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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outside Rushers, Outside #9

I’ve pushed the ideal of a true outside rusher – a guy to press the edge.  A guy that will crash the outside.  Other criteria – size (250-260), ability to set the edge (for the run)/gap integrity (“staying at home”)
Greg Hardy does a fine job most downs, but not unlike his moods, he’s up and down.  He can provide as much pressure as Charles Johnson at times, and has the size to play the run well.  He excelled at batting passes at the line, the only player since Julius Peppers to do as well.   But, he wears down with too many snaps – which may have been partly a matter of it being his first full season starting – and while he can set the edge well, he often leaves contain and can get suckered.  He doesn’t have the discipline that many of the other guys his size in the last few years have – Johnson, Peppers, Tyler Brayton were all very good at it, Mike Rucker was about as good as I’ve ever seen at it.  
The ideal solution would’ve been a veteran player who can play the run for 20-25 snaps at a cheap rate, but the team didn’t go after any veteran DL.  So an alternate solution to this, that doesn’t directly replace Hardy fulltime, is a versatile player who can play the OLB in the 3-4 or at end.  Which would mean Hardy takes more snaps in base, and would play the 5 technique inside/3 technique in nickel, and that rusher would play some end, stand up in nickel, and stand in the 3-4.  It’s still somewhat duplicative, but not completely.   The ideal for that is Melvin Ingram, who has immense versatility, though I do lament that there isn’t that elite 250 lb guy this year (Demarcus Ware, Brian Orakpo, Dwight Freeney, etc).  Ingram isn’t that elite player, but he’s a step below.  Outside of the top few, that’s what’ll be available – really good players.

But, as Ingram may be a few spots value-wise below Carolina’s pick, and in my opinion DE could very well use a patch instead of a fix, what else is out there?

Consider with all of these players – any talk of 3-4 is one-gap. You’re just an outside rusher.  The hand on the ground, hand off the ground bit is more or less interchangeable in this defense and is just window dressing.  A rusher outside is a rusher outside, and the Wade Phillips part of this defense has regularly taken guys who might not play a great contain OLB or coverage OLB, and continued to push them to rush 90+% of the time.  Don’t just consider Mario Williams, consider the Dallas OLBs and the work spanning both the Phillips and Rivera Chargers.  Rivera’s work there showed a massive amount of four-man looks, even if one or two players stood.

This isn't a comprensive list, but some guys that have caught my eye over time.

Trade down – picks 16-25
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama – he has the size, and sets the edge.  He’s fallen because he’s not showing quite as much OLB athleticism in space, and some don’t feel he’s a 4-3 end with his hand on the ground.  I think he can do either, and looking for him to be a drop OLB might be unrealistic, but in Steve Spagnuolo’s version of this defense, he played Matthias Kiwanuka at OLB and the team hasn’t replaced him with a smaller SLB over time.  So, in a pinch, could you play Upshaw at SLB in a 4-3, over the TE and still blitzing much of the time?  Sure.

Whitney Mercilus, Illinois - prototype end fits the bill.  He’s a more typical 260 lb end than a tweener, but he has the outside rush down.  He's only had one year of top production, but it was stellar.  He can add more size than most of the guys on this list.

Nick Perry, USC – Perry’s got tons of size, and like Upshaw is a natural standing linebacker.  He has all the natural skills, but since he's a tweener, he'll have to find the experience to play pro tackles against the run.  He's explosive and fast getting into his blocker, but will need more moves to keep from getting washed out of the play.

Our 2nd round pick (40) – player range 30-45
Bruce Irvin, West Virginia – he’s your more typical 3-4 OLB. He's yet to show he's a football player - he's just shown rush ability - and is the first light guy (at 240).  Has shown to be a bit selfish and might have to learn to play within a system. 

Vinny Curry, Marshall – Curry is an average athlete that has, what seems, a pretty ready set of skills already.  He has a number of moves, and when he gets to the edge, he turns the corner sharply.  But his upside is lower than most of the guys ahead of him.

Shea McClellin,  Boise St - Somewhat of a later riser, the 6'3, 258 lb OLB has done it all, not unlike what you'd expect out of a Ron Rivera rusher.  He's rushed standing, or with his hand on the ground, or playing from an eagled LB spot.  He has experience dropping into coverage.  But, he's not going to add much weight, and won't be setting the edge at a high level from DE.

Later rounds – 3-4-5th or later (approximate)
Kyle Wilber, Wake Forest - mostly a 3-4 OLB, he's played in both but won't have end size.  If you're looking for a smart 3-4 OLB in later rounds, he's a sleeper. 

Delano Johnson, Bowie St - obviously, a small school prospect.  At 6'4, 267, he's got the physical tools to play in the league, but he has to work hard to do it.  He's going to excite whoever gets him, on paper.

Brett Roy, Nevada - the Jarrett Johnson of this list.  A stout 280 lbs, he's nonetheless a linebacker by trade,  and if you use him at OLB, will probably set the edge very well.  He uses his hands well, and if he keeps his base under him, he could be as good a contain defender as you could expect out of an OLB.  He doesn't have experience playing end, and he doesn't rush the passer that well.  But, Johnson was a part of some of the better defenses of the last few years, and will make $5 million in the 3-4 version of this defense in San Diego.

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