Clemson pass rusher Vic Beasley takes part in Scouting combine drills Sunday in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS – Raw numbers, when it comes to an elite pass rusher, still make Bruce Arians shake his head.
An elite sack man gets 16 to 20 sacks a season, Arians figures. It's not difficult math to see that translates to about one play per game – out of 60 – yet he's a star. On the other side of the ball, if a tackle gets beat just twice in those 60 plays, he had a bad game.
"Never figured that one out," Arians said with a smile.
But even the Cardinals coach knows having that one guy coming off the edge is crucial. The Cardinals do not have that guy now, even if outside
linebacker Alex Okafor led the team in sacks with eight. The Cards put up 35 sacks as a team, but it was a community effort as then-defensive coordinator Todd Bowles used blitzing from all angles.
Sixteen different Cards recorded at least one sack, including five defensive backs. It worked, but it's not ideal.
"The hard part is rushing with the community, you are putting a lot of pressure on the corners and having to do things schematically that puts pressure on a lot of positons that you'd like to not do," Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said. "We all know if there is pass rush pressure you have to bring from different positions, you're exposing yourself to (giving up) big plays eventually."
The Cardinals haven't had a consistent dynamic edge rusher. John Abraham had a big year in 2013 with 11½ sacks, but he missed almost all of 2014 with a concussion. Before that, it was Bertrand Berry, who signed as a free agent (and posted 14½ sacks in his first Arizona season of 2004.) The search has been ongoing, but then again, the search is ongoing for the rest of the league.
For Keim, elite edge rusher ranks up there with left tackle and quarterback as the quest that doesn't stop. Pass rusher actually remains ongoing, since a team can relax a bit if they find one of the other two. One pass rusher is good, but you can use more of them. The Texans had J.J. Watt but drafted Jadeveon Clowney; the Broncos had Von Miller but signed DeMarcus Ware in free agency.
"I was brought up with, 'If you have 12 pass rushers, get 13,' " Colts GM Ryan Grigson said. "You can never have enough pass rushers and that's scouting 101."
Grigson said if there is a pass rusher that "gets your blood going" you take him regardless of need. Finding one that sparks that kind of interest isn't always easy. There are projects you can find, and try and coach them, and that's what the Cards have tried to do recently.
Okafor is a good example, a fourth-round pick who couldn't stay healthy until this season. Arians likes the progress he made. But Okafor isn't a
speed guy who will cause offenses to change their pass protections.
A player like that, Arians said, forces a tight end or running back to constantly stay in for help – which gives the offense one less target to which to throw. Making one a first-round pick makes a lot of sense, but there has to be one to pick.
In free agency, they cost $10 million a season or more, Keim said, and that's if they reach the market. Kansas City's Justin Houston, for instance, will get the franchise tag. In the draft, an excellent prospect figures to be gone long before the Cardinals pick at 24.
"Supply and demand are an issue," Keim said.
The Cardinals have made clear they will still try to find one (or more) as they go, however. In today's game there is no other option.
"You'd rather have one (dynamic) guy. Or two, an inside guy and an outside guy," Arians said. "Then the community can be involved. But there is never not a need for an elite pass rusher."
Team president Michael Bidwill turns his camera phone on the NFL Scouting combine in Indianapolis