<
>

NFL draft offers pass-rush prospects

As passing becomes increasingly important for NFL offenses, pressuring quarterbacks has become equally important for NFL defenses.

This year’s draft offers some elite prospects in this area. Five defensive ends and outside linebackers are among the top 15 players, according to Scouts, Inc. In Todd McShay’s Mock Draft 4.0

Below, we break down the strengths of those three highest-rated players: Leonard Williams, Dante Fowler Jr. and Randy Gregory.

Leonard Williams

Combine comparison: Gerald McCoy, Muhammad Wilkerson

Williams is perhaps the most physically gifted defensive end prospect this year. He has produced regardless of where he has lined up along the defensive line. Of his seven sacks last season, 3.5 came when he lined up on the edge, and 3.5 came when he lined up in the middle as a defensive tackle.

He faced a double-team on three of his seven sacks last season, second behind Markus Golden for most such sacks among top-15 defensive line prospects ranked by Scouts, Inc.

Dante Fowler Jr.

Combine comparison: Bjoern Werner, Robert Quinn

Fowler had 8.5 sacks last season compared with 3.5 in 2013. Moreover, Fowler’s 37 pressures (hurries and knockdowns) last season were tied for the most in the SEC and sixth among Power 5 players.

He employed a mix of power and finesse in sacking opposing quarterbacks, with 4.0 of his 8.5 sacks coming after a power move (bull rush, swim move) and 4.5 with a finesse move (speed rush, spin move). Of the players ranked in the top 15 at each of the four front-seven positions (defensive end, defensive tackle, outside linebacker and inside linebacker), he is one of five who had at least four sacks using power moves and four sacks using finesse moves in 2014.

Randy Gregory

Combine comparison: Barkevious Mingo, Jadeveon Clowney

Gregory might not project as a defensive end due to his lean frame, but 13.5 of his 17.5 sacks over the past two seasons came when he lined up in a 3-point or 4-point stance (with one or both hands on the ground), rather than standing up.

He had a burst off the line of scrimmage, averaging 2.77 seconds from snap to contact. Of players ranked in the top 15 at each of the four front-seven positions, that ranked fifth among 23 players with at least four first-contact sacks (excluding coverage sacks).