Harold Landry (deservedly) is getting all the hype, but I couldn’t help but notice another rookie pass rusher on Thursday night.
Sharif Finch’s college career at Temple started as a 218 pound freshman linebacker. Four years, a position change, and multiple knee injuries later, he was a 6’-4”, 251 pound edge rusher hoping to finally break out. His final year for the Owls saw him rack up 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss while finally staying off the trainer’s table.
Not only were the numbers good, but the tape shows a guy that had developed an impressive array of pass rush moves. He added to that a pro day where he put up an impressive 4.65-second 40 and a 7.00-second 3-cone time, but that still wasn’t enough to get drafted.
He landed in Tennessee quickly after the draft as an undrafted free agent and was given the largest signing bonus of any UDFA the Titans signed. Finch made some noise in camp early before being sidelined briefly with a — you guessed it — undisclosed injury for a few days. However, he returned in time to play, and play well, in Green Bay.
The sack that he picked up during the Packers first drive of the second half was the highlight, but after further review, Finch’s impact went much further than that. Check out this sequence of pass rushes from Finch during the last drive of the first half.
Finch is #56, lined up across from Green Bay’s right tackle — and former Titan — Byron Bell. He had just entered the game to replace the injured Gimel President. Just a couple plays after entering the game, Finch buzzes around the edge with a dip and bend move — AKA “The Harold Landry” — and flushes Packers QB DeShone Kizer out of the pocket disrupting the play. Finch doesn’t quite have the flexibility of Landry — few do as Landry literally drags his inside hand over the top of the turf when he bends — but this is a pretty effective rush from Finch just plays after entering the game.
After setting Bell up by flashing the speed move around the edge, Finch comes back with an inside counter on the very next snap and catches his opponent over-setting. Kizer gets a quick pass away, but Finch is right there and finishes with a hit on Kizer. Also make sure you check out Julius Warmsley’s rush here right next to Finch. There is a reason he’s getting camp buzz.
After punishing Bell for over-setting against the speed, Finch comes back with the speed on the very next play. This time going with a club-rip combo to soften the edge against Bell and turn the corner. Again, Kizer gets the ball away, but you can see by his awkward follow through that he is affected by Finch’s rush.
Just a few plays later, Finch gives us the true masterpiece of this series. He catches Bell setting to far outside again and hits him with the “hump move” as made famous by Reggie White, using his inside arm to essentially toss his opponent out of the way. It takes a pretty special level of strength to be able to execute this against an NFL offensive lineman (even Byron Bell). It’s rare to see this pulled off in a game, but Finch does and finishes again in Kizer’s face as he releases.
A couple snaps later, Finch shows yet another pass rush move as he hits Bell with an inside spin and again winds up in Kizer’s face.
On the next snap — this is all still from the same drive — Finch uses yet another move as he goes with a straight bull rush and walks Bell back in to Kizer’s feet, flushes the quarterback from the pocket, and draws a holding penalty as Bell tries to keep him from finishing the job.
The first six plays above were all from the same drive at the end of the first half. Unfortunately, the coverage let Finch down a little bit during that sequence, otherwise he could have had multiple sacks there.
However, Finch was rewarded during the first drive of the second half. This time Finch knifes inside of the tight end’s block on a play action pass and is there for the sack — despite getting held — when Brynden Trawick’s blitz forces Kizer to step up in the pocket
Finch finished his day later in that drive with one last pressure, chopping and then bending the edge against another tackle. This time the coverage forces Kizer off his first and second reads and allows Finch to close, nearly getting the sack and forcing a dangerous in to the middle of the field.
From here, the Titans mostly stuck with Josh Carraway and Tobenna Okeke as the edge rushers in mop up duty. President’s unfortunate injury means that Finch now slots in as the 5th edge rusher behind Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, Harold Landry, and Aaron Wallace based on the current rotations. If he’s able to hold on to that spot against Carraway, Okeke, and new additions Tony Washington and Davond Dade, that should be good enough to make the 53-man roster.
I posted some of these clips on Twitter Saturday night as I was going through the tape and Finch had a pretty funny response.
Obviously, Byron Bell isn’t going to be mistaken for a starting level NFL tackle these days, but the variety of pass rush moves that Finch used effectively in a game situation — and the way he set them up off each other — was very impressive. I’ll be interested to see if he gets some reps higher in the rotation to see what he can do against tougher competition.
As I mentioned above, Finch has looked good in camp practices as well, so this isn’t just a one night hot streak. His position coach, Shane Bowen, has certainly taken notice.
Shane Bowen usually raves to me about Sharif Finch, which always surprises me as an undrafted guy. He’s showing why tonight. #Titans— Steve Layman (@SteveLayman) August 10, 2018
If Finch is able to continue to play at or near this level against better players, the Titans could have a real gem on their hands. Keep an eye on 56 on Saturday night.