The rarest find in any NFL draft is a guarantee.
Before spread offenses ruled the college football landscape, an offensive lineman who had started at least 45 college games was the closest and NFL front office could come to finding a sure thing. Now, offensive linemen from spread offenses in college are, almost universally, considered projects.
Or as the Denver Broncos chief football decision-maker, John Elway, said at the scouting combine: "That’s the hard part any more, that they’re not as ready when they come out of college. The game is so much different."
So, say hello to the new boss and watch the edge rushers race up the draft board. Because scouts, personnel executives and many coaches in the NFL believe the proven sack artists in almost any shape, size or 40-yard dash times, have the skills that translate quickly and -- perhaps most importantly -- reliably.
"Young guys who have that knack, that something, to get the quarterback can do it in the pros," said Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, a member of the 100-sack club in the NFL. "They have to develop their games, their counter moves and everything, but those guys who know how to win that battle and get the quarterback can do it in the league if they do the work. But they can contribute right away. Look at Von."
The Broncos made Von Miller the second pick of the 2011 draft and he was the first player Elway selected in his current role. At 6-foot-2 5/8-inches tall and 246 pounds at the 2011 scouting combine, Miller did not have the prototypical size of an edge rusher.
But he has rare flexibility, quickness and creates power for a player his size because of his ability to create leverage against bigger players. He also had 33 sacks in his college career, including 17 as a junior and 10.5 as a senior.
Those skills translated into a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate who has had at least 11 sacks in five of his six seasons -- 73.5 in his career.
Then there’s Elvis Dumervil, who has been one of the leading examples how a player’s ability to create sacks can even outweigh the traditional measurables at the position. Dumervil entered the 2010 draft at 5-11 3/8, 257 pounds, which was considered too short to be an NFL defensive linemen.
But Dumervil, with quality balance, a big wingspan to create space with the offensive lineman, and that "it" factor, has done nothing but sack quarterbacks at every level.
He had 78 in his prep career, including 30 in both his junior and senior seasons. He had 10 sacks as a junior at Louisville and 20 as a senior. Dumervil, who was just released by Baltimore, has two 17-sack seasons in the NFL, 99 for his career.
"Those things do translate," Elway has said. "Guys who get the quarterback transition to the league."
Pick a year, any year and you'll find them. Vic Beasley Jr.'s 13 sacks at Clemson in 2013, nine in 2014, were a preview -- even with his struggles as a rookie with four sacks in 2015 -- to his league-leading total (15.5) this past season for Atlanta.
Shaquil Barrett was missing some of the workout numbers after his 12 sacks at Colorado State in 2013. The Broncos signed him as an undrafted rookie, and after a stint on the practice squad, he has continued to carve out prime playing time in one of the best pass-rush groups in the NFL. And it doesn’t always matter when the pass rush light goes on.
After one sack in each of his first two seasons at Illinois, Whitney Mercilus had 16 sacks for the Illini in 2011. Despite having started just one season in college, that glimpse of a pass-rusher in waiting was enough to make him a first-round pick by Houston, where he’s had a 12-sack season among his 37.5 over five seasons.
Every season there are players a tick slow on the stopwatch, not quite tall enough or explosive enough. But on the game video they get the quarterback, week after week, game after game.
Or as Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has said: "Pass-rushers are pass-rushers, some guys just get there -- hands, speed, leverage, instinct, planning -- and if they get there in college, a lot of times those guys get there in the NFL."
Which is why this year’s deep class of pass-rushers -- Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen -- could all be top-10 picks.
They are disruptive players in the defensive front, they get to the quarterback and they are, in the transition from today’s college football to today’s NFL, the most ready to play. So much so, Garrett could be at the top of the board when Cleveland picks at No. 1.
"I feel like I’m the best player in the draft," Garrett said. " ... I feel like I’m a playmaker, so I’m not going to have to worry about that. I feel like I’m going to bring some work ethic into practice and into the weight room that will change things around (in Cleveland), and maybe be a voice of leadership that can help swing things."
And then there’s McKinley: "I'm here to get the quarterback. The league now is a passing league. They need young guys who can get to the quarterback, and I feel I'm the best pass-rusher in this draft class to do that."
McKinley had shoulder surgery after the combine, and it’s doubtful any team whose medical staff gives any kind of recommendation would be dissuaded from taking a potential team sack leader.
"I feel like I'm the best pass-rusher in this class overall," McKinley said. "One year doesn't determine if you're the best pass-rusher. Ten-plus years determine who's the best pass-rusher. Just because I'm getting this surgery ... doesn't mean I'm not going to be the best pass-rusher, even if I don't play my rookie year. If I get 10-plus sacks my second year, third year, fourth year, fifth year, sixth year, etc..., etc..., etc..., I'm proving right there I'm the best pass-rusher."
And if history repeats itself, they will all get the chance to prove who’s right.