With the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine upon us, Bucky Brooks is ranking the top prospects at key positions. Today's focus: pass rushers.
Strengths: Energetic edge rusher with extraordinary length and a pro-ready game. Bosa plays like a seasoned vet on the edges, exhibiting exceptional balance, body control and hand skills as a rusher. He consistently defeats blockers with a series of power maneuvers and counter moves that come straight from a textbook. Bosa's polished technique and keen awareness are uncommon for a young player, particularly a true junior with only three years of major college game experience. As a run defender, Bosa possesses the length and strength to hold the point against single- and double-team blocks. Most importantly, he flashes the short-area quickness and burst to slip through creases to nail runners in the backfield. With 51 career tackles for loss at OSU and a number of splash plays on his personal highlight reel, Bosa's knack for disruption is one of the reasons teams are smitten with his talent and potential as a versatile playmaker (defensive tackle/defensive end).
Weaknesses: Despite Bosa's ridiculous production, he lacks some of the "quick-twitch" and explosiveness commonly found in elite rushers. He flashes moderate first-step quickness and snap-count anticipation when hunting off the edge. Although Bosa overwhelmed college blockers with strength and power, he could struggle defeating elite NFL blockers as a pure power player.
Strengths: Disruptive pass rusher with explosive first-step quickness and closing burst. Spence wreaks havoc on opponents ill-equipped to deal with his combination of speed and athleticism off the edge. He blows past slow-footed blockers with his cat-like quickness and uses a slick "dip and rip" move to turn the corner on the way to the quarterback. Spence's balance, body control and burst make him a threat to take over the game at any point. Looking at his play as a sophomore at Ohio State, it's clear Spence was the most disruptive defensive lineman on a unit that featured Joey Bosa and a handful of future pros. Considering how much his game could continue to evolve at the next level, it is easy to envision Spence tallying 10-plus sacks per season consistently as a hunter off the edge.
Weaknesses: Spence's character is in question, given that he was suspended at Ohio State and ultimately declared permanently ineligible by the Big Ten in 2014 after failing a pair of drug tests. While he has completed a drug-treatment program and avoided trouble -- aside from an arrest in May 2015 for public intoxication that has since been expunged -- since his departure, teams are wary of dealing with a player with a documented issue. Thus, he must convince teams that he has moved beyond his issues and won't be a problem when he enters the NFL. On the field, Spence needs to develop a more diverse game as a pass rusher. He relies primarily on speed and quickness; NFL blockers will take away his fastball, and he must have an effective counter to be a productive player off the edge. In addition, Spence needs to be a more consistent player against the run. He gets pin-balled a bit on the edge, and teams will target him in the run game.
Strengths: Disruptive edge defender with a unique combination of power, athleticism and violent hands. Lawson overwhelms blockers with his rugged game, but he also displays a set of finesse skills (spin and swipe moves) that allow him to win consistently off the edge. He rocks blockers at the point of attack with a low-leverage approach that features violent hands and a deadly bull rush/forklift. In addition, Lawson mixes in a dynamic spin move that leaves blockers falling over themselves in space. As a run defender, Lawson is a stout presence adept at holding point against single- or double-teams on the edge. In addition, he has a knack for slipping through gaps on angle moves (the defender is instructed to shoot through an inside gap) to nail runners in the backfield. With Lawson also displaying exceptional hand skills separating from blockers, the Clemson standout is a dominant pass rusher with strong ability as a run defender.
Weaknesses: Despite Lawson's production as a sack artist, he lacks elite first-step quickness and burst off the edge. He relies extensively on his strength and power to overwhelm blockers on pass rushes, which limits his chances when facing premier blockers with excellent anchor ability and lower-body strength. While teams in need of a stout base end will find Lawson attractive as a three-down player, coaches looking for a speed rusher could view him in a lesser light.
Strengths: Long, rangy hybrid defender (defensive tackle/defensive end) with explosive athleticism and disruptive rush skills. Buckner brings unique talent to the table as a versatile inside/outside pass rusher. He effectively utilizes his superior arm length to snatch and jerk defenders at the point of attack. Buckner's workmanlike approach lacks pizzazz, but he is capable of dominating the game from multiple spots on the line. Considering the value defensive coaches place on disruption and quarterback hits, Buckner's length, versatility and rush skills should make him a hot commodity on draft day.
Weaknesses: There's no disputing Buckner's effort and tenacity as a blue-collar rusher, but he is a high-leverage player prone to lengthy droughts as a sack artist. While some of his limited impact can be attributed to the steady diet of double- and triple-teams sent to his side, Buckner rarely takes over the game from his interior position. He plays too high at the point of attack, and disciplined, low-leverage blockers repeatedly stonewall him on rush attempts.
Strengths: Productive straight-line rusher with explosive strength and power. Ogbah overwhelms blockers with a "bull in a china shop" approach that combines violent hands with relentless spirit. The Oklahoma State standout wears opponents down with his energy and power. In addition, he runs past blockers with a sneaky burst around the corner. Given his production (24 sacks over the past two seasons) and consistent disruption, Ogbah's power-rush skills make him an intriguing candidate.
Weaknesses: Ogbah is a one-trick pony off the edge with a power-based game that lacks diversity. Although there are plenty of pass rushers with power moves (bull rush, forklift and swipe) as their fastballs, the elite edge rushers can defeat opponents with a variety of counter maneuvers that complement their go-to move. Given Ogbah's limited repertoire, he could struggle as a pro when opponents study his tendencies off the edge.