Three potential first round picks have reached double digit sacks already.
Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) collected his 14th of the season in a narrow defeat to Florida State – and added his first career interception too. Bowers has had a breakthrough year combining excellent size (6’4″ 280lbs) with freakish agility. Although Andrew Luck has almost certainly guaranteed his place as next April #1 overall pick – I don’t have another prospect ranked higher than Clemson’s star defensive end.
Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue) plays with a high motor, relentless style. He’s got an adequate if not elite burst off the edge but he does a good job winning one-on-one battles against offensive lineman, driving them into the backfield for consistent pressure. He absolutely destroyed Michigan on Saturday collecting four sacks – taking him to 12 for the year (matching his 2009 production). He was given a third-round grade by the draft committee last year but two-years of solid production has pushed him into late first round consideration.
Justin Houston (OLB, Georgia) is a lighter, quicker prospect (6’3″, 258lbs) who could be a potential LEO rusher. He flew under the radar earlier in the year but his eleven sacks in 2010 leads the SEC. When you combine it with seven more sacks in his sophomore year and two as a freshman – that’s a solid college career against tough opponents.
All three will fit into different roles. Bowers could be used in either 4-3 or 3-4 schemes. His size and overall power would be welcome as a power end in a 4-3 or five technique in a 3-4. His pass rushing ability, agility and speed equally makes him an interesting fit in space.
Kerrigan equally has some value in both schemes. Some see him as a pure 4-3 fit rushing off the edge as a RE. Certainly his relentless stlye would be a logical fit there. His size (6’4″, 265lbs) however would be better suited to an OLB prospect in the 4-3. Teams will have to weigh that up, consider if he’s able to add size or not. He reminds me a little bit of Brandon Graham last year – who went 13th overall to Philadelphia (a 4-3 team). At 6’1″ and 268lbs Graham was under sized, but convinced many he could fit in any scheme. His stock was sufficiently boosted with a superb Senior Bowl appearances. Kerrigan will get a similar opportunity.
Houston does line up in a front four for Georgia and shows good initial burst and an ability to beat his man around the edge. He doesn’t have a great repertoire and he relies on quicks for success, but he has a knack of getting to the QB. Teams who use a 3-4 scheme will want to test his coverage skills and we’ll see if he takes some linebacker drills at the combine should he declare. He’d be a very good fit in Seattle’s LEO position – he’s almost identical in size to Chris Clemons (four pounds heavier and the same height).
Production across the board is impressive, particularly from interior defensive lineman. Drake Nevis (6), Nick Fairley (9), Stephen Paea (5), Jurrell Casey (4) and Jared Crick (7) have been amongst the sacks. The five technique position has grown in importance withregard the draft – Allen Bailey (7) and Cameron Jordan (6) could both surge up draft boards in the same way Tyson Jackson did. Marcell Dareus (three sacks) could also receive looks at that position.
Von Miller (DE, Texas A&M) started the year slowly as he battled injury. It took him five games to record a sack this year, after collecting 17 last year. The chart shows his recent return to form (and health) with six sacks in his last six games since then. I’m still concerned about his size (6’3″, 238lbs) and a switch to linebacker may be likely.