The Year of the Pass Rusher: Ranking the Top Prospects


In NFL circles, the 2015 NFL Draft has been dubbed as the “Year of the Pass Rusher”. There are four pass rushing prospects that stand above the rest. These four are Shane Ray, Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler, and Vic Beasley. There is a chance that all four could go in the top 10 picks. Over the last week or so, I have watched multiple games for each player several times while carefully analyzing each snap. I also went back and watched some college games from current NFL pass rushing studs like Von Miller and JJ Watt to compare the tape. I can comfortably say that none of this years’ pass rushers are on the same level as either of those players were coming out of Texas A&M and Wisconsin respectively, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a fantastic group of pass rushers. In this article, I will give a quick break down and summary of each player while also listing their combine measurements, rank them, and give a pro-player comparison for each one.

More from Vikings Draft

Honorable Mention: Bud Dupree

This is an honorable mention based less on my opinion of him as a player and more on the fact that Bud Dupree will likely be the fifth pass rusher drafted. Dupree does not show good instincts, and disappears for extremely long stretches of time, sometimes entire halves. Dupree does not do a very good job getting off tackles, and does not have a very big variety of pass rushing moves. While he does boast athleticism and good speed, it will take one heck of a coach to develop Dupree into an impact player. While the physical attributes are there, if any of the top 5 pass rushers in this draft are going to be a bust, it will most likely be Dupree.

Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri 

Nov 1, 2014; Columbia, MO, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Stanley Williams (18) is tackled by Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Shane Ray (56) during the second half at Faurot Field. Missouri won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Combine Measurements: 6’3”, 245 lbs, 33 1/8” arms.

+ Good active hands  when pass rushing, especially to counter a tackle’s punch

+ Quick first step. Gets off the line a microsecond after the ball is snapped almost every play

+ Really good inside swim move, particularly after faking a speed rush

+ Good speed rush that he sells with head fakes and stutter steps

+ Good “bending” ability. Aang would be proud

+ Relentless motor

– Liability against the run. Tries to compensate for lack of strength in run game by hurling self into the blocker while not using hands and completely abandoning any kind of technique

– Will sometimes take bad angles vs the run. There was a time vs Kentucky where he set the edge perfectly but the runner was still able to get to the outside for a big gain due to a terrible angle

– Not big or strong enough to be a full time defensive end or outside linebacker right now. Needs to put on some weight

While Shane Ray has a lot of positives, his strength is a big concern. Unless he puts on a lot of weight and gets a lot stronger by September, he will be limited to playing on passing downs only. He has a good amount of finesse and a good understanding of how to attack the opposing tackle in the pass game. Ray is a borderline top 10 pick come draft day.

Pro-Player Comparison: Robert Quinn

Pass Rusher Rank: 4

Nov 22, 2014; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers defender Randy Gregory (4) sacks Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner (7) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska

Combine Measurements: 6’5”, 235 lbs, 34” arms

+ Extremely athletic. Ran a 4.64 40 yard dash with a 36.5” vertical jump and a 125” broad jump at the combine

+ Understands how to use leverage and plays with good pad level most of the time

+ Tremendous closing speed

+ Good hands, especially in the run game. If he can add a few pounds he can develop into quite the run-defender

+ Good inside counter move

+ High motor

+ Good length with a good frame if he can bulk up a bit

– Does not currently possess a big variety of pass rushing moves

– Not great at shedding blocks

– Will sometimes disappear for long stretches of time

– Does not possess a good first step at all. Took considerably longer than the other three pass rushers to get off the line of scrimmage at the snap. This is a big area of concern for me

– Needs to add some weight

Randy Gregory is a great prospect. He has a lot of positives, and from an athletic/physical standpoint he is arguably the top pass rushing prospect in this draft. Of the four prospects I am breaking down, Gregory was double (And sometimes even triple) teamed the most, which goes to show how feared of a player he was in college. However, I am extremely worried about how long it takes him to get off the line of scrimmage at the snap. In the NFL a tackle will already be ready and in his stance by the time Gregory finally gets off the line, taking away any chance at a speed rush. This could expose Gregory’s lack of pass rushing moves if he doesn’t develop a larger variety of moves. As a prospect, Gregory is extremely intriguing. NFL coaches are paid to fix problems like this, but Gregory is by no means a “Pro-Ready” prospect. Gregory has an extremely high ceiling, and this is why he is ranked one spot higher than Ray. Gregory is a borderline top 5 pick.

NFL Comparison: Ezekial Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions

Pass Rusher Rank: 3

Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida 

Jan 3, 2015; Birmingham, AL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. (6) pressures East Carolina Pirates quarterback Shane Carden (5) during the second half for the 2015 Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. The Florida Gators defeated the East Carolina Pirates 28-20. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Combine Measurements: 6’3”, 261 lbs, 33 3/4” arms

+ Great hand use. Has a strong punch that most tackles wouldn’t expect him to have. Plays with excellent finesse

+ Good counter moves, including a lethal inside swim move

+ Possesses what I call the “Jared Allen Effect”. This is where one good play will often lead to more good plays. Stems from getting “energized” after making an impact play

+ Great at shooting the 0 and 1 gap

+ Sets the edge and plays aggressive against the run

+ Very high motor

+ Strong and compact upper and lower body

– Sometimes struggles getting off blocks. Can get “stonewalled” at times by bigger tackles

– Doesn’t always do a great job of recognizing the play. Too often Fowler finds himself storming at the quarterback and overruns the play

– While he is strong, he needs to add a bit more strength to consistently compete against NFL tackles

Fowler was given serious consideration to be my top pass rushing prospect. Fowler’s knack for big plays and stepping up in crunch time are a couple extremely underrated aspects of his game. Fowler is a very refined player, who should be able to contribute week 1. Fowler could go as high as the 3rd overall pick.

NFL Comparison: Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins

Pass Rusher Rank: 2

Sep 27, 2014; Clemson, SC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams (12) is brought down by Clemson Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley (3) during the second quarter at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

Combine Measurements: 6’3”, 246 lbs, 32 1/2” arms.

+ Great use of hands vs run and pass

+ Large and effective variety of pass rushing moves, including a nasty inside spin move, inside swim move, speed rush, and an underrated bull rush. Can also bend around the tackle with ease and close quickly on the quarterback

+ Turns the corner extremely fast. Like Ray, uses head fakes and stutter steps to fake out tackle, although sometimes doesn’t even need fakes and can simply beat the tackle with speed off the snap

+ Tremendous first-step. Best of this class

+ Great closing speed

+ Attempts to rip the ball out whenever he can. Forced 7 fumbles in his time at Clemson

+ Fast and athletic

+ Maneuvers through congestion in the trenches extremely well

+ Played last season very light, but bulked up a lot for the combine by adding around 11 lbs of good muscle weight to his frame

+ Good instincts

– Pad level can sometimes be an issue, as he tends to get “stonewalled” when he doesn’t get low enough

– Can sometimes disappear for stretches of time

– Arm length is not ideal

– Once Beasley is being blocked, he isn’t very good at getting off of it and making a play. He seems to accept the fact that he didn’t win in the first 2 seconds of the play and decides to “try again next time”

– Only an average run defender, but can improve

– Despite adding weight for the combine, he will need to add more bulk and get stronger to consistently win against NFL tackles

Vic Beasley is my top rated pass rusher in this draft after further analysis. Beasley has a fantastic combination of speed, athleticism, and pass rushing finesse that will make him a foundational player for whomever decides to draft him. While Beasley is not the consensus top pass rusher, his relentless play style and at times complete dominance vaults him to the top of my list. Although Fowler has a pretty large repertoire of pass rushing moves, Beasley boasts just as many and possesses a deadlier spin move and speed rush, while using his hands just as effectively and providing a little bit more “bending” ability with very fluid hips. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that he graduated prior to the 2014 season with a degree in Sociology. Beasley will be a top 10 pick.

NFL Comparison: Greg Hardy, DE, Free Agent

Pass Rusher Rank: 1

Not all great prospects are created equal. Beasley just barely edges Fowler as my top ranked pass rushing prospect, although in my opinion both will be tremendous players from day one. Gregory and Ray have a lot more work to do. While they both have tremendous upside, I can only see Gregory making a big impact from day one if he lands in a spot with great defensive coaching who can teach him to better his technique and expand on his pass rushing arsenal. Ray can be effective early in a situational pass rushing role, but probably not as a starting 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB.

Thank you all for reading, be sure to leave your opinions in the comments below, and follow me on twitter @jackmack28.

More from Vikings Draft

Next: Vikings Had Interest In Devin McCourty

More from The Viking Age