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Teams with pass-rush need not helped by edge-thin draft class


Projected as a second-round pick, Vinny Curry had 24 sacks in 45 games at Marshall. (US Presswire)  
Projected as a second-round pick, Vinny Curry had 24 sacks in 45 games at Marshall. (US Presswire)  

Finding a quarterback in a draft for a team that needs one is the hardest question to answer. Finding a guy that can rush the passer and actually get there for a sack is clearly second hardest.

The number of teams looking for an edge rusher is basically half the league every year and this year is no exception. If your favorite team is looking at the draft for a premier proven pass rusher they know it isn't a strong or deep draft.

Sacks aren't everything but they sure can be an indicator of edge-rushing skills. Rarely do college players step up into the NFL and increase their sack production. NFL quarterbacks get rid of the ball quicker, offensive tackles aren't fooled by "one trick pony" pass rushers and unless coaches have a dominant rusher on the opposite side, rookies can struggle.

Tough going solo
Most prolific pass rushers in 2012 draft class
PlayerSchoolSolo sacksGamesRound
Vinny CurryMarshall24452
Julian MillerW. Virginia24525
Jack BequetteArkansas22484
Quinton CoplesN. Carolina22511
Bruce IrvinW. Virginia22263
Brandon LindseyPittsburgh22404
Scott SolomonRice22477
Nick PerryS. California21371
Adrian RobinsonTemple20507

Ask yourself one simple question about this draft class. How many guys even have 20 solo college sacks to their credit at major college programs? The answer is nine. Consider my Sirius Radio partner, Tim Ryan. He had 20 sacks in 12 games his senior year at Southern California and was a third-round pick but often says "I had zero sacks my rookie year, that's how tough the transition was." You have to wonder how many drafted edge rushers are going to satisfy teams with a desperate need.

Maybe Buffalo Bills general manager Buddy Nix realized that when he studied the draft class and instead signed Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. He got two veterans that have done it in the NFL. In 2011, Williams had five sacks in five games and Anderson had 10 in 16 games.

Of course there are some other very intriguing men with pass-rush skills: Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch, Jared Crick, Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Shea McClellin, Lavonte David, Cam Johnson. But the question, when you look at these players: Is there a 10-plus sack guy as a rookie in the group? The 12 teams looking for a "now" pass rusher in this draft are counting on finding that player.

There's always so much talk about pass rushers that can disrupt the pocket, push the pocket, force a hurry, which is all great but getting the passer on the ground with the ball in his hand is what every team is after all the time. Where will the Falcons, Ravens, Panthers, Bears, Packers, Jaguars, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets and Seahawks go in this draft to get the right guy? What will the Colts do if the big experiment of standing Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney struggles? What will the Texans do to find a third pass rusher now that Williams is gone? Say what you want about Cleveland's decision to sign Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker to help the edge rush, they weren't taking a chance on down-the-line picks after studying this draft class.

Finally, one defensive coordinator said to me that "There's a couple of guys, very few that can come in and rush an NFL QB in this draft and the problem is everyone knows who they are so you better take one early."

The more I think about the problem of finding an edge rusher the more I am intrigued by players like Vinny Curry, McClellin and even Bruce Irvin -- guys who could be had after the first round and who might have the skill to get to the QB.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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