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2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Pass Rushers, Pre-Combine

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The 2011 NFL Combine begins tomorrow, and as such, it's probably time to wrap up a short series of a promised four posts. Over the past few days, we've covered my own top five pre-Combine list of 2011 NFL Draft prospects at quarterback and along the defensive line. Today, we'll talk pass rushers - and we'll wrap up tomorrow morning with offensive tackles.

As usual, I've listed my top five players at the position - in this case, pass rushers, which encompasses 4-3 ends and 3-4 outside linebackers - with equal consideration for overall talent and fit with the Buffalo Bills. Unofficial height, weight and length measurements (i.e. those provided by college teams) were not included; only official weigh-in numbers from post-season shindigs (such as the 2011 Senior Bowl) were considered.

Without further ado, here are the players that I believe are the five best pass rushers in the 2011 NFL Draft.

No. Name Pos. College CL HT WT Arm Hand
1 Von Miller OLB Texas A&M SR 6025 237 34.0 9.5
Bills fans worried about the team's league-worst run defense want size at outside linebacker. What the team really needs is reliable talent, and that's why Miller sits atop this list. No, he may not ever be a physically dominant run defender, but he's instinctual and does a great job of sifting through traffic to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Add in his coverage ability, his explosive burst and his disruptive nature as a pass rusher, and you've got an every-down, do-everything 3-4 linebacker with playmaking ability. Miller lacks explosive power, but excels at setting blockers up to whiff on their assignments. He lacks ideal size, but that can be overlooked when considering his talent level. Miller is just a terrific football player. There's simply no way this guy shouldn't be in the conversation at No. 3 overall. He's got to be.
2 Robert Quinn DE North Carolina JR
He's as big a risk as any player available this year, regardless of position, simply because he's been out of football for a full year. A junior entrant, Quinn has the experience of a sophomore, and will need to prove to NFL personnel men that he's a good kid who made a very, very poor decision in accepting agent benefits that led to his year-long suspension. It should be very meaningful, then, that Quinn is still considered one of the best prospects available this year despite all of that. Though I strongly believe he belongs at 4-3 end, Quinn has the natural athleticism to get by as a stand-up 3-4 rusher - it will just take time. A tremendous natural pass rusher, Quinn's transition to the pro game may take time, particularly given his layoff, but he has the goods to eventually be one of the league's most feared sack artists.
3 Da'Quan Bowers DE Clemson JR
I am not as high on Bowers as most, and not just because he'd be a very poor fit in the Bills' 3-4 defense. (He'd fit better as a five-technique there, and those duties would waste his biggest assets.) One-year wonders are especially tricky at this position; for every Brian Orakpo (yeah, he came out of nowhere), you get an Aaron Maybin. Bowers is not a phenomenal athlete; he strikes me as more of a power end, but has enough athletic chops to make plays with speed. There's little doubt that Bowers is the best run defender of the group, as he's very capable of setting the edge, controlling blockers, penetrating and chasing plays. But he's also been compared to several players - Julius Peppers chief among them - that, quite frankly, are well out of his wheelhouse. Bowers should make a good pro, but I wouldn't seriously consider him if I were Buffalo.
4 Justin Houston OLB Georgia JR
At some point, people are going to start paying a lot more attention to Justin Houston. A very talented edge rusher coming off of two straight years of solid production in the SEC, Houston has ideal size and speed to play on the edge in a 3-4, and also has some experience dropping into coverage (though not a ton, by any means). He lacks power, and will need to gain strength and develop more rush moves as he enters the pros - and as such, I don't anticipate him exploding onto the scene right away. Houston is a down-the-line guy, but one that will eventually be a very good starting 3-4 outside linebacker. He's a first-round pick in my book.
5 Aldon Smith DE Missouri SO
Maybe the Maybin mishap is still too fresh, but I'm not keen on the idea of the Bills sniffing around a sophomore pass rusher. Smith was outstanding as a freshman, then merely OK as a sophomore. Athletically, he is unrivaled in this group, and while again I see Smith as purely a 4-3 end, his upside is really tremendous. Smith is very raw, and more than anybody else on this list will need a year, bare minimum, to get up to speed.