2014 Edge Rushers: A Look at Michael Sam’s Game

After all the chatter, is Sam a possible fit in New England scheme wise? (Photo: US Presswire)

By Marc Sluis, Staff Writer

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

6’2 261

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

6’0 199

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.

Tags: Brock Vereen, Michael Sam, Michael Sam Patriots

13 Responses to “2014 Edge Rushers: A Look at Michael Sam’s Game”

  1. Ryan says:

    Here’s my idea of a draft where the Patriots opt to sign instead of draft a remaining pass catcher in hopes they will rebound and that their current corps will stay healthy and develop. Also, I have them trading away their 1st-rounder for a 2nd, 3rd and 5th in this year’s draft as well as a 7th in next year’s draft.

    Sign Danario Alexander, Santonio Holmes or Miles Austin
    Draft:
    2nd Round (Trade)- SS Deone Bucannon
    2nd Round- DE DeMarcus Lawrence
    3rd Round (Trade)- OT JaWuan James
    3rd Round- DT DaQuan Jones
    4th Round- OG/C Russell Bodine
    4th Round (Comp)- TE Marcel Jensen
    5th Round (Trade)- QB Aaron Murray
    6th Round- DL Jason Bromley
    6th Round (Sopoaga Trade)- ILB Avery Williamson
    7th Round- WR Quincy Enunwa

    I’d also like to see the Patriots sign a bruiser who can block and pass-catch, like Michael Bush or Ronnie Brown, but they don’t look to sign until after the draft. I understand that some would like to draft there, but I think that veteran leadership is a better avenue to look towards with the other three main backs being very young.

    I like this draft because it adds an impact player at SS who I believe can anchor the position for a long time in Buccanon. The pass rush looks like it needs to be revived and I can’t see a better way of doing this than adding Lawrence and Bromley to the mix while adding Jones as a future starter and current rotational big man. On the O-line, James and Bodine are 2 very versatile players who can start at multiple spots and are able to become future starters at Tackle and Center, respectively. From a receiving standpoint, I like Jensen as an athletic freak who can develop behind Gronk and see some snaps and I like Enunwa as a threat who can be effectively utilized in the red zone at the very least. Finally, I think that Williamson can replace Fletcher as an undersized but solid tackler from the LB position and that Aaron Murray can be an effective backup and potential future starting option that allows us to do what we please with Mallet while remaining comfortable depth-wise.

  2. sultan says:

    all i want is to improve the pass rush, Easley would be perfect late second
    we have a great secondary and if we could just complete it with a great SS ( i don’t know like craig lost on) that would be perfect.
    i would would love to see BB trade back and get amaro in the second i believe he would have great impact straight away
    lastly brandon Thomas will be a steal in the four (if he lasts)
    1st for 2nd and 3rd
    2nd jace amaro
    2nd Easley
    3rd Craig loston
    3rd telvin smith
    4th Brandon thomas
    4th Andre williams

  3. Dan Sullivan says:

    Patriot Predictions

    Draft
    1 Trade for 2,3 and 5th round picks.
    2 Stephon Tuitt DL Notre Dame
    2 CJ Fiedorowicz TE Iowa
    3 Jackson Jeffcoat DE Texas
    3 Allen Robinson WR Penn State
    4 Max Bullough ILB Michigan State
    4 Ryan Carrethers NT ArkansasSt.
    5 Tyler Larsen C Utah State
    6 Justin Britt OT Missouri
    6 Mo Alexander SS Utah State
    7 Marion Grice RB Arizona State

  4. acm says:

    Some good points on Sam there. As for Brock Vereen, I see “BB reach” written all over him for this year’s draft – BV to the Pats in the 2nd.

    • Justin says:

      Oh boy… that would make the third straight year BB reaches for a safety. Vereen’s very strong and well built, put up solid numbers at the combine but doesn’t he project to the free safety spot? I thought I read somewhere that run support was not his strong suit.

      Speaking of safeties, which of the following players do you think would be a good fit in the Patriots defense? Craig Loston, Dion Bailey, Mo Alexander, Isaiah Lewis, Tre Boston, Ahmad Dixon, . When I think of big, physical, aggressive strong safeties in this draft class that will be available mid-to-late rounds, these are the players that come to mind. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if BB selects Vinnie Sunseri; he’s a coaches son, very smart and instinctive, can contribute immediately on special teams and essentially make a guy like Ebner expendable, and of course there’s the friendship between BB and Saban.

      • Pete says:

        Sunseri would be a great addition. ST stud with more upside than Ebner at positional play. Dose not mean Ebner is out – same way Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins did not impact Slater.

        Lets face it, from the 3rd round on you are really looking at either part time/special teamers or someone who has a wart or two on them (skill, size, off field, injury) so I dont mind reaching a bit for guys you think are going to have an impact. Sunseri in the 4th rd on would be excellent risk/reward. Floor is Ebner and upside Steve Gregory replacement.

        • Justin says:

          The reason Dobson, Boyce, and Thompkins didn’t make Slater expendable is because none of them contribute on special teams. Boyce tried his hand as KR, but that didn’t work. To be frank it’s not really accurate labeling Slater a wide receiver. He’s caught just one pass in his career and even saw limited snaps at safety early on. He was used on offense only for his blocking last season. He’s a pure special teams guy.
          Ebner is the same way. If he’s playing on defense, something’s wrong. Sunseri’s ability to take over Ebner’s role on special teams and play on D wouldn’t leave much reason to keep Ebner around.

      • acm says:

        tell me about it. Vereen would at least be someone you could justify taking before the 4th, to an extent, unlike Tavon Wilson. Still, after the top 5 safeties – 1st rounders in Dix and Pryor and 2nd rounders in Ward, Bucannon and likely Brooks too – things kind of get all smudged for me. Vereen would be one of the better prospects left imo but wouldn’t take any of them before the 4th.

        Personally I like CB/FS Dontae Johnson (NCSU) as a 4th/5th rounder; would offer flexibility and bonds physicallity and great athleticism for a press-cover CB and FS down the road (with Revis likely being a one year rental).
        For SS/hybrid LB role I like Marquis Flowers (Arizona) who is a Kam Chancellor clone, only more athletic, physical with a background at SS and cover LB, as well as ST. I think he would be a great value in the late rounds to get that Adrian Wilson type player they were looking for and also much needed depth at LB, with a single pick.

        • Justin says:

          Exactly, safety isn’t a “glaring” need for the Pats. Would it be nice to have an in the box style safety to complement McCourty? Of course. But not at the price of an early selection. It’s not a weakness for this team and doesn’t require the attention that other positions do i.e. TE, DE/pass rush, etc.

        • Justin says:

          I would like to see a player like Sunseri or Bailey selected with one of their 6th round picks, that’s be a good move.

  5. AM says:

    Very nice profiles–would love to see both of these guys in Patriots uniforms.

    If you’re taking requests, I’d be very interested in seeing what you think of Jeremiah Attaochu; would he be worth it in a 4-3 alignment?

    • MarcSluis says:

      I LOVE Attaochu, but a great question about his 4-3 ability. I say yes because he did so in college is enough of an athlete to get away with it. His best role would be as an “edge rusher” in a hybrid scheme like the Pats have gone with in the past. He’s good enough to play in space and handle coverage. It would be very interesting

      • acm says:

        I really like Attaochu too. Hope the Pats go with a smaller, speedier player at DE/OLB to complement to the bigger pass rushers already on the roster (Jones, Bucanon). Attaochu is a very well-spoken player, seems mild mannered too, in contrast to his downright “angry” style of play.
        Another player in the Attaochu mold I like is Demarcus Lawrence, who is probably more of a pure speed rusher and brings less of the element of versatility as far as dropping in coverage goes; more of a Cliff Avrill/Cris Clemons type player. I think that drops him a good round later in the draft after JA.
        Both are still raw with great NFL potential and have anger and aggression to their game, something the Pats lack on the roster.






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