“Double-digit sacks” is sometimes used as a barometer for pass rushing success. Want to know how many NFL players posted 10 sacks or more in 2012? Twenty. In 2011? Seventeen. In 2010? Twenty.
Why did I start this post by throwing a bunch of arbitrary numbers at you? Because they suggest, at least if you believe double-digit sacks mean anything, that pass rushers are sort of hard to find. Some of the top performers came into the league within the past few years: J.J. Watt, for example, topped the charts last year with 20.5 sacks. Some have been around a lot longer: think DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, even John Abraham. Almost all of the leaders have been drafted within the last 10 years. So we’re really talking an average of two exceptional pass rushers in any given draft.
The lesson? Teams selecting in the 2013 draft have to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to pass-rushing ends and linebackers. Three that seem to fall into the “chaff” category are Dion Jordan, Damontre Moore, and Bjoern Werner.
There’s definitely something to like in all three. Jordan, in particular, has obvious speed and athletic prowess — I would trust him to drop into coverage on backs and tight ends underneath, for example. Moore has a good motor. And Werner is a solid tackler with some athletic ability.
Nothing about the game tape on any of the three suggests success manning the end of the defensive line in the NFL. Jordan shows very little strength at the point of attack; in fact, he is often so overmatched on sweeps and tosses that he dives at the blocker’s legs to at least present an obstacle for the ballcarrier. Jordan also struggles with play recognition: he makes a dozen misreads on misdirection plays in the Stanford game alone. His superior speed enables him to make a few plays every game — chasing down a quarterback when the secondary has the receivers blanketed, or dancing around a slow-footed tackle — but nothing that would suggest he will routinely overmatch NFL-caliber offensive tackles. We saw Aaron Maybin use the same repertoire to good effect during his college days, too. Jordan should go in the second round based upon athletic ability alone, but he’s a project, and taking him higher is a mistake.
I’m even less optimistic about Moore and Werner. Moore looks like he has a stouter build than Jordan, but does not play like it. Offensive linemen seem to have little trouble with him on run plays. I heard one scout describe his pass-rushing limitations as an inability “to translate speed to power,” and that seems accurate. He gets off the line quickly enough, but doesn’t seem to know how to use his hands effectively, and so tends to bounce off the tackle in a way that kills any momentum towards the quarterback. He does pursue hard consistently. He might be worth a flyer in the middle rounds, but I’m not sold on anything higher.
Werner seems to have more natural strength that the other two don’t, but he doesn’t use it particularly effectively. He sometimes sets the edge or occupies blockers on run plays, even shucking them aside occasionally to make the tackle. But he gets caught up in useless hand-fighting on most pass attempts, neither collapsing the pocket nor getting by his man. He does tackle well, and seems to have some natural tools. He also might be worth a flyer in the third round on, particularly if a team thinks he’ll translate to outside linebacker in the mold of, say, Jarret Johnson.