2014 NFL Draft Top Pass Rusher Breakdown

April 15, 2014 in Scouting Reports


Jadeveon Clowney

Guys like Jadeveon Clowney don't come around too often. I hadn't previously watched him before studying him for this piece, but I had certainly heard the hype. When you hear people calling him the best pass rushing prospect of all time, you get a certain image in your head of what to expect. But in reality, he's a much more well-rounded player than I could have ever expected. He was almost more dominant against the run than he was rushing the passer.

run d 1a

Clowney lines up over the tight end, but he's going to cut back inside to the B gap between the left tackle and left guard.

run d 1b

He cuts across the face of the tackle so quickly that he's past him before the ball has even been handed off.

run d 1c

Clowney meets the running back head on moments after he's received the hand off.

Clowney spent the majority of his time in the backfield in every game I watched. Nobody was able to block him against the run, some even tried leaving him unblocked and running read option at him.

RO 1a

Clowney is in a similar position, lined up outside the left tackle.

RO 1b

But Clowney is so quick off the snap that he closes the gap between himself and the mesh point before the quarterback has a chance to properly read him.

RO 1c

Clowney attacks the running back, which would normally indicate a keep read for the quarterback, but Clowney is there so quickly that he doesn't have a chance to pull the ball away from the running back without risking a fumble.

RO 1d

The ball looses control of the ball as he's brought to the ground by Clowney, but the officials judged it to be a deliberate forward pass that fell incomplete.

Clowney's film is full of plays just like these that don't show up on the stat-sheet. While he didn't register many sacks this year, he still had a huge impact on the game. Offensive coordinators were forced to game plan around him. They tried to run the ball away from Clowney and then left a tight end or running back (sometimes both) in to chip and help the left tackle block him. Even then, Clowney would provide legitimate pressure that would force the quarterback to scramble away from him or check the ball down before he would have liked to.

He's a truly unique prospect that is rarely available. For me, he is the best player in this draft by far. Only the need for a quarterback should stop the Texans drafting Clowney number one overall. While he might not fit Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme perfectly, they'd find a way to make it work. He's much to talented a prospect to pass on because he might not be an ideal fit for your current scheme.

Khalil Mack

Mack is one of the more versatile players in this draft class. He's probably best suited to the 3-4 outside linebacker position, but could play a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end in the 4-3 in a Von Miller-type role.

Mack offers a variety of pass rushing moves with an arsenal consisting of speed rushes, bull rushes and inside counter moves.

bull 1a

Here, Mack lines up outside the left tackle.

bull 1b

Mack explodes up and into the left tackle, getting underneath him and driving him back. Notice the hand placement from Mack, who gets inside leverage.

bull 1c

Mack drives the tackle back towards the quarterback, who feels the pressure and starts to scramble. Mack stays alert and begins disengaging his block. He spots the quarterback motioning to throw and gets his hand out in the passing lane. The quarterback ends up being forced to throw the ball away thanks to Mack's pressure. It seems like a simple thing, but it shows good awareness from a position that is often all about getting after the quarterback and racking up sack numbers.

Match ups are key in today's NFL. The best pass rushers can line up from either side and get after the quarterback. Mack showed that he can be just as effective rushing from the right side of the line.

right rush 1a

Once again, we can see how Mack gets his hands inside those of the right tackle, giving him all the leverage.

right rush 1b

Mack gets the most out of that leverage, driving the tackle back and keeping him at arms length.

right rush 1c

The quarterback is forced to step up into the pocket after his right tackle was driven back into him. Mack is able to get off the block quickly and pounce inside to register the sack.

Awareness is easily Mack's most attractive quality. He's very aware of what the offense is trying to do and what position he needs to be in to make a play, which isn't always all about rushing the passer.

int 1a

Here, the left tackle attempts to cut-block Mack, clearing the throwing lane for the quarterback to throw a bubble screen. A lot of pass rushers would be caught off-guard by this play as their sole focus is on sacking the quarterback. But Mack sees the cut-block coming, gets his hands on the back of the tackle and his eyes on the quarterback..

int 1b

Mack is able to see the pass the entire way into his hands, making for an easy interception.

int 1c

Mack then outruns both the quarterback and the wide receiver as he takes the interception all the way back for a touchdown.

It's easy to see why Mack has been touted as a top five pick for quite some time now. He's an athletic, versatile weapon that every defensive coordinator would love to have. I'm not sure he'll develop into a 15+ sack per season guy, but I think he could easily average 10-12 and be a much more well-rounded player.

Anthony Barr

Barr stands out as a physical specimen from the moment you see him. At 6'5”, 255 points, Barr is the ideal size for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He displays exceptional burst and closing speed, as well as being a fluid athlete. However, having only recently converted to the outside linebacker position, he is extremely raw when it comes to technique and the intricacies of playing the position.

The reason he's rated so high is because of his athleticism and ability to rush the passer. One thing he can definitely do is run the arc and beat a tackle around the outside with pure speed.

arc 1a

Here, Barr lines up over the left tackle in a two-point stance.

arc 1b

You can see Barr's long reach here as he engages the tackle, keeping him at a distance where he can't land his hands on Barr's body.

arc 1c

Barr gets to the corner too quickly, forcing the tackle to reach and grab for anything he can. He ends up grabbing Barr's facemask, but gets away without the penalty call.

arc 1d

Barr has no problems breaking free of the tackle as he turns the corner in pursuit of the quarterback.

arc 1e

Barr then does an excellent job of getting his hand on the football and stripping it loose.

But outside of running the arc, Barr is very raw as a pass rusher and as a defender. He lacks a variety of effective pass rush moves, which means a tackle can commit to the speed rush without having to worry about him coming back inside.

spin 1a

On this play, Barr attempts a spin move.

spin 1b

He takes the tackle outside, as he would on a speed rush, creating a gap inside between the tackle and guard.

spin 1c

Barr begins to spin back inside.

spin 1d

But coming out of the spin, he doesn't work back inside. Instead, he finds himself in front of the tackle in a similar position to the one he was in before he attempted the spin move.

spin 1e

Barr doesn't have a back up plan and ends up being easily blocked. There's no point in performing the spin move without using it to get back inside. Otherwise it just slows down the rush and makes it easier to block. But the fact he used it shows he is willing to try other moves.

Barr is very much a developmental project at this point, but his physical attributes are rare. He is unreliable against the run and untested dropping into coverage. He has the athletic ability to do both at a high level, but having only played defense for two years, he has a lot of catching up to do. Teams would be wise to follow the career path of Aldon Smith, who was taken seventh overall by the 49ers. They used him as a pass rush specialist while he developed, which allowed him to see time on the field and use his best qualities while hiding his short comings.



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