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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

When it comes to making plays, Ingram is best pass rusher in the draft


Sometimes, it's not about height, weight, arm length, finding a position, or any of that stuff when it comes to evaluating a football player. It has to come down to this: Can he make plays? South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram made plays, a lot of them. As the NFL Draft nears -- it begins Thursday -- I wanted to write about Ingram because I've heard so many people and scouts trying to pick him apart. Among the negative checks he's been given: Arms too short.

 Where does he play?

 Not tall enough.

 Not explosive enough.

 Limited starts in college.

Then you pop on the tape and none of it matters, because the tape shows a hard-charging, play-hard, tough, fast defensive player who can play outside with his hand on the ground or standing up. He can even slide inside on third down, having played some defensive tackle at South Carolina.

This is a defensive talent who made plays in the mighty SEC against good football players. He made them as a rush end. He made them as a stand-up linebacker. He made them in coverage. He even made them on special teams, his fake-punt run for a touchdown against Georgia is something you should watch on YouTube.

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Two years ago, I got excited about Jason Pierre-Paul after watching his tape and wrote then that he would be the best non-quarterback from his draft class. At the time, most called him raw and inexperienced, which he was. But the tape showed a relentless player who chased down plays on the backside and had the speed and wingspan to become a force as a pass rusher.

Two years later, Pierre-Paul is considered one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL.

Ingram is a different type of player than Pierre-Paul, but I believe he can become a force as well.

Pierre-Paul had those "wow" plays in the tape I watched from his days at South Florida. Ingram had several on his tapes, too.

A couple plays really stood out. The first came against Vanderbilt last season. Ingram was lined up inside as a down tackle on the guard. At the snap, he spun inside beating the guard, who was letting him go on the screen anyway. As he ran to the quarterback, Ingram read screen and saw the back slip out to Ingram's right. Ingram quickly planted, turned to his right and ran full speed at the back. He caught him and then hogtied him to the ground in a violent way for a 7-yard loss.

The instincts were impressive. The speed to get to the back after recognizing the play was even more so.

A play against Auburn shows he's not only a speed guy. On this play, Ingram was lined up on the right side as a stand-up end. At the snap, he was unblocked. But just as he reacted to the play, a pulling guard blasted him on a trap block, but Ingram stood up the bigger man, shed him, and helped tackle the back for a 2-yard gain.

Later in that game, he is lined up at right end, standing up. The Auburn quarterback took the snap in the shotgun and play-faked a run to Ingram's side, freezing Ingram for a second. The quarterback rolled to his right and was pressured back to the other side by South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor (another top prospect for 2013, by the way).

The quarterback then pulled the ball down, and raced to the left sideline. That's when Ingram started in pursuit, closing on him quickly and then he forced him to get rid of the ball with his left hand as Ingram tried to pull him to the ground near the sideline. That closing speed was truly impressive.

Against Clemson, he was lined up as down tackle on one play. At the snap, he used his hands with great quickness to shed the guard, who looked frozen, and then he quickly closed on Taj Boyd to sack him. It was a bang-bang play that truly showcased Ingram's quick hands and feet.

Later in that game, Ingram was lined up standing over the guard. At the snap, he attacked the guard, throwing him aside with a club move. The back then tried to pick up Ingram, but he bounced off him and the guard was there again as Boyd stepped up to run. As Boyd tried to escape the pocket, Ingram shed the guard for a second time and dropped Boyd for no gain.

Ingram's evaluation is tough because he's played so many positions. But I see him either as a 3-4 outside backer or a 4-3 end. Some scouts question his ability to be a down end because his arms are only 31 and 1/2-inches long and he's 6 1/2 and 264 pounds.

The arm length is almost two inches shorter than the arms of North Carolina's Quinton Coples, the other top end in this draft. But as one scout told me, Jared Allen has arms only a half-inch longer than Ingram's and Kansas City pass rusher Tamba Hali has shorter arms.

In addition to Taylor, the Gamecocks had freshman sensation Jadevon Clowney last season at end. That led to Ingram being used more inside than he was as a rush end, but when he did line up outside he was tough to block.

Ingram has a low center and strong legs, much like Dwight Freeney of the Colts. He isn't as explosive as Freeney, but he does have big-time closing speed. Ingram's best 40 time at the combine was 4.69, the same as Coples. But the 20-yard shuttle times, which show the ability to change directions quickly, give a big edge to Ingram. His best time was 4.18 seconds. Coples' best was 4.80. That's a huge difference.

That's what makes Ingram special, closing speed and the ability to explode after the runner and the quarterback.

That doesn't mean he is without flaws. I think he tries to use his spin moves way too much instead of playing head-up, which voids the hole sometimes for the back. But that can be coached out of him.

I'm not saying he's JPP or Freeney. What I am saying is despite him not looking the part, being short and stocky, Ingram is the best pass rusher in this draft.

More than that, he's one heck of a football player -- no matter where he lines up.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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