Richner: 2014 Pass Rushers

Last Updated: 1/18/2015 8:58 PM ET
The two deepest position groups in the draft are wide receivers and pass rushers. This year's group of pass rushers has the highest overall ratings of any pass rushers I have graded out over the last eight years.

The pass rushers are split into two sections. The first section is for defensive ends, players who will play in a traditional 4-3 defensive scheme. The second group consists of outside linebackers, suited to play in a 3-4 defensive scheme. Last year did not have an elite pass rusher, this year's group has some pass rushers that have elite ratings and productions. Khalil Mack (Buffalo) is the NCAA career leader in forced fumbles. Anthony Barr (UCLA) has only played on defense the past two seasons, but was one of college football most dominating players.

The defensive end position is filled with top flight talents such as Jadeveon Clowney who could end up being one of the best pass rushers in the last twenty-years. A complete five-tool player he can make a difference on every play. The dilemma is does he want to give full effort throughout an entire game. Overall, this is a rare group consisting of players who have a wide array of skills and talents.

One statistic that I incorporate is Impact Points. This is based on a formula I created that calculates a defensive end's point value based on total tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, forced fumbles, blocked kicks and their team's overall rush defense.

Defensive Ends

1) Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina): Having spent my fair share of time around NFL players, I can attest that Clowney has the most impressive physique of any player I have ever seen. He looks as though he is chiseled out of granite.

The straight numbers of Clowney's career suggest that he should be a difference-maker in the NFL. In 36 career games he had 107.5 tackles, 47 TFL, 24 sacks, seven PB and nine forced fumbles. His one-year wonder index rating is within the optimum range (45-60 percent) at 54 percent.

He is everything an NFL team looks for in a classic 4-3 defensive end. He has the size, at 6'5” and 266 pounds, to go along with impressive athletic ability. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds. While I usually don't put any emphasis on that one drill, it is still an impressive feat for a player of his size.

A five-tool type of player, he can beat his opponent with just straight speed or run over him with a combination of speed and power. Clowney is able to utilize his size and elite speed off the edge to strike fear into his opponents.

There is no denying that his numbers dropped last season. Opponents double-teamed him, chipped him with an extra, basically threw everything but the kitchen sink at him to minimize his production. Still, there are no excuses for his drop in production–great players are able to produce no matter who or how many people they are matched up against.

Few athletes are built like him, and his career numbers–he had 87 impact plays, an average of 2.42 impact plays per game–suggest a great player in there. Quality coaching and the right organization will be needed to pull it out of him for each game and every season he is in the NFL.

2) Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State): Scouts love long-armed pass rushers, and Lawrence fits the mold of an athletic pass rusher who has a reach a country mile long. With only two seasons of college football experience, he has a lot of room to grow and improve. Right now, he's 6'3” and 251 pounds, but if he can add some weight and maintain his speed and athletic ability, he should be able to improve in his ability to hold up against the run.

An active pass rusher, he doesn't give up if his original pass-rush move is negated; he will continue to fight and claw his way to the quarterback. In 23 career games he accumulated 91.5 tackles, 34 TFL, 19 sacks, one INT, one PD and seven FF. A contributor on special teams, he is tied for the lead amongst all defensive ends in this year's draft with three career blocked kicks.

Lawrence wasn't your typical one-year wonder–his one-year wonder rating index is only 55 percent, showing a consistent level of production throughout his two-year career.

During his tenure at Boise State he had 71 impact plays, giving him an average of 3.09 impact plays per game, the highest amongst all defensive ends in this year's draft class.

He does have a history of suspensions, first against Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl for violation of team rules and again last season causing him to miss the Tennessee-Martin game. Scouts have questioned his maturity, he will need to show them that these were isolated incidents that he has learned from.

An all-around skilled pass rusher who can create havoc, he has the speed to quickly get around the corner, and the power to drive his man into the backfield.

He is likely to be a second- or third-round selection but a player who could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft.

3) Scott Crichton (Oregon State): Hard not to like this former Beaver who showed great improvement and production each of the three years he suited up in Corvallis, Oregon. A playmaker on defense, he is adept at finding the football and causing turnovers. At 6'3” and 273 pounds, he is perfectly suited to play with his hand on the ground and get after opposing quarterbacks.

Crichton is a dynamic athlete who outmuscles his opponents and has an effective power and speed rush arsenal that he is able to use to break down an opponent who tries to block him. A natural pass rusher, he has improved in his speed rush move over his career and is usually one of the first players off the line of scrimmage at the snap at of the ball.

In 38 career games he has 132.5 tackles, 51 TFL, 22.5 sacks, nine PD and 10 FF. A contributor on special teams, he has two career blocked kicks. His 51 TFL ranks him first amongst all defensive ends. His one-year wonder index is at 40 percent.

In just three seasons he amassed 98.5 impact plays, an average of 2.59 impact plays per game. He compares favorably both statistically and for scouting purposes to former Saints defensive end Will Smith.

4) Kareem Martin (UNC): There are always a handful of draft prospects at each position that make you wonder if they have maxed out on their talent or have just begun to scratch the surface. Martin is one of those players. After two straight seasons posting four sacks, he burst onto the scene during his final season and posted 11.5 sacks last year. Scouts love his size. At 6'6” and 272 pounds, he is big enough to anchor the edge and play against the run. He has one of the fastest 10-yard split times amongst all defensive ends, showing he has the speed to get around the corner.

In 45 career games Martin had 135 tackles, 45.5 TFL, 19.5 sacks, 13 PB and four FF. His high TFL and PB show not only that he is capable of being a playmaker against the run, but that he has a knack for deflecting passes.

A power rusher, he prefers to use his strength rather than leverage to overtake his opponent. He will need to stay low and combine that with an inside counter-move. He is most likely suited for the strong side pass rusher, in the mold of a Justin Tuck.

He has a one-year wonder index of 59 percent, which is high but still below the 60 percent threshold. He had 82 career impact plays, an average of 1.82 impact plays per game.

5) Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas): After a productive sophomore campaign in 2011 that saw Jeffcoat earn 7.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL, his production dropped last season to four sacks and 10.5 TFL. At 6'3” and 247 pounds, he is a speed rusher, he can move well, and in some cases, Texas will have him drop into coverage.

Against Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry this year, Jeffcoat played in 52 defensive snaps. He had two quarterback sacks, the first coming in at a time from snap to sack of 5.63 seconds; anything over 3.5 seconds is usually considered a coverage sack. The second sack came at a time of 3.27 seconds. In his lone quarterback pressure, he was able to force Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell into an errant throw that was intercepted. His quarterback pressure time was 3.02 seconds.

In 40 career games he had 141 tackles, 26.5 sacks, one INT, nine PB, four FF and one blocked kick. He had 92 career impact plays, an average of 2.30 impact plays per game.

He is a liability against the run, and opponents averaged over four yards a carry when running in his direction last season. He needs to get stronger at the point of attack. Too often he was handled with ease by opposing linemen. He will need to learn how to set the edge and drive the action back towards the middle of the field.

Looking back on notes I wrote about Jeffcoat last season, I was impressed with his athleticism and agility but thought he needed to get stronger to be a three-down lineman who could attack the rush. Most likely, he'd be a situational pass rusher in the NFL for the first couple of seasons as he improved his game.

6) Morgan Breslin (USC) One of the players I had targeted since the start of the season, Breslin was well on his way to becoming a
future household name before he sustained a hip injury in November. He was not invited to the NFL Combine.

Breslin is a junior college transfer from Diablo Valley College, where he amassed 28 sacks in two seasons. Last year, his first season at USC, Breslin had 13 sacks, four PB, one FF, and 19.5 TFL. He prefers to rush the passer from the two-point stance versus putting his hand on the ground. Breslin sets on most plays in the wide-9 position, similar to what current Jacksonville Jaguars DE Jason Babin made famous while he was a member of the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia Eagles.

At the wide-9 position the pass rusher sets up a few yards outside the tackle's outside shoulder. It requires the pass rusher to be extremely quick off the line of scrimmage, so they have to be agile enough to dip their shoulder underneath the tackle and get around the corner to attack the quarterback.

Against Utah State earlier this season he finished the game with two sacks and five quarterback pressures. Utilizing his speed, he quickly got around his defender to notch his first sack in the game with a time of 2.85 seconds from snap to sack. On his second sack, he outmuscled the running back trying to block him one-on-one and tracked the mobile Chuckie Keeton in 4.46 seconds. His five quarterback pressures came in at an average time of 2.3 seconds.

Breslin can be overpowered by offensive lineman if they are able to get hold of him, but he was a factor in run support.

In 18 career games Breslin had 63.5 tackles, 27.5 TFL, 17.5 sacks, 4 PB, and 3 forced fumbles. Since he really only had a season and a half his one year wonder index rating is at 74 percent. Anything higher than a 60 percent mark is a major red flag.

He had 50 career impact plays, and average of 2.78 impact plays per game, third highest amongst all draft eligible defensive ends.

Best of the Rest

7) Marcus Smith (Louisville): Career impact plays: 75: Impact plays per game average: 1.67

8) Kony Ealy (Missouri): Career impact plays: 51: Impact plays per game average: 1.47

9) Ethan Westbrooks (West Texas A&M): Career impact plays 73: Impact plays per game average: 2.92

10) Chris Smith (Arkansas): Career impact plays: 60: Impact plays per game average: 1.40

Outside Linebackers

1) Khalil Mack (Buffalo): Playing in just a few nationally televised games this season and against a probable national title contender, Mack left little doubt amongst scouts that he is a first-round talent at the outside linebacker position. He flat-out dominated against Ohio State to kick off the college football season, showcasing a combination of speed and power that is rarely seen amongst linebackers in the Mid-American Conference.

In 20 pass-rush opportunities against Ohio State, Mack had five QB pressures, 2.5 QB Sacks and an average snap-to-QB sack time of 3.06 seconds, with his fastest time coming in at 2.35 seconds. He also had eight tackles and one INT returned for a TD. All in all, a complete, dominating performance against a power-house program.

At 6‘3” and 251 pounds, Mack has the power and strength to drive linemen backwards. He lines up all over the field, acting as a rover to take advantage of mismatches. Mack is a versatile athlete who doesn't take plays off, applying consistent pressure on each and every one. He has produced at a high level the last four seasons.

In 48 career games, he recorded 256.5 tackles, 74 TFL, 28.5 sacks, four INT, 21 PB, an NCAA-record 16 FF and two blocked kicks. Those numbers are flat-out ridiculous, a dominating performance each and every week throughout his career.

Mack had 149.5 impact plays during his career, an average of 3.11 impact plays per game. These type of numbers compare to Jared Allen, Robert Mathis and Terrell Suggs. If he turns out to be half as good as these three, then someone is getting a steal.

Playmakers on defense are a true hidden gem, and Mack has a way of causing turnovers and disrupting offenses. He is the type of instant-impact player that doesn't come around every year. Someone is going to get a steal of a pick even if he goes with the first overall selection.

2) Anthony Barr (UCLA): One of the nation's most feared tacklers in college football, Barr has quickly developed into a one-man wrecking crew coming off the edge for the UCLA Bruins. Coming off a junior campaign that saw him transition from running back to outside linebacker, Barr flourished in his new role, collecting 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles and making an average of 3.6 impact plays per game for the year.

Barr decided to delay going into the NFL last year despite potentially being a late first-round or early second-round pick. He picked up where he left off at UCLA, with 10 sacks and six forced fumbles on the season.

In just two seasons, Barr racked up 125.5 tackles, 41 TFL, 23.5 sacks, six PD, 10 FF and one blocked kick. He amassed 83 impact plays, an average of 3.07 impact plays per game, second highest among draft­-eligible outside linebackers.

Against Oregon this season, Barr recorded two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. His first sack in the game showcased the pure power and strength that made Barr a future top-five pick. He quickly beat the offensive tackle around the corner, and instead of beheading the quarterback, Barr went for the strip sack, giving him hopes for a turnover. His time from snap to sack was
2.15 seconds, an unbelievable time, considering Oregon did try to block him on the play.

His second sack would be considered a coverage sack. He was responsible for holding the edge and keeping Marcus Mariota (Oregon, QB) from breaking containment and getting outside the pocket. Mariota was pressured and had to scramble, and then Barr was able to wrestle him to the ground in a time of 5.19 seconds.

Power, speed and the relentless ability to bring pressure on every down is what separates Barr from the rest of the pack. He is a rare combination type of athlete who can bring pressure and affect the game in one play.

3) Trent Murphy (Stanford): At 6'5” and 250 pounds, Murphy, a three-year starter at outside linebacker, does a good job of holding the edge on running plays and limiting opposing ball carriers' opportunities to cut it back. Overall, he is a long, athletic lineman who can play in space and has above-average sideline-to-sideline speed. He has a variety of pass rushing moves, and over the past year has developed a counter-move to his typical outside speed rush that he used often in his first couple of seasons.

Against San Jose St. earlier this season, Murphy had two sacks. In one of the sacks, he grabbed the offensive tackle's wrists and drove him backwards, released the OT and then dragged the quarterback down for the sack. He did this in 2.28 seconds. His second sack on the evening was more of an effort sack, but he never gave up and tracked the quarterback down on the backside of the play; his sack time was 3.96 seconds.

Murphy's versatility is his most important asset. He can play with his hand down on the ground or be a stand-up pass rusher. A three-down lineman, he has good quickness and speed to cover running backs out of the backfield and good depth in his drops to play in zone coverage.

In 43 career games he had 131 tackles, 52.5 tackles for loss, 32.5 sacks, two INT, 11 PB, three FF and one blocked kick. He has a career total of 104 impact plays, an average of 2.42 impact plays per game, and the highest career total of sacks of any defensive player in this year's draft.

Murphy has experience playing the outside linebacker position; I believe he is best suited to play that position in a 3-4 scheme.

3) Kyle Van Noy (BYU): BYU, which historically has one of the toughest defenses in college football, was led by athletic linebacker Kyle Van Noy. The senior, who decided to return to Provo, was given a third-round grade by the NFL Draft Committee last year.
Very few players have the versatility and athleticism of Van Noy. He is a smart player who always seems to be around the football.

Whether it is instinctual or because he is a player who puts in the extra time and effort in film study, Van Noy always seems to be in the right place at the right time. One of his most impressive skill sets is his ability to drop into coverage, and he has the speed and quickness to handle most tight ends. At 6'3” and 243 pounds, he has the size to match up with today's bigger-bodied tight ends.

An experienced player who played in 52 career games, he accounted for 187.5 tackles, 61.5 TFL, 25 sacks, seven INT, 17 PB, 11 FF and three blocked kicks. The interceptions and pass deflections show that he can be a difference maker in coverage.

While he doesn't have one go-to pass-rush move, he can quickly shed blockers and has the presence to knock the football out of opposing quarterbacks' hands. With some time and development he can be groomed into a quality pass rusher and a top-tier cover linebacker. A three-down linebacker who can play special teams, Van Noy should be a quality player and someone who could be a steal if he drops past the second round.

4) Ryan Shazier (Ohio State): Though he is a bit undersized for an outside linebacker, Shazier just might be one of the fastest players in college football. He was one of the stars of the combine and a member of the leaderboard in both the vertical jump and broad jump categories.

With a playing style similar to current Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David, Shazier utilizes his speed to track down ball carriers and attack opposing quarterbacks. Against Wisconsin earlier this season, I tracked Shazier's pass-rushing times. He had two quarterback sacks at an average time of 3.65 seconds and five quarterback pressures at an average time of 2.3 seconds.

Against Illinois, Shazier had 1.5 sacks, with an average snap-to-sack time of 2.33 seconds. His first sack came when Illinois was backed up on its own goal line. Shazier beat both a tight end and a right tackle and was able to record a sack and force a fumble, which led to a safety. Shazier just might be one of the best blitzing linebackers in the country.

Though he is a smaller than ideal for an outside linebacker at 6'1” and 236 pounds, he does a great job at shedding blockers and tracking the football. A sure-handed tackler, he only allowed 13 missed or broken tackles last season, which might seem high, but he played in 898 snaps.

In 38 games he had 260.5 tackles, 44.5 TFL, 15 sacks, one INT, 14 PB, eight FF and one blocked kick. He amassed 85.5 impact plays, an average of 2.25 impact plays per game.

NFL teams are going to be enamored with the weapon and tools that he can provide to their defense. He started out the season with a second-round grade, but scouts are now saying he could be a taken in the middle part of the first round.

5) Carl Bradford (Arizona State): The attention early last season was on Will Sutton, the Arizona State star defensive tackle. What scouts and coaches around the country were noticing as the season went along was how much of an impact Carl Bradford, the outside linebacker, had on almost every play.

A more compact player (i.e., he isn't tall), he has strength and power, and he is able to slip underneath an opposing lineman's pad level and take advantage of leverage. They say the low man wins, and Bradford won a lot.

At 6'1” and 250 pounds, he has the speed to track down ball carriers to the outside, but he tends to dive at their legs, so his tackling technique needs to be improved upon. Still, in 870 snaps last season, he only had seven missed tackles.

In 39 career games he had 131 tackles, 44 TFL, 21.5 sacks, two INT, eight PB and six FF. Bradford had 81.5 impact plays during his career, an impact-per-game average of 2.09.

Bradford should be used as a situational pass rusher until he can develop into a three-down linebacker. He has the size, athletic ability and instincts to be a weapon on any defense. As a quality tackler he adds value right away to special teams. Given the right system he could develop into a quality starting outside linebacker.

Best of the Rest

6) Trevor Reilly (Utah): Career impact plays: 77: Impact plays per game average: 1.57

7) Jonathan Brown (Illinois): Career impact plays: 76: Impact plays per game average: 1.70

8) Shaquil Barrett (Colorado State): Career impact plays 75.5: Impact plays per game average: 1.99

9) Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech): Career impact plays: 85: Impact plays per game average: 1.73

10) Chris Young (Arizona State): Career impact plays: 50: Impact plays per game average: 1.85

11) Nikita Whitlock (Wake Forest): Career impact plays: 84.5: Impact plays per game average: 1.80