What Makes a Good Pass Rusher: Looking at the Prospects

Feb 27, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels defensive lineman Quinton Coples (8) gets measured during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

As the 2012 NFL Draft nears, the Panthers are growing ever closer to formulating a Draft Board. In my opinion, the most pressing need is an upgrade of the pass rush, which performed miserably last season, amassing 31 Sacks (25th in the NFL). Even with the re-signing of Antwan Applewhite, and the acquisition of Jyles Tucker, the Panther's pass rush remains incomplete. This offseason, Coach Ron Rivera has hinted that he wants to improve the pass rush, and with the acquisitions currently made, the Panthers have effectively established a good rotation with some solid rotational pieces. However, as recent history has taught us, a potent pass rush is a necessity when building a championship contender.

As such, it is my belief that the Panthers will be targeting a defensive end with an early selection in the Draft. Yet it is important that the Panthers make the correct choice when drafting, as a fallacious pick could set the organization back.

Before inspecting the prospects at hand, it would be helpful to delve into what goes into making a successful and effective defensive end. We'll look at measurables, techique, and pass rushing moves.


Physical girth has different parameters depending on scheme. For example, a 3-4 DE is a 5 Technique, and typically weighs in over 300 lbs. with a height over 6'0, whilst a 3-4 OLB is usually is relatively slender, usually built over 250 lbs. However, in the 4-3, a DE normally weighs between 265-290 lbs. 5 Techniques need to weigh in excess of 300 lbs. in order to do battle with guards, and hold two gap assignments, whereas, 34 OLB's are sleeker with an emphasis on speed in order to outmaneuver larger offensive tackles, and 43 DE's need a combination of girth and speed so as to vary the type of attack.

Height typically has very little to do with the success of DE's, however, a taller DE typically possesses longer arms, which are very beneficial to a defensive ends. On the flip side, having height could affect the leverage of a defensive end. Being blessed with speed is also to the benefit of defensive ends, aiding in the outmaneuvering of offensive linemen, as well as the pursuance of opposing running backs. More important is the quickness and burst necessary to gain favorable leverage and positioning in the early seconds after the ball is snapped, also helping a defensive end turn the corner.


Playing in the C gap, 4-3 Defensive Ends are almost always matched up with an offensive tackle. The primary goal of the defensive end is to reach the quarterback, and inflict pain, and standing in the way of that superordinate goal is the offensive tackle. Starting off in the proper stance, the DE rushes as soon as the ball is snapped. Arcing towards the QB, and keeping his legs moving, the DE has his arms in front of him, keeping the OT's hands off of him; if an OT gets his hands placed on the DE, the superiorly strengthened tackle will overpower the DE, and contain him. Furthermore, a DE wants to hold leverage when going up against the lineman, keeping his center of gravity low to the earth, so as to consolidate strength and drive the opponent into the backfield. By playing high, the DE is opening himself up to a confrontation with a burly OT, matching upper body strength against the total strength of the lineman. During this entire process, the DE wants to be moving his feet quickly in order to try to blow past the slower competition.


via broncotalk.net

Pass Rush Moves:

A technically sound defensive end typically has 2-3 pass rushing moves under his belt. Being technically proficient with more than one move, allows a defensive end to vary his attack, keeping the offensive lineman off guard. Most elite College Defensive Ends rely on superior athleticism and size to overpower opponents, however, at the professional level, simply over powering an opponent, or speeding past a tackle is very rare, and takes a very special athlete. As such, working on technique and developing pass rushing moves are essential for building success in the NFL.

The Bull Rush:

The Bull Rush is one of the more germane pass rush moves, simply converting force and momentum in order to drive one's opponent into the backfield. After the snap, the DE takes 3 steps laterally, before turning to engage the offensive lineman with both of his hands directed under the shoulder pads of the OT, pushing him backwards, and collapsing the pocket. This move requires a lot of upper body strength, and will typically not work against a well disciplined offensive lineman, with good leverage and foot movement. The arms of the DT need to be fully extended in order to ensure that the offensive lineman is unable to halt the momentum constructed by the DE. Once within range of the quarterback, the DE will disengage and move in for the kill.

Speed Bull Rush (James Harrison) (via davidzzz94)

Rip Move:

This move is a little more advanced, requiring more precision. For the Rip Move, DE's attempt to use an OT's arms to move them off kilter, and blow past them. After the snap, the DE moves forward three snaps, before taking a step towards the OT. Once within arm reach, the DE will situate his arm underneath the OT's arm/shoulder pushing/punching upwards so as to win leverage against the OT. Once the DE has the leverage, he is able to get around the OT towards the QB in order to reacquaint him with the turf. This move requires strong arms and upper body strength, as well as speed to maneuver past the lineman.

3- Rip Move (via Thearmchairqbshow)

Swim Move:

The Swim Move also requires a certain amount of precision in order to execute it correctly. In order for this move to work for properly, the DE needs to be taller than the OT he is squaring off against. In the Swim Move, the DE takes three steps before punching the OT's arm with his outside arm and swinging his inside arm over the head of the OT and bursting forward before feeding the QB some dirt. The Swim Move requires quick hands and feet, as the swim move provides a brief opportunity for the OT to punch the DE, disrupting his balance, and tipping the leverage battle in favor of the offensive lineman. Blocking-the-swim-move_medium

via www.football-tutorials.com

Club Move:

The Club/Counter Move is a simplistic move, in which the Defensive End will use his hand as a club to swat the OT's hands away from the DE before moving onto the QB. After taking three steps forward, the DE will use one of his hands to punch the lineman's hands, in order to keep them out of reach and to push the lineman to the side before moving back into the pocket and forcibly placing the quarterback onto the ground.

In conclusion, a quality defensive end has at least 2-3 basic pass rushing moves mastered, so as to deviate his game, and remain unpredictable. Often times, DE's will add wrinkles into established pass rush moves, increasing the cogency and providing a personal flavor to an end's game.

Pass Rush Moves.wmv (via icehole3)

The Prospects:

With the level of pass rushers already on the roster, it is likely that the Front Office will target a Defensive End in the early rounds, probably one of the top talents available positions. Therefore, we'll take a look at five of the top 4-3 defensive ends: Quinton Coples, Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, Chandler Jones, and Cam Johnson.

Quinton Coples

6'6 284 lbs. / 4.78 40 yard dash / 1.63 10 yard split / 33 1/4 inch arms / Bench: 25

Quinton Coples vs Miami 2011 (via JMPasq)

Coples has a lot of talent and size, and sometimes he relies on his natural ability to get pressure, however, this is not unusual for college athletes. Coples specializes in Bull Rushes, Speed Rushes, the Rip Move, and occasionally the swim move. Coples could provide an immediate impact at the next level, either coming off the bench on passing downs, or starting from day one.

Nick Perry

6'3 271 lbs. / 4.50 40 yard dash / 1.56 10 yard split / 33 inch arms / Bench: 35

Nick Perry vs Washington " Senio Kelemete" 2011 (via JmpasqDraftjedi)

Perry relies almost exclusively on athletic ability when matched up against opposing tackles. Perry has good hand eye coordination, and is able to club the hands of OT's, typically trying to outflank them with his speed before cutting back inside. However when this doesn't work he is effectively neutralized. That's not to say that Perry can not be tutored into a solid DE, but that his immediate impact will not be very large.

Whitney Mercilus

6'4 261 lbs. / 4.63 yards / 1.56 10 yard split / 33 7/8 inch arms / Bench: 27

Whitney Mercilus vs ASU 2011 (via JMPasq)

Mercilus also relies on natural talent and speed in order to best his competition, rarely using his hands, except to ward off incoming linemen. Mercilus will likely need some solid coaching and time in order to succeed at the next level, and while he may become a talented pass rusher, it will not be instantaneous.

Cam Johnson

6'3 268 lbs. / 4.75 40 yard dash / 1.66 10 yard dash / 33 1/2 inch arms / Bench: N/A

Cam Johnson vs Miami "Brandon Washington" 2011 (via JMPasq)

Like the other DE's, Johnson relies a lot on speed and power, however, he uses both in harmony. Johnson could be coached into a starting caliber DE with possibly even more upside. With the proper tutelage, Johnson could see rotational time before graduating into a starting role. Johnson utilizes his power and hands to his advantage, and initiates the contact rather than letting it come to him.

Chandler Jones

6'5 266 lbs. / 4.85 40 yard dash / 10 yard split N/A / 35 1/2 inch arms / Bench: 22

Chandler Jones vs West Virginia (via MetaDraft)

Chandler utilizes bull rushes, as well as speed rushes, but hasn't developed any higher level pass rushing moves. Jones has decent upper body strength, despite the low numbers on the bench press. Jones has potential, but like every other prospect, he'll need time and time training and learning from the defensive coaches.

The Coda:

Many of the upper tier defensive end prospects possess outstanding athleticism and intangibles however, they will require sufficient coaching and tutelage from the veterans on the defensive front, as well as Defensive Line Coach Eric Washington. Most of these prospects will be able to pick up the concepts of the pass rushing techniques and moves that will help them succeed in the NFL. However, at the moment it looks like Quinton Coples is the only prospect with good odds to succeed immediately at the next level. In the forthcoming week or so I hope to look at a couple more prospects, including Melvin Ingram, and Vinny Curry, as well as the other facets of a defensive end's craft.

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