Let’s talk about pass rushers.
As the NFL continues to be dominated by the passing game, defenders who can help slow passing offenses down are more valuable than ever. That’s especially true of the big boys up front on the defensive line.
Luckily for teams looking for pass rushers, this could be one of the best years ever to draft one. To get a better idea of what makes the 2019 class such a special group, SB Nation caught up with six of the top-ranked defensive linemen prospects to get their thoughts on how they got pressure on quarterbacks and racked up sacks in college.
Not only do all six players have a chance to be selected in the first round of the draft, but each one also has a signature pass-rush move to bring to the NFL.
Nick Bosa, Ohio State
Signature move: Side scissor
Nick Bosa could be the first-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, even though his college career was cut short when he suffered a core injury three games into his junior year. Despite that, he still had a productive college career. In 29 games at Ohio State, Bosa put up 29 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks.
Bosa has a go-to move, and he plans to use it early and often in the NFL.
“Side scissor. That’s what people have gotten to see pretty well from me,” Bosa told SB Nation at the NFL Combine. “I think it’s a move that will work at the next level as well. It’s definitely something that I pride myself on.”
The side scissor is a simple move that can be hard to execute. When the offensive tackle is about to punch in his pass set, Bosa swipes his hands away and then dips around the offensive tackle on his way to the quarterback.
This is a great example from Ohio State’s game against Oregon State last season. Right when the offensive tackle gets ready to strike Bosa, he knocks his hands away and accelerates toward the quarterback for a sack.
What does Bosa think are the keys to making this move work?
“Just speed. Good speed, good sell, and good hands.”
The timing needed to be able to slap the hands away as he’s turning the corner is so impressive. Doing it against NFL offensive tackles will obviously be harder, but Bosa already has a trademark skill he can rely on at the next level.
Quinnen Williams, Alabama
Signature move: Two-hand scissors
Quinnen Williams is projected to go within the top five picks of the draft as well. In Williams’ only season of starting, he racked up an absurd 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
Like Bosa, Williams loves to swipe away the hands of opposing offensive linemen.
“Two-hand scissors,” Williams told SB Nation at the NFL Combine. “I feel like two-hand scissors is a great move. I can counter off a lot of stuff when I play against great players.”
Williams noted he had three counters he loved to use after executing the scissors move.
“Rip, swim, and hump move.”
SB Nation’s Stephen White noticed that Williams loves to use the rip move when he did a deep dive on Williams’ tape:
Let me note that as a former coach for a short while a long time ago, I loved how Williams finished his arm-overs by coming down hard with his inside arm on the back of the blocker’s outside arm to make sure they couldn’t try to hold on to him. He also tended to finish that off with a rip move for good measure, and as a big-time proponent of finishing every move with a rip, I was definitely giddy about that.
Not only does Williams have a move in mind, but he also has a few counters to use off of that move. The unpredictably he can bring with this one move will allow him to be productive immediately in the NFL.
Ed Oliver, Houston
Signature move: For now, a bull rush
One of the gems of the 2019 class is defensive tackle Ed Oliver from Houston. Oliver was a rare five-star recruit who opted not to play Power 5 football. In 32 games for Houston, Oliver had an insane 53 tackles for loss, but only 13.5 sacks. A big part of this is the scheme that Houston used.
Houston played with three defensive linemen, with Oliver typically playing the nose tackle position. As far as nose tackles go, Oliver is about as small as they come at only 287 pounds — nose tackles usually weigh a good deal more than 300.
“When you rush out of nose and just bring three the way we rushed this year, it leaves two guards to block you,” Oliver said. “The ends are obviously outside contain. It leaves two guards to block down on you, so with the extra attention I brought this year, it was a little harder for me to get used to three guys and six hands on you sometimes.”
Even though Oliver played a bit out of position, he was still able to make his presence felt on the field with his ridiculous athleticism. Here’s an example from Houston’s game against Arizona last season. Once Oliver recognizes it’s a passing play, he quickly gets up the field and puts pressure on the quarterback. He’s able to bend around the offensive lineman like an edge rusher, even though he’s pushing 290 pounds.
Oliver hasn’t figured out a signature pass-rush move that he thinks will work at the NFL level, but he thinks it’ll come to him when he moves to three-technique in the NFL — which is rushing off of the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.
“Just depends. They rushed me out of nose a lot, so I really just have to bull them back. Maybe a club rip out of the nose. At three-technique, I’ll fall in love with one, I’m pretty sure.”
With a defensive end rushing against the offensive tackle, the only way three-techniques really see double-teams is if the running back stays to help in pass protection.
That will be a change of pace for Oliver compared to his experience in college. There’s a bit of projection involved with Oliver’s game as he moves from nose tackle, but he has the physical gifts to hit the ground running.
Brian Burns, Florida State
Signature move: spin move
Florida State pass rusher Brian Burns made himself quite a bit of money at the NFL Combine. Burns ran a 4.53 40-yard dash, recorded a broad jump of 129 inches, and had a vertical jump of 36 inches — those numbers made him a top performer among all defensive ends.
Burns isn’t just an athletic freak on the field; he’s also a pretty polished rusher with an array of moves to bring down the quarterback. His favorite is one of the most aesthetically pleasing out there: the spin move.
“I got a couple, but I’m always going to revert back to my spin move,” Burns told SB Nation at the NFL Combine. “I feel like that’s the nastiest move I got.”
Burns added that what really makes the spin move work is making the offensive tackle think that a speed rush is coming before breaking back inside.
“You just gotta really get into the offensive tackle’s head. If I’m pushing the speed, pushing the speed, and I give him a little shake-and-bake, get him off his plane a little bit, and I spin inside, he won’t be expecting it.”
This is the move at its finest. Notice how the left tackle tries to get a jump on Burns’ speed rush by selling hard up the field. That leaves a huge gap in between the left tackle and the left guard, which Burns is able to spin into before chasing the quarterback down for the sack.
Burns is a bit on the smaller side when it comes to defensive ends, but he already has a killer move in his pass-rushing repertoire that’ll help him in the pros.
Christian Wilkins, Clemson
Signature move: Flash chop
Clemson has four defensive linemen who could wind up being selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, and Christian Wilkins is one who has a chance to go early.
You might recognize his name from when he did the splits on camera after the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, but Wilkins is one hell of a player in his own right.
Wilkins said his favorite move to get to the quarterback really depends on the offensive lineman he’s facing.
“Well, it depends on who I’m playing first and foremost. You know, every guy is different so you can work different moves depending on what’s more effective,” Wilkins said.
After a bit of thought, Wilkins came up with an answer.
“I feel like one of my go-tos is the flash chop or stab chop. It looks good on tape when you put it all together, and it looks real nice when it works.”
That might not be a term that most fans are familiar with, so Wilkins broke it down a bit further.
“Flash that long arm, get that offensive lineman to show his hands, get him leaning a little bit, and as soon as he shows his hands chop ‘em down. Short edge to the quarterback, it’s a great move.”
This isn’t the cleanest example, but the general premise is there. You can see Wilkins extend that right arm just a bit as the offensive guard extends to punch him. Wilkins gives the bullfighter olé and makes his way to the quarterback for bone-crushing sack.
It’s a beautiful, deceptive move. He makes the offensive lineman think he’s executing one move before flipping his hips and getting a free path to the quarterback. Wilkins wasn’t a dominant pass rusher in college, but this move is something he can use as he gets acclimated to the NFL.
Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
Signature move: Speed club
There are plenty of NFL players who are asked to rush the passer from the interior of the line and on the end of the line. Few players can actually do both well, but Jerry Tillery was able to play all across Notre Dame’s defensive front. Tillery doesn’t think there’s much of a difference between rushing at defensive tackle vs. defensive end.
“I think there are a lot of similarities,” Tillery explained to SB Nation at the combine. “The moves are the same while the alignments are slightly different, but you do a lot of the same work.”
Tillery said the club move was one of his top moves to get to the passer.
“I work a speed club off the ball,” Tillery said. “Speed swipe is something I employ a lot too.
“These are things that I work on every day.”
Against Stanford last season, Tillery gets off the ball quick, clubs the guard’s outside shoulder, and quickly gets to the quarterback as he throws the ball.
The club combined with the acceleration make this a challenging move to block. One second Tillery is in front of the offensive lineman, and before the lineman can blink Tillery has made his way to the quarterback. His athleticism paired with a move that works for him should give him an early avenue for success against NFL offensive linemen.
Pass rush is key to playing defense in today’s NFL. The rules are slanted toward the success of passing games, so getting guys who can end those plays before they get going is a huge priority for teams.
The fact all of these prospects are able to detail their favorite moves and show an understanding of how they work is a good sign they’ll be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL. Like every rookie, they’ll have to adjust to the higher level of play, but already having these moves in place should make the transition a bit easier.
With all of the talent available in this year’s draft class, teams shouldn’t overthink this — just draft one of these pass rushers and watch your defense take off.