(Noah Spence and Joey Bosa photos from the Talk of Fame Network library)
Talk of Fame Network
The NFL is a copycat league.
And the team to copy now is the Denver Broncos.
The Broncos captured an NFL championship in February. Peyton Manning wasn’t the Peyton Manning of old, and the running game was pedestrian. So the offense was along for the ride. This championship was all about defense -- the defensive front seven and, specifically, the pass rush. The Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy because of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and the terror they wreaked in the pocket.
The Broncos led the NFL in sacks last season with 52, then added 11 more in the AFC title game and Super Bowl, pummeling Tom Brady and Cam Newton. A franchise quarterback can’t beat you on his back.
Championships now start with a pass rush.
There are pass rushers to be found in every draft. In three of the last four drafts, there have been nine pass rushers selected in the first round.
Most of the chatter leading up to this draft has been about quarterbacks – specifically Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. They sit atop the board and two teams were willing to pay a king’s ransom for the right to select them. The Los Angeles Rams sent six premium draft picks to the Tennessee Titans for the right to select first in this draft, and the Philadelphia Eagles sent five premium picks to the Cleveland Browns for the second choice.
But after the first two picks, keep an eye on the pass rushers: Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Emmanuel Ogbah, Noah Spence, Leonard Floyd, Kamalei Correa and Shilique Calhoun on the outside and Sheldon Rankins, Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Kenny Clark, Andrew Billings, Austin Johnson, Jonathan Bullard, Vernon Butler and Robert Nkemdiche on the inside.
All will not be first rounders. Not all 18 of them. But there could be a haul approaching the 2011 draft when 13 players from defensive front sevens went in the first round. That draft included Miller, the MVP of the Super Bowl, and J.J. Watt, a two-time NFL sack champion. Pass rushers are a premium in every draft, but their value has been heightened in 2016 with the success of the Broncos.
It’s time to once again copy.
Lawson had 12 ½ sacks and Dodd 12, both at Clemson last season. That pass rush helped the Tigers reach the FBS title game. Ogbah collected 13 sacks at Oklahoma State last season and Buckner 10 ½ at Oregon. Bosa was a two-time Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year at Ohio State, and his former Buckeye teammate, Spence, the Ohio Valley Defensive Player of the Year at Eastern Kentucky in 2015.
Floyd dialed up a 4.59 40 at the combine in February, and Billings led Baylor in sacks last season at 311 pounds. Clark has background as a wrestler and Johnson as a basketball player, so the NFL loves their athleticism. There is something to like about all of these defensive players.
No team is going to build a Denver Broncos-like pass rush overnight -- but this draft should provide a superb starting point for teams.