2014 NFL Draft: Immediate Solutions for Teams in Need of Pass Rush
In a league where the rules are heavily slanted to favor the passing game, it's become more imperative than ever to stock up on the very guys who can get to the quarterback before he can throw it.
Most prospects from the 2014 NFL draft will be making their professional contributions a bit later down the line. It usually takes a few years before a rookie can adjust to the speed and talent level of the NFL, but the first-year pass-rush extraordinaires on this list should be able to make an immediate impact by putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
As a former defensive line coach of the New York Giants once told me:
"Guys who can get sacks in college, usually can do the same thing in the NFL. "
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Some might have a gripe with a guy who had three sacks in 2013 making a list that highlights prospects that can provide instant pass rush. However, barring any setbacks with a possible foot surgery for bone spurs in his right foot, Clowney is absolutely one of the most dominant pass-rushers in this draft.
During his three years at South Carolina without redshirting, Clowney generated quite a bit of production. He had 47 tackles for loss and 24 sacks in 36 games.
In his first year removed from high school, Clowney was named the SEC Freshman of the Year by SEC coaches after racking up 36 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five forced fumbles and six quarterback hurries in 13 games.
When comparing his stats per game over his career to the 2013 class, he ranks seventh out of the top 27 edge-rushers in this class, despite a disappointing junior season that has many evaluators questioning his effort, competitiveness and work ethic.
Much of the focus on Clowney centers around his freakish athleticism, which is contained in a 6’6”, 266-pound frame, but the true value this kid brings to a football field is an aggressive killer instinct and the quickness to slip past blockers with regularity.
The perception that Clowney is by far the most physically gifted player in this draft may be overstated. In fact, he ranked 11th overall on my list of prospects with the most impressive physical attributes.
Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Khalil Mack is not just an elite pass-rusher; he’s probably the most complete defensive prospect in this year’s draft. According to the list of the most physically gifted prospects of 2013, Mack is ranked fourth out of nearly 300 players. He also has the honor of being the top-ranked prospect among edge-rushers in terms of college production.
As an outside linebacker, he can drop into coverage with fluid movements and cover the entire field with his sideline-to-sideline speed.
Mack is also a highly instinctual player who understands how to beat blockers and manipulate his opponents. His 16 career forced fumbles are the most among any draft-eligible prospect this season, but he did a lot more than just force fumbles.
As previously mentioned, this Buffalo blue chip led all edge-rushers in college production, albeit against lesser talent. His 28 career sacks and 94 tackles for a loss illustrate how much time he spent in opposing backfields.
If you allow Mack to focus his playmaking energy predominately on pass-rushing, he’s certain to be one of the most disruptive forces on the field.
Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Kyle Van Noy might not have the elite measurables like Clowney or Mack, but what he does have is a rare talent for big plays.
This 6’3”, 243-pound outside linebacker from BYU is very similar to Tyrann Mathieu in his playmaking ability. Both players are obsessed with taking a normal play and turning it into a game-changing moment. They have the incredible instincts and just enough physical gifts to make it happen on the biggest football stage available.
Van Noy may not be overly strong, but he does have a nice, loose fluidity to his game that helps him beat offensive linemen around the edge.
His effort is impressive, and he pairs it nicely with a wide range of creative pass-rush moves. Once he beats the opposing blocker, Van Noy closes ground quickly. His five defensive touchdowns, three blocked kicks and seven interceptions throughout his BYU career are examples of his relentlessness.
Some people just understand how to play the game, and Van Noy is one of those guys.
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
At 6’5”, 255 pounds, Anthony Barr rounds off the top-10 most physically gifted prospects in this draft class. It's important to note that Barr played on the offensive side of the ball for his first two years at UCLA. With this in mind, his defensive stats were all tallied in his last two seasons as a Bruin, which totaled 27 games.
During that time, Barr managed a per game ratio of .85 sacks, .37 forced fumbles, .22 pass breakups, .22 QB hurries, 1.52 tackles for a loss and 5.48 tackles. To put this into perspective, he finished second among all edge-rushers in production per game throughout his career. Mack was ranked No. 1.
Barr has long strides and a quick first step up the field. He can be seen at times glued to blockers with little to no activity with his hands or feet, but when he uses his length to extend away from a block, he tends to separate well.
More likely than not though, Barr utilizes his impressive speed to get around blockers and has found a lot of success doing this at the collegiate level. His hands are best when he is on either side of a blocker, displaying an effective swipe move and swim technique, but he becomes a deer in headlights when the blocker meets him head on.
Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
In 23 games at Boise State, Lawrence accumulated 19 sacks and 34 tackles for a loss. He is a lanky athlete with a knack for getting around the edge and into the quarterback’s pocket. Lawrence measured in at 6’3”, 251 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
In terms of production per game, Lawrence finished third among edge-rushers behind Barr and Mack.
Though he may be a bit undersized to play with his hand in the dirt at the next level, Lawrence does have the frame to pack on some more weight, if needed. His most natural position seems to be as a DE in a 4-3 front, but these days, it really doesn’t matter whether the guy has his hand down or if he’s coming off the edge in a two-point stance.
Lawrence closes fast with decent effort, however, he does seem to wear down at times which hurts his perception of being a high-motor prospect.
Once this kid learns to use hand technique and build his repertoire of rush moves rather than rely exclusively on his quickness, Lawrence should be able to dominate at the next level. With that said, he is still ready to contribute immediately as a rush specialist on passing downs.
For those out there who believe Dee Ford is more worthy of this list, keep this in mind: Ford relies too much on side swipes to get blockers hands off his chest, and he does not use his arm length to his advantage. He loves to dip and rip. He also let AJ McCarron run away from him, which is a sign he doesn’t close ground in open space like you’d like to see.
Lastly, Ford only had 20.5 sacks in 52 career games while at Auburn. He may end up being a skilled pass-rusher in the NFL, but it will not yield immediate results.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player who writes for Bleacher Report.
For more draft discussion, follow him on Twitter @Ryan_Riddle