A dominant pass rusher is an ingredient a defense is always looking to add. You can never have enough playmakers, and in most cases, pass rushers are game-changers because the opposition has to pay so much attention to them.
When you have a pass rusher who can shed a double-team and cause havoc in the backfield against the quarterback and running back, it changes the defensive scheme tremendously. The defense doesn't have to take as many risks blitzing or stacking the box with eight men. If a defense can successfully rush four men up front without any help from the linebackers or defensive backs, it causes a lot of problems for the opposing offense.
Over the years, teams have been successful drafting pass rushing defensive ends beyond the first round on the first day of the draft. Many of the top pass rushers in the league were second- or third-round selections. For instance, last year's Pro Bowl featured these six defensive ends: Derrick Burgess (Eagles 3rd-round pick in 2001), Aaron Schobel (Bills 2nd-round pick in 2001), Jason Taylor (Dolphins 3rd-round pick in 1997), Aaron Kampman (Packers 5th-round pick in 2002), Julius Peppers (Panthers 1st-round pick in 2002) and Will Smith (Saints 1st-round pick in 2004). Four of the six defensive ends that were voted into last year's Pro Bowl were selected beyond the first round.
Next April's draft will feature some excellent senior pass rushers who will be selected in the first round: Virginia's Chris Long and Auburn's Quentin Groves. If some of the nation's top juniors declare for draft, such as Miami's Calais Campbell, Florida's Derrick Harvey, and LSU's Tyson Jackson, it will make the class that much deeper and will allow for some premier talent to drop out of the first round.
Here are five pass rushers teams will be thrilled to see drop out of the first round and into rounds two and three:
Lawrence Jackson (Sr.), USC
Jackson had an outstanding sophomore season for the Trojans, collecting ten sacks, but since that time he's struggled to rekindle the magic from that season. He recorded four sacks last season and so far this year he has four sacks to go with his 25 tackles. He's a big, physical end, 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, who has a lot of strength and quickness. He's a relentless defender who's always around the ball. He's quick off the snap, gains leverage with his hands, and uses a powerful inside move to get into the backfield. He has good lateral movement and sheds blocks well at the line of scrimmage to get in the face of the quarterback. As physical and as big as he is, Jackson has to work on his run defense to become a complete player at the next level. He tends to wear down as the game progresses, and that hurts his overall production. Jackson is a solid second-round selection who has a lot of talent, but he has to work on his skills to become the player he was once projected to be.
Bruce Davis (Sr.), UCLA
A tweener by stature, but a beast on the field, Davis is an outstanding playmaker who is quick off the line and gets into the backfield and makes plays. He's an explosive edge rusher who will be better suited as a linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level. He has great quickness and balance and is able to beat the opposition with his speed. He displays excellent technique despite his lack of size. He's tremendous in pursuit and can track down elusive running backs and mobile quarterbacks. So far this season, Davis has totaled 22 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. Davis has the potential to become a player in the mold of Miami's Jason Taylor. If he were a little bigger and defended the run better, he'd be considered a first-round selection. But at this time, he's a mid-to-late second-round pick.
Bryan Mattison (Sr.), Iowa
AP Photo/Al Goldis
Mattison is an intense competitor with a high motor who shows versatility along the defensive line. At 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, Mattison has good quickness and technique at the point of attack. He gets off the line really well and displays a great first step. He uses his strength and hand placement as leverage against bigger opposition. He holds his ground well in the trenches and rarely gets knocked off his feet. He has good body control and possesses a powerful inside move to get into the backfield and collect sacks. For a big man, Mattison has good footwork and has great edge speed. Mattison has recorded 33 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, and 5.5 sacks through eight games this season. He's a hard worker and with a good showing this offseason, he'll be a third- to fourth-round selection.
Jameel McClain (Sr.), Syracuse
McClain is a former linebacker who switched to defensive end before the 2006 season. He had a tremendous junior season, registering 9.5 sacks, and finished second in the Big East with 14.5 tackles for a loss. He's an explosive pass rusher who's quick off the snap and possesses a tremendous first step. He's a hard worker who plays until the whistle, giving an all-out effort on every play. He's a small end who has to improve his leverage, but he uses his hands effectively to get over on bigger opponents. He has a strong inside move and is able to get in the face of the quarterback, and he positions himself well to defend the run. He's a versatile defender who will be a situational pass rusher and may be asked to play linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at the next level. McClain is having a down year statistically in the sack column, collecting just 1.5 through the first eight games. However, he's a tremendous talent who has all the tools to become a great pass rusher. He'll likely be a third-round selection.
Chase Ortiz (Sr.), TCU
Ortiz is an excellent pass rusher who makes a lot of plays in the backfield. He's a bit undersized at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, but he plays with a lot of leverage and takes good angles on the rush. He has good hand placement and uses his strength and quickness to his advantage. He gets a good burst off the line and delivers a quick initial punch to get over a bigger opponent. He changes direction smoothly, slides off blocks laterally, and displays a good inside move. TCU features two of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the country in Ortiz and Tommy Blake. Ortiz has shined during the season, registering 30 tackles, 11.5 for a loss, and six sacks while Blake has dealt with some health problems. Prior to this season, Ortiz was a fine prospect, but his play this year has catapulted him to a late-third- to mid-fourth-round pick.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his NFL draft analysis on the web and on the radio since 1999.