The NFL is a copy cat league. One team takes home the Lombardi Trophy each season, and the next year teams across the league are trying to replicate that blue print for success.
After the Packers won the Super Bowl a year ago, a few teams adopted the 3-4 defense. The league-wide pattern for success is even simpler than a defensive switch; have an elite quarterback and have players that can get to the other team's quarterback. The Giants showed just how important that is this season, winning Super Bowl XLVI due at large to the strength of their defensive line.
Pass rushers will once again be at a premium during the 2012 NFL Draft, right? Well, maybe not. Despite the established importance of the position and the pressing need many teams have for it, this year's draft crop is far from elite and defensive end.
After the jump, find out why teams are going to have to be creative when addressing defensive end this offseason.
Von Miller and Aldon Smith headlined the 2011 NFL Draft. Neither was a true 4-3 defensive end, but both displayed a tremendous ability to get after the quarterback in their respective schemes. Five more pass rushers were taken to round out the first round, and another three 3-4 defensive end were selected in the first 32 picks.
Quinton Coples is the only elite pass rushing prospect, but even he has faced some skepticism about his game. After Coples, Nick Perry is the only 4-3 defensive end worthy of a first round grade. Guys like Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw give the class some kick at rush linebacker, but neither is on the level of Miller or Smith from a season ago.
Luckily for pass rush-hungry teams, Mario Williams and Cliff Avril could become available in free agency this season. Between Williams, Avril and Coples, the supply of pass rushers is thing in comparison to the demand, so teams are going to have to hope to find some value in the later rounds at defensive end. A quick look at the Giants' defensive line shows that value can certainly be found beyond round one. Osi Umenyiora was a second round selection and Justin Tuck was picked in the third round. Meanwhile, Jason Pierre-Paul fell to the middle of round one.
So, who are some of the players to keep an eye on after the first round? Two guys to keep in mind are Boise State's Tyrone Crawford and Malik Jackson of Tennessee. Tyrone Crawford has a quick burst of the line and a nonstop motor. He gave first round prospect Cordy Glenn a lot of trouble in their meeting this season. Meanwhile, Malik Jackson has the versatility to play both inside and outside. He stands at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds and played both positions for the Volunteers. His strength will come in handy at the next level.
Plenty of other pass rushers will provide teams will value, but it is going to take creativity, solid coaching and a bit of luck to find the gems of this draft class.