Most art forms take time and a diversified skill set to fully master. The art of pass rushing is no different. Just ask Bruce Smith, Reggie White or some of the current masters of disruption Jared Allen, Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware and they’ll surely tell you it takes athleticism but also technique and a natural feel to get after the passer with regularity. Like any art form it will never be distilled down to pure arithmetic or established science and with that means opinions of what it takes to be the best will differ.
Some scouts prefer long, rangy athletes whose arm lengths are exceptional and able to control blockers at a distance. Others overlook such measureables and seek fast, quick twitch athletes who can explode off the edge avoiding blockers altogether.
There are an array of potential Patriots with the ability to make an impact at the next level. Here is a quick look at a guy who may be available for the picking and would become a major headline. I’ll be putting out more of these shortly so let me know if there are any edge rushing prospects who merit consideration.
Michael Sam, Missouri
Sure all the focus will be on the fact Sam will be the first openly gay player in what has traditionally been one of he most homophobic sports in the world but his skill set on the field is intriguing in its own right. A great set of articles by Greg Peshek of RotoWorld (click the link to check it out, its a great read, and all non-combine numbers I used are found in it) tries to quantify and measure aspects of the game and how prospective 2014 prospects stack up. A lot of what he finds is confirmed on tape. For instance it might not be surprising after watching tape that a full 100% of Michael Sam’s sacks came on “outside” rushes. Not a single sack was recorded on an inside or bull rush. Not one of his 12 sacks. That’s a pretty good sample size to pull from. You can look at that stat in two ways: either he lacks any significant strength and has short arms or he has an explosive first step and the speed to turn the corner.
Both statements are actually partially true as Sam does lack the functional strength scouts look for (17 reps at 225lb was very low) but the Mizzou product does have 33 3/8 arms which is certainly a plus. In terms of speed on the edge its a bit cloudier. He is certainly no speed demon running a very pedestrian, if not terrible, 4.91 40 yard dash and was no shining star in the lower body explosion drills (25.5 vertical, 9’8” broad jump). But not everything, even edge rushing ability, can be directly traced to some drill at the combine. Word is he can “squat a small house” and has a terrific first step, which is probably his greatest asset.
On second thought maybe we can measure that. Peshek calculates his “sack time” (the time from the snap to sack) to be 3.36, the lowest of the other sack artists he studied (excluding Clowney’s measly 2013 3 sack total). Among them include players who are considered and tested as better athletes like Kareem Martin and even studs Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr (3.61, 3.54 and 3.52 respectively). He also has another elite quality that’s hard to measure and its arguably as important as any physical trait. His motor is tremendous and he never quits on a play. Effort, energy and passion are tough to quantify but extremely important.
Projected Range: 5-7th Round
How he fits with the Pats: Would provide a defender with a specific and very vital skill set of rushing the passer. His limitations (ability to work inside and overpower blockers) could be masked by deploying him as a third down and situational rusher. His struggles at the combine and Senior Bowl playing in space are issues, but something the coaching staff would quickly recognize and work around. Plenty of people might see his lack of versatility as very dissimilar to how Belichik likes his players but getting a guy who can get you pressure on third down is worth a late round pick. Plus the Patriots have a history of dealing with distractions….usually well.
Sure we added Revis and Browner but here’s a quick look at a hybrid defensive back worth noting. You might recognize the name.
Brock Vereen, Minnesota
If Sam is a one trick pony with limited versatility Vereen is on the surface just the opposite. A combine stud Vereen showcased the speed (4.47) and change of direction agility (6.90 3 cone and 4.07 shuttle) you see on tape. At Minnesota, the brother of current Pats running back Shane Vereen, played both safety and corner. That would seem to point to that coveted positional flexibility pro teams seek out. Not to say that’s entirely false but he does struggle supporting the run and isn’t the high level tackler you’d want in a safety. 30 inch arms and 8 1/4 inch hands don’t help his cause. He did post a defensive back best 25 reps, but weight room strength and being able to deliver a blow to a 200 plus pound running back are two different things.
Belichik definitely likes his defensive backs to have a skill set that can be adapted to a variety of schemes and Vereen does fit that bill. Even if he’s not the ideal run defender his athleticism allows him to be safely played at corner and would make for an excellent safety on obvious passing downs. He actually has a game in the mold of Devin McCourty due to their ability to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield and would really give the defense options and depth. One thing Bill would really love about him is that he’s a proven leader and the type of worker who would put in the extra time needed to master his craft. It would definitely be an interesting dynamic having him join his brother too. He’s a sleeper to remember.
Projected Range: 4-6th Round
How he fits with the Pats: Adds depth to a now stacked defensive backfield and the exemplary intangibles to also add value to the locker room.