It’s third and five from the Pittsburgh Steelers 40-yard line when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger takes the snap from under center. Two seconds elapse, then three. Big Ben crow hops in the pocket, composed. Fans at home think about available edge rushers and how they could be signed. Scanning the field, he sees Antonio Brown perfectly executing his crossing route. The ball is delivered on time and in stride as Brown streaks downfield for a 40 yard gain. The ensuing touchdown would end up being the difference in the 31-28 loss.
Green Bay Packers Peruse Available Edge Rushers
For the Green Bay Packers, this is an all too familiar scenario as it’s often the means of their demise. The lack of an effective pass rush has been the weak link for some time now, and it has to be addressed before the upcoming season. Between free agent candidates and the impending draft, the Packers will sift through available edge rushers to bolster their front seven.
Green Bay will no doubt seek potential pass rushers in this year’s draft class considering it is the team’s greatest need. New mock drafts emerge on a daily basis this time of year as player’s stocks rise and fall for various reasons. These are just some of the potential draft eligible solutions.
Marcus Davenport, UTSA
Marcus Davenport is an imposing figure at 6’7″ who looks the part of an NFL edge rusher. He brings the versatility to play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or as a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine likes to move players around in his formations and he could use Davenport’s skill set creatively.
Most of his weaknesses can be solved with proper coaching. Davenport plays with a high pad level and tends to engage blockers rather than slip contact. He also struggles to change direction in the open field making him a liability in pass coverage.
With his long arms and lateral movement, Davenport is able to quickly close running lanes and deflect passes at the line. Scouts believe his length will serve him well at the next level. He has hand fighting skills to disorient opposing linemen with long arms to wrap up ball carriers and drive through his target.
His draft stock has been rising since his performance at the Senior Bowl. The UTSA all-time sack leader is projected to go anywhere between fifth and 30th overall in the draft. If Davenport is available with the 14th pick, Green Bay will strongly consider him to be their guy.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo was named Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of The Year in 2017. He followed that up with a solid outing in the Senior Bowl, tallying two sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Measuring 6’1″ and 240 pounds, the former Sooner projects to be an outside linebacker in the NFL. He plays aggressively, which makes him vulnerable to the trendy run-pass option that more play-callers are implementing these days.
He plays low to get great bend and leverage when turning the corner. With top-tier speed and explosiveness, Okoronkwo can set the edge as well as shut down stretch runs. He has natural pass rusher instincts and 34.5″ long arms to keep blockers at a distance.
Don’t expect him to bull rush past a 300 pound NFL lineman, but he does possess a great spin move which has helped him rack up 17 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons. His quick hands and first step are impressive to watch on film. Once Okoronkwo gets a hand on the ball carrier, he does not let go. He’s a solid tackler who never gives up the pursuit.
Some players flash, and some are just relentless down after down. Okoronkwo is the latter. The Packers love a guy with quality character and this young man has that going for him. His coaches praise his growth and maturity throughout his time at Oklahoma.
Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State
One of the best available edge rushers projected for the later rounds is Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, who is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. He’s been known to line up in the four-point “track stance” as well as a three-point or standing position. Rolland-Jones has a quick stab move that creates immediate separation, allowing him to get by opposing linemen.
He’s put up impressive numbers at Arkansas State with 44 career sacks, and 35 percent of his tackles resulting in lost yardage. Rolland-Jones was awarded Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year honors in two consecutive seasons. Dominating his conference does not guarantee NFL success, so he’s a bit of a risk. Rolland-Jones doesn’t project to be an every-down player but could be well utilized in sub packages.
The Dallas Cowboys aren’t letting defensive end Demarcus Lawrence go anywhere, and Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah will be too expensive for the Packers to pursue. That doesn’t mean there aren’t available edge rushers with real talent in the free agency market.
Alex Okafor, New Orleans Saints
The Arizona Cardinals used Okafor as a linebacker, but the New Orleans Saints made him a defensive end. A disruptive pass rusher, he was having arguably his best season yet when he went down with an Achilles injury after ten games.
Okafor has the skills to reach the quarterback, and the awareness to get a hand up in the throwing lane if he can’t get home. If Pettine wants to move Clay Matthews inside occasionally, Alex Okafor could fill in seamlessly on the outside.
Tahir Whitehead, Detroit Lions
All signs point to Tahir Whitehead finding a new home for 2018. He’s the kind of backer who swarms around the line of scrimmage, tackling everything he sees. The six-year veteran was one tackle shy of 100 in 2016 and finished last season with 78 solo takedowns. With four career interceptions and 19 passes defended, he’s more than just a tackling machine.
Denico Autry, Oakland Raiders
Autry isn’t a household name in Packer territory, but he would be if they signed him. The 6’6″ tall 270-pound defensive lineman takes most of his snaps as a defensive end, but he can play nose tackle as well. Overshadowed by Oakland Raiders defensive star Khalil Mack, Autry is a solid player in his own right.
In 2017, Denico Autry played all 16 games but only started in three. He made the most of his playing time racking up five sacks and a league-high seven batted passes, as well as a blocked extra point. Autry will be 28 years old next season so he could give the Packers years of production.
He entered the league as an undrafted free agent and worked hard to get to this point. After playing under two consecutive one-year contracts, he may be looking for something more long-term from potential suitors.