2012 NFL Draft Rankings: the Pass Rushers
This class of pass rushers is intriguing for all the wrong reasons. It’s intriguing because it needs to be. There isn’t a whole bunch of pure edge rushers in this draft class, and the ones that are here will get picked really high, and then the ones that have only moderate pro pass rushing ability will also get picked really high. And then: teams will hope.
1. Nick Perry, USC, Top ten grade
2. Quentin Coples, North Carolina, mid-first round grade
3. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, mid-first round grade
It’s possible that I didn’t watch quite enough tape to see the difference, but when I put Melvin Ingram on and then watch Quentin Coples immediately after, I feel like I’m watching the same player. Both take a lot of interior snaps as a tackle, but will more likely play end. Ingram appeared to be more explosive off his first step, but Coples was consistently better into and through contact, and ultimately appeared to be the tougher one on one matchup. Both were relentless rushers of the passer in the tape I saw. And when you go to the stat sheet, both left plenty to be desired in terms of comparisons to past draft picks. That’s not to say they aren’t good prospects, but teams who take them should know that they’re not getting Julius Peppers or Aldon Smith here.
Nick Perry though is the guy who has the best chance to go down as one of the elite pass rushers from this class. His is primarily a speed game, but he comes pro ready with a couple of effective pass rushing moves, and has the body and youth necessary to develop a more diverse approach in the pros. I don’t think every team should take him over Coples and Ingram, but as a true sack artist, he’s the best in this draft.
4. Shea McClellan, Boise State, second round grade
5. Chandler Jones, Syracuse, second round grade
6. Cam Johnson, Virginia, second round grade
7. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, second round grade
8. Andre Branch, Clemson, second round grade
9. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, second round grade
10. Vinny Curry, Marshall, third round grade
What’s left after the top three is a total grab-bag of non-elite pass rushers who could easily get drafted in the first round. Shea McClellan is the one out of these seven most likely to get picked in the first round, but Chandler Jones and Whitney Mercilus also have very good shots. I saw McClellan demonstrate his athleticism on tape for Boise State, and while I saw a player that moved all over the formation, I didn’t see such a refined, toolzy athlete that I thought immediately “first round pick” or even “raw first round pick.” He’s one of my favorite players in the draft, but I saw second round ability.
Chandler Jones showed me a glimpse of the first round pass rushing ability that got me so high on the guys in the first tier. That was more than I saw from Mercilus on film, who might be longer and have a better body for the 4-3 end position than Jones. Overall, I saw two pretty similar players in Jones and Mercilus and thought Jones showed a greater percentage of first round type plays.
Cam Johnson might end up being more of a tackle than a rush end if he bulks up a bit, but his moves and polish will be a lethal combination playing on the inside. Right now, he’s got an edge rusher skill set, but I’m not sure that’s where he projects. He too could sniff interest in the bottom of round one.
Bruce Irvin and Andre Branch are two of my favorite athletes in the draft (and Vinny Curry is a similar player to them). They’re undersized disruptive on the defensive line. And they’re impossible to block in critical downs. Problem, of course, is that football is a four down sport now, and even one down disruptive defensive palyers must find a position to play when the ball is being run right at them. I think they all project as NFL starters, but must find the scheme fit (doesn’t everyone?) All, except possibly Branch, would be a reach in round one, much as I like them.
11. Tyrone Crawford, Boise State, third round grade
12. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma, third round grade
13. Darius Fleming, Notre Dame, third round grade
These three are the sleeper players in this class. Crawford might be the crown jewel of the middle rounds for teams that play their pass rushers with their hands in the dirt. But in terms of getting after the passer from a two point stance, I’m not sure there are two guys in this class that have done it better the last two years than Lewis and Fleming. If their pass rush skills don’t translate, you’ve wasted a pick, unfortunately. But they’ll go high because when you get past this group, there’s not much left.
14. Malik Jackson, Tennessee, fifth round grade
15. Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy, sixth round grade
Two inside-outside pass rushers with advanced age, but scheme flexibility, and will be able to come screaming off the edge or beat OGs in passing downs. Will go later that skill sets dictate because of age vs. value.
16. Olivier Vernon, Miami (FL), sixth round grade
17. Jake Bequette, Arkansas, sixth round grade
18. Donte Paige-Moss, North Carolina, sixth round grade
19. Trevor Guyton, California, seventh round grade
20. Jake Bequette, Arkansas, seventh round grade
21. Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh, seventh round grade
22. Jacquies Smith, Missouri, seventh round grade
23. Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State, priority UDFA
24. Scott Solomon, Rice, priority UDFA
25. Derrick Shelby, Utah, priority UDFA
26. Frank Alexander, Oklahoma, priority UDFA
27. Justin Francis, Rutgers, UDFA
28. Matt Conrath, Virginia, UDFA
29. Kourtnei Brown, Clemson, UDFA
30. Tim Fugger, Vanderbilt, UDFA
31. Jack Crawford, Penn State, UDFA
32. Jamaar Jarrett, Arizona State, UDFA