The 2012 draft class had some solid, intriguing pass rush prospects, but overall it was considered a weak year - especially compared to a 2011 class that featured Von Miller, Aldon Smith, and Ryan Kerrigan. This year is a different story, however. We're looking at two of my personal favorites this week, but I can't stress how much edge rushing talent this draft class will likely end up having. If your favorite team misses out on one of these two guys it'll hurt, don't stress too much....unless they go to a division rival. Then you should worry.
Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones (#29/6'2/242)
Jones is a coiled ball of explosiveness. His short area burst is excellent, and he does an excellent job of bringing his hips through contact and converting speed into power. His handstrength is very impressive - his strike jolts blockers, getting them off-balance and on their heels. He plays with good hip/knee bend and a wide, powerful base which (combined with his height) makes him an excellent leverage player and allows him to get underneath blockers and control them. Most importantly, he knows how to use all of these traits and branch them off into different pass rush moves to keep offensive tackles off balance. Rarely does he bring the same move and/or come at the same pace on two plays in a row. While he doesn't have spectacular length, he does a great job of swatting away offensive linemen's hands and winning with speed, or getting under the blocker and winning with power and leverage. All in all, Jones is very advanced as a pass rusher (and as a defensive football player in general), and I think his elite combination of speed and power will let him have an immediate impact in the NFL.
Jones plays strictly as a stand-up outside linebacker in Georgia's 3-4 defense and has very little pass coverage responsibility. He is tasked with moving forward and causing disruption in the backfield seemingly 90% of the time. As such, he is largely untested in coverage, rarely being asked to do more than drop off into the flats or play Robber in the middle of the field. He is a very sound player vs the run - his hand strength, leverage play, and relentless motor make it difficult to run either at him or away from him. Missouri tried to neutralize him by running the option against him, hoping to make him wrong every time. The plan failed miserably, as he was able to crash inside, force the QB to keep it, and then change direction and run the quarterback down.
Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan (#96/6'6/243)
Jordan is listed as a defensive end and is currently the top pass rusher and third overall player on Josh Norris' Senior Rankings for the 2013 Draft. Nicknamed "The Praying Mantis" by his teammates, Jordan plays all over the Oregon defensive front. He's the quintessential "fill-in-the-blanks" guy for a multiple defensive front, capable of doing more things at a high level than arguably any defensive player in college football right now.
The first thing that stands about Jordan when you watch him is his long, lithe, and powerful stature. A major problem young edge players struggle with (tall ones in particular) is pad level. Getting tall off the snap poses a multitude of problems: it exposes more surface area for an offensive lineman to target, and it eliminates the ability to drive the hips and convert speed to power - all kinetic energy out of the snap is used standing the player up, as opposed to moving him forward and/or through the man attempting to block him. Like Jarvis Jones, Jordan plays with good knee/hip bend and pad level and has a jolting, powerful initial punch. He's not as disciplined about bringing his hips once contact is established as Jones, but his long arms create separation and keep blockers from getting into his frame. He has shown that he can be disruptive and make plays in the backfield from a number of different starting points on the field - whether it's lined up head up over the tackle as a "5-technique" defensive end, out wide in a four-point stance with both hands in the grass, standing up as a traditional rushbacker. He covers so much ground so quickly, that he's able to create pressures when starting out lined up over slot receivers.
I'm not sure I can entirely do justice to Jordan's athletic ability in words, and it's not just limited to what he does around the line of scrimmage (which is impressive enough in itself). As previously stated, his "fill-in-the-blanks" abilities gives Oregon's defense a ton of flexibility. He has very fluid hips and is natural in pass drops, showing pass coverage skills far beyond what any 6'6, 243 pound man should reasonably have. He sticks with slot receivers in press-man coverage. I've even seen him aligned as an outside corner to the short side of the field (again, in press). As good as he is in coverage before the ball is thrown, he could stand to clean up his tackling in space. He has a tendency to lunge and dive at runners, as opposed to staying under control.
Projecting and Fitting the Two Going Forward
When I watch Jarvis Jones, his first step, hand strength, motor, effort, and ability to play with leverage, I'm immediately reminded of the Ravens' Terrell Suggs. Jones has some work to do in terms of his pass coverage, but all of the tools are there to be a dominant, well-rounded pass rusher.
On the other hand, I can't say that I've ever seen a player quite like Jordan before. His freakish athleticism and ability to do so many different things at a high level are comparable to a cross between Jevon Kearse and former Swiss-Army Knife linebacker Julian Peterson (formerly of the 49ers and Lions). I don't think either player is particularly limited by scheme, either, although the roles they play in college are as close to ideal as you can get.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Watching Tyler Bray and Logan Thomas struggle to take the proverbial "next step" in their development, I wonder what the best course of action for them is as NFL prospects. The traditional school of thought would be that both players should go back to school for their senior seasons, polish their skills up, and try to make a run as one of the top quarterbacks next year. How much would going back to school really benefit either of these players in the long term, however? Bray still exhibits the same mechanical and decision-making shortcomings he displayed last season. He's likely going to lose most/all of his notable surrounding talent to the NFL Draft. And while the Volunteer offense can be deemed "pro style" (although I prefer the term "traditional"), it's not exactly what I'd call sophisticated. Similar questions pertain to Thomas (who seems to be regressing with each game) at Virginia Tech. While every rookie quarterback won't be afforded this same luxury, I have to imagine that Brock Osweiler is learning a hell of a lot more by just watching Peyton Manning practice and prepare than he would have by returning to an Arizona State program that was in complete disarray by the end of last year. Could it be more advantageous long-term to just swallow the draft stock hit, declare anyways, and get the NFL development process started as quickly as possible? It's something to ponder.
Suck for Luck? Nah. Commit Geno-cide.
If you follow me on Twitter, you'll know how highly I think of West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. I won't expound too much on him, as I've already got a lengthier article on him in store, but make sure to check out WVU's matchup vs Texas this weekend. The Longhorns defense held Oklahoma State (who runs an almost identical offense to West Virgina) and Brandon Weeden to just 218 yards and a touchdown on 58% passing last year. If Smith comes through with another spectacular performance, get ready for him to become to consensus #1 senior quarterback in the class.