Having already taken a look at the 2014 Offensive Line draft class options in the early rounds of the NFL Draft for the Arizona Cardinals, it’s time we should assess another big-time position of ‘need’, or perceived ‘need’ on the Cardinals roster – outside linebacker, but mainly the pass rush in general.
The Cardinals have managed to get by with what they had for a number of seasons at outside linebacker, which has been a pretty average position group for the most part in recent years. Despite the defense being one of the top units there has been one area the team has struggled in, especially in the previous regime, and that’s rushing the passer. The team has 80 sacks in the two seasons prior to this year, which is respectable, but there was no stand-out, reliable player making a contribution each and every week.
The unit was led by Sam Acho for the most part, and was the most effective pass rusher on the roster, but more by default, if that’s a fair comment. His partners in crime were O’Brien Schofield and Quentin Groves, both of whom are no longer with the team because they couldn’t cut it under Ray Horton as consistent playmakers.
The team replaced Schofield and Groves with a number of castaways from teams arguably worse than the Cardinals. Picking up special team ace Lorenzo Alexander from the Redskins and Matt Shaughnessy from the Raiders provided the team with the depth they so desperately needed. Not to mention the wise addition of veteran John Abraham, who was adamant he could still cut it on a regular basis.
Acho and Alexander, the two starters early on, were injured really before the season began, leaving Shaughnessy and Abraham to see most of the time at the position, and in addition to this, fourth round rookie Alex Okafor was used sparingly before he suffered a season-ending injury. With this adversity, the team still finished with 47 sacks, Abraham with 11.5 of them, earning him a Pro Bowl appearance, and the sixth most sacks in the league, which was one of the leading factors as to why the Cardinals were Football Outsiders’ second ranked defensive unit in the NFL this season. Not bad, huh.
So this leads us to the offseason. Looking ahead to the 2014 NFL Draft, as we all should be aware of, the Cardinals are selecting 20th overall, which unfortunately puts us out of range for the real elite talents, but there are, as always, gems to be found. To simulate realism, we assume prospects such as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Buffalo’s Khalil Mack are all off the board, as all are expected to be top 15 picks come May 8th.
Let’s dive in. The first player we should look at is Clemson’s Vic Beasley. With the First Pick have put together their own scouting report of Beasley, check it out. Beasley has vast experience at playing both defensive end and rush backer for the Tigers, and is comfortable in both a 4-3 and 3-4 system, which could be a vital factor since current defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is one of the leading candidates for the Vikings Head Coaching position, as well as a number of other Head Coaching gigs in the NFL. It would take a brave man to change the system in place, but you cannot rule it out.
His most impressive trait is his explosiveness. Beasley can generate such burst out of his quite diminutive frame and explode out of his stance. He does an excellent job of shedding blocks and getting down-field with speed and making highlight-reel plays in both facets of the oppositions offense, but it’s his pure athleticism which earned him rave reviews in college. Projecting as a sure-fire first-round pick this year, he is definitely one to consider should he be available.
Missouri’s Kony Ealy has risen up draft boards this season with his impressive play and eye-catching performances. Having received a second/third round grade from the Draft Advisory Board (NFLDAB) last year, it provided the incentive to go out there and make himself a a star (and more money while he’s at it).
Ealy is more of a pure pass rusher than Beasley. He doesn’t contribute to the same extent in the run game, and is all about making players behind the line of scrimmage. Bleacher Report‘s lead NFL Draft writer Matt Miller has likened Ealy to 49ers star Aldon Smith, recognised as one of the top-tier pass rushers in the NFL. He can play in a variety of positions along the defensive line, as well as upright outside the tackles as a pure edge rusher. He will probably be used in the same was as Miami’s Dion Jordan was used during his rookie season, mainly in pass rush situations, but he will learn the hone in the rest of his game to last in the NFL.
We begin to now meander into the next tier of players who all have the ability to sneak into the first round conversation. Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu is a guy receiving a lot of buzz, and one of my personal favourite prospects in the entire draft. WTFP have shared their views on Attaochu, who projects as a top 40 pick pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Again, another player with experience at both outside linebacker and defensive end, Attaochu’s most impressive quality is his motor. He never stops chasing the ball, and has the speed and quickness to move all over the field, drop back into coverage and well as be an exclusive – and influential – pass rusher.
Seen as a more rounded, more NFL-ready version of Seattle’s Bruce Irvin, Attaochu will certainly impress at the combine and be in the mix to be selected in the mid-to-late first round once the premier pass rushers are off the board. His best fit is seen as a 3-4 backer, and can start from day one (with little competition) but he should develop into a quality three-down player.
A player who’s stock has fallen a lot in recent months is BYU’s Kyle Van Noy. Following his brilliant junior season, Van Noy returned to school for his senior season, which hasn’t gone to plan. The once first round lock is now a Day 2 question mark in terms of where he will be selected, but his talent is undoubted.
Van Noy has impressive anticipation and a fast jump off the line immediately pressuring the opponents in protection. His use of his hands is his key to success when rushing the passer, in addition to his range of techniques to evade blocks. A competent tackler and effective in the run game, Van Noy clearly has a lot of talent but it needs refining for sure, which can be addressed at the next level. It’s likely he will fall into the second round, which will end up being a bargain for one lucky team.
That’s just a quick look at what the organization could do come draft day, but if you have anything you would like to add, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion in the comments section, or you could always hit me up on twitter, @moliverNFL.