When we are evaluating any pass rusher there are a group of traits we look for when determining how a player will impact the NFL. This list includes these broad categories; length, hand usage, the ability to generate power, awareness, motor etc. The two most important abilities however are the ability to bend (around the corner) and the burst off the line of scrimmage.
I consider these two the most important abilities because they can not be taught.To an extent these traits are purely a natural athletic ability.
When a player has both of these abilities they have a much higher chance of success as a NFL pass rusher. Players who display both abilities are ones like Von Miller and Vic Beasley on the outside or, JJ Watt and Aaron Donald on the inside.
However in the 2017 NFL Draft class of pass rushers it is becoming more and more obvious that there is not a player (outside Myles Garrett) who possesses all of these traits listed. The question becomes which combination of traits is more valuable to success in the NFL?
Can't Flatten the Arc
I am going to start with this first group of pass rushers.These pass rusher have the tools to beat tackles quickly but still don't seem to get the QB on the group. Their problem is they can not flatten the arc. Typically players who lack the ability to flatten their arc lack ankle flexibility. This deficiency shows up in non-contact drills and it is the primary reason the arc drill is run at the combine.
One of my most intriguing players in this category is Jordan Willis DE, Kansas
Willis has some good skills in his game, he has a burst to threat the edge against any offensive tackle, he uses his hands very well and can play with power in his game. What becomes obvious when watching Jordan Willis is that he lacks the ability to bend and flatten the arc in his rush. I'll highlight this in the next couple of plays.
This first play highlights exactly what I mean with Jordan Willis. With his get off of the LOS Willis has force the RT to turn his hips perpendicular to the line of scrimmage and lose all his leverage in the block. Willis does a good job of knocking the RT hands off of him and now all he needs to do is flatten and go get the QB.
Willis can't do this though, look how wide he has to take his route and it forces him to take a few extra steps and allows the QB to climb the pocket. What early on in the rush look like an easy sack turned into just another QB pressure.
Here once again Willis destroys the RT but he does not show the ankle flexibility to flatter the arc and get the sack.
Willis isn't a bad player, he knows how to use his hands, he plays with a good pad level and as shown above he has a pretty good jump off the line but because he can't flatten the arc he is left with getting a lot of pressures on the QB instead of a lot of sacks.
Notable players: Ryan Anderson, OLB Alabama,
The next group of players appear to have the ankle flexibility to flatten the arc, they appear to have the athletic burst off the line but still struggle to get consistent pressure. Among other issues the biggest factor is the inability to bend or get low around the corner. Why is this an issue?
Once again the game at the LOS is all a game of physics and leverage. If you can get lower you lower you center of gravity increasing your balance but you also minimize the force a tackle can exert. On top of that with such large players playing tackle, it is harder for these tackles to move and stay balanced while bending. The final advantage to getting low is a smaller surface area for the tackle to make contact with. In short getting low while turning the corner helps you not get pushed off your track to the QB.
Takkarist McKinley, OLB UCLA is probably the highest rated player with this issue.
Here McKinley does a few things you like. He has a nice burst of the ball he. He uses his hands pretty nicely with the chop and then rip but he still gets pushed around the QB (even though he eventually gets a sack). Why does this happen? The biggest thing is that he is too high turn the corner, this increases the area where the tackle can contact and because his center of gravity is higher it makes him easier to move off his track. There is a reason the pass rush sequence is named the chop, dip and rip.
The ability to bend around the corner is simultaneously a natural ability as well as a learned and practiced one. I am going to highlight one more play from McKinley.
Here McKinley is either trying to execute a speed rip or he is trying to do a club, dip and rip (not really important). The reason I highlighted this play is to comment on McKinley's pad level as he attempts to turn the corner. This is most apparent by his helmet's height and his body lean. Look how McKinley's body line is upright turning the corner and how easily he gets pushed down field despite forcing the tackle to open his hips really early..
It is really hard describe what bend and getting low around the corner should look like so I thought I'd use an example at two of the best LBs ever to do this; James Harrison and Von Miller. I chose both these plays as both Miller and Harrison are attempting the same move as McKinley in the second play I highlighted.
James Harrison v. Lions (2016)
Von Miller v. Chiefs (2016)
Look at the difference in body angle between McKinley and these two. Now I don't have my protractor out but both are turning the corner with a body lean at least at a 60 degree angle (though probably much steeper). Even more impressive look at the shoulder dip from Von Miller. In fact both players turn the corner and their helmets are under the shoulder pads of their blockers (a more impressive feet for the 6-foot-3 Miller than the 6-foot Harrison).
This is what you mean by bend and dip. It has a lot to do with body control, balance and ankle, knee and hip flexibility.
Notable Players: Carl Lawson, Tanoh Kpassagnon
The last group of pass rusher do a lot of things very well. They play with some combination of the following; power, advance pass rusher move and bend. The question with this group isn't with the minute details of the position but with the simple observation that most have just adequate enough burst off the line and limited movement skills.
This is the group that spawned this write up. I have gone back and forth on the members of this category and can not make up my mind whether I think they will be impact players in the NFL or busts.
The player in this category I'd like to highlight is Taco Charlton
It is incredibly difficult to highlight these limits on athleticism. Charlton for example is a tick late off the ball regularly. He takes a while to breakdown in space, looks heavy footed at times, and struggles with lateral movement. He makes up for these issues with length, heavy hands, a slightly slow but well executed spin move and surprisingly good dip around the corner. Of course he has enough athleticism to take advantage of bad sets by tackles but he doesn't force tackles to respect the outside.
Let's look at the tools the Michigan DE has to compensate for his limited burst.
Here Taco Charlton displays the abilities that were lacking in the prospects highlighted previously. He takes advantage of a bad set by the tackle, knocks his arms down, does an excellent job of dipping his shoulder and than flattens to the QB.
Here we can see Taco Charlton using his length and power to bull rush a tackle. He does a great job here of keeping his hat under the OT's and getting inside the tackles hands.
As always I like to judge how a pass rusher did against the best competition he face, for Taco Charlton he went against the player who I think is the best pass blocker in this class, Ryan Ramcyzk.
Other Notable Players: Derek Barnett, Charles Harris
So what do you think? Whose flaws are less detrimental?