Oregon State's Scott Crichton is one of college football's top pass-rushers heading into the 2013 season.
Dion Jordan may have been the most hyped prospect leading up to the 2013 NFL draft, but he wasn’t even the best collegiate edge rusher in the state of Oregon last season.
Oregon State’s Scott Crichton was eligible for the 2013 draft, but decided to return to school for his redshirt junior year. He projects to be one of the draft’s top pass-rushing prospects should he enter the 2014 NFL draft.
Throughout the months of June and July, we are looking ahead to the 2014 draft here at Bleacher Report and breaking down 10 of the top defensive linemen in the upcoming draft class.
Crichton’s collegiate career has gotten off to a great start over the past two seasons. He was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2011 and a first-team Pac-12 all-conference selection last season. He has compiled 15 sacks and 32 tackles for loss in those two years.
He is an athletically-gifted pass-rusher who should draw interest from teams with 4-3 defensive schemes as a defensive end and from 3-4 teams as an outside linebacker. If he continues to develop and improve this season, he could be a first-round draft pick.
Physical Attributes: No Shortage of Athleticism
Crichton is a very good athlete for an edge defender.
Off the line of scrimmage, Crichton has a very good first step and accelerates very quickly. He can beat opponents with his explosive start off the snap, and he has the speed to be very dangerous in pursuit when he has a path to the quarterback or ball-carrier.
Crichton is a very fluid all-around athlete. He has quick feet and moves naturally in space. He moves well laterally and can change direction sharply without wasted motion.
He has good balance, as evidenced by his ability to stand through cut block attempts. He also has the leaping ability to jump up in the line of throws and disrupt passes and block kicks.
Listed at 6’3” and 264 pounds by Oregon State’s official athletics website, he has good size for an edge-rushing position. His combination of measurables make him a scheme-versatile player with the size to stay on the line, but the overall movement skills to drop back to linebacker.
Scouts will, however, be looking for Crichton to become physically stronger in his junior season. While he has displayed the power to bull rush opponents and typically holds his ground well at the line of scrimmage, he does get driven back off the line and into the ground more often than he should.
Breaking Down Crichton As a Pass-Rusher
Crichton’s game as a pass-rusher is still in its developmental stages, but that didn’t stop him from getting nine sacks last season. If he can continue to become physically stronger and more technically sound, he has the potential to be a premier pass-rusher in the NFL.
He is a gifted speed rusher who can beat an offensive tackle around the edge with his acceleration off the line. He is very good in pursuit, his speed to cover ground quickly.
Even talented scrambling quarterbacks such as UCLA’s Brett Hundley have trouble eluding Crichton’s pressure. In the following example last season, Crichton was initially stood up by UCLA left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo, but when Hundley escaped the pocket due to pressure, Crichton used his pursuit speed to track Hundley down for a running sack.
Video courtesy of Draft Breakdown.
Crichton has also proved to be an effective bull rusher at Oregon State. He is physical with his hands and does a good job getting underneath his opponent’s shoulder pads to establish leverage. With leverage on his side, he does a good job driving an opposing blocker back toward the quarterback to bring pressure.
The following example versus Utah shows how Crichton can set a big play with bull-rush pressure.
For his pass-rushing success to translate to the NFL, Crichton needs to become a more well-rounded rusher.
Crichton already struggles to consistently disengage from pass protection at the collegiate level. He will have even more trouble at the next level if his hands play does not improve.
Crichton needs to develop his pass-rushing moves. He has not demonstrated a consistent array of moves to beat blockers either around the edge or inside.
In order to fully take advantage of his ability as a speed rusher, he needs to become better at turning the corner. When trying to beat a blocker around the edge, he tends to run perpendicular to the quarterback then crash in, making it more difficult to get to the quarterback than if he were running a smooth arc around the corner.
While a very good athlete, he is not an elite athlete who will win many battles at the next level on his speed and quickness alone. To succeed as an edge rusher at the next level, he cannot simply get by on his athleticism.
As previously mentioned, Crichton also needs to become physically stronger to continue to be a successful bull rusher against bigger, more powerful linemen at the next level.
One trait that Crichton should continue to benefit from as an NFL pass-rusher is his motor. Even when Crichton loses an initial battle to a blocker, he continues to fight through a play and has made many of his biggest plays on second-effort rushes.
Crichton’s Skills as a Run Defender
While edge defenders like Crichton are typically noted for their pass-rushing abilities, Crichton is a three-down player who can be just as much of an asset in run defense as he is in bringing heat on the quarterback.
Crichton is a disciplined and physical player who does a good job of holding his gap in run defense. He consistently occupies his blocker and does a good job of closing running lanes and allowing his teammate to break through and make plays.
Crichton is a very strong tackler. He consistently wraps up his opponent when going to make a tackler, and can drive his opponent into the ground. He rarely misses tackles when he has an opportunity to take down a ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage, but is also very good at tackling in space.
He takes advantage of his athleticism as a run defender in space. He does a good job of moving laterally, covering ground out toward the sideline to make run stops. He has also shown the ability to chase runners well downfield with his pursuit speed, then wrap up the runner from behind for a tackle.
The following example, also versus Utah, shows how Crichton can cover ground and make a play downfield, even from the other side of the field.
Crichton is on the other side of the field from where John White catches a screen pass behind the line of scrimmage. Crichton covers the necessary ground and eventually tracks down White approximately eight yards past the line of scrimmage.
Although Crichton is explosive, he has not shown to be much of a penetrator at the line of scrimmage as a run defender. As previously mentioned, he needs to become better with his hands to work between blockers and break into the backfield.
He could also have trouble with being driven back off the line of scrimmage against bigger, more powerful NFL run blockers. That said, if he can build up more physical strength and continue to play with leverage, he can improve in this area.
Projecting Crichton’s Fit and Draft Stock
Crichton’s experience comes as a defensive end in even fronts, and he has the skills and potential to be a three-down starter on an NFL 4-3 defensive line. That said, he should also be one of the top candidates for 3-4 outside linebacker conversion in either the 2014 or 2015 NFL draft, and he actually may be best suited for that position.
He has the athleticism to excel at linebacker. He could get more free-rushing opportunities to dial up his speed around the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He is already a good run defender in space with great tackling ability, and playing linebacker could help mask his deficiencies in physical strength.
Crichton has minimal experience playing in coverage, but his downfield speed and ability to change direction give him the potential to make that transition. In order to succeed at outside linebacker, however, Crichton would have to improve at arcing around the corner and breaking down isolated blockers.
He also has some experience playing inside at defensive tackle at Oregon State, though he lacks the size and strength to do so effectively at the next level. Nonetheless, Crichton’s potential and versatility to play in either defensive scheme will improve his chances to be a first-round pick.
Crichton’s athleticism and playmaking ability give him the potential to rise as high as one of the top-20 draft picks. That said, he has a long way in his junior season to go to securing his first-round status.
He has to become better with his hands. He also has to improve his snap anticipation, as he has a tendency to react early and get caught offsides or at least out of rhythm with the actual snap.
Nonetheless, scouts will be keeping a close eye on Crichton this fall as he attempts to establish himself as one of the 2014 NFL draft’s top prospects.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft featured columnist for Bleacher Report.