Enough with the constant search for NFL talent. Gil Brandt is going to try something different: building the perfect player at five key positions by combining the traits of some of the top players in the league today. The series continues with the perfect pass rusher below.
The perfect pass rusher would have ...
... the get-off of Von Miller.
Some people just seem to be born with this trait. Quickness is a factor, but it's about more than that; it's about combining that quickness with outstanding reaction skills to be able to give yourself a major advantage when the ball is snapped. Think of base stealers in baseball -- some guys run fast, but some guys just have a knack for getting a jump on the base path. Guys with good get-off are the guys who make big-time plays, especially on third down; they're often so fast, it looks almost like they're offsides.
Of course, it helps when you're the kind of athlete who can post a 6.7-second three-cone drill, a 4.06-second short shuttle, a 37-inch vertical and a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, as Miller did at the NFL Scouting Combine. If not for Cam Newton, Miller could have been the first player taken in the 2011 NFL Draft. The MVP of Super Bowl 50 was unimaginably quick at the combine back when he was a prospect; he moved like a big cat in the bag drills. Miller's strip-sack of Newton in the first quarter of the Super Bowl, which led to the game's first touchdown, is a perfect illustration of how the Broncos' dynamo wreaks havoc on the field with his get-off.
Classic example: Bruce Smith.
... the first-step quickness of Khalil Mack.
While the two traits are close, get-off and first-step quickness are not the same -- the former is as much about reaction and instincts as it is about quickness, and it's possible to have the latter without having a great get-off. That said, first-step quickness is still key, as it enables you to gain ground on the blocker on your way to the passer. Mack -- who notched a 40-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot-8 broad jump at the combine despite weighing in at a healthy 251 pounds -- has great explosion. If you want to see a clinic in first-step quickness, just look at film of his performance for Buffalo against Ohio State in 2013, when he recorded nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six.
Mack only played one year of high school football, and he hasn't played much with his hand on the ground. So there should be plenty of room for improvement -- yes, even after his 15-sack breakout season in 2015 -- thanks to his speed and quickness, especially as he continues to learn under defensive line coach Jethro Franklin. Mack played a huge role in the Raiders' defensive improvements last season. OK, so a 30-sack season -- as envisioned by Raiders QB Derek Carr -- is a bit far-fetched. But I certainly understand where Carr is coming from.
Classic example: Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
... the relentless effort of Tamba Hali.
The best pass rushers never give up on the play; they might get pushed back initially, but they just keep going, circling around and battling their blocker until they get the sack. The relentless pass rusher is technically proficient, speedy, strong and competitive. The Chiefs veteran is on the downside of his career, but the 11th-year pro uses his speed, quickness and technique to apply non-stop pressure to his man. You could also list J.J. Watt -- whose game relies more on strength than Hali's does -- here.
Classic example: Jared Allen.
... the ability to bend of Elvis Dumervil.
You want your pass rusher to have the lower-body flexibility to be able to duck under the taller guys on the offensive line and have his toe pointed almost directly at the quarterback on his third step. Dumervil had an off year in 2015, but it was only two seasons ago that he notched 17 sacks. The Ravens' veteran pass rusher has the escape you're looking for. Other guys who illustrate this trait are Detroit's Ziggy Ansah, Indianapolis' Robert Mathis and veteran Dwight Freeney. It's amazing that Freeney can get as low as he can.
Classic example: Harvey Martin.
... the ability to finish of J.J. Watt.
We see a lot of "almost sacks" -- which often go into the books as "pressures" -- but you want your pass rusher to actually bring the quarterback down if he gets within arm's reach. It's like running a race: You have to go 400 meters, not 380. Watt moves all over for the Texans, playing inside and with his hand on the ground, on the strong and the weak side, but the bottom line is, when he zeroes in on his man, he doesn't lose him. You can't rack up 38 sacks in two years playing any other way. With his strength, speed, size, long arms (34 inches) and big hands (11-plus inches), Watt seldom misses a tackle. And not only does the three-time Defensive Player of the Year bring his man down, he has a knack for dislodging the ball when he gets there (15 forced fumbles in the past four years). Quarterbacks today are stronger and more mobile than ever, but even the strongest and most mobile signal caller is hard-pressed to evade Watt.
Classic example: Derrick Thomas.
... the speed-to-power ability of Justin Houston.
Houston's availability to start the 2016 season is in question, but when he's healthy, the Chiefs' pass rusher is one of the best at setting up his blocker with speed and then powering past him to the passer. The 6-3, 258-pound OLB is an athlete (4.68 40, 36 1/2-inch vertical, 10-5 broad jump at the combine) who is really at his best rushing the passer. Offensive linemen like to use their hands, but Houston uses his big mitts (11 inches) and long arms (34 1/2 inches) to rip the blockers off of him; he's just too big, strong and long.
Classic example: Dexter Manley.
... the inside-rush ability of Aaron Donald.
Inside defenders who can also rush the quarterback are rare, but when you find one, the value is hard to overstate. Having a presence inside like Donald -- who has racked up 20 sacks in two seasons for the Rams -- forces the passer to move around and get out of his safe zone. Donald is so quick for someone who checks in at 285 pounds; he can get across the line before his blocker can even get into his stance. In our perfect pass rusher, adding the inside-rush ability of Donald to the traits listed above is sort of like the icing on the cake, in that it will allow our man to be deployed from anywhere along the line. Of course, J.J. Watt already does that, but listing Watt for every trait would defeat the purpose of this exercise.
Classic example: Reggie White.