Bunting: Good Rushers Will Be Harder to Find This Year

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.  

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
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
Rafael Vela

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  • iowacowboy

    With respect to free agency, I expect Dallas  to be very selective but active in years to come.  There are two key reasons; 1.  they have flushed (or are flushing past contracts most of which were mistakes MBIII, Roy, etc)  2. the league just concluded the TV contract deal and OMG the numbers are astounding.  There are still a few deals to be made but the massive financial booty infused into the NFL by the new TV deals that are guaranteed for nearly a decade mean that Jones now has an income stream to pay for the stadium and begin to repay him for his massive personal financial risk that he incurred to build the stadium.  Jones will now have the financial freedom to spend as needed and within the cap.  Dallas will need to add free agency talent to fill the holes on this team to try and  build a championship while Ware and Romo and Witten are still playing at their peak.

  • Raja

    One other position may turn into a need – WR.  Laurent Robinson will expect to be paid like a No.2 WR (atleast) and would like a 4-5 year contract.  He will be 27 this off season and at 4-5 years, he can expect another contract.  There are plenty of teams that’d like him (STL, CLE for example) and this will push his price.

    The Tree is unreliable and may not be back.  I expect Holley to stick around as ST ace and an emergency 3rd WR.  Harris is unknown – hope Radway is ready when OTAs start. 

  • Hjarrod22

    Draft to this drafts strength.  Get a guard and cb.  resign spencer if its reseaonable.  Go Cowboys, smoke the eagles and giants. 1

  • ym

    It seems like we have years where the players in a position aren’t that good.  One year it will be OL, LB, or WR, etc.  Any reason for this?

  • nikeorlipstick


    When WB says ” He wants to get into the blockers body, as opposed to trying to run around the end and flatten out” about Courtney Upshaw that seems like it would play right into the strength of a powerful right tackle or a left tackle who is both powerful and mobile; especially if it’s his only move. 

     Is he more of a DE than OLB on next level?

    • Not necessarily.  Think Greg Ellis.   Parcells moved him to OLB from DE in ’05.  He got 8.5 sacks.  Got 4.5 in half a season in ’06, when he tore his Achilles.  Came back in ’07 and got 12.5.  

      He wasn’t a speed guy.  He knew hand usage, how to get an OT off balance and how to get into his body.  This just means you can get inside an OT’s punchout, and into his ribs.  Then he has no leverage and you can throw him, get past him, whatever.  

      Upshaw reads like this style of player.  

      • Lee1936

        Parcells moved Ellis from 4-3 LDE to 3-4 SOLB.

      • nikeorlipstick

        thank you…that helps. 

  • cowboyny

    I have started looking ahead at the offseason, with 14 games now in the books, we have a pretty good idea which needs are most pressing. Bluefin has recently changed my thought process about builing inside out, which was discussed in length last offseason on this board:

    -I do not believe the Cowboys will go the high-priced FA route ever again, but rather building through the draft, developing homegrown talent and keeping together fimilarity in hopes of having great chemistry or cohesiveness. FA’s will only be added if they fit their long-term plan or serve as bridges until prospects behind them need more development. In saying this, I am not counting on any big name FA’s being signed by the team this offseason.

    -My early FA projection: Kiwi NYG, Ross, NYG, Cogong Cle, Pouha NYJ

     -Kiwi in my opinion is the more balanced player than Osi with comparable pass rush abilities. He has played as an outside linebacker due to numbers. Playing at that spot, tells me he can hold up in coverage, which makes him a very good candidate to make the switch to an 3-4 OLB.


    If either DeCastro or Konz are avalable I would jump at the chance of selecting either player. Plan B would be selecting a CB like Dennard from Nebraska, really like his game and feel he would fit Ryan’s system well. Safety in the 2nd or 3rd rd makes sense due to the lack of depth at the positon, maybe another pass rush OLB, Defensive Lineman in the top four rounds. A Guard like Nix who can play RG or RT makes alot of sense if the team goes defense early on. As for the bottom three picks it is all about filling the offensive needs, along with finding a returner.

    • Bluefin


      Never ever discount the possibility of Jerry Jones adding a big ticket free agent.

      That kind of move will always be on the table, IMO.

      I had no interest in going after Nnamdi Asomugha last summer because of his age and what it would cost.

      Jerry tried his best to do it anyway.

      He might be at it again when free agency starts following the season.

      Cliff Avril is my target, but I haven’t seen Jerry’s wish list yet.

      • cowboyny

        Yes, Jerry’s history has his team going big in FA when he feels the team is close, which in almost every instance, the team was more than just 1 impact player away. In those years, the team typically fell short of high expectations. The years where the team signed bargain FA’s, they have had the most success like in 2009/2010 season with Brooking/Sensabaugh. It all depends on Garrett’s influence and if a long-term plan is in place, not to just contend for 1 season, but to sustain success for a long period of time. Pateince in developing players has not been a strong suit with Jerry’s past. You can never discount huge FA signngs, but it will only hurt the long-term future sucess for this team.  

        • Bluefin

          The team has gotten much better looking for value targets in free agency.

          They have stated the desire not to overpay for OL in free agency and I hope they stick to that.

          But they could really use a front seven addition or two and that could get somewhat costly.

          They can either pay Anthony Spencer, who will never be what we need as a pass rusher unless he plays possessed like in December of ’09, or pay someone else to replace him.

          I’d rather not try to draft another OLB early to start on the strongside as a rookie.

          • Lee1936

            Jerry usually overvalues players he drafted originally, so I expect he will re-sign Spencer, and brag about how lucky he is to keep this (slightly above average) guy.

            I also expect we’ll be right in the middle of the draft order, pick 14-19 or so. Peeking at the value board on thehuddlereport.com, I see the following prospects ranked overall as follows:

            10 CB Claiborne (top rated CB)
            14 CB Dennard
            15 CB Kirkpatrick
            22 CB Jenkins
            25 SOLB Upshaw
            26 S  Barron (top rated S)
            29 CB Gilmore
            31 OG DeCastro (top rated OG)
            34 QB Griffin
            36 OLB Irvin
            37 CB Minnifield
            42 TE Fleener (top rated TE)
            44 S  Martin
            48 CB Judie
            50 CB Boykin

            These are some of the names mentioned on this blog.  This list probably includes the names of our first two picks. THR’s value board will probably be updated late this month.  Griffin will move up, with a few others, and several will move down, as underclassmen commit.

    • fivetwos

      Gocong signed a long term deal with Cle. in Sep.

  • Speaking of rushers Raf–or a lack thereof–do you think the Cowboys will try to resign Spencer on the cheap (a la Sensabaugh), or just let him go? Just curious, because it’s not like we have elite talent waiting in the wings there (kinda like the safety position). Not defending Spencer at all, just curious as to what you think the Boys will do?

    • fivetwos

      Anyone know what the franchise number would be on him?

      May not be a bad idea if the number is around 6M, although I’d bet it’s higher.

      He likely wouldn’t sign it until after the draft, and it can always be pulled if they end up getting a pass rusher then.

      • Bluefin


        The above recent nfl.com story states tag values will be down across the board this off-season.

        Linebacker is $8.8 million (down from $10.1 million).

        Anthony Spencer might argue to be classified as a DE if tagged, DE is $10.6 million (down from $13 million).

        • No way Spencer is worth anywhere near $8-10 million a year.

          • joey2zs

            What did Canty get?

          • Bluefin

            Chris Canty signed a six year, $42 million dollar contract with the New York Giants in 2009.

            The deal included $16 million in guarantees ($8.5 million in signing bonus).

            Canty has given the G-men a grand total of 4 sacks and 91 total tackles since moving to Gotham.

            Wahoowa is on the books next year for $6 million in base salary.

            He will likely be released, IMO.

  • Bluefin

    Bruce Irvin is a very interesting story.

    Irvin dropped out of high school after bad grades kept him off the football field and was close to being claimed by the streets. Irvin was arrested and spent time in juvenile jail, where a friend reportedly pleaded with him to make something of himself and not be another sad inner city story.

    Irvin made his way to WVU via junior college and has been rushing the passer every step of the way.

    Advocates like Wes Bunting see a ton of upside in Irvin, but others are skeptical given the rough patch during high school.

    How Irvin comes across in interviews will be huge in determining his draft stock, IMO.

    • High school?  I know it’s on his record, but how many of us would want to be judged by what we did in high school? 

      • 77

        If Motley Crue was on the Jury, I would be okay with that. 

      • Bluefin

        I wouldn’t like it at all.

        But when a team is considering investing millions of dollars in a player, anything and everything that hints at a possible problem will get dissected and examined in excruciating detail.

        Clubs look for any reason not to select a player in the first round.

        Not making the grades to play high school ball, dropping out of school and getting arrested will not be viewed kindly by some in the NFL.

        But overcoming all of that and going through junior college to WVU paints a brighter picture for teams to look at.

        Wes Bunting concluded his profile on Bruce Irvin by saying he thinks the kid plays hungry and is out to prove all the naysayers wrong.

        There will be some.

  • Sleepergarcia1990

    OG DeCastro vs. OLB Upshaw.  If both are there for the Cowboys in the 1st, who do you take?  I’m leaning to Upshaw.

    • Rafael Vela

      DeCastro, in a slam dunk.  More on him shortly.

      • But I highly doubt DeCastro will be there.  Upshaw might.

        • Bluefin

          I’ve read a couple of reports indicating straight ahead power really isn’t David DeCastro’s game and that “power” teams won’t grade him the way “zone” clubs will.

          I wondered last week if DeCastro can play center in the NFL and someone else asked again today.

          If DeCastro is viewed as as a C/G like the Pouncey twins, it will likely boost his stock into the low teens.

          If viewed as strictly a G, DeCastro could still go early if a team absolutely loves him, but it would make sliding down a bit more plausible, IMO.

          I also read yesterday that another player of interest, Wisconsin jr. C Peter Konz, has submitted his evaluation paperwork to the NFL to get an idea where his draft grade currently resides (players find out in early January and often make their decisions following the Bowl games).

          The real big unknown right now is how many underclassmen will entry the draft.

          CBS sports’ big board includes those juniors they feel may come out early, and right now 20 of the top 32 spots are underclassmen (Decastro is 10th, Konz in 25th).

          50 of their current top 100 are underclassmen.

          A lot of highly rated seniors could wind up dropping a full round or more depending on how many early entries join the fray.

          • Dallas is a zone team.  Know that. They like big bodies, but they’re a zone team. 

          • Bluefin

            I thought the change in body type and skill set was very clear in San Antonio last summer, but I’m reading multiple fans who want to pursue Saints LG Carl Nicks (6-5, 343) in free agency this off-season.

            Nicks is a great player, but he doesn’t fit what the Cowboys now want on the OL.

            And I don’t want to overpay for another free agent guard again, either.

          • Don’t think body type, think athleticism.  Look at the run series.  I put together about 14-15 of them.  

            Their base plays, press, slant, belly, bend, toss, these are all zone runs.  They have a series of counters runs and draws, but they need guys who can run.

            That’s what was so confusing about the ’90s guys.  They were huge, but all of them could get to the second level.  

            They’ve moved down in size because it’s easier to find 300-310 lb. guys who can run zone then 325-335 lb. ones. 

          • With all that being said who’s the better fit DeCastro or Konz factoring in need as well?

          • Need is greater for C.  DeCastrois hands down the better player.

          • cowboyny

            If the team went the FA route, wouldn’t Ben Grubbs fit the profile better?

        • iowacowboy

          DeCastro is a beast; he would be worth moving up for in a trade.  Dallas needs its new Larry Allen and this guy would qualify.  He would give Murray a chance to lead the league in rushing.