Last year, the Broncos took a somewhat undersized, "tweener" rusher with the second overall pick. While Miller was a freak athlete, had no character concerns, and was highly thought of by many around the league, it was the emphasis on value in pass rushers that ultimately lead to Miller being taken in that Top 3 picks.
While last year featured Miller, Aldon Smith, and the raw Robert Quinn in the Top 15 picks, this draft has quite a few intriguing rushers, some of which likely will end up in that top half of the draft as well. Here are the "next five" pass rushers that could be first round difference makers in the NFL next year.
1. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama (3-4 OLB or 4-3 D3)
A rare physical specimen, what Upshaw lacks in ideal pass rusher height (only around 6'1), he makes up with an outstanding combination of bulk (270+), strength, and smoothness as a rusher. While some prospects (including on this list) are characterized as a "tweener", to me, Upshaw isn't between positions, but can fill both a defensive end as well as a rush linebacker in a variety of NFL schemes. His lack of ideal arm length and limitations in quickness hurt, but he's explosive, developed, and defined as a
rusher that should make an instant impact in the NFL.
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Ingram is both an exciting player to project to the NFL as well as one who leaves a lot of questions. He's mostly a "one-year wonder" prospect, which is always concerning for some NFL teams. He's a fantastic athlete who's shown pass rush ability using both quickness and hand placement at 5-technique, 7-technqiue, and standing up as a rusher. While he's truly a talent without a position as of now, a creative
3. Quinton Coples, North Carolina (4-3 DE)
NFL teams reportedly have a concern with Coples motor and overall work ethic, but he seems to me to be a classic case of "fired coaching syndrome" that NFL prospects face. Coples was outstanding as a junior, but as a senior, he was asked to take over a team that lost a ton of senior leadership, was full of raw talents that didn't always play within themselves, and had to go through the turmoil and inconsistencies of a fired coach. Coples is an elite talent who's work ethic and character concerns are far overblown, and he's worthy of a Top 15 pick easily.
4. Nick Perry, USC (4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB)
Still a bit one dimensional and deliberate in his rushes at times, Perry tested through the roof at the Combine, showcasing his outstanding athleticism and high ceiling as a rusher. He likely could fit into 3-4 scheme on the outside if need be because he can play in space well, but ideally, he's a weakside edge rusher at the next level.
5. Andre Branch, Clemson (3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE)
A bit stiff in space for me as a complete 3-4 outside linebacker, he does have stand-up rusher ability thanks to his hands and quick twitch explosiveness. With his size and athleticism, the 3-4 might be best to highlight his skills, but his counter rushes and force with his hands could make him a very impactful 4-3 rusher, so the versatility is there for Branch as a prospect.
Others to Watch: Shea McClellin (Boise State, 3-4 OLB), Vinny Curry (Marshall, 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB), Cam Johnson (Virginia, 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE), Whitney Merclius (Illinois, 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE), Chandler Jones (Syracuse 4-3 DE)
Eric Galko is a contributing NFL scout for Patriots Insider at Scout.com.
Eric Galko is the Owner, Director of Scouting of Optimum Scouting and lead editor for OptimumScouting.com. He has been scouting college football for eight years, and for pro teams and other sports professionals for the last four years. Eric is also a member of the FWAA.
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