Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are typically the heart and soul of the pass rush. Without a dominant edge rusher, your defense better have others in the front seven who can get to the quarterback.
The Cardinals had to do that under Ray Horton, because none of the outside linebackers in his two seasons as defensive coordinator recorded more than seven sacks in any one season. Sam Acho did that as a rookie in 2011.
Last season, free-agent signee John Abraham recorded 11.5 sacks to lead the team. Arizona finished seventh in the NFL with 41 sacks on the season. But Abraham won’t be around for much longer.
Brian Orakpo (Free Agent)
The 13th pick in the 2009 draft, Brian Orakpo spent his first five seasons with the Washington Redskins, where he recorded 39.5 sacks and 232 total tackles. He should be on his way toward a sizeable contract, so he may be out of reach for the Cardinals.
With some creative money-moving, however, he could be a plausible option.
His most productive year of rushing the passer was as a rookie, when he recorded 11 sacks and finished seventh in the league. He notched 10 this season and has recorded at least 8.5 in every season except for 2012, when he missed the final 14 games with a torn pectoral muscle.
Michael Sam (Draft)
He’s an underrated pass-rusher, but that may not be the case for long. Former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam is undersized for DE in the NFL. He stands 6’2” and weighs 260 pounds, making him a perfect fit for 3-4 outside linebacker.
He will have to prove at the NFL Scouting Combine that he can catch the football and drop into the flat in coverage—he appears to have tight hips, so this could be an issue early.
Given his production, he could shoot up draft boards for teams that employ the 3-4 if he displays enough athleticism and fluidity to cover tight ends.
Khalil Mack (Draft)
Like Carr, Khalil Mack falls under the category of “he who will not be available.” But one can dream, right? A likely top-10 pick, Mack possesses everything you want from a 3-4 outside linebacker: strength, speed, grit and a ferocity in rushing the passer that is unmatched in this class.
His production throughout four years at the University of Buffalo was outstanding.
CBSSports NFL insider Pat Kirwan developed a simple formula for gauging production of college pass-rushers in his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball. He calls it the “Production Ratio.” The number is created by adding plays that are made behind the line of scrimmage (sacks plus tackles for loss) and divided it by the number of games played.
Kirwan explains that he looks for a number of 1.0 or better—that is, one play behind the line of scrimmage per game played.
Mack’s career number? A staggering 2.16—or greater than two such plays per game.
Should he somehow fall to No. 20, it would be the first major mistake of his general managerial career for Keim to pass on Mack.