As the value of quarterbacks has risen, so have the men whose job it is to put pressure on them. Edge players who can get after the quarterback are among the most important players in the game.
Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. and Clemson’s Vic Beasley are vying to be the 2015 NFL draft’s top pass-rusher. Both players will no doubt fly off the board early, but which one goes first will likely depend on how teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders project their ability.
Until recently, Beasley seemed to have the advantage. Now, there is serious doubt about whether his upside is enough to hold off the surging Fowler.
Teams have essentially had their draft board set for weeks now, but slight adjustments are always possible based on information gleaned through interviews and pro days. It’s definitely conceivable that teams could have flipped their position on the draft board in recent days.
Fowler’s pro day renewed the buzz that has been building about him since the combine where the 6’3”, 261-pound hulk of a man ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.6 seconds. He followed that up with an impressive workout at his pro day that has most believing he is a lock to go in the top five.
|Fowler vs. Beasley|
|Fowler||6'3"||261||33 3/4"||9 1/2"|
|Beasley||6'3"||246||32 1/2"||9 3/8"|
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock is one of the many people who were convinced even before his pro day that Fowler is the top edge player in this draft.
"Fowler is my No. 1 edge-rusher," Mayock said, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com. "Why? In today's NFL you have to do three things. One, rush the quarterback. Two, set a physical edge. And, three, drop into coverage. Fowler is the best at all three, in my opinion, in this draft.”
Mayock added that he would be stunned if Fowler gets past pick No. 5.
"I'm a top-five pick," Fowler told Mayock in an interview after pro day via Fischer. "I'm the No. 1 defensive player coming off the board. When I say that, I'm not just saying it to say that. I'm the No. 1 guy because I have all the tools. Two, I'm physically ready. Finally, I have the passion for the game."
Fowler’s ability to do it all is part of the intrigue. Florida used him all over the field, so every NFL team is going to see something different that they like and want him to do in the NFL.
The Jaguars would predominantly ask Fowler to rush the quarterback, as would most teams. The ability to get after the quarterback is paramount for a top-five draft pick. Fowler thinks he can do that in Gus Bradley’s defensive scheme and would be surprised if he gets past the Jaguars at No. 3 overall.
"I'd be stunned, just because of the scheme that Coach Gus has," Fowler said after his pro day, via Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com. "I feel like as far as him being on the multiple side, 4-3 and the 3-4, I can set the edge and I can come off the edge standing up.”
Of course, not everyone is convinced that Fowler is the cream of the crop. When asked if Fowler is a top-five pick, NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks put it succinctly.
Absolutely not. When I look at a top-five talent, I want a transcendent player, a guy that is going to come in, and within the first two or three years of his career he'll become one of the best players at his position. While I like Dante Fowler -- he plays hard, he's a big hitter, he brings a lot of nice things to the table -- he's good at a lot of things but isn't dominant at anything.
One of the other criticisms of Fowler is that he wasn’t productive enough at Florida. In a way, Fowler’s negatives mirror those of Dion Jordan, now of the Miami Dolphins.
It doesn’t mean Fowler will be unproductive like Jordan has been, but it certainly should give teams pause. Fowler might be able to do it all, but can he do the one thing they are drafting him to do at a high level?
A year ago the Raiders selected linebacker Khalil Mack, one of the players to which Fowler often is compared. In Year 1, Mack was dominant against the run but didn’t get to the quarterback as much as you would like for a top-five pick. The Raiders are still very happy with Mack, but if the goal is to put pressure on the quarterback, Beasley might be a better choice.
Fowler gets a lot of credit for being an explosive athlete, but even though he has 15 pounds on Beasley, it would be hard to argue that he’s the better athlete. Beasley was a top performer in every combine event he participated.
Not only did Beasley test well, but he was also an extremely productive college player. In other words, he’s not just a workout warrior. For a team expending a top-five pick on Beasley, that’s an important factor.
When Beasley went up against another top prospect in Cameron Erving from Florida State, he wreaked havoc. That was especially true on third down.
Beasley has routinely demonstrated elite explosiveness, natural bend and the quick-twitch athleticism required to be a top NFL pass-rusher. It doesn’t take a degree in scouting to see how he beats blocks.
Even when he’s not pinning his ears back, Beasley has the athleticism and burst to cause disruption. Beasley’s agility allows him to navigate through traffic at the line of scrimmage when he isn’t getting up field with speed.
Unlike Fowler, Beasley does one thing very well. He does it with explosiveness, agility and technique.
For a team drafting in the top five, Beasley’s impact at the next level is more easily projected. The way Beasley gets after the quarterback would actually fit a team like the Jaguars or Raiders better than Fowler would.
Fowler may end up being too similar to Mack for the Raiders. In Jacksonville, he could replace Chris Clemons almost immediately. Beasley may also fit Washington’s 3-4 defense better than the larger Fowler as a pure pass-rushing outside linebacker.
Both Fowler and Beasley are good players, but as a pass-rusher, Beasley is superior. For teams in the top five looking for a player to get after the quarterback, Beasley is probably the better choice.