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What elite pass rushers have in common with franchise QBs


INDIANAPOLIS — At the NFL Combine two weeks ago, Joey Bosa, the Ohio State defensive end, approached his podium session with the news media in a familiar manner.

Bosa, the South Florida native who seemed to own his chillaxed persona during his three years with the Buckeyes, wore a backwards hat on top of his shoulder-length hair and opened his press conference by asking those gathered, "What's up?"

But on the field, Bosa became a star because for terrorizing quarterbacks and a sack-and-shrug celebration, where he'd slam signal-callers to the turf and raise his arms as if to say, "oops."

"I think I bring the best pass rusher, the best defensive lineman in the country. I'm obviously coming to the team that drafts me to help them win and help them eventually make it to the Super Bowl," said Bosa, who was a three-time All American and helped lift Ohio State to the national title two seasons ago.

And Bosa — who's projected to be a top draft pick come April — made his case when asked how he could make the same impact as a quarterback.

"I mean, you watched the Super Bowl. That's pretty much the only example I have to give," Bosa said, deadpanning.

Then he pointed to linebacker Von Miller, who led Denver's besiegement of MVP Cam Newton en route to a 24-10 win over the Carolina Panthers last month. "He really showed what a pass rusher can do for a team," Bosa said.

Welcome to 2016, where elite pass rushers, in some ways, might be just as valuable as a franchise quarterback. Of course, the concept of pressuring the quarterback isn't a radical new-age philosophy, and the NFL is still more or less a quarterback-driven league.

But following Super Bowl 50 — where the Broncos held Newton to 265 yards on 18-of-41 passes and forced him into three turnovers — the premium on game-changing pass rushers like Miller might be as high as ever as offenses continue to evolve and spread out.

Because of that, the Browns — who hold the second and 32nd overall draft picks this year — have made it clear they would like to have such an asset, be it with someone already on the roster or via the draft and/or free agency (the Jaguars, for example, reportedly are set to sign Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who played a key role for Denver last season).

"We do think we need to be able to affect the passer on defense, so either it's a three (technique) or someone on the outside that can affect the pocket and win a one-on-one," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said two weeks ago on Cleveland Browns Daily.

Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton echoed a similar sentiment last month in his first press conference since coming back to Cleveland and coach Hue Jackson's staff after two seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

"You better affect the quarterback. Now, I go back to the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. [The Broncos] affected the quarterback. Next year, we'll be looking for a rusher. The year after that, we'll be looking for a rusher. You'll be looking for that guy for a long time," Horton said when asked about the value of having an impact player off the edge.

Fortunately for the Browns and other teams in pursuit, it would seem this year's draft class is brimming with proven pass rushers — be it Bosa, Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence, Clemson's Shaq Lawson or Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun — who did their best to play up such talents during media sessions while at the combine.

In last year's draft, the Jets scooped up Leonard Williams and Atlanta took Vic Beasley in the first 10 picks (both of whom had solid rookie seasons). Five defensive lineman were taken in the first round in 2014 — including Houston's Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 overall — and seven in the first round in 2013.

When looking at the league's top pass rushers, Miller was drafted second-overall by Denver in 2011, Houston's J.J. Watt was picked 11th overall in 2011, Oakland LB Khalil Mack taken fifth overall in 2014, Detroit's Ezekiel Ansah fifth overall in 2013 and Kansas City's Tamba Hali 20th-overall in 2006.

"You can never have enough pass rushers," Colts coach Chuck Pagano told reporters at the combine.

For Cleveland, whose defense is built on pressuring the quarterback, this might be especially true. "We've seen this in the Super Bowl, when you can rush four and get to the quarterback, it makes a big difference because you're dropping another guy in coverage," Brown said.

"So we'd love a guy that can do that, but again, they're almost like quarterbacks; the guys that can do that don't just hit the market."

That's true. Miller, for example, is in the process of reportedly negotiating a long-term deal to remain in Denver. While the Browns have said they'll approach free-agency carefully, some of the league's top pass rushers are on the open market, including Jackson (who is reportedly set to sign with the Jaguars as of Tuesday) Miami's Olivier Vernon, New York's Jason Paul-Pierre and Buffalo's Mario Williams. Aldon Smith (Raiders), Junior Galette (Redskins) and Nick Perry (Packers) could be available for a price that isn't as steep.

"Everyone's looking for (pass rushers)," Pagano said, "Von Millers ain't falling out of the sky all over the place."

And neither are franchise quarterbacks, which is what makes them both so valuable.

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