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Enigmatic pass rushers brim with upside, questions

Top five prospects by position

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About the Author

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Posted April 25, 2012 @ 10:04 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

This is the seventh of a 12-part series that offers up scouting reports on PFW’s top five-ranked players at their respective positions in the 2012 NFL draft. Full scouting reports and the latest buzz on nearly 500 draft prospects, including results from roughly 200 pro days, can be found in PFW’s Draft Database.

Pass-rushing talent can be found throughout this year’s draft, but the draft’s top rushers come with their share of concerns. North Carolina’s Quinton Coples can be great when he wants to be, but he shut it down as a senior to preserve his body. South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram lacks ideal length, especially in his arms, and did not enter the starting lineup until his senior year. Syracuse’s Chandler Jones possesses very intriguing physical tools, yet was slowed by injury in his final season. For as well as USC’s Nick Perry and Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus tested, neither has shown the down-to-down consistency desired of an elite sack artist. West Virginia’s Bruce Irvin has the best take-off speed of any rusher in the draft, yet may have to fit as a pass-rush specialist, and a recent arrest emphasizes the immaturity that has characterized his career. Cal’s Trevor Guyton and Boise State’s Tyrone Crawford can help 3-4 fronts.

1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
Ht: 6-1 1⁄2, Wt: 264, Sp: 4.71, Arm: 31 1⁄2, Hand: 9 5⁄8

Notes: Appeared in all 12 games as a true freshman linebacker in 2007, recording 15 tackles and one for loss (sack). Missed the ’08 season because of a broken foot. Converted to defensive line in ’09, playing all 13 games (one start) and notching 18-31⁄2-11⁄2 with one batted pass. Working in rotation in ’10, tallied 28-11-9 with one batted pass and one forced fumble in 14 games despite breaking a bone in his left hand against Vanderbilt. In ’11, started 12-of-13 games and logged 48-15-10 with two batted passes and two interceptions. Scored three TDs —a 68-yard fake-punt run against Georgia, a five-yard fumble return against the Bulldogs and a fumble recovery in the endzone vs. Vanderbilt. Team captain.

Bottom line: A unique athlete scattered across multiple positions on NFL draft boards, with the potential to line up on the edge or inside, where much of his production comes. Can even warrant looks as a rush linebacker or inside ’backer, possessing ideal size for a 3-4 front. Emerged as a playmaker as a senior and would be best-schemed rushing the passer. Versatility should drive up his value for a creative defensive coordinator, but short arms and immaturity issues also could diminish his draft status, especially for teams projecting him to a position that he did not play in college.

NFL projection: Top-20 pick.

2. Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Ht: 6-5 3⁄4, Wt: 284, Sp: 4.71, Arm: 33 1⁄4, Hand: 10 1⁄4

Notes: Spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy (Va.) before playing 12 games as a true freshman in 2008 — was credited with eight tackles, 31⁄2 for loss and 11⁄2 sacks. Played in all 13 games in ’09 (one start at defensive end) and notched 22-61⁄2-5. The suspension of Marvin Austin prompted Coples’ move inside in ’10, when he started 12-of-13 games and produced 59-151⁄2-10 with two passes batted down and two forced fumbles. Made all 13 starts at left defensive end in ’11 and led the team in tackles for loss and sacks after posting 55-15-71⁄2 with two batted passes and three forced fumbles.

Bottom line: A top-10 physical talent who lacks the heart, desire and glass-eating makeup desired in the trenches and must ratchet up the intensity if he wants to play against the big boys in the pros. Has natural core power and flexibility reminiscent of Oakland Raiders DT Richard Seymour and could be a perennial Pro Bowl performer at multiple positions and excel in multiple schemes if he wants it badly enough. Has bust potential.

NFL projection: Top-20 pick.

3. Chandler Jones, Syracuse (Jr.)
Ht: 6-5 3⁄8, Wt: 266, Sp: 4.83, Arm: 35 1⁄2, Hand: 9 3⁄4

Notes: Redshirted in 2008. Played in all 12 games in ’09, starting the first two games and the final six contests at right end while recording 52 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 11⁄2 sacks. In ’10, he registered 57-91⁄2-4 with four pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 13 starts at right end. Appeared in seven contests (all starts at right end) in ’11 and posted 38-71⁄2-41⁄2 with two batted balls, his first career interception and two forced fumbles. Suffered a knee injury in the season opener against Wake Forest and missed the next five games.

Bottom line: Highly athletic, vine-armed, havoc-wreaking pass rusher with rare dimensions and a developing frame to fill out and become a pass-rushing force. Scouts have compared him to Arizona Cardinals 2008 second-round pick Calais Campbell, yet he offers even more intriguing versatility, with potential to disrupt from either side and grow into a stout anchor.

NFL projection: First-round pick.

4. Nick Perry, USC (Jr.)
Ht: 6-2 3⁄4, Wt: 271, Sp: 4.58, Arm: 33, Hand: 9 1⁄2

Notes: Redshirted in 2008. Saw action in all 13 games in ’09 and registered 24 tackles, nine tackles for loss and eight sacks. Started nine of the 12 games in which he played at right defensive end in ’10, posting 25-71⁄2-4 with three passes batted down and two forced fumbles. Did not play in the season opener at Hawaii because of a sprained ankle. Led the Pac-12 in sacks in ’11 after posting 54-13-91⁄2 with three batted passes and three forced fumbles in 12 starts.

Bottom line: Has upfield speed to scream off the edge and the bulk and weight-room strength to handle the left side, but tape does not match workout numbers, and lack of consistency vs. the run remains a concern. Better tester than football player at this stage, but upside is immense in a fly-at-the-snap scheme and he could benefit tremendously from a veteran position coach.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

5. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (Jr.)
Ht: 6-3 5⁄8, Wt: 254, Sp: 4.68, Arm: 33 7⁄8, Hand: 9 1⁄4

Notes: Redshirted in 2008. Saw action in 11 contests in ’09, recording eight tackles, 31⁄2 tackles for loss and one sack. Posted 16-3-1 with one pass batted down and two forced fumbles in 13 games (two starts) in ’10. Won the Hendricks Award in ’11 after leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles and the Big Ten in tackles for loss — racked up 57-221⁄2-16 with one pass batted down and nine forced fumbles in 13 starts. Team captain.  

Bottom line: From a developmental standpoint, could have used another year of seasoning but leapt into the draft while on his production-fueled ascent in order to support his hardworking, immigrant parents. Very raw, straight-linish, speed/effort pass rusher who might have to be used in specialty role initially before he is ready to handle three-down responsibility. Could be overdrafted.

NFL projection: Top-50 pick.

Click here to read scouting reports on late-rising pass-rush prospects.

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