Bunting: Good Rushers Will Be Harder to Find This Year

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Bruce Irvin

In this segment of my weekly draft chat with the National Football Post’s Wes Bunting, we discuss the dearth of plus pass rushers in this year’s draft, and the likeliness that Dallas will pursue one early as a consequence.

Cowboys Nation:  The juniors have started to declare.  Matt Kalil made it official today.  He should go very high.  I saw reports that David DeCastro will make his declaration once Stanford plays its bowl.  Are there any underclassmen who surprise you, who could wind up in the 1st or 2nd round?

Wes Bunting:  I watched USC’s Nick Perry for the first time today, because he’s just declared.  I saw about two and a half hours of his tape and wrote him up.  It’s a weak pass rushing crop, and I can understand why he came out, but he’s not an overly dynamic pass rusher.  He’s got a good first step off the edge, he can get to the corner and he’s about 6’3”, 260 lbs. and he uses his length well to keep himself clean.

He’s just not overly sudden changing directions and when he gets to the edge he struggles to drop his pad level.  I spoke to some guys who like him as a top 20-to-25 guy, but I just don’t see it with him.  I think he’s that solid 2nd-to-3rd round defensive end.  I think he’ll go in the 2nd at the latest, but I think he’s that type of player, projecting him forward.

I think he’s a potential starter only.  I think he plays the run okay.  He’s got some pass rushing ability, but this class overall doesn’t have many elite, blue-chip types.  He’s getting force fed up the lists as a result, because teams need rushers and there just are not that many.  If they’re not good enough they don’t warrant that high of a grade and I just don’t see it with Perry.

CN:  When you talk about flattening out, you’re talking about guys who have good core strength, who can get low and continue working around tackles at speed, correct?

WB:  When you get to the edge, you’ll hear people say dip-and-rip, which means they can drop their shoulder, and have that flexibility and fluidity in the hips.  Take Von Miller, for example.  See how he can drop his shoulder and accelerate around the edge.  Guys that are tighter hipped, like Nick Perry, can’t drop as much, so they’re upright when they try it, so they don’t turn as tightly, and don’t accelerate as well.  Tackles can get their hands on these guys, because they’re more upright, and it’s easier to push them past the pocket.

CN:  I wrote a piece on this a couple of years ago and referred to those speed guys as ‘Ohnos’ because they could turn the corner like sprint skaters.

WB:  That’s a great comparison.  That’s exactly it.

CN:  You’ve anticipated the next set of questions.  We’ve talked about cornerbacks several times but the Cowboys also need a pass rusher.  I don’t care where he plays, so I’d like to hear where the plus rushers are at outside linebacker, at outside and interior defensive line.

Let’s start with outside linebackers.  Does this class have any elite rush prospects, in your opinion?

WB:  The one guy who I think can be that plus rusher, but didn’t have a great year this past fall, is Bruce Irvin from West Virginia.  Athletically, he reminds me a little of Miller.

They played him in a 3-3-5 scheme.  He plays defensive end in a three-man line, so he pretty much plays the 5-technique, at 6’3”, 235 lbs.  Not 335.  235 lbs.  So, the scheme is not great for him. I think when he can stand up and rush off the edge, I think he’s going to kill the Senior Bowl.  I see a lot of natural change of direction.  He’s violent with his hands.  He can bend.  He’s got an elite first step.

He’s the one guy who has been overlooked, because he didn’t have a dominant 2011.  He had eleven sacks last year.  This year, he had six or seven, but he’s playing so out of scheme.  I loved what I saw from him as a junior, when he came in as a situational rusher, and at 240 I think he’s one of the best rushers in the class.  I think he’ll blow it up at the Combine, at the Senior Bowl, and this is one name that will be hot when the draft approaches.

CN:  Once you’re past Bruce Irvin, who’s next?  Right now, the Cowboys are in the playoff frame, but they could drop right out by next week.  Today, they’re in that 18-22 range, depending on whether they make the playoffs or miss.

Will Irvin last that long if he has a strong Senior Bowl week?

WB:  Right now, I’d say he’s in that late-1st, early-2nd round range, but on my board, I wouldn’t have any qualms taking him in the top 15.  I like him that much.

CN:  Once you’re past Irvin,. who’s next in line?

WB:  Courtney Upshaw from Alabama.  Right now he’s in that mid-1st round range, where the Cowboys are sitting.  He’s not DeMarcus Ware off the edge, but he’s a plus number two.  He’s a plus second guy rushing off the edge.  When you see a Ryan Kerrigan, who got his 7th sack this week, that’s a good 2nd guy.  When I graded Kerrigan I saw some qualities I liked, but I didn’t see a dynamic guy.  He can be a 6-8 sack a year guy his entire career.

I think Upshaw is a bit better that that.  I think he can be a 7-9 sack a year guy, if you put him opposite a Ware.  He can find a way to be productive, against both the run and the pass.

CN:  You think he can be very good against the run, taking on tight ends and setting the point.

WB:  Yeah, and as a power rusher, he’ll overwhelm,  and then he’ll shed well with his hands.  He wants to get into the blockers body, as opposed to trying to run around the end and flatten out.

Next:  The best rushing prospects from the lineman crop.  

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Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com