Fearsome foursome: A look at the draft’s best pass rushers

When it comes to defensive prospects in the 2010 draft class, disruptive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy have dominated the conversation. Both have the power and quickness and get to the quarterback, but most sacks some off the edge. A look at a quartet of elite pass rushers available outside of the top five:

South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul could become the next 'Freak' of the NFL.
South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul could become the next ‘Freak’ of the NFL.

The freakish athlete

Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. Remember when Jevon Kearse burst on the scene in 1999 as "The Freak" with 14.5 sacks as a rookie? More than a decade later, here’s a potential sequel. Many draft analysts, including former Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt, see Pierre-Paul as a high-risk, high-reward prospect with the raw speed to become a premium pass rusher.

"At the Combine, he was unbelievable as far as first-step quickness," Brandt said.

NFL comparison: Calvin Pace, Jets. Pace came into the league as exceptional athlete, and once he moved to outside linebacker where he could use his speed in more open field, he developed into a solid pass rusher. Pierre-Paul might need to start as a third-down specialist until he refines the other part of his game, but he can have an immediate impact in that role. He might, like Pace, have his best success in an aggressive 3-4 scheme.

Draft projection: Tennessee Titans (No. 16). They drafted Kearse, and he helped them get to a Super Bowl right away. Now they need pass-rush help right away in the wake of losing defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch as a free agent. Coach Jeff Fisher, like the Jets’ Rex Ryan, comes with the Buddy Ryan attack mentality, and he would put a speedster such as Pierre-Paul in the right position to succeed off the edge.

Michigan Brandon Graham could wind up moving off the end in the NFL.
Michigan Brandon Graham could wind up moving off the end in the NFL.

The undersized overachiever

Brandon Graham, Michigan. He was a productive end in college but doesn’t quite have the ideal frame (6-1 3/8, 268) to play that position as a pro. He might fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, a la the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last year.

Losing some weight the past few years has made Graham a sleeker defender. "My body is in the best shape now, and it’s allowed me to play faster," Graham said.

NFL comparison: LaMarr Woodley, Steelers. It’s not just that, like Woodley, Graham is a Wolverine. Graham credits much of his growth as a pass rusher to learning from Woodley early in his career at Michigan, and some, including Brandt, think Graham can be better than Woodley, who has 25 sacks over the past two seasons. Like Woodley, Graham would benefit greatly by lining up opposite a pass rusher as dangerous as James Harrison.

Draft projection: Seattle Seahawks (No. 14). Seattle isn’t a 3-4 team, but it already has one promising young pass rusher in Lawrence Jackson. Jackson figures to be more productive in reuniting with his college coach, Pete Carroll, and Graham would be a nice complement on the other side. Darryl Tapp was traded to the Eagles, and Patrick Kerney is retiring. The Seahawks need more youth at end, and it would keep Graham from making a position transition.

Sergio Kindle would be a good fit for the Bills' new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Sergio Kindle would be a good fit for the Bills’ new 3-4 defensive scheme.

The explosive swingman

Sergio Kindle, Texas. Kindle comes equipped with the quickness to have an immediate impact as a rush linebacker who also can make big plays all over the field. Kindle should follow nicely in the footsteps of former Longhorn Brian Orakpo.

"(Kindle) can play with his hand on the ground and also jump into space," Brandt said.

NFL comparison: Brian Cushing, Texans. One word could best describe what Cushing was for Houston as a rookie: disruptive. He proved what he could do with five sacks, 134 total tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Kindle comes into the league with a little more bulk than Cushing, a little less than Orakpo. Kindle figures to be a frequent pass rusher from the left, or strong (tight end) side.

Draft projection: Buffalo Bills (No. 9). Buffalo couldn’t resist the 3-4 trend that has taken over every other team in the AFC East. The Patriots, Jets and Dolphins all have success with the scheme, and now the Bills are trying to put the pieces together for their version. Kindle would be a nice start.

Derrick Morgan might be the most well-rounded pass rusher in the draft.
Derrick Morgan might be the most well-rounded pass rusher in the draft.

The complete package

Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech. For teams looking for the prototypical pass-rushing 4-3 end who also is a force against the run, Morgan is their man. He might not be the flashiest off the edge, but his game has the fewest holes. That has allowed him to shoot up draft boards. "I just feel like I’m the most complete and consistent defensive end," Morgan said.

NFL comparison: Julius Peppers, Bears. Morgan (6-3, 266) gives up considerable size to Peppers (6-7, 283) but they are similar players in that they’re well-rounded. The team that drafts Morgan can expect to have a durable end on whom it can rely for years.

Draft projection: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 10). For some reason, the Jags have had trouble hitting on pass-rushing ends. First-round picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves come to mind as recent disappointments.

Jacksonville is trying to change that, without changing to a 3-4 look. The first step was landing a hard-working veteran, former Packer Aaron Kampman. Kampman is happy going back to end, and Morgan would maximize his skills staying at end.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

When it comes to defensive prospects in the 2010 draft class, disruptive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy have dominated the conversation. Both have the power and quickness and get to the quarterback, but most sacks some off the edge. A look at a quartet of elite pass rushers available outside of the top five:

South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul could become the next 'Freak' of the NFL.
South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul could become the next ‘Freak’ of the NFL.

The freakish athlete

Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. Remember when Jevon Kearse burst on the scene in 1999 as "The Freak" with 14.5 sacks as a rookie? More than a decade later, here’s a potential sequel. Many draft analysts, including former Cowboys general manager Gil Brandt, see Pierre-Paul as a high-risk, high-reward prospect with the raw speed to become a premium pass rusher.

"At the Combine, he was unbelievable as far as first-step quickness," Brandt said.

NFL comparison: Calvin Pace, Jets. Pace came into the league as exceptional athlete, and once he moved to outside linebacker where he could use his speed in more open field, he developed into a solid pass rusher. Pierre-Paul might need to start as a third-down specialist until he refines the other part of his game, but he can have an immediate impact in that role. He might, like Pace, have his best success in an aggressive 3-4 scheme.

Draft projection: Tennessee Titans (No. 16). They drafted Kearse, and he helped them get to a Super Bowl right away. Now they need pass-rush help right away in the wake of losing defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch as a free agent. Coach Jeff Fisher, like the Jets’ Rex Ryan, comes with the Buddy Ryan attack mentality, and he would put a speedster such as Pierre-Paul in the right position to succeed off the edge.

Michigan Brandon Graham could wind up moving off the end in the NFL.
Michigan Brandon Graham could wind up moving off the end in the NFL.

The undersized overachiever

Brandon Graham, Michigan. He was a productive end in college but doesn’t quite have the ideal frame (6-1 3/8, 268) to play that position as a pro. He might fit best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, a la the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil, who led the NFL with 17 sacks last year.

Losing some weight the past few years has made Graham a sleeker defender. "My body is in the best shape now, and it’s allowed me to play faster," Graham said.

NFL comparison: LaMarr Woodley, Steelers. It’s not just that, like Woodley, Graham is a Wolverine. Graham credits much of his growth as a pass rusher to learning from Woodley early in his career at Michigan, and some, including Brandt, think Graham can be better than Woodley, who has 25 sacks over the past two seasons. Like Woodley, Graham would benefit greatly by lining up opposite a pass rusher as dangerous as James Harrison.

Draft projection: Seattle Seahawks (No. 14). Seattle isn’t a 3-4 team, but it already has one promising young pass rusher in Lawrence Jackson. Jackson figures to be more productive in reuniting with his college coach, Pete Carroll, and Graham would be a nice complement on the other side. Darryl Tapp was traded to the Eagles, and Patrick Kerney is retiring. The Seahawks need more youth at end, and it would keep Graham from making a position transition.

Sergio Kindle would be a good fit for the Bills' new 3-4 defensive scheme.
Sergio Kindle would be a good fit for the Bills’ new 3-4 defensive scheme.

The explosive swingman

Sergio Kindle, Texas. Kindle comes equipped with the quickness to have an immediate impact as a rush linebacker who also can make big plays all over the field. Kindle should follow nicely in the footsteps of former Longhorn Brian Orakpo.

"(Kindle) can play with his hand on the ground and also jump into space," Brandt said.

NFL comparison: Brian Cushing, Texans. One word could best describe what Cushing was for Houston as a rookie: disruptive. He proved what he could do with five sacks, 134 total tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Kindle comes into the league with a little more bulk than Cushing, a little less than Orakpo. Kindle figures to be a frequent pass rusher from the left, or strong (tight end) side.

Draft projection: Buffalo Bills (No. 9). Buffalo couldn’t resist the 3-4 trend that has taken over every other team in the AFC East. The Patriots, Jets and Dolphins all have success with the scheme, and now the Bills are trying to put the pieces together for their version. Kindle would be a nice start.

Derrick Morgan might be the most well-rounded pass rusher in the draft.
Derrick Morgan might be the most well-rounded pass rusher in the draft.

The complete package

Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech. For teams looking for the prototypical pass-rushing 4-3 end who also is a force against the run, Morgan is their man. He might not be the flashiest off the edge, but his game has the fewest holes. That has allowed him to shoot up draft boards. "I just feel like I’m the most complete and consistent defensive end," Morgan said.

NFL comparison: Julius Peppers, Bears. Morgan (6-3, 266) gives up considerable size to Peppers (6-7, 283) but they are similar players in that they’re well-rounded. The team that drafts Morgan can expect to have a durable end on whom it can rely for years.

Draft projection: Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 10). For some reason, the Jags have had trouble hitting on pass-rushing ends. First-round picks Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves come to mind as recent disappointments.

Jacksonville is trying to change that, without changing to a 3-4 look. The first step was landing a hard-working veteran, former Packer Aaron Kampman. Kampman is happy going back to end, and Morgan would maximize his skills staying at end.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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