Getting The Edge: 2012 Pass Rushing Prospects
Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Height: 6056 Weight: 281
Best fit: 3-4 DE
Potential landing spot: Dallas Cowboys (14th overall)
It feels a bit weird mentioning Quinton Coples in an article about edge rushers when that’s not how he’ll be earning his money at the next level. Still, since many consider him into this conversation, it only makes sense to take a closer look at the Tar Heel.
If this were a list about the top edge re-establishers, Coples would be much more at home. He was out of position when lining up at the blindside his senior year at Chapel Hill and is just not a real sack terror – and that’s perfectly fine. His hips just aren’t made to get around the corner and at his size, it’s not a simple task getting small to slip under or around left tackles. If he couldn’t do it in the ACC, it seems unreasonable to think he can do it against NFL blockers.
The player who comes to mind when looking at Coples is Calais Campbell while at Miami. Campbell was a highly rated player entering his final year at Da U but failed to reach expectations and frankly, was also out of position. Fast-forward to the present and Campbell has been a force playing the 3-4 defensive end and is due for a very large pay-day in the near future. Between 7 and 9 sacks (like Campbell) is what one should expect from Coples, but he’ll offer additional utility by batting passes and disrupting the edge – if he’s motivated. A mean Quinton Coples like people saw at the Senior Bowl practices is hard to defend. When he has the mentality of going out there and killing people (his words) he can play like a top 10 pick, but his consistency is the only issue holding him back from that.
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Height: 6014 Weight: 273
Best fit: 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB
Potential landing spot: Buffalo Bills (10th overall)
Courtney Upshaw is a name that many are familiar with by now. When rushing, he extends his hands well, dips his shoulder, and has the ability to get small around the corner. One of the first things that you’ll notice is his motor and mean streak. In fact, on many occasions in Mobile he and the South offensive tackles continued to go at it after the whistle. My favorite trait about Upshaw is his initial punch. Even though he has relatively short arms for an ideal edge rusher, he’ll often use them to set the edge and win the battle early.
Still, Upshaw may never be an elite sack artist it would be nice to see him stick his hands in passing lanes a bit more often. But unreasonable as it seems to expect routine double digit sack seasons, it also seems unreasonable to drop a players stock for that when they’re so good at almost every other facet. Courtney Upshaw steps up in the big games and it’s almost a sure-thing that he’ll be in the NFL for 10+ years.
Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
Height: 6017 Weight: 276
Best fit: All over the place
Potential landing spot: New York Jets (16th overall)
Melvin Ingram is probably one of the biggest anomalies that I’ve come across this draft season. Frankly, I feel he is overrated. Much of his production came surrounded by massive talent while floating around taking advantage of overmatched offensive linemen (mainly guards). In the Georgia game, he was held in check by left tackle Cordy Glenn and even tight end Orson Charles. In the Nebraska game, he was unable to get around Jermarcus Hardrick – a senior left tackle who you probably just heard of. But the big plays (sacks, fake punt touchdowns, interceptions, onside kick recoveries) give off the misleading box score illusion that Ingram is a stud.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like Ingram. Simply put, he’s a gamer and his instincts are better than any edge rushing candidate in this draft. His ability to sniff out the screen or bootleg is linebacker-esque. Still, I see him as a 2nd round pick who will go earlier due to the importance of getting to the quarterback. His ability to be a productive rusher at times will be entirely dependent on his first move – and if that doesn’t work then he’s done for. The fact that he’s a jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none can be seen as both a positive and a negative. If a team drafts Melvin Ingram thinking that he’s going to stay at right defensive end, get 10+ sacks, and make multiple Pro Bowls then they’re doing it wrong. But in a league where matchups can make all the difference, it’s a torturous thought wondering just what the outcome will be. My gut tells me that the reason he’s ranked so highly by many is more about what they want him to be and not quite what he is.
Nick Perry, Southern California
Height (listed): 6030 Weight: 250
Best fit: 4-3 RDE
Potential landing spot: Cleveland Browns (22nd overall)
Nick Perry was not exceeding productive for most of his career at USC but began to show signs of his overall talent this past year. He is athletic, has good hips, and a solid motor. He on several occasions flashed the ability to get to the QB but does not always capitalize. His repertoire consists of mainly a straight bull-rush or just trying to beat his blocker around the corner. There wasn’t much creativity and often as soon as the ball is snapped, you know which is coming. His hand placement can use work and I would like to see more violence in them.
Injuries hobbled the growth of Perry for much of his career at South California but the skills are clearly there. In most drafts he would likely be a 2nd round pick but due to the relative weakness at the position and priority on getting to the QB, Perry could be off the board in the 1st round with good offseason workouts.
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
Height (listed): 6040 Weight: 265
Best fit: 4-3 RDE
Potential landing spot: Jacksonville Jaguars (39th overall)
Whitney Mercilus came out of relative obscurity to be the most productive defensive end in college football. As a result, I was very motivated to do more film study on the Akron, Ohio native. What I found was a bit mixed.
His technique (like pretty much every college player) can use work, as he operates a bit too upright for the NFL. As a result, he is knocked off balance by blockers rather easily, especially when contacted from the sides. He has a natural stance but can sometimes be vulnerable to getting sealed off if he doesn’t explode out of it. His instincts are a bit of a work in progress and he can have difficulty reading the flow of a play and could sometimes bite too hard on playfakes. When double teamed, Mercilus has a high amount of difficulty doing anything and can also struggle to disengage in just one on ones – especially when he lets them in on his pads (which, as a result of being upright, are much easier to grab at).
To me, Mercilus is a middle 2nd round pick. His being a bit of a one-year wonder is worrisome but the thing to like most about him is that when he does get to the quarterback, he goes for the strip. That’s something which not many college players will do but Mercilus does with relative ease. I’ll be very interested in how he looks in workouts.
Vinny Curry, Marshall
Height: 6030 Weight: 265
Best fit: 4-3 RDE
Potential landing spot: Indianapolis Colts (65th overall)
One of the first things that I noticed about Curry is that he’s not really explosive. His get-off of the line is rather average. The hand placement/technique is sound and when Curry does get around offensive tackles, he does a great job of shielding them with his body – much like a wide receiver does when they get a step on a cornerback. His pursuit, closing speed, and change of direction are limited by his lack of elite athleticism.
After meeting Curry, he’s very humble and comes off as coachable – which would explain why his technique is rather refined for someone his age. The phrase that I would use to describe Curry is efficient. His chances of flat-out busting seem slim but his chances are superstardom are equally slim. I actually think that with an extra 15 pounds Curry may be better off as a 3-technique defensive tackle but that’s probably crazy-talk.
Cam Johnson, Virginia
Height: 6036 Weight: 267
Best fit: 3-4 OLB
Potential landing spot: Green Bay Packers (91th overall)
I had not really taken an interest in Cam Johnson until the Senior Bowl, when Senio Kelemete said that he was the best player he matched up against. He pointed to his first step and that’s the first thing that you notice about Johnson. He gets off the line in a hurry and is explosive off of the edge. His stop and go ability lends itself nicely to the 3-4 defense, which Virginia actually played last season before switching to a 4-3.
Still, there are several things with Johnson that will keep him from coming off the board early – aside from injury (or who knows, maybe some of these things are due to injury). He can get pushed around a bit, especially after letting linemen in on his pads which he can sometimes do. He doesn’t fight through blocks so well either and needs to work on lower body strength. His initial punch wasn’t showcased much so it’s tough to tell if it’s just not there or not utilized. Dropping in coverage, he could sometimes lock in on one man and lose peripheral vision. A mean streak is also something that I would like to see more of from Johnson. To me he is a 3rd/4th rounder but it’s so hard to judge a player through injury that it’s hard to be certain of what you’re looking at. Also, a sickle-cell condition will keep Johnson from being an every down type of player – or even an any-down type of player somewhere like Denver.
Chandler Jones, Syracuse
Height (listed): 6050 Weight: 265
Best fit: 4-3 DE
Potential landing spot: New England Patriots (63rd overall)
Chandler Jones has been an interest of mine ever since finding out that his brothers are UFC fight Jon “Bones” Jones and Ravens DT Arthur Jones. Though hamstrung by injury for much of his stay at Syracuse, you can see that the natural talent is there.
Jones is raw to say the least though. When he runs, he swings around his arms – almost to the point where it is wasted energy. At times, he can even give away an impending bull-rush by tilting his head back before making contact with the linemen. This can’t be too smart but is likely correctable. His lower body needs to add strength but he can use his long arms to both get into passing lanes and keep blockers from getting a handful of jersey. Questions about his mean streak do creep into my head and he’s much more of a wrap-up tackler than he is the normal take the ball-carrier’s head off type. While it’s tough to see just his production making him a 2nd round pick, his potential could allow him to creep in. When all is said and done, Jones could become the steal of the draft with his Aldon Smith-like skillset, but there’s just not enough evidence to be sure at this point.
Andre Branch, Clemson
Height (listed): 6050 Weight: 260
Best fit: 3-4 OLB or situational 4-3 DE
Potential landing spot: San Diego Chargers (49th overall)
When looking at edge rushers in this draft, Andre Branch always seems to catch my eye. He played mostly at end in the 4-3 defense but would occasionally stand up at an outside linebacker spot. In the occasional drop back in coverage, he is a bit clunky and needs work in that department. Still, when rushing he does a nice job at 6’5 of dipping his shoulder under tackles and getting around the corner. He does have some inconsistence tendencies out of his stance, as the explosion isn’t always there and can sometimes studder-step rather than just getting upfield. Working on extending his hands to keep space between he and blockers will also be something to work on too.
Andre Branch carries himself with a swagger, has a mean streak, and clearly likes to hit – afterall, not many of the guys on this list will try to lack out a 300 pound offensive linemen downfield behind the play. Middle 2nd round sounds about right for him.
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Height (listed): 6’3 Weight: 245
Best fit: Situation pass rusher
Potential landing spot: Chicago Bears (80th overall)
Bruuuuuuuce Irvin is probably one of the most exciting/aggravating pass rushers in this class to watch. He was drastically out of position playing the 5-technique in the West Virginia 3-3-5 but on pass rushing downs always seemed to be a menace. He has the athleticism to embarrass offensive tackles at times, with a fake bull-rush inside move being one of his favorites. Still, he’s somewhat of a one-trick pony. When he’s in the game on non-pass rushing downs, he can sometimes be manhandled and could honestly be a liability on red-zone defense. He’s also not much of a tackler but has the athleticism to stop and go to hope his teammates can clean up for him.
Irvin in the NFL might end up being someone completely different from his last season at West Virginia, which didn’t even earn him a Senior Bowl invite. With the right coaching, I would keep an eye on this Mountaineer and look for him to come off the board in the 3rd round. Even a situational pass rusher can have a huge impact.