For all those neutral third parties that watched the Broncos' front-seven dominate the Super Bowl, the first question that probably came quickly into everyone's mind was, "Where the hell can my team get some pass rushers like that?"
I guarantee you Von Miller's playoff clinic is still fresh in the minds of 32 general managers around the league, as well, and they're likely asking themselves the exact same question. Miller led an elite Broncos defense down the stretch and was the undisputed Super Bowl 50 MVP. He dominated the game, sacking Cam Newton two-and-a-half times and forcing two fumbles, one of which led to an early touchdown. There may not be a better example of how an elite pass rusher can take over a game. Miller, somehow, became more important in that game than either team's quarterback. Not just in that game even, but through the entire playoff run.
So, where does your team get the next Von Miller? Well, it probably helps if you're picking in the top-10, but even for teams in the latter part of the round, it's pretty imperative to not wait too long, Edge rushers -- 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers alike -- go early in the draft every year. Still, in a year where quarterbacks and defensive tackles are getting most of the attention in the pre-draft run-up, it would not surprise me if most mock drafts get thrown out of windows as teams make a mad scramble to grab edge prospects with pass rush ability or upside.
That means that the likes of Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, Leonard Floyd, Kyler Fackrell, Jonathan Bullard, Emmanuel Ogbah, Noah Spence, and Shilique Calhoun may go earlier than you expect. Recent history tells us that if you want a player that can get sacks, you better invest early because they don't grow on trees, and that could lead to runs on guys with any upside.
Where teams find their sack artists
I'm not going to say that if you don't get a pass rush prospect in the first two rounds that you may as well not even bother, but the number of edge players* with eight or more sacks in a season over the past five years is heavily skewed toward the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
Check it out. Here's the full list, with the players listed next to the teams they played for and the years in which they got 8.0+ sacks.
|PLAYER||TEAM & YEAR(S)||ORIGINAL ROUND||HOW ACQUIRED|
|Ahmad Brooks||SF 2013||Third round||Waivers|
|Aldon Smith||SF 2011-13||First round||Draft|
|Alex Okafor||ARI 2014||Fourth round||Draft|
|Andre Carter||NE 2011||First round||Free agent|
|Anthony Spencer||DAL 2012||First round||Draft|
|Antwan Barnes||SD 2011||Fourth round||Free agent|
|Brian Orakpo||WAS 2010-11, 2013||First round||Draft|
|Brian Robison||MIN 2011-13||Fourth round||Draft|
|Bruce Irvin||SEA 2012||First round||Draft|
|Calvin Pace||NYJ 2013||First round||Draft|
|Cameron Jordan||NO 2012-13, 2015||First round||Draft|
|Cameron Wake||MIA 2010-11, 2013-14||UDFA||UDFA|
|Carlos Dunlap||CIN 2010, 2014-15||Second round||Draft|
|Chandler Jones||NE 2013, 2015||First round||Draft|
|Charles Johnson||CAR 2010-2014||Third round||Draft|
|Chris Clemons||SEA 2010-2012||UDFA||Trade (mid-round)|
|Chris Clemons||JAC 2014||UDFA||Free agent|
|Chris Long||STL 2010-2013||First round||Draft|
|Clay Matthews||GB 2010, 2012, 2014||First round||Draft|
|Cliff Avril||DET 2010-12||Third round||Draft|
|Cliff Avril||SEA 2013, 2015||Third round||Free agent|
|Connor Barwin||HOU 2011||Second round||Draft|
|Connor Barwin||PHI 2014||Second round||Free agent|
|Demarcus Lawrence||DAL 2015||Second round||Draft|
|Demarcus Ware||DAL 2010-2012||First round||Draft|
|Demarcus Ware||DEN 2014||First round||Free agent|
|Dwight Freeney||IND 2010-11||First round||Draft|
|Dwight Freeney||ARI 2015||First round||Free agent|
|Elvis Dumervil||BAL 2013-14||Fourth round||Free agent|
|Elvis Dumervil||DEN 2011-12||Fourth round||Draft|
|Everson Griffen||MIN 2012, 2014-15||Fourth round||Draft|
|Ezekiel Ansah||DET 2013, 2015||First round||Draft|
|Greg Hardy||CAR 2012-13||Sixth round||Draft|
|Israel Idonije||CHI 2010||UDFA||UDFA|
|Jabaal Sheard||CLE 2011||Second round||Draft|
|Jabaal Sheard||NE 2015||Second round||Free agent|
|James Hall||STL 2010||UDFA||Trade|
|James Harrison||PIT 2010-11||UDFA||UDFA|
|Jared Allen||MIN 2010-13||Fourth round||Trade (first)|
|Jason Babin||TEN 2010||First round||Free agent|
|Jason Babin||PHI 2011||First round||Free agent|
|Jason Pierrie-Paul||NYG 2011, 2014||First round||Draft|
|Jason Worilds||PIT 2013||Second round||Draft|
|Jeremy Mincey||JAC 2011||Sixth round||Free agent|
|Jerry Hughes||BUF 2013-14||First round||Trade|
|John Abraham||ATL 2010-12||First round||Trade (first)|
|John Abraham||ARI 2013||First round||Free agent|
|Julius Peppers||CHI 2010-12||First round||Free agent|
|Julius Peppers||GB 2015||First round||Free agent|
|Junior Galette||NO 2013-14||UDFA||UDFA|
|Justin Houston||KC 2012-14||Third round||Draft|
|Justin Tuck||NYG 2010, 2013||Third round||Draft|
|Kamerion Wimbley||OAK 2010||First round||Trade (third round)|
|Khalil Mach||OAK 2015||First round||Draft|
|Kyle Vanden Bosch||DET 2011||Second round||Free agent|
|Lamarr Houston||CHI 2015||Second round||Free agent|
|LaMarr Woodley||PIT 2010-11||Second round||Draft|
|Mario Williams||BUF 2012-14||First round||Free agent|
|Mario Williams||HOU 2010||First round||Draft|
|Mark Anderson||NE 2011||Fifth Round||Free agent|
|Melvin Ingram||SD 2015||First round||Draft|
|Michael Bennett||SEA 2013, 2015||UDFA||Free agent|
|Michael Bennett||TB 2012||UDFA||Waivers|
|Michael Johnson||CIN 2012||Third round||Draft|
|Olivier Vernon||MIA 2013||Third round||Draft|
|Osi Umenyiora||NYG 2010-11||Second round||Draft|
|Paul Kruger||CLE 2014||Second round||Free agent|
|Paul Kruger||BAL 2012||Second round||Draft|
|Preston Smith||WAS 2015||Second round||Draft|
|Raheem Brock||SEA 2010||Seventh round||Free agent|
|Ray Edwards||MIN 2010||Fourth round||Draft|
|Rob Ninkovich||NE 2012-14||Fifth round||Free agent|
|Robert Ayers||NYG 2015||First round||Free agent|
|Robert Mathis||IND 2010-13||Fifth round||Draft|
|Robert Quinn||STL 2012-14||First round||Draft|
|Ryan Kerrigan||WAS 2012-15||First round||Draft|
|Shaun Phillips||SD 2010, 2012||Fifth round||Draft|
|Shaun Phillips||DEN 2013||Fourth round||Free agent|
|Tamba Hali||KC 2010-2013||First round||Draft|
|Terrell Suggs||BAL 2010-11, 2013-14||First round||Draft|
|Trent Cole||2010-11, 2013||Fifth round||Draft|
|Vinny Curry||PHI 2014||Second round||Draft|
|Von Miller||DEN 2012-13, 2014-15||First round||Draft|
|Whitney Mercilus||HOU 2015||First round||Draft|
|Willie Young||CHI 2014||Seventh round||Draft|
*Note, there is no real official "edge player" position, so I tried to sort, as well as possible, pass rushing defensive ends and outside linebackers apart from interior linemen and off-ball linebackers.
In the last five seasons, dating back to 2010, there have been 71 players recording eight sacks or more in a season. Accounting for players that have achieved this feat more than once, we see 164 instances across the league where players have recorded at least eight sacks in a season. Averaged out, that's about 33 players a year (or about one per team) at the eight-sack threshold.
Here's how those players have shake out according to their original draft round:
|FIRST ROUND PICK||29|
|SECOND ROUND PICK||12|
|THIRD ROUND PICK||7|
|FOURTH ROUND PICK||8|
|FIFTH ROUND PICK||4|
|SIXTH ROUND PICK||2|
|SEVENTH ROUND PICK||2|
As you can see, 41 of the 71 players who have registered eight or more sacks in a season since 2010 were first- or second-round picks. You can still find pass rushers in the third and fourth rounds if you get lucky, but at that point the inventory on those guys shrinks to just about zero. It's like trying to buy a place to live in San Francisco for less than $800 thousand.
Of course, not all of these sack artists passed the eight-sack threshold with their original teams. Some hit free agency and took their talents to other teams. Some blossomed only after finding a new home. Some were picked up on waivers. A few were traded.
Here's a breakdown of how teams' acquired the edge rushers outlined above.
|ACQUIRED THROUGH DRAFT||52|
|ACQUIRED VIA FREE AGENCY||23|
|ACQUIRED VIA TRADE||6|
|ACQUIRED VIA WAIVERS||2|
As you can see, you're twice as likely to get your top-tier pass rusher through the draft than you are to sign him in free agency, and it's relatively rare to acquire one through waivers or a trade.
What does that mean for this year?
You may be wondering then, how many edge rushers will go in the first round this year? I counted four off the board last year -- Dante Fowler (3), Vic Beasley (8), Bud Dupree (22), and Shane Ray (24). Another seven went off the board in the second round -- Mario Edwards (35), Preston Smith (38), Hau'oli Kikaha (44), Nate Orchard (51), Markus Golden (58), Randy Gregory (60), and Frank Clark (63).
That's 11 total in two rounds. And the number of edge rushers that come off the board in the first two rounds is remarkably consistent:
|NFL DRAFT ROUND||EDGE RUSHERS DRAFTED IN ROUNDS 1 & 2|
It's invariably 10 or 11 edge guys off the board through two rounds going back to 2010. Are there 10 or 11 edge pressure players with first- and second-round grades this year? It seems to be a down year when it comes to the hype around some of these pass rushers, but I expect these numbers will hold true again in 2016.
After Rounds 1 and 2, the numbers of edge rushers drafted will trail off drastically. Here's the history:
|NFL DRAFT YEAR||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 1ST RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 2ND RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 3RD RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 4TH RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 5TH RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 6TH RD||EDGE TAKEN IN THE 7TH RD||TOTAL EDGE TAKEN|
During the first two rounds, edge pass rushers get snapped up, and then the market runs dry. You'll get a random two or three per round, but for the most part, if you have pass rush traits, you're going off the board early. Compare that to wide receivers where teams are drafting some of the most productive players in the middle rounds.
After we saw what Von Miller and the Broncos did in last year's playoffs, I wouldn't be surprised if these numbers skew even further toward the beginning of the draft. Keep that in mind next weekend.