2011 could have been the year that we remembered as the year the Green Bay Packers went undefeated, but that ended last Sunday. 2011 will be remembered for a lot of reasons though. 2011 is the year of the shorter kick-off, and the year of the quarterback as Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning (a little bit behind pace, but he needs to average 319 yards per game to reach 4,000 for the season) are all challenging Dan Marino’s single season passing record. 2011 is the year that will make of break the franchises of the Panthers (Newton), Bengals (Dalton), Vikings (Ponder), Jaguars (Gabbert), and Titans (Locker).
But somewhat quietly 2011, has also become the year of the young pass rusher. There are a handful of very-young pass rushers who have emerged in the age of passing who look to have great years. These players have completely wrecked their fair share of games this season in impressive fashion. With a combined experience of less than four year and a combined age of only (66-all three players are 22 years old), this trio of pass rushers has accumulated 38 sacks on the season. These three players are Giants DE Jason Pierre Paul (13.5 sacks), 49ers OLB Aldon Smith (13 sacks) and Denver Broncos Von Miller (11 sacks.5).
The great thing about these talented pass rushers are that these sacks are not coming in meaningless moments. All three teams are playing for teams that are challenging for playoff spots (the 49ers are already in) and are making plays in big moments. Last night in a big game for the 49ers, their toughest obstacle for a home playoff game, Aldon Smith dominated the line of scrimmage and sacking Big Ben 2.5 times. His performance was so big that Trent Dilfer went on and on this morning on Sportscenter about how Smith is the best player he’s ever seen (I exaggerate a bit, but he did compare him to Charles Haley and said he’ll be the best pass rusher in the the league in a few years), but the problem is Dilfer was completely neglecting two other young studs, who are the same age, having equally impressive seasons. What all three players do have in common are non-stop motors. They play the game with passion all day, everyday and it’s why you believe these players are not flukes and will have great careers.
Aldon Smith has had an impressive season this year for the 49ers, but he’s been a pass rush specialist for much of the season, he ahd only 31 tackles this season and has recorded zero starts. That’s not to knock him, but to say he’s had the same kind of impact that Jason Pierre Paul or Von Miller has had this season is unfair.
Von Miller has been the Broncos most impressive player this year to me (Tebow included). Playing the LB position in a 43 defense, miller has totaled 11 sacks, which is extremely uncommon. On top of that he has improved his run defense by leaps and bound since the start of the season. Miller accomplishes this with an elite first step and outstanding leverage. He also has great functional strength, even though he is only 245 pounds on multiple occasions this season Miller has bull rushed the RT pushing him yards into the backfield shedding him and making a play on the man with the football. 63 tackles is also a nice number are the 4 passes defensed. He’s improving in coverage as well. I never doubted is pass rushing abilities
And then there is Jason Pierre Paul who plays RDE (since Umeinyora has been out), LDE (when Tuck was out) and DT (please stop that, Giants). Who has been an absolute man-child all season. Pierre Paul has much better than advertised instincts, that are improving. (Yes instincts can improve through practice and training). Freakishly long arms, and incredible athleticism. His hand use is also imporving, but the thing that Jason Pierre Paul has most of all is a non-stop motor. How good is Pierre Paul who seems to be finally figuring it all out? In his last two games, both must win games for the Giants Pierre Paul has 3 sacks, a blocked field goal (he also tipped one other field goal), a safety, a forced fumble and 24 tackles. 24 tackles from the DE position! This guy’s ceiling is insanely high and he’s already showing that he’s going to try and reach it. That’s what’s more impressive about Pierre Paul to me, than Smith or Miller (who are also excellent players) is how many tackles he makes from the defensive end position. He has 76 tackles which is the most in the league by a defensive linemen. And Andre Carter, Pierre Paul and Jared Allen are the other three defensive linemen in the league with more than 55 tackles and more than 7 sacks.
But you can’t go wrong with any of these three players who have shown early in their careers that they are the future pass rushers in the N.F.L.
Other players who are fairly young players (let’s say than 5 years experience)
Chris Long for the Rams with 10 sacks and Cliff Avril for the Lions (4th season) with 11 sacks
Geno Atkins for the Bengals (2nd season) with 7 sacks and Adrian Claiborne and Jabaal Sheard (rookies) with 7 sacks each. Ryan Kerrian (rooke 7.5 sacks). Brian Orakpo also has 7 sacks (3rd year).
Just for kicks here’s what we wrote about each of the players prior to the drafting of them last season. (If I can find stuff on Jason Pierre Paul, I will, but I wasn’t at nflmocks before last year…I know that I did NOT like the selection of Pierre Paul).
From our Aldon Smith scouting report
Overall, I am amazed with Smith’s use of the swim move and how well Missouri’s coaching staff rotates him throughout the line. Smith is a great player, and I think he will be very successful at the NFL level.
NFL Comparison: A more polished Kamerion Wimbley, mostly with the use of his hands.
Grade: 97 (worthy of an early first round pick)
From our Von Miller scouting report
There is an awful, awful lot to like about Von Miller. He has tremendous hustle, an elite first step, and was super-productive in college. He also is teachable, and willing to work, which is something you look for in a top prospect.
After spending the last week re-watching Von Miller I’m going to say I see why teams want him in the top five. He has some technical things to clean up, like hand usage, and improving his pass rush arsenals, but you can’t teach that first step. That’s the thing I kept thinking when I was watching him. Offensive linemen can’t put their hands on him. Linemen are whiffing at him as he’s running by them. He pressures the QB so fast, it’s ridiculous. He also is very hard to hit in the open field, he can be run at, but more often than not the only thing that stops Miller is him taking himself out of the play.
Player Comparison: DeMarcus Ware/Clay Matthews. I think both players might have had better football instincts entering the league and probably were better against the run, but Miller plays with the same tenacity and leaverage that they did in college and he has that kind of pass rush potential. It’s really the first step I’m keying on because that’s what will make Miller his money in the league.
And even though DeMarcus Ware is heavier NOW (265 compared to 251 when he was entering the draft). He was right about the same weight as Miller is when he was entering the league, and if Miller can add weight without losing much on his first step, he has very good potential as a pass rusher and all around player.
And then Jason Pierre Paul quotes I can’t really find. I saw that I wrote “boom or bust” and also wrote that he could be better than Javon Kearse in his prime. I thought I hated the pick, but maybe I was alright with it afterall?
Follow us on twitter @NFLmocks and like us on facebook