One of the key ingredients of a championship team is the ability to pressure the opposing quarterback. The New York Giants wouldn’t have two Super Bowl championships in the past five seasons without an excellent front of four that interrupts some of the best quarterbacks in the game. By contrast, the Patriots simply couldn’t muster the pressure to prevent Eli Manning from calmly leading his team down the field for the winning touchdown in two Super Bowl losses.
The best way to slow down the friendly offenses with today’s pass is to speed up the quarterback’s decision making and not let him get comfortable in the pocket. Al Davis was right when he said the quarterback should go down early and go down hard. The NFL has changed, but harassing the quarterback as the key to a solid defense will never go out of style.
That’s why every team in the NFL yearns for a dangerous pass rusher. The problem is, they are as hard to find as a top quarterback is. A study of NFL drafts from 2005 to 2009 reveals how low the percentage of selecting a quality pass rusher is:
2005 NFL draft: Four quality pass rushers (DeMarcus Ware (99.5 career sacks in 2012), Trent Cole (68 career sacks in 2012), Justin Tuck (45.5 career sacks in 2012), Shawne Merriman (44.5 career sacks) were found in this draft class. Ware and Merriman were first-round picks, but Tuck (third round) and Cole (fifth round) proved to be bargains. Highest-profile mistakes were Erasmus James ( 1st round), David Pollack (1st round, sustained neck injury), Dan Cody (2nd round) and Darryl Blackstock (2nd round).
2006 NFL Draft: Three quality passing running backs (Tamba Hali (53.5 career sacks in 2012), Mario Williams (53 career sacks in 2012) and Elvis Dumervil (52.5 career sacks in 2012) met in this kind of draft. Hali and Williams were 1st. Dumervil proved to be a steal in the Broncos’ fourth round. The biggest mistakes from a rushing point of view were Bobby Carpenter (1st round) and Manny Lawson (1st round). round).
2007 NFL Draft: Two quality passing backs (LaMarr Woodley (48 career sacks going into 2012) and Charles Johnson (30.5 career sacks going into 2012)) found themselves in this draft class. Neither Woodley (second round) nor Johnson (third round) were selected in the first round. The 2007 draft featured a series of rushing passes selected in the first round (Gaines Adams, Jarvis Moss, Quinton Moses and Jamaal Anderson). Anthony Spencer was also a first-round pick in this draft. Spencer shouldn’t be seen as a failure, but he’s been a mediocre pass rusher and more was expected of him.
2008 NFL Draft: Two quality passing backs (Chris Long (30.5 career sacks going into 2012) and Cliff Avril (30 career sacks going into 2012)) found themselves in this draft class. Long was a first-round pick, but Avril made it to the third round. Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey and Lawrence Jackson were the biggest disappointments of the first round.
2009: Three quality pass rushers (Clay Matthews (29.5 career sacks going into 2012), Brian Orakpo (28.5 career sacks going into 2012) and Connor Barwin (15 career sacks going into 2012) met in this class. Draft picks Aaron Curry, Aaron Maybin, Robert Ayers, Everette Brown, David Veikune, Cody Brown and Larry English all left the teams that selected them wanting much more of their investment in the first round.
The 2013 NFL draft could be chock-full of potentially productive pass rushers if several talented youngsters decide to turn pro early. Barkevious Mingo (LSU, Junior), Sam Montgomery (LSU, Junior), William Gholston (Michigan State, Junior), Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas, Junior), Michael Buchanan (Illinois, Junior), Brandon Jenkins (Florida State. Senior), Alex Okafor (Texas, Senior), Margus Hunt (SMU, Senior), Corey Lemonier (Auburn, Junior), John Simon (Ohio State, Senior), Jarvis Jones (Georgia, Junior) and Sean Porter (Texas A&M, Senior) ) will all be closely watched by NFL scouts this season.
However, as previous drafts indicated, there will be more disappointments than the productive NFL pass-rushers in this group. It takes a rare combination of speed, quickness, power, intensity and instincts to be a quality pass rusher at the highest level in the game. It is also difficult to identify which skills will translate to professionals. Sometimes the bread and butter move of a collegiate pass rusher is less effective in the NFL and they have no other way to beat a professional offensive tackle. The reality is that probably only four (or 25%) of the dozen prominent pass rushers potentially available in the 2013 draft will meet the team that selects them. Teams that can identify the winners will be rewarded with a key piece for the championship roster.