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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

In Search of...Top-Notch Pass Rushers

March 16, 2018

Great pass rushers can come in all shapes and sizes. Just look at the recent sack leaders in the NFL as evidence of this.

Chandler Jones led the league in sacks in 2017 at 6’5” 265. The previous season it was Vic Beasley (6’3” 235). Before that it was JJ Watt (6’5” 295). They all have different styles and strengths as pass rushers. It’s a good lesson for anyone that thinks getting sacks is all about speed off the edge. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Notre Dame is in search of great pass rushers, both in recruiting and on the current team. That, more than anything else, might be the greatest motivation for Mike Elston moving Jerry Tillery to three technique.

Tillery was the best pass rusher on the team last season (4.5 sacks and 11 hurries) while rushing from a less favorable position. I’m sure Elston is hoping Tillery can boost those numbers even further by sliding over to get more one on one rushing opportunities.

Elston will also be working to develop players like Julian Okwara, Daelin Hayes, and Khalid Kareem to see them be more productive getting after the passer. Whether it’s from the Drop position, the end opposite of that, or from the interior, it doesn’t matter where they are generating pressure from. They just need more of it.

While they are looking for a few on the current roster to break out in this area, the staff also has to have an eye on the future. They need to add more athletes with greater pass rush potential than they have in the last two classes. Highly touted freshman to be Jayson Ademilola has the potential be an interior disruptor, but they need to sign more like him in 2019.

Here are five prospects that are on Notre Dame target list that I think can develop into great pass rushers at the next level. If they sign one of them, that would be a big win. If they can end up landing two or more, then there could be some special things to come on the defensive line.

DE Zach Harrison

There are very few players in the country that showed as much growth from their sophomore to their junior year on the field as Harrison did. Even with that, he’s still barely tapping into his full potential. He checks all the boxes as an elite prospect.

He has the kind of first step and speed to test offensive tackles. He also knows how to convert speed to power and once he learns to use his arm length to the fullest extent, he’ll be driving trackles back into quarterback frequently.

He’ll play end, but could be someone that slides inside to rush from the interior down the road as well. Harrison is ranked 10th in the ISD Fab 50.

DE NaNa Osafo-Mensah

The Irish have a very good shot at landing Osafo-Mensah and people should be hyped about it. Someone that could be a Drop or play end in the current scheme, he’s a great athlete that shows the traits that can make him a complete player off the edge.

His pass rush skills are still a bit raw and he needs to use his hands better, but the potential is there for him to be great because of his lateral quickness and his motor.

DE/DT Bill Norton

Norton is massive. Although he is a good athlete, he isn’t someone who is going to win with twitch. Not many who are 6'6" 270 (with a lot of room to get bigger) will.

Norton uses that great size to win with power. He flashes a great hump move and can put an offensive lineman on skates if he is unbalanced. He can distort the vision of a quarterback with his presence.

Whether he grows into a defensive tackle or not, Norton has the tools to make a serious impact rushing the passer at the next level. He’s ranked #37 on the ISD Fab 50.

DE Colt Ellison

One of the more recent offers on the defensive line, Ellison has legitimate interest in Notre Dame. It’s completely understandable why the feeling is mutual because Ellison is very good prospect. He does a lot of things already as a pass rusher that some players will never be able to do.

He shows active hands to swipe away the punch of a tackle and really has a feel for leverage as a rusher. Some guys just have a knack for when a offensive line lineman oversets or is reaching. Ellison appears to be one of them.

I have him ranked higher than some other spots and that’s mostly because of his ability to get after the quarterback. I’m a big fan of his game.

DE Joshua Pakola

It might not look the prettiest. It might not look smooth. But that doesn’t matter if it produces results and Pakola’s desire to get to the quarterback outweighs everything else. He is relentless off the edge.

He's raw with his hands right now, but once he adds some polish and develops some counters, Pakola is going to be a nightmare to block. I like so many aspects of his game already and think his ceiling as a pass rusher is extremely high. Three years down the road, I wouldn't be surprised if he is one of the better pass rushers in college football. 

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