While the position doesn’t get the same press, finding an elite pass rusher is almost as difficult to find. When a team manage to hit on one, it’s rare that they’ll hit the open market; when they do they’ll make a ton of money (see Mario Williams). Therefore, in most cases to be successful in the NFL you need to be able to find quality pass rushers through the draft.
Will your favorite team be looking to add some young pass rushing talent in the draft this year?
NEED: 4-3 DEFENSIVE END
Defensive ends currently on roster: Jabaal Sheard (2nd year), Frostee Rucker (7th year), Juqua Parker (12th year), Brian Sanford (3rd year), Emmanuel Stephens (2nd year), Kiante Tripp (2nd year)
The Browns began the process of rebuilding their pass rush by drafting Jabaal Sheard in the 2011 draft. It’s proven to be a good investment, as Sheard had a solid rookie season. Unfortunately he was the only player able to generate a pass rush.
Cleveland added Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker, but neither guy is likely to make much of an impact getting after the quarterback. Rucker has only recorded seven sacks in six seasons and Parker’s career is on its last legs. Given their lack of weapons on offense, The Browns may not be able to afford drafting a pass rusher in the first few rounds of the draft, but they still need to make it a priority.
Defensive ends currently on roster: Jeremy Mincey (4th year), Aaron Kampman (11th year), George Selvie (3rd year), John Chick (2nd year), Austin Lane (3rd year), Jammie Kirlew (2nd year)
Much like Cleveland, Jacksonville has added one young piece to their pass rushing attack in Jeremy Mincey, but they still need to add much more. Aside from Mincey, who recorded 8 sacks in 2011, no other Jaguar recorded more than 3.5 sacks.
Jacksonville is likely to be the first team to draft a defensive end in this year’s draft. Will they go with the high risk – high reward player in Quinton Couples? While there are certainly a ton of questions surrounding him, when’s he’s playing at he’s best he’s clearly one of the best, if not the best defensive end in the draft.
Defensive ends currently on roster: Chris Clemons (9th year), Red Bryant (5th year), Pierre Allen (2nd year), Dexter Davis (3rd year)
Chris Clemons is a solid pass rusher, but unfortunately he’s the only true pass rushing end on the Seahawks’ roster. Red Bryant is a great run stopper, but no one is going to confuse him with someone will spend much time getting after the quarterback.
Seattle’s primary focus on defense will be getting some fresh blood in at linebacker, but they can’t ignore defensive end entirely. They’ll need to add at least one top flight pass rusher to maximize the defensive line’s potential.
Defensive ends currently on line: Kamerion Wimbley (7th year), Derrick Morgan (3rd year), Dave Ball (8th year), Pannel Egboh (2nd year)
The Titans had hoped to bolster their defensive line when they drafted Derrick Morgan two years ago, but he hasn’t been the same player since he tore his ACL. There’s still a good chance he returns to form in 2012, two years removed from the injury. But with Tennessee ranking 31st in the league in sacks last year, the Titans can’t afford to wait and see.
The addition of Kamerion Wimbley should help quite a bit, but he’s not enough to solve the Titans’ woes. Neither is Dave Ball, who is a over achieving and often injured pass rushing specialist. The Titans’ top priority heading into the draft has to be finding another player to rush the passer.
NEED: 3-4 RUSH LINEBACKER
Green Bay Packers
Outside linebackers currently on roster: Clay Matthews (4th year), Brad Jones (4th year), Jamari Lattimore (2nd year), Vic So’oto (2nd year), Frank Zombo (3rd year)
For being such a dominate team throughout the 2011 the regular season, the Packers’ defense was abysmal and it starts with the complete lack of a pass rush. They only managed 29 sacks as a team and aside from Clay Matthews the roster is devoid of anyone who can get after the quarterback.
Were Whitney Mercilus to fall to Green Bay, they’d almost have to jump at the opportunity to draft him. If he’s not there, the Packers could look to Shea McClellin. He’s a guy who looks to be a great fit in Green Bay’s defense and just always makes plays.
New England Patriots
Outside linebackers currently on roster: Jerod Mayo (5th year), Rob Ninkovich (7th year), Jeff Tarpinian (2nd year), Tracy White (10th year)
It’s not difficult to see the New England needs to upgrade its pass rush, but it can be a challenge to figure out just where they’ll try to address that need. It’s not entirely clear whether they’ll play primarily in a 3-4 or a 4-3 this season, so that makes it a bit more difficult to project who they will look at to rush the passer.
If they do as expected as return back to a 3-4, they may wait until the mid rounds of the draft and select someone like Bruce Irvin who would probably exclusively as a pass rush specialist. The best plan may to be to pursue a player like Nick Perry, who can play upright in a 3-4 or with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3 alignment.
New York Jets
Outside linebackers currently on roster: Aaron Maybin (4th year), Calvin Pace (10th year), Eddie Jones (2nd year), Garret McIntyre (2nd year), Bryan Thomas (11th year)
The Jets added a nice pass rushing threat in Aaron Maybin last season, but he’s all they’ve got. Unfortunately a Maybin-led pass rush isn’t going to win you many games, and on top of that the rest of the Jets linebacking corps is aging and needs to be revamped.
Courtney Upshaw would be a good fit here in New York. He’d fit almost seamlessly in the Jets’ defense and would provide a guy who should be an anchor of their 3-4 defense for many years to come.
Outside linebackers currently on roster: Aaron Curry (4th year), Phillip Wheeler (5th year), Carl Ihenacho (2nd year)
Oakland had one of the more talented pass rushers in the league in Kamerion Wimbley, but they decided he wasn’t worth what he was looking for in a new contract and the two parted ways. It leaves the Raiders with a big gap at outside linebacker in the midst of their transition to a 3-4.
Matt Shaughnessy doesn’t look like a player who will fare well in the move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker. The Raiders clearly need to add some pass rushing talent; unfortunately they’ll have to wait until the end of the third round to do so.
NEED: PASS RUSHING DEPTH
Defensive ends currently on roster: Kyle Vanden Bosch (12th year), Cliff Avril (5th year), Everette Brown (5th year), Lawrence Jackson (5th year), Willie Young (3rd year)
Detroit’s defensive line is one of the league’s best, but that doesn’t mean it’s without room for improvement. The Lions defense is one that’s based on having a strong pass rush, and that means they need as many talented defensive ends as they can get.
Kyle Vanden Bosch is nearing the end of his career, and Cliff Avril doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to sign the tender on his franchise tag. While there’s no reason to think Avril won’t be in the line up this year, he may choose to seek greener pastures in 2013. The Lions need to plan for both Vanden Bosch’s and Avril’s replacements.
San Francisco 49ers
Defensive ends currently on roster: Justin Smith (12th year), Ray McDonald (6th year), Demarcus Dobbs (2nd year), Will Tukuafu (2nd year)
You don’t typically think of 3-4 defensive ends being a force rushing the passer, but that’s the case in San Francisco. Standout end Justin Smith recorded 7.5 sacks, 18.5 quarterback knockdowns, and 7 more hurries in 2011, proving that not all 3-4 ends are just run stoppers.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, there’s not much depth behind Smith. As the roster stands right now, losing Smith for an extended amount of time would be a tremendous loss. As a team on the brink of a Super Bowl, that’s not a risk they can afford to take.
Outside linebackers currently on roster: Brian Orakpo (4th year), Ryan Kerrigan (2nd year), Rob Jackson (3rd year), Markus White (2nd year)
In spite of all the things the Redskins have done poorly over the last several years, they’ve managed to assemble one of the league’s best young linebacker duos in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. The two combined for 16.5 sacks in 2011 and neither one has yet reached his potential.
Unfortunately, there is hardly any depth at the position. If the Redskins don’t address that, they’ll be in very bad shape if either one went down in 2012. It may not be on the top of their list, but outside linebacker still should be a priority for Washington.