The San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith and St. Louis Rams' Chris Long combined for 27 sacks last season. They already know how to chase down opposing quarterbacks. They're not alone among young NFC West pass-rushers.
Smith ranked second, the Rams' Robert Quinn was third and Long was sixth in Matt Williamson's piece projecting which pass-rushers will be most dominant for the long term (2015 was his target). Williamson preferred Quinn to Smith when both were entering the 2011 NFL draft. He still likes them both, but with Smith collecting 14 sacks last season, it was time to reassess.
"He has the long body type you look for in an edge-rusher, but he can also get low and is remarkably violent for someone with such long arms and great height," Williamson wrote.
Smith's balance also stands out. He keeps his feet remarkably well after encountering the powerful jolts that come with challenging NFL offensive linemen.
Seattle's Bruce Irvin received honorable mention pending his NFL debut. Last week, Williamson tweeted his thoughts on Irvin and a couple other NFC West pass-rushers:
Sam Acho, Arizona Cardinals: Acho had seven sacks as a rookie last season. That included four sacks on first down, most in the division and the 12th-highest total in the NFL (he ranked 39th in total sacks). Williamson did not consider Acho because he did not see "special qualities" in the second-year outside linebacker.
Irvin: Williamson thinks Irvin must demonstrate "a wider variety of moves" to dominate in the NFL.
Thanks to Katharine Sharp of ESPN Stats & Information for providing the first-down sack totals for Acho. She passed along similar info for other players. I'll break out some of that in the future as it relates to our earlier discussion.