2012 NFL Draft Projections: Explosive Pass-Rushers Headed for First Round

Thad NovakCorrespondent IJanuary 20, 2012

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 26:  Courtney Upshaw #41 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after a defensive stop against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Even after the 2011 draft produced a bumper crop of edge rushers, the college ranks were far from depleted. Teams in need of pass-rush help in 2012 have plenty of talented DEs and LBs to choose from.

This trio is sure to be off the board on the first day of the 2012 NFL draft:


Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

The phenomenal success of this season’s Crimson Tide defense was largely built on sure tackling and avoiding mistakes, rather than gambling on highlight-reel plays. The obvious exception to that conservative approach was the attacking play of star linebacker Courtney Upshaw.

Upshaw spent most of the season in opposing backfields, piling up 9.5 sacks along with 18 tackles for loss. Even if his raw numbers got a boost from all the talent around him, he was still as dangerous a playmaker as any in the college ranks this season.


Whitney Mercilus, Illinois

The Division I leader with an eye-catching 16 sacks in 2011, Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus did plenty of damage against the run as well. Mercilus recorded 22.5 tackles for loss for an Illini defense that ranked 15th in the nation in points allowed.

At 6’4”, 265 pounds, Mercilus is a prime candidate for conversion to OLB if a 3-4 defense opts to pick him up. Regardless of the scheme, he’ll be one of the top rookies in any front seven in the 2012 season.


Melvin Ingram, South Carolina

With all the attention lavished on the South Carolina offense and NFL-bound stars Alshon Jeffery and (eventually) Marcus Lattimore, the Gamecock defense sometimes gets short shrift. That’s a pity, because South Carolina ranked third in the nation in total defense thanks to players like Melvin Ingram.

The senior DE racked up 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss in 2011. His 6’2”, 276-pound frame should translate readily to a 4-3 defensive end spot at the next level.