Richner: Top Pass Rushers
Top 5 Pass Rushers
This year's crop of pass rushers is a talent-rich pool with more than a few players meeting all the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report. With players like Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry, the next wave of pass rushers in the NFL looks strong. Whitney Mercilus from Illinois does not meet the baseline and is a player teams should avoid.
1. Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina): Coples production of 23 career sacks, 40.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles meet and, in some cases exceed, the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report. At 6'6", 284 lbs., he is a three-down lineman who has the ability, history and opportunity to be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL. Some teams have worried about his drop in production this past season. In 2011 he amassed 7.5 sacks and 15 TFL, which is still a quality season by any sort of statistical measurement. Stat comp: Justin Tuck. Historically: Clyde Simmons.
2. Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB, South Carolina): As a hybrid player pegged as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, Ingram can step in and be a pass rushing force from day one. Though not as physically imposing as Aldon Smith, last year's sack leader amongst rookies, Ingram has the ability and the makeup to be a similar impact rookie. Smith was a situational pass rusher for the San Francisco 49ers' defense and Ingram should be given the same sort of role in his rookie campaign. He exceeds the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report with 21.5 career sacks. His One-Year Wonder Index rating is a solid 47%. I would have liked to see him have a higher total of tackles for a loss. His true measure shows up in his pass rushing abilities. He has a great deal of power - getting his opposing offensive lineman off balance - and more than just one pass rushing move (spin, bull rush, and speed rush). Stat comp: Shawn Merriman and Brian Orakpo.
3. Nick Perry (DE, USC): Perry is the perfect size for a 4-3 defensive end, at 6'3" and 270 lbs. He has shown the ability to set the edge as a run stuffer and attack the quarterback on passing situations. He was a consistent performer in college with 21.5 career sacks and five forced fumbles, which all meet the criteria of what teams are looking for in a defensive end. In 2011, he had 9.5 sacks, 13 TFL, and 3 FF. Stat comp: John Abraham.
4. Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB, Alabama): It wouldn't surprise me to find out, in a few years, that Courtney Upshaw is the most dominant pass rusher from this year's draft class. As a hybrid DE/OLB at 6'2", 271 lbs., some scouts are having a hard time envisioning his role on their team's defense. Here is a suggestion: tell him to concentrate on rushing the QB, because he is pretty damn good at it. With 17.5 career sacks and 36.5 TFL, he has shown the ability to get to the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. In addition to making the tackle, he had six career forced fumbles, which shows he is looking at more than just creating a highlight hit, but also looking to cause a turnover and make a difference in the ball game. Stat comp: Trent Cole.
5. Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall): Curry is a player who shoots out of his three-point stance like a bullet. He is your classic, hard-working, bring your lunch pail type of football player who is a tenacious pass rusher. Offensive tackles better be prepared, because he is going to throw every move plus the kitchen sink for the entire game. With 26.5 career sacks, 49 TFL and, most surprisingly, ten forced fumbles, Curry was a destructive force in college and, in the right system, could be a powerful force in the NFL. Stat comp: LaMarr Woodley
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Bruce Irvin (DE/OLB West Virginia): Irvin is a possible one-year wonder with an index rating of 62%, but, with 22.5 career sacks, he also may have just scratched the surface of his pass rushing ability.
Julian Miller (OLB, West Virginia): Teammates with Irvin, 27.5 career sacks puts Miller in rare company with some of the all-time great sack artists in the NFL. He might be a steal in the later rounds of the draft.
Cordarro Law (OLB, Southern Mississippi): With 28 career sacks, 54 tackles for loss and 14 forced fumbles, Law put up some impressive numbers at Southern Miss. Law is a possible late round or undrafted free agent pick that could shine in the right system or right coaching staff.
Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois): Every year, there seems to be some flash-in-the-pan pass rusher who has one good season and gets catapulted to the first round. Players such as Vernon Gholston, Aaron Maybin and Derrick Morgan are just a few of the one-year wonders who have been busts over the past few years. That trio of draft busts has One-Year Wonder index ratings (percentage of production in best season) of: Gholston (67%), Maybin (75%) and Morgan (64%). Whitney Mercilus' One-Year Wonder index is 89%. There hasn't been an elite pass rusher come into the NFL in the past two decades with a rating this high. Teams should avoid him and let him slide right out of the draft.
Defensive Ends in a 3-4:
Jared Crick (DT/DE, Nebraska): Though he had an injury plagued senior season with a torn pectoral muscle, Crick fits perfectly as a 3-4 defensive end. He has passing ability, which is evident by his 20 career sacks, to go along with 29 tackles for loss. For defensive coordinators who are creative, he can slide inside on obvious passing situations and give teams an above average interior pass rusher.
Derek Wolfe (DT/DE, Cincinnati): At 6'5" and 300 lbs., Wolfe is a bit of a "tweener" from a defensive tackle position in a 4-3 or a defensive end in a 3-4. Either way, he can hold his own against the run. Wolfe amassed 27 tackles for loss throughout his career. He has above average pass rushing skills for a guy his size, with 19.5 career sacks in college. A mid-round selection could bring a powerful inside pass rushing force to whichever team selects him.