Power Ranking the Top 12 Pass-Rushers in the 2013 NFL Draft
After franchise quarterbacks and left tackles, there is no position in the NFL draft with a greater premium placed upon it than great pass-rushers. Whether those are players to line up at defensive end in a 4-3 defense, or outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, all 32 teams always covet having two dynamic pass-rushers who can bring pressure against the quarterback any time he drops back to pass.
The following slides break down the 12 best pass-rushers who could potentially be available in the 2013 NFL draft.
Note: These slides rank the players based upon pass-rushing ability only and are not rankings of each player as a complete prospect at his respective position. (Feel free to ask if you want more information on how a specific player rates overall)
12. John Simon, Ohio State
John Simon’s senior season had gotten off to a quiet start through the first five games, but in a big win over Nebraska, Simon had his breakout game of the season. He had five tackles for loss, including two sacks, and was a dominant force who gave Nebraska’s offensive tackles trouble throughout the game.
Simon does not have as much of an explosive burst off the line of scrimmage as the players ahead of him, but after a seven-sack season as a junior, he leaned down as a senior to become a faster athlete with better stamina. Simon has the speed to beat offensive tackles on the outside rush, but he can also use his strength to drive tackles back against the quarterback, and he is an effective outside-to-inside rusher.
Simon also has a relentless motor, and he often gets his sacks and hurries on the quarterback on second effort. A team who drafts Simon will be looking more for an all-around defensive end than a pure pass-rusher, but as a three-down NFL lineman, he has the skill set to bring heat into the pocket.
11. Dion Jordan, Oregon
A converted tight end, Dion Jordan is a player who is just scratching the surface of his potential. But as a tall, long pass-rusher with great athletic ability, Jordan has the potential to really break out in the right system in the National Football League.
While Jordan has great height and length at 6’7’’, he will need to bulk up and become stronger to line up as a three-down defensive end in the NFL. Where Jordan could shine, however, is as a pass-rushing specialist as either a defensive end in a four-man front or an outside linebacker in a three-man front.
Jordan, who has 12.5 sacks in two-and-a-half seasons as a defensive end, has a great burst off the line of scrimmage and a combination of size and athleticism that makes him a real challenge to block in pass protection. He is still a raw player, but his pass-rushing upside is very high.
10. Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, Florida State
Losing one of the nation’s best pass-rushers, senior Brandon Jenkins, to a season-ending Lisfranc injury to his foot could have been a very damaging blow to Florida State’s defense. Instead, his replacement in the lineup may be an even better pass-rusher.
Cornelius “Tank” Carradine, also a senior, has emerged as one of the nation’s elite pass-rushers, and ranks second in the nation halfway through the season with seven sacks.
Carradine is a very skilled defensive end with great size and strength paired with explosion off the line of scrimmage, and moving from a rotational to a starting role has enabled him to show just how good he can be. His sample size of snaps may be smaller than the other players on this list, but his ability to get after the quarterback has caused him to shoot up draft boards this season.
9. William Gholston, Michigan State (Jr.)
William Gholston is the biggest and most powerful player on this list, but he is also a very good pass-rusher.
At 6’6’’ and 278 pounds, Gholston has the size to play inside as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense, and that may very well be where he ends up. He also, however, has a very good get-off at the line of scrimmage and is an explosive athlete, meaning he can be an asset as a pass-rusher in any alignment and could even line up as an outside linebacker on passing downs in a 3-4 scheme.
Gholston may be most effective as an interior pass-rusher, where he can use his combination of size and athleticism to be a major disruptive force, along the lines of NFL stars like Justin Tuck, Justin Smith and J.J. Watt. Endurance can be an issue with Gholston, but when he is fresh, he is terrific at getting off the line and shedding blocks, and he can bring pressure from wherever he lines up.
8. Corey Lemonier, Auburn (Jr.)
At only 6’3’’ and less than 250 pounds, a lack of size could be a concern for Corey Lemonier in his prospects of being a three-down lineman, but his ability to rush the pass-rusher is not a concern.
Lemonier, who had a breakout sophomore season with 9.5 sacks, is already off to a tremendous start in his junior season with five sacks at the halfway point. Lemonier is a great athlete who gets off the line of scrimmage very well and has the speed to track down even mobile quarterbacks once he frees from a blocker.
Given his lack of size but plenty of athleticism, Lemonier is probably best suited to move back to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level, but at the least, he should be a very good situational pass-rusher in any scheme.
7. Sam Montgomery, LSU (Jr.)
LSU has a pair of star pass-rushers who could end up declaring for the 2013 NFL draft, and the first on this list, Sam Montgomery, is one of the best 4-3 defensive end prospects in the draft class.
Montgomery’s length really stands out on his 6’5’’ frame, and he uses that length very well. He is very good at swim and rip techniques to get off of blockers, while he is a long strider, and he is a great athlete with the quick, explosive burst at the line to beat blockers and bring heat into the backfield.
Montgomery has only two sacks thus far in his junior season, but he has 6.5 tackles for loss, and had nine sacks in his sophomore year. Montgomery may not quite be an elite pass-rushing prospect, but he has the skills to get plenty of sacks in the NFL and is a well-rounded defensive end with star potential.
6. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (Jr.)
Jackson Jeffcoat is a tremendous athlete for a defensive end, so it comes as no surprise that he is one of the nation’s most natural pass-rushers.
Jeffcoat needs to add bulk and become stronger at the line of scrimmage, but he is quick at the line of scrimmage and has great speed for a lineman. At only 245 pounds and with his ability to run down plays in space, he is best suited to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the next level, but he will be able to bring pressure in any system.
Jeffcoat’s technique is still raw, but he is often able to bring heat into the backfield just based on his explosiveness and athleticism. At the very least, he should be a difference-maker as a situational pass-rusher in the NFL.
5. Alex Okafor, Texas
Jackson Jeffcoat is a very gifted athlete and talented pass-rusher, but the defensive end who lines up across from him on the Longhorns’ line is actually better. With Jeffcoat getting most of the hype, Alex Okafor could be one of the most underappreciated senior pass-rushers in the country.
Okafor is not quite the athlete Jeffcoat is, but he still has the speed to beat offensive tackles around the edge, while he is also good at getting off the line. What makes Okafor special, however, are his great pass-rushing techniques, as he uses his arms very well to shed blockers, along with his strength to push through linemen and a great motor.
Okafor has been very productive at Texas and is playing his best football as a senior, having already tied his 2011 sack total with six. Even in a game where he did not record a tackle for loss last season, he brought consistent pressure against one of the nation’s best offensive linemen, Texas A&M right tackle Jake Matthews.
Okafor has the overall skill set to be a three-down lineman as a 4-3 defensive end, but he can make an impact as a pass-rusher in any scheme.
4. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (Jr.)
Through the first half of this college football season, Texas A&M junior defensive end Damontre Moore has been the best pass-rusher in the nation. Moore is tied for second nationally with seven sacks, recorded in just five games so far, while he has had at least two tackles for loss in every game thus far this season.
Overall, since breaking out in the second half of his sophomore season, Moore has at least one sack in eight of his last nine games, and has recorded at least 1.5 tackles for loss in his last 11 games.
Moore has a terrific get-off at the line of scrimmage and an affinity for bringing pressure and making plays in the backfield.
Moore does not have great size and needs to become stronger at the point of attack in run defense, but his ability to get after the quarterback is special. If he continues to stand out through the rest of the SEC season, his stock will continue to rise up draft boards.
3. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (Jr.)
“Tank” Carradine is not the only Florida State defensive end who has stepped up in his game in Brandon Jenkins’ absence. Bjoern Werner was already a starter coming off of a great sophomore season, but in his junior year, he has truly emerged as a star.
Werner immediately got his season rolling with a four-sack performance in the Seminoles’ opener versus Murray State. He has continued to stand out in the weeks since and has a total of 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss on the season, both marks which rank him in ties among the top 10 nationally.
Werner is a superb athlete with great quickness, and he has a very explosive burst off the line of scrimmage. Werner runs the edge and turns the corner like a professional, uses his arms and technique well to shed blockers and has the strength to push through them.
Werner is not only the best and most complete defensive end prospect in the 2013 NFL draft class, he is also one of the class’ best pure pass-rushers. He can excel at bringing pressure into the pocket in any defensive system.
2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (Jr.)
No pass-rusher is getting more hype among media draft circles right now than LSU’s Barkevious Mingo. While I am not quite as high on Mingo as others, there is no denying that he is a very gifted pass-rusher.
Mingo is an excellent athlete who plays defensive end at LSU, but runs like a safety. He has tremendous acceleration of the line of scrimmage, and he does a terrific job of making quick moves on a blocker to break free and bring heat against the quarterback.
Mingo hasn’t filled up stat sheets through the first half of his junior season: He only has one sack. However, he also draws many double-teams when he is on the field, even with so much talent on the LSU defensive line, and he has seven quarterback hurries according to CFBStats.com.
Mingo may lack the size and strength, especially as a run defender, to play defensive end in the NFL, but he has huge upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker. In any scheme, however, he is as explosive as any pass-rusher in this draft class and will be able to get after the quarterback.
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (R-Jr.)
Jarvis Jones is the only player on this list who does not line up as a defensive end in college, but rather as an outside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 defense.
Every team that runs a 3-4 defense, and even those who do not, should be salivating over Jones’ ability to get after the quarterback.
For any 3-4 team that needs a pass-rushing outside linebacker in the 2013 NFL draft, Jones looks like an absolutely ideal choice. Unlike most potential choices, Jones would not need to make a transition to outside linebacker, as he already plays it, while he already has more pass-rushing ability than any other potential prospect in the draft class.
Jones has track-star speed and explosive acceleration, which allows him to run right around blockers as an edge rusher. Jones, however, also has great strength and ferocious technique for his size, which allows him to also work as an outside-inside rusher, finding holes in the offensive line and flying through them to bring inside pressure right into the backfield.
In just two seasons at Georgia, Jones has been tremendously productive. He was second in the nation as a redshirt sophomore, after sitting out a year following a transfer from USC, with 13.5 sacks, and he is off to a great start again as a junior, with 5.5 sacks in the five games he has played.
Teams that run the 4-3 should not shy away from Jones, who has a similar skill set to Von Miller.
Some feared Miller was not a good fit for a 4-3 defense, but he has become one of the NFL’s best players, with 16.5 career sacks just five games into his second season with the Denver Broncos. With Jones’ ability to make plays, he could even be a pass-rushing threat as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, or bring pressure both by lining up wide and blitzing like Miller does in the Broncos’ defense.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots gameday correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.