upshaw and as opposed to most scouting reports I've read, I think Perry fits better with a hand in the dirt. A lot of evaluators I've read seem to project him as a 3-4 OLB, but I just don't think Perry has the ability to play in open space that would be required in order to move him full-time to a stand-up position. His coverage skills, albeit in a very limited sample size, also seem highly questionable. Perry has a very quick and powerful explosion, while being a bit inconsistent with it, but is a good asset that he uses to win battles with offensive tackles that struggle with exceptional athleticism and quickness. After his first step he is very quick and relentless with his effort to get to the quarterback. He is not necessarily a bull rusher, but his motor alone forces opposing linemen to respect his power and strength. His run defense is surprisingly solid as well, showing off the ability to come from many different angles to track down the ball carrier. Perry is another of the many versatile and athletic pass rushers to be found in the first round this year, and his upside warrants a pick somewhere in the 20s.

    5) Andre Branch - OLB - Clemson: Andre Branch usually isn't the kind of prospect I rate highly as you are investing heavily in his upside at the risk of a very real possibility that he busts out of the league. As I watched more and more of Branch though, he began to grow on me. His natural talent and ability is just so prevalent when you watch him play that you just cannot ignore it. He is an explosive, fast, and dangerous pass rusher who in college could get away with beating less talented offensive linemen without anything resembling a pass rushing move whatsoever. His speed is truly his greatest gift, and Branch knows at least for the most part how to harness it to his advantage. It really is hard to write a detailed and in-depth review of Branch's game, because when translating it to the NFL it really doesn't fully exist yet. He is such a vastly unrefined player with worlds of untapped potential, and with good coaching and time to develop he could evolve into one of the premier pass rushers in the league. It's definitely worth a late first/early second round pick to take a player who could be a Hall of Famer, but be warned that there's an equal chance he could be a bust.

    In lieu of an honorable mentions this time, here are my top five specifically for 4-3 DEs and 3-4 OLBs.

    Defensive Ends:
    Quinton Coples - North Carolina
    Nick Perry - USC
    Whitney Mercilus - Illinois
    Vinny Curry - Marshall
    Chandler Jones - Syracuse

    Outside Linebackers:
    Melvin Ingram - South Carolina
    Courtney Upshaw - Alabama
    Andre Branch - Clemson
    Ronnell Lewis - Oklahoma
    Shea McClellin - Boise State

    Next Up: 4-3 Linebackers

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Very interesting that you have Coples so high. OK, I guess that's pretty much agreed upon, but I'm not sold on him for some reason. Can't argue that he's rated highest, but there are a number of players we've said that about in the past that have ended up as busts. I just don't have a hunch with him (how's that for expert analysis!)

      My favorites in this draft are Upshaw, Jones, and Mercilus. I'm not saying Jones and Mercilus should be overdrafted in the early first, or even ahead of Coples or Ingram, but especially with Jones, I love the pass rushing upside. The other guy I do like that you mentioned as a bit of a sleeper is Vinny Curry.
    1. ScottDCP's Avatar
      I'm on Ingram and Curry. The rest look to me like good-not-great at best. The only thing about Curry that bothers me is the apparent difference in conditioning between combine and pro day, when he had more time to get ready for the combine. Gotta remember they're kids, so I am choosing to let it slide. I think they ill be the two best pass rushers in this draft, because I don't know whether Bobby Wagner will play inside or out. Next tier for me starts with Shea McLellin. I don't really have a feel for Mercilus, to be honest, so I don't mention him at all.
    1. BuckeyeRidley's Avatar
      Coples & Perry will do well, I believe. I notice how some USC players of the past have been noted for not being big NFL stars like Matt Leinart but Kalil & Perry have the chance to turn that around. Notice these are defensive dudes too; lol. Good Picks.