Darren Page, DLD Lead Scout
Here are some of my initial thoughts on the pass rushers who will try to make their mark as seniors before they enter the draft in 2014.
Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
The way Jeremiah Attaochu’s statistical arc is headed, he’s in for a productive senior season. His sack totals have risen from three as a true freshman to six as a sophomore and ten as a junior. Attaochu utilizes an explosive first step to win as a speed rusher around the corner first and foremost. He also excels stunting back to the inside and using his speed to catch slow-reacting interior pass blockers off guard. His repertoire of pass rush moves is limited though. He doesn’t convert speed to power the way a pass rusher who has space to work with should. When he’s forced to go frame-to-frame with an offensive tackle, he gets locked up too easily. Attaochu’s effectiveness against the run is surprisingly high when you consider his stature and lack of hand usage as a rusher. He understands his responsibility against the run and is very consistent. He sets the edge well and pinches down runs from the outside while keeping his outside shoulder free. He also takes proper pursuit angles from the backside so not to overrun ball carriers. Attaochu’s nose for the football and ability to get to the ball at a high rate can’t be understated. He needs to become a more technical tackler when he gets there though. He has a tendency to drop his head and lunge in an attempt to land a knockout blow. In coverage, Attaochu is right at home. He looks very comfortable dropping into shallow zones and locates receivers with his head on a swivel. He’s even shown an ability to get his hands up to deflect passes on occasion. When it comes to his senior season, the biggest step Attaochu needs to make is in his technical development as a rusher. If able to develop a repertoire of pass rush moves that involve more effective use of his hands, he’ll be able to utilize his athletic ability on a more consistent basis while keeping pass blockers guessing.
Anthony Barr, UCLA
Barr really burst onto the scene as a junior with 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. The scary part is that it was his first season on the defensive side of the ball after making the transition from the running back position. Barr had games where he completely took over with his ability to turn the corner. His signature move is to engage the tackle first before darting to the outside and bending the edge. He’s a flexible athlete who maintains his balance when running the circle in a way most pass rushers cannot. He flashes a strong initial bullrush at times, but it’s mostly due to his impressive pad level and hand placement. He doesn’t have a wide array of pass rush moves just yet, but showed a semi-effective spin move on occasion. One of the most impressive things about Barr is his discipline. He maintains gaps well against mobile quarterbacks and always picks up the ball with his eyes. An improvement in his get-off at the snap could make a huge difference. He will stutter step on occasion, which doesn’t allow him to utilize his explosiveness and all the ramifications that can have on an offensive tackle. As a whole, Barr’s work against the run is really a mixed bag. At times he keeps blockers off his frame with impressive hand usage and uses that space to pursue the ball. Other times he can be overwhelmed at the point of attack and lose the edge. He has an impressive motor when in pursuit though and is a high impact tackler when he arrives at the ball. He’s no stranger to chasing down sweeps and tosses the other way with his speed and effort level. Even though he’s on the leaner side at a listed 235 lb., he can hit well above his weight. If he can diversify his skillset as a rusher and get stronger before his senior season, the sky is the limit. I would also like to see him become a more attack-minded rusher instead of waiting for things to come to him.
Morgan Breslin, USC
After transferring in from a junior college, Morgan Breslin was a disruptive force for the USC defense as a junior. He put up an impressive stat-line of 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. There’s no doubting his impact on the college level. His game may not project to the NFL quite so well, though. At a listed 6’2” and 250 lb., he’s not a physical specimen with the ideal length for a rusher. He’s also not explosive enough, what I would call a “one-speed rusher”. Breslin has success getting around the corner for the Trojans and can bend a bit to elude blockers. His pass rush effectiveness is highest when he jolts blockers with his hands first though. It allows him to combine moves, where that’s converting power to speed or spinning back to the inside. One thing he has going for him is that he’s able to maintain consistently low pad level. He must utilize his strength more often and continue to develop his hand usage. Against the run, Breslin is somewhat of a liability. He struggles to stack and shed at the point of attack, often being handled by bigger tight ends. What’s more concerning is a lack of football IQ. Breslin seems to have no anticipation for what a blocker wants to do to him and is too easily pinned or kicked out as a result. Opponents often keyed on him in the running game, knowing he lacked the discipline to maintain the edge or his gap. When set loose, he flashed ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield though. It will be interesting to see how Breslin fares in the new USC defense, where he will bump out to a rush linebacker spot. Going solely off his physical measurements, he looks like a 3-4 OLB type. I don’t believe that highlights his strengths though. In fact, I believe it will expose his weaknesses.
Dee Ford, Auburn
Dee Ford appeared to be a player in for a big junior season in 2012 before injuries and inconsistent play set in after a productive first few games. He finished the season with seven sacks in eight starts. Ford’s hallmark is an explosive first step and enough speed to make slow-footed tackles pay as a pass rusher. He’s frequently the first rusher off the ball, with an impressive get-off. When he bumps out to a wide 9 technique or even farther out, he’s far more comfortable and effective than when asked to engage a tackle early and win with technical skills. If space presents itself, Ford is quickly through it and into the quarterback’s comfort zone. He becomes predictable at times for blockers though because he struggles to vary his moves. He’s really not a developed hands-user as a rusher either, going purely off athleticism. Ford’s game is also plagued by too much unnecessary movement. He wastes too much time with choppy steps that don’t get him anywhere. He’s just not smooth and his movement skills seem too forced. Against the run, the outlook is even more dire. He’s undersized (only listed at 238 lb.) and doesn’t have the raw strength or technique to make up for it. When needing to stack at the point of attack, he too often gets completely washed out. He also makes too few plays in pursuit for an undersized defensive end. Above all though, he’s limited by a lack of read and react ability. His diagnoses of the intentions of blockers and of the style of plays are consistently slow. Dee Ford’s professional prospects seem best suited for a 3-4 scheme, similar to former teammate Corey Lemonier. Ford needs to take a big step as a senior to prove he’s not a one-dimensional defender though. He needs to develop a repertoire of pass rush moves and continuously get stronger at the point of attack against the run.