Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will break down how 12 top 2011 NFL draft picks can immediately impact their new clubs.
In 2010, the Washington Redskins switched to a 3-4 defense under the supervision of new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. As with most circumstances in which a team tries to force a scheme on the wrong personnel, the experiment was a bit of a disaster – it gave Albert Haynesworth(notes) yet another reason to alienate himself from his coaching staff, and the 'Skins fell from 11th to 26th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted defensive rankings. Like most supposed purveyors of the 3-4 defense, Haslett actually wound up calling a lot of 4-2-5 nickel concepts to fit his personnel and adjust for offensive tendencies.
Now a year removed from the change, the Redskins are charged with finding (or creating) players who fit the aggressive 3-4 ideas Haslett would prefer to run. And, in that regard, few draft-eligible players would understand the importance of that transition more than Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who the Redskins took with the 16th overall pick. After a 2010 season in which he put up 70 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 12½ sacks and five forced fumbles, Kerrigan started taking off weight and impressing in coverage drills as a 3-4 linebacker.
Teams didn't have a lot of footage on Kerrigan doing anything in five-man fronts (though he did line up as a wide nine-tech end in the style of Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes)). But one of the thoughts behind the switch to 3-4 'backer was that his motor was better than his selection of hand moves and that it would be wiser to get him outside the tackles, where he could use his speed and quick turn at the edge to harass quarterbacks on a regular basis. At the Senior Bowl, Kerrigan didn't just dominate on the edge – he showed enough when dropping back for several 3-4 teams to start talking with him seriously.
But the sack Kerrigan put up at the Senior Bowl showed a player who will do just about anything to get to the quarterback from any position – in this case, Kerrigan took TCU's Andy Dalton(notes) down near the end of the first half of the game by pinballing off Louisville running back Bilal Powell(notes) and Arkansas right tackle DeMarcus Love(notes).
On the play, the South team set up in a four-receiver set, with the North defense lining up in a 4-2-5 nickel (wide linebacker on the slot), not unlike the plays Haslett runs in Washington. At the snap, Kerrigan blew past Love's outside arc and actually took the block from Powell. Spinning off Powell took Kerrigan back inside the pocket, out of Love's area, and right into Dalton's face.
Kerrigan comes into the NFL with a proven ability to mess up enemy offenses as a 4-3 end, but if he can add the attributes common to 3-4 outside linebackers at the professional level, he could become the kind of indispensable defender necessary for any team to thrive on that side of the ball. And Kerrigan doing so in tandem with Brian Orakpo(notes) might give Washington that sack duo it's been craving for years.
- Jim Haslett