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No shortage of intriguing pass rushers in this year's draft

GM Brian Gutekunst says “defensive front is as good as I’ve seen in a long time”

Montez Sweat (left) and Clelin Ferrell (right)
Montez Sweat (left) and Clelin Ferrell (right)

INDIANAPOLIS – The Packers have the picks. The question now is what General Manager Brian Gutekunst and his scouts will do with them in a little less than two months' time.

If Gutekunst wants to target a pass rusher with either of the team's first-round picks (No. 12 and 30), there likely will be no shortage of options to choose from.

Talking with reporters earlier this week at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Packers' second-year general manager said he sees what everyone sees when it comes to the defensive line and outside linebacker prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.

It's a deep class. Really deep.

"The defensive front is as good as I've seen in a long, long time," Gutekunst said.

There are two clear-cut, blue-chip pass-rush prospects in Nick Bosa of Ohio State and Josh Allen of Kentucky, but there could be upwards of a dozen players from the defensive front who could hear their names called in the first round on April 25.

Three prospects – Clemson's Clelin Ferrell, Mississippi State's Montez Sweat and Florida's Jachai Polite – put themselves near the top of the list with 10-plus sack seasons in the fall.

Ferrell, one of five Tigers defensive linemen invited to the combine, captured the Ted Hendricks Award for the nation's top defensive end after recording 54 tackles (19½ for a loss) and 11½ sacks as a redshirt junior.

One of nine children in his family, Ferrell has an inspiring backstory after having to overcome the death of his father at only 13 years old. At 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, Ferrell believes he's versatile enough to succeed anywhere, in any defensive scheme.

"I can play defensive end, I played some defensive tackle this past year, three-technique. I've also dropped into coverage, outside linebacker," Ferrell said. "But not only just doing those things – I feel like I've done them at consistently a high level. That's always given me a bit of confidence as far as my play. And I've done it against the best competition playing at Clemson, so that was a blessing as well."

Sweat played in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments during his college career that began at Michigan State in 2014. While Sweat was dismissed after his freshman year, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass rusher is out to show scouts how he's matured in stops at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Junior College and Mississippi State.

Sweat racked up 101 tackles (29½ for a loss) and 22 sacks in two seasons in Starkville. Scouts have praised Sweat for how he uses his length as a rusher and are intrigued by how he still has room to grow in a buildable frame.

"Pass rush is definitely at a premium in the NFL," Sweat said. "That's the people they give the big bucks to. Teams want people who are going to get after the QB. … Getting after the QB is what I do best."

Polite said the Packers were one of 19 teams he's had a formal interview with this week. While his 6-2 stature is shorter than most elite edge rushers, it didn't prevent Polite from being one of the nation's most dynamic pass rushers this past year.

In addition to registering a team-high 11 sacks, Polite also led the nation with six forced fumbles. It wasn't by accident, either. Although sacks are the name of the game at his position, Polite always is eyeing takeaways.

"I feel like I've kind of mastered knowing my leverage," Polite said. "Most people are tall in this sport. That's what they want. That's ideal size, but you just have to want it more. That's how I feel. It's given me an ultimate edge also, knowing I'm not the ideal size. So I have to work even harder at what I do."

One other undersized pass rusher who could find his way into the first round is Florida State's Brian Burns, who had 10 sacks despite playing in the 220s. However, the 6-foot-5 rusher opened a lot of eyes when he tipped the scales at 249 in Indianapolis.

"I put it on because I want to enhance my game to a new level," Burns said. "I want to work on speed-to-power. I want to work on certain things and, with that, I need the weight for it. I feel like as long as I can keep that weight on and move the same way I always move, I'll be fine."

Edge rusher could be a position the Packers explore in this year's draft, especially with veteran Clay Matthews scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

Green Bay hasn't drafted an outside linebacker in the first round since USC's Nick Perry in 2012, but this year's class of edge rushers gives the team plenty to consider.

"Obviously, there are a lot of great players here, a lot of great players on the defensive line," Ferrell said. "I'm just happy to be considered one of them. That's all that really matters."

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