Prospect tracker update & focus on defense

I’ve updated the prospect tracker with all this weekend’s stats. I wanted to have a look at the defense this week and see how the top prospects are performing.

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.


  1. Matt

    I must say that I really like Ryan Kerrigan and Von Miller, but I would want no part of them for the Seahawks. After watching them both, (to me) they scream great college player that can’t translate to the NFL (ie Aaron Maybin type).

    Kerrigan is a high energy, over-achieving guy who when I’ve seen him, simply lacks the athleticism to be a consistent pass rushing factor in the NFL. Once again, this is all my personal opinion from what I’ve seen. He looks like a poor man’s Clay Matthews with better size (though not as functional). Matthews is a high tempo type of workman, but he also has extremely good athleticism and was very versatile coming out of SC. For my taste, Kerrigan is just too much of a tweener. A little too big for the Leo (weight wise) and not stout enough to play a Red Bryant type role.

    Miller is fun to watch and has a lot of athleticism, but his size is a legitimate concern and really puts him into a no man’s land in regards to what position does he play. He’s still undersized for a 3-4 Rush LBer, and he’s definitely way to light to play the Leo. Obviously the Leo gives up some support in the run, but I think Miller would be a complete liability in this regard. I love his athleticism, but to me he’s just way too light to be a consistent threat in the NFL. And, if he does gain weight for the combine, how does that affect his speed? A la, Aaron Maybin.

    Now, I absolutely love Bowers and Houston. I think both of their games translate well to what we would like. Bowers is not nearly as big as Red, but he’s far more athletic while being stout against the run. I do think Bowers is one of those rare college DEs that excels at pass rush, while being good in run support. I would say he’s similar to Derrick Morgan from last year, just dial everything up a notch (size, athleticism, pass rush, run stop). We have no chance at getting him, but he’s the only true 4-3 DE I would want in the first round.

    Houston looks like a slightly less athletic Chris Clemons, but also looks far more physical. Not to mention, I like the fact that Houston has done what he has done against the SEC, which is just on another level talent wise, in the trenches.

    Now, the problem is, how valuable is the Leo? And I mean in the sense of how hard is it to find them? I don’t think you need to spend a first or second round pick on that type of guy. In a perfect world, you lock up Clemons for a few years and draft a tweener DE/OLB (preferably 6’3″, 250 +) and you let him develop. I think you do the same for Red’s position, where you find a very athletic big body, who can also develop behind Red.

    The nice part is, I don’t think you need to spend high picks on these types of players. I think this may be the quickest way to gain depth while prepping future starters. The nature of Defensive End is very intriguing . Everybody wants the next Julius Peppers, but the changing of college football these days (spreads), is making it much harder to find that type of DE. This is one of the many reasons I love PC’s defensive system. In one off season, they unearthed Bryant and Clemons, who have really changed the outlook of the pass rush and run stop from year’s past. I’m not sure how the stats line up, but it’s apparent when watching a game, that we have generated far more pass rush this year.

    Apologies for the novel, but I think this notion (as you’ve stated many times Rob), that you need to spend a high pick on a DE to get sacks, is just misleading. I think it’s more about targeting the right guy for your system and letting him grow and learn under a guy that’s already doing it. So let’s unearth the next Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, and have them slowly develop behind these guys.

    • Matt

      It’s like the Belichick model of building depth. You find guys that fit the mold you want, and usually you don’t have to pay a premium for them because they are lacking something in a traditional sense (size, speed, tweeners). Just look at all the 2nd – 4th rounders the Pats have spent on players who just seem to step in when the older guys are run out of town. Obviously it’s easier said than done, but it’s really hard to find the perfect all around player at a position. The Patrick Willis and Julius Peppers of the world are awfully tough to find. So, why not just keep loading up on guys who seem to work in your system, even if they don’t fit the traditional mode of that role.

  2. trrrroy

    I didn’t realize that Von Miller was that small. Originally I thought he’d be a good Leo candidate, but he may be a bit too tiny to fit that role.

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