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MNF Review: Disruptive defensive ends

10/29/2013
AP, Icon SMI

A seemingly overmatched St. Louis team gave Seattle a scare Monday thanks in large part to Rams DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who accounted for six of the Rams' seven sacks and gave Seattle QB Russell Wilson fits. Yes, the Seahawks were without both starting offensive tackles, but Quinn and Long's performances were impressive nonetheless. It got me thinking about two talented, draft-eligible pass-rushers who compare favorably.

Watching Quinn work inside reminded me of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney working against Tennessee a couple of weeks ago. Both are so quick shooting inside that offensive tackles have a hard time staying in front of them when they attack the B-gap, and interior offensive linemen have a tough time getting into position when these two stunt inside. In addition, both have the initial quickness, torso flexibility and closing speed to beat offensive tackles around the edge as Quinn did on his third sack of the night.

Quinn also showed an above-average motor and the ability to recover when he didn't initially win. While Clowney's effort has been scrutinized more than any other defensive prospect I've evaluated, I disagree with the assertion that Clowney doesn't play hard and can't make the same kind of plays based on his tape.

The Rams took Quinn with the 14th overall pick in 2011, but Clowney projects as a top-five pick and could go first overall. He is better against the run than Quinn was coming out, and he doesn't have the same kind of health concerns as Quinn, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school. It's also worth pointing out that the depth of that 2011 class, in terms of pass-rushers, played a role in Quinn dropping as far as he did; Denver's Von Miller, Houston's J.J. Watt and San Francisco's Aldon Smith were all drafted ahead of him that year. Clowney, on the other hand, is the best pass-rusher in this class, and it doesn't appear nearly as top-heavy talent-wise at this point in the process.

Meanwhile, Long has the strength to play left defensive end and the quickness to play right defensive end in a four-man front. He used violent hands to make Seattle pay when it tried to block him with a tight end, and he showed good speed coming off the edge for size. When I think of Long, there's one player who compares: South Florida's Aaron Lynch.

Lynch is listed at 244 pounds and is playing a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role that asks him to be in space at times. However, Lynch is at his best attacking upfield, and he played at 270 pounds at Notre Dame two years ago. He's shown he can bulk up and he showed excellent first-step quickness at that weight. Even at 244 pounds, he has the upper-body strength and the length to set the edge against the run. At 270 pounds, he's that much tougher to move off the ball and he can slide inside to rush the passer.

The Rams took Long with the second overall pick in 2008. Lynch isn't expected to go that high at this point, but like Clowney, he's an underclassman who could return to school for another year. He could use that time to bulk back up and improve his draft stock. Even if he declared for the draft this year, he's worth a first-round pick. He's that talented.

The elephant in the room when it comes to these two prospects is the lack of production. This season, Clowney has two sacks and Lynch has just one sack. Don't put too much stock in those numbers. It's another example of film trumping production. Teams wisely game plan for both players by committing multiple blockers to them and/or moving the pocket away from them.

Seattle DE/OLB Bruce Irvin is another pass-rusher who made an impact Monday as he recorded a strip sack and intercepted a pass. As much as there was to like about Irvin's ability to get after the quarterback during his time at West Virginia, I questioned the Seahawks taking him with the 15th overall pick last year. At 6-foot-3, 248 pounds, he had problems anchoring against the run and he hadn't shown that he can hold up in coverage.

But he's justified the pick by getting to the quarterback eight times last year while showing he can play linebacker on downs that don't have pass-heavy tendencies. His INT was an excellent example. It came on a first-and-10 with Irvin lined up over TE Jared Cook in the slot. Irvin was smooth opening up and running with Cook before turning to locate the ball and snatching it out of the air. Seattle's coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for his development in this area.

Clemson's Vic Beasley, who is another draft-eligible non-senior, is listed an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter than Irvin coming out, so the concerns about his frame are even greater. Like Irvin, Beasley will have to develop his cover skills and show he can play that hybrid role, but there's reason to be optimistic about his ability to play in space. He shows above-average body control, closing burst and range on tape. Of course, his greatest strength is his ability to get to the quarterback. In addition to that speed, Beasley has active and violent hands.