By Russ Lande
As NFL quarterbacks continue to break passing records, pass rushers who can disrupt their attack have become vital to a defense's success. Demarcus Ware, Mario Williams and Clay Matthews were first-round picks. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack are likely to go high this year, but who will achieve the success of former late-round picks Jared Allen, Robert Mathis and Greg Hardy? Finding star players -- especially pass rushers -- late in the draft is what separates the most successful teams. With that in mind, here are five potential Day 3 pass rushers who have the tools to develop into quality starters.
1. Carl Bradford, Arizona State, 6-foot-1, 250, 4.76
Although Bradford does not have the ideal length NFL teams look for, his explosiveness off the ball and snap anticipation ensure he is consistently the first defensive linemen moving. His quick first-step enables him to beat the offensive tackle to the turn point where he displays the flexibility to dip his shoulder and turn the corner sharply, even when the pass blocker is leaning on him, trying to ride him around the pocket. If the offensive tackle beats him to the corner, Bradford can use a quick spin move to either side or bull rush him back into the quarterback's lap. He can be productive as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense, but his best chance to star would be as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme like San Diego's.
2. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State, 6-foot-1, 250, 4.85
One of the best players not invited to the combine, Barrett's film has me believing he will be productive in the NFL. You can actually see him coiling up right before the ball is snapped, which helps him explode off the ball. An undersized pass rusher, Barrett uses his hands to chop at the offensive tackle to stay free and dictate his rush. Great ankle and lower-body flexibility combine with a strong rip move so he can turn the corner sharply. He also has a quick counter move back to the inside which helps him beat the tackle underneath. He lacks the measureables to warrant an early draft selection, but I believe he has the potential to be a double-digit sack man in the NFL.
3. Michael Sam, Missouri, 6-foot-2, 261, 4.72
It is clear Sam is not a premier athlete or prospect, but to deny he was a highly productive pass rusher at Missouri would be foolish. Although inconsistent, at his best he displays a quick first step to threaten the corner and can turn the corner when he uses rip moves aggressively and keeps his shoulder low. Sam consistently is able to drive through the offensive tackles inside shoulder using strength to pressure the quarterback. Violent hand use helps Sam keep pass blockers from tying him up, which allows him to use effort and strength to consistently defeat blockers and pressure or sack the passer. His lack of all-around athleticism will likely lead to a backup role in the NFL, but he should be productive as a wave pass rusher.
4. Cassius Marsh, UCLA, 6-foot-4, 252, 4.89
Marsh is going to be a third-day selection primarily because he lacks the elite physical tools NFL teams look for. Although teammate Anthony Barr made many attention-grabbing plays, Marsh made more impact plays. He lacks the explosiveness off the ball to threaten the corner, but he uses his length, hands and rare competitiveness to consistently fight through blocks to pressure the quarterback. On film it looks like his arms are much longer than the measured 33 inches and he easily uses them to keep blockers from getting a good fit on him and works around them to get into the pocket. Marsh will be a late Day 3 selection and not play much as a rookie, but two or three years from now, he will be a consistently productive pass rusher.
5. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech, 6-foot-3, 250, 4.75
Possessing the initial quickness and playing speed to get the corner, Attaochu has been a productive pass rusher at Georgia Tech despite not doing many things well. At this point in his career, he is primarily a one-trick pony who relies upon his initial quickness to beat his man. He has not developed any real counter moves, which will be vital in the NFL where offensive tackles can adjust to handle speed rushers who lack other moves. Additionally, he does a bad job of using his hands to keep blockers off him and cannot shed them quickly once a blocker gets ahold of him. Rating pass rushers based on initial quickness and speed, Attaochu would likely be a Day 2 selection, but his technique and lack of strength are why he will likely fall. If he can improve those areas, he has the potential to be a dangerous pass rusher because of his natural physical talent.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him@RUSSLANDE.