It’s a process that began for me at the Senior Bowl. I hadn’t planned to be there. I expected to be back in Green Bay getting ready to go to the Super Bowl.
Oh, so long ago, yet, in many ways, it seems like just yesterday. You know what I mean?
The stars of that week in Mobile were the guys I was most interested in watching practice: the pass rushers. Yeah, I had just covered a playoff game the Packers lost and much of the blame was assigned to the lack of a pass rush, a season-long problem for the Packers, and the team’s fans were demanding that the problem be fixed and I was in Mobile to see if it could be done.
Maybe it’ll happen tonight, or maybe it’ll happen on Friday or Saturday. There’s no telling where and when the Packers will put their finger on the pass rusher they need, but I’m confident the guy they need will be there for them at some point in this draft.
A question came to me from an “Ask Vic” reader on Wednesday. The request was for me to identify all of the pass-rush prospects in this draft and talk about them. I decided it was too much of a subject to be covered in a mailbag-type column, so I’ll do it in this column, as we count down the hours to this evening’s draft kickoff.
Melvin Ingram—I think he’s the best, especially for a 3-4 team. Ingram has limitless athletic ability and I loved his interview with the media at the combine. He’s very direct. I also loved the fact that he accepted the challenge to run at the combine, and then delivered a top time.
Bruce Irvin—He lit up the combine and that shot his stock up, but it’s difficult for teams to get past the fact Irvin was a part-time player at West Virginia, where he just didn’t fit in a 3-3-5 scheme. I like this guy’s toughness. Playing football is absolutely not the most difficult thing he’s ever done in his life. He has scintillating speed coming off the edge and I think he can be a home-run pick.
Shea McClellin—“Who’s that?” I asked Tony Pauline at the Senior Bowl. Pauline went on to explain that the kid from Boise State was a tweener in a large group of tweeners. McClellin was a hit at the Senior Bowl and then, again, at the combine, and he has steadily climbed until it’s now believed he’s a strong first-round prospect. Most see him as an all-around guy. I see a guy who ran in the 4.6’s at the combine, and that’s the speed of a pass rusher.
Zach Brown—Pauline said he’s too short to be an edge rusher; he’s a perfect weak side linebacker in a 4-3. Brown, however, has Irvin-like speed, and speed is what gets to the quarterback.
Courtney Upshaw—Didn’t run at the combine, which was a red flag, then didn’t run well enough at his pro day to ease speed concerns. Simply put, Upshaw is a rough-and-tumble football player who gets to the ball with a hunger for doing it. He makes a defense tougher, meaner. That’s bad?
Quinton Coples—Pure 4-3 defensive end who followed a so-so senior season with a so-so postseason, causing his stock to cool considerably. Now, with the big day here, will the 4-3 teams be able to ignore Coples’ prototype size/speed measurables? Nobody looks the part more than Coples does.
Kendall Reyes—He was the best guy at the Senior Bowl. Nobody rushed the passer in practice, full-pads practice, better than Reyes did. Ask Kevin Zeitler. But Reyes is better suited to play tackle in a 4-3. So what’s so bad about a pass-rushing defensive tackle?
Whitney Mercilus—Like Coples, Mercilus also passes the eye test. The difference is that Mercilus was ultra-productive in 2011. Doubters point to the fact that Mercilus is a one-year wonder. Maybe that’s just a start.
Andre Branch—He was a scratch at the Senior Bowl. Showed flashes of greatness at Clemson, but would disappear at times, too. What’s hurting him is that Clemson defensive linemen have struggled at the NFL level in recent years. They used to say that about Jeff Tedford quarterbacks, too.
Nick Perry—He turned in a Mike Mamula-like combine, but before you say, “Yeah, but Mamula was a workout wonder who became a bust,” remember the program from which Perry is graduating. It’s USC and it has produced a lot of great linebackers, including Clay Matthews.
Vinny Curry—Most see him as a 4-3 end who will have to be used as a pass-rush specialist early on in his career. I see a little bit of Aldon Smith, who was used as a specialist in a 3-4 scheme last year and produced 14 sacks. That’ll work.
Chandler Jones—He’s come out of nowhere and it appears he’s moved into the first round. Jones is a 4-3 defensive end who is said to be a smart, instinctive player.
Jake Bequette—This is a down-the-road guy to whom I took a shine when he snapped the heads of running backs in blitz pick up drills at the Senior Bowl.
Brandon Lindsey—Was a top prospect heading into last season, then fell off his game in the midst of coaching turmoil at Pitt. He’s got the kind of speed that makes you smile to pick in the middle to late rounds.
Sean Spence—Can run with Irvin, but was woeful on the bench at the combine. Find a way to use his speed off the edge in year one, then commit him to a strength program and the combination might produce something special in the future.
Josh Kaddu—Lit it up at the Shrine Game. Flashed the kind of range that belongs to high picks, but he’s not a pure pass rusher and that’s why he’s expected to last into the third round. Who says he can’t rush the passer? He has the speed to do it. Watch for his name.
Dont’a Hightower—He’s an inside backer, but that’s not to say he can’t get to the quarterback and, oh, by the way, some teams think he can play outside in a 3-4.
Ronnell Lewis—Top talent and lights-out hitter who needs to find a home in somebody’s defense. Some creative coordinator will find a way to make him fit.
Cam Johnson—Made switch from linebacker to end when Virginia switched from 3-4 to 4-3, which makes him a true tweener and that’s holding him down. He’s shown the ability to produces tackles for a loss; someone might see some pass rush in him.
That’s a pretty good list. So, who’s your guy?