With the rise of post-modern (read: spread) offenses, pass rushers have become even more important. Every team is looking to stock up on pass rushers that can disrupt the rhythm of a strong passing game by forcing a glamorous quarterback on his back.

The Super Bowl XLVI champion New York Giants proved this effective when they pressured quarterbacks all season long with several pass rushers. So as I turn my focus to the 2012 NFL draft we’ll start with Nick Perry, one of several pass rushers who could come off the board early.

Scheme and Size

Perry is a soon-to-be former USC Trojan, and he played defensive end in Southern California. He played in a 1-gap system that is ran by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and he often aligned outside in a five-technique. This was his primary alignment, but not his only alignment, as he mixed in other shaded technique alignments such as a shaded four-technique that put him inside the offensive tackle’s shoulder, as well as head-up techniques, like a four-technique across the offensive tackle.

While he was mainly a pure defensive end in Kiffin’s scheme, he occasionally stood up and dropped in coverage like a 3-4 outside linebacker. This is particularly noteworthy because it’s something he may have to do at the next level due to his size. He checks in at just over 6’2″ and 250 pounds, which is a question mark for some scouts who’ve labeled him a “tweener”.

Because of this, some will consider him a project player at the next level, going from a three-point stance to a two-point stance. However, it’s important to keep in mind his physical tools when considering changing his stance, because ultimately those tools will determine what coaches do with him.

Strength

One of the questions that some will have with Perry is if he has the strength to hold up against blockers in run defense as well as move blockers backwards when rushing the quarterback. These questions arise for every pass-rushing prospect because defending both the run and pass are integral parts of playing the position, and they’ll multiply for Perry since he’s undersized.

Based off of what I’ve seen, Perry has good core strength and plays with a strong base by utilizing quality footwork. He is able to sit in his stance , bend at his knees, and hold up blocks at the point of attack by sinking his hips.

Quickness

Perry shows quality quickness at the snap of the ball. He’s able to generate power off his lead foot from his coiled stance and explode forward, getting a step on the blocker and attacking the edge of the quarterback’s pocket with low pad level.

However, Perry isn’t consistent with his quickness advantage, as there are times when he’ll get upright after coming downhill. This causes him to struggle to change directions, negating his quickness and leverage advantage.

Hand Use

Hand use is an integral part of every position, but perhaps none more important than in the trenches where strong hands and the ability to play with proper hand placement to create a leverage advantage are required.

Perry’s hand use is something that I particularly like because he’s strong, and it shows at the point of attack when he jars back the offensive tackle. He plays with “pop” which, when executed, knocks back the blocker, causing him to play with high pad level and exposing his chest, consequently giving Perry the upper hand.

When he’s not sinking his hips and driving his hands through the breast plates of pass blockers, Perry does an excellent job of slapping the hands away of the blocker while threatening up the field.  He has quick hands and is able to bat the blockers aside before continuing his path to the quarterback.

Furthermore, when he is beaten at the point of attack, he continues to fight for leverage by “replacing his hands,” as NFL scouts like to say, back on the blocker.

Recognition

Play recognition is one of the most important aspects of defensive line play because if you cannot find the ball, your talent is not all that useful. That’s why I felt it was important to identify if Perry recognizes plays or the situation he’s in.

For instance, when a screen pass is being set up by the offensive line, does the pass rusher constantly take himself out of the play, or does he recognize that it’s a screen pass based off of film study and tip-offs or tendencies? The latter applies with Perry, as he’s sniffed out screen passes in the past and made a play down the line of scrimmage on the pass catcher to prevent a long gain.

I also look at the pass rusher and his use of hands. Does he get his hands up to potentially deflect the quarterback’s pass or disrupt the passing lane if he’s not going to get the sack?

Perry gets his hands up and deflects passes, which shows up in his statistics with three pass breakups this past season. He’s also disrupted passing lanes in the past, plays that have led to the quarterback having to pull the ball down and take a sack from a different defender, which occurred when USC took down Andrew Luck this year.

Closing Burst

The ability to close on a quarterback is very important, and this is somewhat of a question mark with Perry.

He does a great job of working the pass blocker to get to the quarterback by utilizing several pass rush moves, which I’ll get to later, but he doesn’t always close out with a burst on the opposition, thus coming up with a pressure and not a sack.

Sacks are considered the key measurement of a pass rusher’s value, and even though the statistic can sometimes be overrated while pressures are underrated, it’s still vital to make the most of opportunities by bringing the quarterback down.

Athleticism and Pursuit

Athleticism is a big key when transitioning from a pure defensive end to a stand up rusher, and it’s something that I believe Perry possesses. One of the advantages he has going for him is that he has a basketball background after playing in high school, which gives him a feel for playing in space.

He has shown on numerous occasions that he can deal with players at his feet by side stepping them and pushing them away with his hands while also keeping his eyes up on the quarterback. He’s made plays down the line of scrimmage in pursuit after avoiding blockers at his feet, which shows that he has good foot quickness and speed.

He’s also dropped in coverage a few times and done well defending the Curl zone and expanding to the Flat with a tight end as well as serving as a spy on a mobile quarterback.

Rush Moves 

The best rush or power ends in the NFL have multiple effective pass rush moves that are used in games to keep the blocker off balance. In college, that’s often not the case as pass rushers often have one specific move that they will look to use.

Perry is in the same boat, often looking to mainly utilize a speed rush to threaten the outside with quickness and explosiveness. This is effective because of his quickness at the snap of the ball as well as his hand use, which he executes by dipping his shoulder and getting his inside arm underneath the blocker’s arm. By doing this, he is able to make himself compact and get the leverage advantage, which is the key to successful pass rushing.

When he’s not putting the speed rush to use, he will mix in other counter rushes such as a bulrush and an outside spin move. The bulrush is done well because he sinks his hips low and drives the blocker back into the pocket with power and proper hand placement (hands on breast plates). The outside spin move is another one that he tends to use, although not to the same extent, and he does this by leading with his inside foot into the near inside gap. That forces the tackle to commit before Perry turns it back outside by making contact with his inside then outside arm.

Although he has a trio of pass rush moves, they are not consistently executed with effectiveness. Because of this, Perry will receive some poor grades from many draftniks, but it’s something that I believe he will improve when he gets more coaching at the next level.

(video courtesy of Draftbreakdown.com)

Run Defense

This is an underrated area for Perry, as he does a good job of holding up his block and playing with gap integrity. He shows the ability to sit in his stance with power and hold his block as a “force” defender. He is the force defender in USC’s scheme because he forces the run back to the inside by setting the edge to the outside.

Overall

Pass rushers will often be overdrafted simply because they have the potential to get to the quarterback. We’ve seen this in years past, with rushers such as Northern Illinois’ Larry English going in the middle of the first round despite some serious question marks, and that could be the case with Perry too.

While I am a fan of Perry and believe his talent will translate to the next level, he does need work on his technique and overall frame to continue to improve as a pass rusher, which I believe he can acquire with NFL coaching. Because of this, at the moment, I expect him to go in the final third of the first round, possibly falling to early in the second.