In this era of the NFL when quarterbacks are breaking passing records almost every week and 4,500 yards passing is no longer a feat for the elite to achieve, defenses are having to adapt to the changes as well.
One of the most important weapons a defense can possess in this ‘pass happy’-era is an elite pass rusher that can get to the quarterback and force him to make mistakes. This doesn’t necessarily mean sacks (but those will help), it can also include hits and pressures that can cause the quarterback to make a bad throw which could then be picked off by the secondary.
The 2014 NFL Draft has a number of excellent pass rushers who could eventually replace the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Terrell Suggs as the new breed 0f elite pass rushers to give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
So, without much further ado, here at the top five pass rushing prospects who are entering the 2014 NFL Draft.
1. Jadeveon Clowney – DE, South Carolina Gamecocks (6-6, 273lb)
Jadeveon Clowney is a physical freak. Bigger, stronger and faster than pretty much everyone he plays against Clowney has been widely considered the best pass rusher in college football for some time. He has all the traits and skills to be the next great pass rusher in the NFL.
The junior from Rock Hill, South Carolina is expected to be a top three pick in the draft come May. Crazy as it sounds but he may even go number one overall. The Houston Texans currently hold the number one overall pick, can you imagine J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney on the same team? The NFL would have to think up a whole new bunch of rules to protect quarterbacks if that happened!
Clowney’s 2013 season wasn’t so good as his 2012 one, only racking up three sacks compared to 13.0 he managed in 2012. But a lot of this is more to do with him being double-teamed by opposing offensive lines due to his 2012 breakout year. Even the best NFL pass rushers struggle against double-team units.
2. Anthony Barr – OLB, UCLA Bruins (6-4, 248lbs)
If Jadeveon Clowney is the best pass rusher overall in the draft class, then Anthony Barr is easily the second best overall and the best outside linebacker prospect. Barr played his college football in the PAC-12 which isn’t known for it’s defensive prowess.
Like Clowney, and also Dion Jordan from the 2013 Draft (third overall to the Dolphins after they traded up), Barr is an athletic freak who relies heavily on his size and athleticism to make his plays – which is one of his main weaknesses.
One thing that separates Barr from everyone else on this list is that he originally started off as a running back for UCLA. This is where he gets his athleticism. He’s had only one year at linebacker but he’salready established himself as one of the best prospects in the draft.
Barr will be a top five pick. NFL teams love athleticism and speed. That’s a big reason why the Miami Dolphins traded up in 2012 for Dion Jordan. Unlike Jordan however, Barr has the potential to be one of the next great pass rushers.
3. Khalil Mack – OLB, Buffalo Bulls (6-3, 248lbs)
Khalil Mack plays in the WAC. The Western America Conference has probably never been a power house like the SEC are now, or the Big Ten were in the past. But coming from a small school and playing in a weaker conference shouldn’t be a reason to underestimate a player.
In fact, playing in a smaller conference can sometimes benefit a player as they often slide under the radar as the big names in the big conferences take all the attention.
Mack is rated as the second best outside linebacker in the Draft, behind Barr. Mack is an all around pass rusher who can also cover. He’s tied for first place in the NCAA record books for most tackles for loss with 75. He holds the NCAA record for forced fumbles with 16.
Mack will easily be a top ten pick and could even go before Anthony Barr in the same way Eric Fisher went before the big name Luke Joeckel in 2013.
4. Vic Beasley, DE- Clemson Tigers (6-3, 225lbs)
The first thing you notice about Vic Beasley is his size. He’s very light and skinny for a defensive end, even in a 4-3 scheme in the NFL he will be overwhelmed by heavier offensive linemen. If he can manage to bulk up and put around 10lbs of extra weight on his frame he’ll find it easier to switch to an outside linebacker.
Beasley is quick off the line which allows him to beat the slower offensive tackles he’s up against. He uses his size to slip between gaps and get in the quarterbacks face – whis is exactly what a pass rsher is supposed to do. At defensive end for Clemson, Beasley was productive racking up 20.0 sacks and 27.0 tackles for loss in three seasons.
Beasley was given a second round grade by the NFL, but this doesn’t really mean anything. He could easily go in the first round, somewhere in the mid-to-late first would be my guess. He’s a talented player who could make his new team very happy.
5. Kyle Van Noy, OLB – Brigham Young Cougars (6-3, 245lbs)
Now, I don’t care where Van Noy is ranked in pre-draft lists. I’ve had it on good authority, a big BYU fan, that Kyle Van Noy is star of the future. The same fan predicted that Ezekiel Ansah would go in the first round of the 2013 draft long before anyone else was talking about him and he was considered a fourth round pick. Ansah went to the Detroit Lions with the fifth overall pick.
Van Noy will probably not go as high as his Cougar team mate but he definitely will be a first round pick.I use the word ‘probably’ and not definitely as we are still n January and there’s a lot of time between now and the Draft in May. Draft stock rises and falls like the tide on a beach.
Van Noy will be a great player at the next level of the NFL. He’s quick off the line and has great athleticism. If he has one flaw it’s his slowness when being confronted in a one-on-one situation.