In today’s NFL where passing is a premium, players that can pressure the Quarterback are needed more than ever. The impact they can have on a game is monumental, for a defense to be successful they need to be able to disrupt the passing game. The 2011 NFL Draft included four players who have excelled at just that, what’s more impressive is their level of production in their young careers. Let’s take a look at the young men who are on their way to becoming the new era of elite pass rushers in the NFL.
The second overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Von Miller made a name for himself at Texas A&M. Miller’s collegiate career started fairly slow, however he finished his last two years with a BANG!! Miller compiled 111 tackles, and 27.5 sacks. The Denver Broncos drafted Miller to help Elvis Dumervil rush the passer and eventually become their premier pass rusher. Dumervil had an injury riddled season last year, Miller more than made up for his absence. The Broncos had to be ecstatic with Miller’s production in his rookie season, he made 64 tackles and accumulated 11.5 sacks. Even more impressive was the number of snaps he played as a rookie, Miller was essentially a three down player. In the 2011 season, per Pro Football Focus Miller played 1,016 snaps. In other words, he played 85.5% of the Denver Broncos defensive snaps for the season. Of all the tools Miller possesses, what makes him such a dynamic pass rusher is his first step. That has been extremely evident in his sophomore season, heading into Week 12 Von Miller has been exceptional. Miller has 13 sacks thus far, couple that with 45 tackles and 4 forced fumbles you have yourself a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s already exceeded last year’s sack total, he was leading the league in sacks up until this past week. Miller has not only lived up to the hype of a 2nd Overall draft pick, he’s exceeded it.
The first draft in the Jim Harbaugh era of the San Francisco 49ers started with Missouri’s Aldon Smith. Smith was deemed a “project” by several scouts, his physical tools were never in question. What was in question, was his ability to translate to linebacker after spending most of his collegiate career at defensive end. To make matters worse, Smith didn’t run a blazing 40 yard dash time, what did help him was his tape. Due to the fact that his production didn’t really show his potential, Smith was considered a reach by the 49ers with the seventh pick. Aldon burst onto the scene in 2009 with 60 tackles and 11 sacks, he seemed to regress in the 2010 season when looking at his stats. In 2010, Smith had 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks. None of this mattered to General Manager Trent Balke and the 49ers, they thought Smith could help sooner than later. What makes Aldon Smith such a unique talent is his frame, he stands at 6 feet 4 inches. His wingspan is eerily similar to Dwayne Wade, they both have a
wingspan of 84 inches. Add that insane wingspan to a very gifted athlete and you have a problem for offensive lineman, Smith uses his length to his advantage. Rarely are offensive lineman able to grab smith, he’s able to keep them at arm’s length and rush the passer. Balke and Harbaugh appeared to have hit a home run with by selecting Smith, he made 37 tackles and rang up 14 sacks in his rookie season. To make matters worse, Smith did this while only playing 616 snaps of defense. That was just 50.8% of the total defensive snaps played by the 49ers per Pro Football Focus. Imagine what he could have done if he played 1,000 snaps? Well you don’t have to wonder for long, Smith has provided that answer this season. Through 11 Weeks of this season, Smith has accumulated 15 sacks in his first season as a three down player. Much like his sack total in 2011, Smith has also exceeded the number of snaps he played his rookie year(618 to 616). In his last game, Aldon smith tallied 7 tackles and 5.5 sacks, he’s made a name for himself on a defense loaded with other talented 1st Round Picks.
The 2011 Draft was a turning point for the Houston Texans Franchise, they had the 11th pick in the draft. Already boasting a defense featuring Mario Williams, the Texans selected Wisconsin Defensive End JJ Watt. The Texans may have thought there were simply drafting a player to help shoulder some of the pass rushing load for Williams. Instead, Watt’s production helped make it that much easier to allow Mario Williams to walk into Free Agency. Watt made an immediate impact for the Texan defense, he was able generate a very good pass rush from the end position.
Watt finished his rookie year with 56 tackles and 5.5 sacks, he also showed us glimpses of how dominant and disruptive he could be. In his last two seasons at Wisconsin, he piled up 106 tackles and 11 sacks. The Texans knew they were getting an impact player, the just might have not known how much of an impact he would have. As a rookie, Watt showed us a part of the game that impacts like no other. Watt has an innate ability to rush the passer and play the throwing lanes, for most it’s either or. Watt is able to do both at a high level, to the point that it’s almost expected. He played 911 snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus that was 78% of the Houston defensive snaps. Upon Mario William’s exit, someone was going to have to step up to justify him leaving in the fashion that he did. JJ Watt has done that and MORE this season, through 11 weeks Watt has created lots of havoc. In the 650 snaps of defense he’s played this season, Watt’s accumulated 54 tackles, 14.5 sacks, and has gotten his hands on 13 passes. Once again, this is only year two…Watt has more than lived up to the “high motor” part of his scouting report. Houston lost a prominent defensive player in Williams, they very well may have upgraded by selecting JJ Watt. Only time will tell, if he continues to improve at this rate….it won’t take long.
Ryan Kerrigan was the 16th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Washington Redskins selected him to rush the passer opposite Brian Orakpo. Kerrigan was able to make teams pay for double teaming Orakpo immediately, he was able to tally 7.5 sacks during the 2011 season. This shouldn’t have been much of a surprise when looking at Kerrigan’s production at Purdue. Kerrigan started his college career slowly, but when he got comfortable the sacks started rolling in. His last two years at Purdue were very productive, Kerrigan had 66 tackles with 12 sacks in 2009 and 70 tackles with 12.5 sacks in 2010. Like Watt, Kerrigan isn’t known for world-class athleticism. Kerrigan makes up for it by being technically sound with an extremely high motor. The question with Kerrigan was how his collegiate production at defensive end would translate to playing in space as a 3-4 linebacker in the NFL. He put those questions to rest early his rookie season, seeing mostly one-on-one matchups(thanks to Orakpo) Kerrigan added 63 tackles, 4 Forced Fumbles, and an interception to those 7.5 sacks. Thus far the 2012 season has been a trying on for Kerrigan, Orakpo went down for the season early in the year. That left Kerrigan as opposing offenses number one target, he’s been receiving double the attention since. He’s still played fairly well, to this point in the season Kerrigan has: 32 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 1 Forced Fumbles, and 1 interception. Durability is always a bonus for talented players, Kerrigan is the definition of it. In 2011, Kerrigan played 100% of the defensive snaps for the Redskins. This year, that number has only dropped to 98.9% according to Pro Football Focus. This year will only help Kerrigan in the long run, he has learned how to produce while being treated as the number one pass rusher. Once he’s paired with a healthy Orakpo, the Redskins should have two outside linebackers deserving of double teams.
The pass rushers in the 2011 Draft Class are extremely talented, remember these names as we go forward. Who knows, they all might be part of a different class if you follow me.
Thanks for reading, feel free to comment below!!