NFL Draft: Breaking down the top pass rushers

Feb 8, 2013, 3:38 PM | Updated: 3:39 pm

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The game of football is very complex, but it breaks down fairly basically: have a quarterback, protect the quarterback and attack the quarterback.

The Cardinals have needs at all of the positions mentioned above, and today we take a look the players that I believe will be the most effective at getting to the quarterback.
The players listed below are edge rushers only, and since we know that the Cardinals will be staying in their 3-4 front we know that they’ll be looking for a pass rushing outside linebacker, but that won’t change the list, because I am still including defensive ends.

Note: Rankings are based on where I believe the prospect will be at when their career is said and done, not where they will be drafted.

Full prospect scouting reports and whether I think they fit in a 3-4 will come over the next three months.

Barkevious Mingo, LSU 6-5 240lbs

While Mingo didn’t have the eye-popping sack numbers of some of the others that will make this list, he shows the most upside and promise of any pass rusher in the draft.

The former LSU star is a difference maker, with an elite first step and room to add bulk. Mingo also has the fluid movement and natural pass rush ability to transition to a 3-4 OLB or add weight and become a pass rushing defensive end.

The key will be weight gain. He HAS to add weight to his frame in order to hold up in the run game at the NFL level, but this is about pass rushers, and Mingo has a special first step that can’t be taught. It’s a step that should allow him to be a very good pass rusher in the NFL.

Projection: First round

Jarvis Jones, Georgia – 6-2, 240 lbs

Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord.

That’s what people will talk about when they discuss Jarvis Jones as a prospect. Instead they should look at one thing: Jones gets after the quarterback.

Jones has an array of speed and power moves that allows him to creatively and consistently produce pressure on the passer.

Jones doesn’t show the ability to play with his hand in the dirt and projects more as an OLB only in the NFL.

Projection: First round

Dion Jordan, Oregon – 6-6, 240 lbs (supposedly down to 225 lbs)

Dion Jordan is probably the most intriguing prospect on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL Draft.

Versatile is an adjective probably unbecoming for the kind of play Jordan is on the defensive side of the ball, yet rushing the passer wasn’t high on his list at Oregon.

Jordan displays all the traits you want out of an elite edge rusher: quickness, transitioning that speed to power, excellent use of his hands and a nonstop motor.

Projection: First round

Damontre Moore, Texas A&M – 6-4, 250 lbs

Moved from the 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end, and grew as an NFL prospect and pass rusher.

Has an array of pass rush moves that are polished for a guy in his first year playing defensive end.

Not overly quick or explosive, and isn’t the athlete of the first three players listed, but his pass rush repertoire makes him a more NFL-ready prospect than the players listed above him.

Projection: Top 15 pick

Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky 6-5, 250 lbs

A lot of people reading this probably let out a collective “Who?”

Let me introduce you to my favorite pass rushing prospect in the draft.

Smith is a lean, lanky defensive end who has an outstanding initial burst off the line of scrimmage and wins consistently from there.

He has a decent array of moves, but isn’t overly polished yet, which will be something he needs to grow with at the next level.

The biggest concern about Smith is that he’s coming off a torn ACL, and whether or not he will get that elite first step back.

Projection: Third-fourth round

Corey Lemonier, Auburn – 6-4, 246 lbs

Lemonier is another defensive end prospect who didn’t put up the numbers one would hope from a dynamic pass rusher.

Lemonier has an excellent first step, and like others in this draft he wins consistently with that step. He isn’t overly flexible and may not be able to stand up and play as an OLB in a 3-4, but he could be an effective undersized defensive end in a 4-3 alignment.

Lemonier also needs to develop additional moves, as he relies far too often on just his speed and his rip and swim moves.

Projection: Second round

Bjoern Werner, Florida State – 6-4, 270 lbs

One of thing that needs to be clear about these rankings: They are not my thoughts on the players as overall defensive ends/outside linebackers. I am ranking the players on how effective I believe they will be at getting to the passer.

That being said, Werner is a guy who relies heavily on transitioning his first step to power and winning initially in his pursuit. He lacks the moves necessary to get to the quarterback consistently right now.

Projection: Top 10

Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, Florida State 6-5, 265 lbs

While Carridine entered the 2012 season as the least heralded of the Florida State defensive ends, he was having a breakout campaign until an ACL injury brought his progress to a halt in November.

Like Werner, Carridine utilizes one skill really well in his pass rushing arsenal: power. When Carridine gets to get to the quarterback, often times it’s because he won the battle at the line with his strength.

He lacks an elite first step off the line, but is relentless, if not unpolished as a pass rusher.

Projection: Third round

Cornelius Washington, Georgia – 6-4, 268 lbs

Washington is probably the prospect with the least impressive college tape on the list and was a bundle of untapped potential for years at Georgia. However, his ability to get to the quarterback still qualifies him as a special talent.

Washington possesses a first step off the line that rivals even Mingo, and he has the elite quickness and get off you want in a pass rusher. Washington has developed little in the way of pass rushing moves, and instead relied heavily on speed during his career in Athens.

He transitioned in 2012 to the defensive end spot — previously he manned an OLB position in Georgia’s 3-4 alignment — and is still inexperienced in his technique, yet has room to grow.

Projection: Third-fourth round

Alex Okafor, Texas – 6-4, 260 lbs

Another big name towards the bottom of my list is Okafor. I am not even sure Okafor qualifies over uber-freak Ezekiel Ansah, except for the fact he has done it consistently on Saturday’s against the best competition in college.

He has the quickness to be able to play in either the 4-3 as an end, if he bulks up, or in the 3-4 as an OLB. However, Okafor’s power is his trademark.

He shows a good initial step, but doesn’t beat people consistently with speed; instead he wins with a combination of solid technique, a good ability to translate power to speed and a relentless motor.

Projection: Late round 1-round 2

Ezekiel Ansah, BYU – 6-5, 270 lbs

The player that has taken the internet by storm deserves a mention, even if he is out of my top 10.

Ansah has everything you want in a pass rush defensive end: lightning quick first step, explosive power, long arms to keep offensive tackles off his body and a non-stop motor.

What he lacks is refinement and an ability to consistently get to the quarterback. He is technically far away from being impactful, and most of his projection is that he will translate his inherent athletic ability to becoming a dominant pass rusher.

Projection: First round


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