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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Purdue's Kerrigan sacks the try-hard stereotypes


Terrelle Pryor is fast. The Ohio State quarterback usually runs away from defenders, even swift defensive backs, with his long stride. He has been timed in the 40 under 4.4 seconds, which is blazing fast. That's why one play of the many that I watched when studying Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan caught my eye. Terrelle Pryor didn't run away from him. Kerrigan actually closed on him.

That's big-time speed for a 6-foot-3, 267-pound defensive end. And it's also why any comparison of Kerrigan to Aaron Kampman and Kyle Vanden Bosch, two NFL defensive ends, does him a disservice. I think Kerrigan is compared to those defensive ends for one reason: Like them, he's white. The NFL Draft stereotypes are almost never fair. Yet we hear them every year heading into the draft. This year, Cam Newton is almost always compared to Vince Young, in part because both are black quarterbacks who move around. Unfair. They aren't as alike as you might think.

Last year, receiver Jordan Shipley, coming out of Texas, was often compared to New England's Wes Welker, even though Shipley ran much faster. I actually asked Shipley, who just finished his rookie season with the Bengals, his thoughts about the comparison. He wanted no part of that talk. It's a touchy subject for sure, but let's be real: Labeling and comparing a player based on race happens.

"Comparing current NFL players to current college players is very common, especially in the spring as things intensify for the draft," one NFL general manager said. "At least coming out of college, Ryan is a better pass rusher than Aaron and Kyle. I don't see Cam like Vince either. I think you have to be careful to compare players for only one reason."

For Kerrigan, the comparisons usually come with phrases such as try-hard, effort-player, never quits. They also might be costing him money. Speed rushers go in the top-10 of the draft; effort rushers go mid-first round to late-first round. In his mock draft for NFL.com, Pat Kirwan writes that Kerrigan plays with a high motor. Our top-notch guys from NFL DraftScout.com wrote this in their analysis of him: "Hustle pass-rusher; does not have exceptional closing burst."

When they did a comparison of their top 50 players to a current NFL player, guess the player they used for Kerrigan? Vanden Bosch.

The analysis was this: Given the successful career of Vanden Bosch and former Big Ten star Aaron Kampman, it's unlikely Kerrigan -- an underrated athlete who plays with a high-running motor -- will fall out of the first round like Vanden Bosch (second) and Kampman (fifth) did.

At least they said he's an underrated athlete.

Truth is, the kid is plenty athletic. The Pryor play is just one example of why Kerrigan doesn't deserve to be placed into the same bin as those two.

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That play came in 2009, Kerrigan's junior season. Lined up at left end, he was blocked for a moment by Ohio State's left tackle. As Pryor dropped into the pocket, Kerrigan began to beat his man. That led to Pryor scrambling left.

Kerrigan came at him from 10 yards away, closed fast, and nearly tripped up a scrambling Pryor. His dive at his feet just missed.

The stat sheet didn't give Kerrigan credit for much of anything since Pryor began his scramble before Kerrigan flushed him. But it's one play that shows just how explosive Kerrigan can be off the edge.

There are others who displayed his speed, but there are also several examples of his power. In a game against Wisconsin, Kerrigan lines up at left end. At the snap, he engages the tight end and quickly sheds the block. That's where the tackle is waiting. He then bull-rushes the tackle, knocking him back, and sacks Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien. The score at the time: Wisconsin 24, Purdue 0. That's speaks volumes about the kid's drive.

"I feel like I'm a good pass rusher," Kerrigan said. "I can get after the passer. But I'm also athletic enough to drop into coverage and be able to cover tight ends and linebackers."

Some teams think he's athletic enough to play standing up as an outside 3-4 linebacker. I see him as a 4-3 end. To help prepare for a possible transition, Kerrigan spent time working on linebacker drills and did some at the Purdue pro day last week.

Kerrigan ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds at the combine and had a 33-1/2 inch vertical leap at 267 pounds. That's not quite the 40 time that Dwight Freeney put up when he came out, which was 4.48, but it's also faster than many scouts expected and much quicker than the 4.8 that Kampman ran coming out of college.

At Purdue, Kerrigan had 33 1/2 sacks and 14 forced fumbles, which tells you he's the sack-fumble kind of player that good pass rushers need to be.

"Our motto at Purdue was it's not enough just to get the sack or get the tackle, but you wanted to force a fumble and get the ball back for your offense," Kerrigan said. "We really tried to do that every game."

The more I watch this kid, the more I like him. The eye in the sky doesn't lie, and it shows he has the explosive ability to get to the quarterback.

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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