Joe Marino’s Senior Defensive End Rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft

Jackson Jeffcoat never lived up to the hype at Texas, but his play has improved as a senior. (Photo: Tim Heitman — USA Today Sports)

6. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (6’5’’, 250 lbs)

Jackson Jeffcoat was regarded as one of the top recruits in the entire nation coming out of high school in 2010. He had an illustrious high school career and was named state defensive player of the year in Texas as a senior. Coupling that with being the son of former Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, who played 15 NFL seasons and had over 100 career sacks, the spotlight has shined brightly on Jackson Jeffcoat.

While he has not lived up to the expectations people had when he entered Texas, he is playing his best football as a senior.

Jeffcoat has a great first step and he comes off the ball quick and hard. Jeffcoat utilizes his hands very well and does a great job jockeying for position. Overall, he plays with good athleticism and has an above-average motor.

He is a decent pass-rusher who has shown the ability to bend to get around the edge. Jeffcoat does a good job defending rollout passes to his side and staying at home on reverses. He has made several outstanding plays in his first three seasons in those situations.

Jeffcoat would benefit from adding more moves to his pass-rush repertoire since he is primarlily a dip-and-rip style rusher. I question his awareness at times due to him getting too far upfield on run plays, which can create large running lanes for running backs.

Jeffcoat could make more plays in pursuit if he squeezed down and trailed more consistently. He tends to be late when trailing plays.

Jeffcoat is a player who has been on everyone’s radar throughout his career. After a great sophomore year and a disappointing junior season, Jeffcoat is back on track and could be a good value pick for a team if he slips.

7. Taylor Hart, Oregon (6’6’’, 287 lbs)

Hart has not yet demonstrated as much playmaking ability as a senior as he did with 36 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks in his junior season, but he looks like an ideal 3-4 defensive end prospect.

Hart is a strong and very powerful player who projects nicely as a two-gap defender. He controls his blocker at the line of scrimmage and can shed and make plays against the run. While he does have a strange, frog-like stance that he can be slow to get out of, he has long arms and utilizes his hands well to overcome his postural deficiency. With some solid professional coaching, his unorthodox stance could be corrected, which would improve his leverage, power and explosion out of his stance.

Against the pass, Hart is a pure power rusher. He has a strong bull rush and can shed with counter moves. He doesn’t bend well or win with speed while rushing the passer, but he does have deceptive quickness.

Overall, Hart is a disciplined player with above-average instincts. He has the perfect measurables to anchor the 5-technique defensive end position for a 3-4 defense, while he is also versatile enough to kick inside to tackle in even fronts. He should be an early Day 3 selection.

8. Morgan Breslin, Southern Cal (6’2’’, 250 lbs)

After 28 sacks in two seasons at Diablo Valley Junior College, Morgan Breslin took his talents to USC to test his ability against the FBS ranks. The result was a very strong junior season that included 62 tackles (19.5 for loss) and 13 sacks, the third-most in the nation, in 2012. He had 4.5 sacks in five games this season, but he suffered a hip injury which ended his regular season and also recently had sports hernia surgery.

Breslin is a dynamic pass-rusher. He is quick off the ball and anticipates the snap well. He fires out low and plays with consistently low pad level. He can win with the speed rush, spin, dip-and-rip and counter moves. He makes several impact plays per game and must be accounted for by his opponents on passing downs.

Overall, he is an instinctive player with good awareness and play recognition skills. He is rarely caught out of position or getting too far upfield. He has “blown up” several reverses run to his side.

Breslin struggles with drive blocks right at him. He needs to add strength to be able to win more in this area. Breslin will get caught going body-to-body too often with blockers rather than taking on half of his man. He is already undersized at 250 pounds, and doesn’t help himself by taking on the entire bodies of blockers.

Breslin brings a lot to the table as a pass-rusher, but there are concerns about his ability to play the run. He was transitioning to outside linebacker as a senior before the injury, but Breslin could be a nice situational player as a pro.

Arkansas’ Chris Smith is a developing player with high upside as a pass-rusher. (Photo: Beth Hall — USA Today Sports)

9. Chris Smith, Arkansas (6’3’’, 268)

Smith has been a productive pass-rusher for the Razorbacks over the last two seasons. He totaled 9.5 sacks last year and through 10 games this season, Smith has sacked the quarterback 7.5 times.

Smith has a good first step and burst off the line. He is primarily a speed rusher but he does flash power moves and the ability to get his opponent off-balance and get past him. Smith has active hands but lacks functional strength.

Smith is not completely inept against the run, but he offers very little in that capacity. Smith looks to rush the passer on every down and does not read his blockers well. This results in him getting too far upfield and creating easy running lanes. He is inconsistent and ineffective at getting off blocks.

Smith is strictly a 4-3 defensive end who may not be good enough in space to play as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. But with added strength and effort in run defense, Smith has starter upside.

10. Dee Ford, Auburn (6’2’’, 240 lbs)

After 6.5 sacks in his first 29 career games as a freshman and sophomore, Ford had 6.5 in just 11 games last season as a junior. Ford has already amassed eight sacks through nine games as a senior, including several in big moments in wins against Texas A&M and Georgia.

Ford is an undersized speed rusher who flashes good burst off the ball. He does not offer any diversity in his pass-rush moves aside from a rip move combined with speed. He can apply good pressure when his motor is running, but it doesn’t consistently run.

Ford does not offer much against the run. He looks to rush the quarterback first on every snap before playing the run, often leaving him too far up field to contribute in run defense. This may be how he is coached, but it leaves his ability to recognize plays in question.

Ford looks like a rotational pass-rusher in the NFL and a probable Day 3 selection.

11. Marcus Smith, Louisville (6’3’’, 252 lbs)

Smith is having a huge senior season with 12 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two passes defended.

Louisville has done a terrific job of moving Smith around and creating opportunities for him to make plays this season, and he has taken full advantage. Smith has played all over the Cardinals’ defensive front seven, and he is not usually in the same position for consecutive plays.

That makes him difficult to evaluate. When playing along the line, Smith shows good burst and physicality off the ball. He holds up well at the point of attack and rushes the passer with a combination of speed and power. He may not be quite as dynamic as his stat line indicates, but there is intrigue following that type of production.

12. Ben Gardner, Stanford (6’4’’, 277 lbs)

Gardner was having a terrific senior season with 4.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss through eight games, but his season was cut short due to a pectoral injury.

Gardner is a versatile lineman who has played every position along the defensive line for the Cardinal. He is active off the snap and plays with good leverage. He holds his own against the run and can shed blockers and maintain his gap.

Gardner is also a good pass-rusher, particularly as an inside rusher. He can collapse the pocket and make things difficult for opposing quarterbacks. He is a consistent player who can help a team with his versatility.

13. Ed Stinson, Alabama (6’4’’, 292 lbs)

Stinson has been a starter for the Crimson Tide defense that has been exceptional over the past two seasons. Stinson does not make many splash plays but he understands his role in the defense and plays within the scheme. Stinson holds up well against the run, and could be a two-gap player in the NFL as a 3-4 defensive end.

Stinson does not offer as much as a pass-rusher, but he can create opportunities for other players by pushing the pocket. With 5-technique defensive ends in demand for 3-4 defense, players like Stinson will have opportunities.

14. IK Enemkpali, Lousiana Tech (6’1’’, 272 lbs)

Enemkpali is a very stout and physical player at the point of the attack who plays the run very well. He keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and sets the edge extremely well.

He flashes pass rush potential with solid bend while pursuing the quarterback off the edge, along with a strong bull rush and counter moves. Although he has limited length, he has gotten better every year in college and has high upside as a pro.

15. Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M (6’4’’, 275 lbs)

Westbrooks has had monster production at the Division II level including a season with 28 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks as a junior in 2012. He shows good hand usage off the snap and a good motor to enable him to make plays in the backfield.

He is not a great athlete, but he plays with high energy and a willingness to pursue to the quarterback relentlessly. He has a solid frame to work with and a skill set that shows promise at that next level. It would be valuable to see him in a postseason all-star game to see him matched up with better competition to see how he stacks up.

Will Clarke has worked his way onto the NFL radar with a breakout senior season. (Photo: Peter Casey — USA Today Sports)

16. Will Clarke, West Virginia (6’7’’, 273 lbs)

Clarke is playing his best football as a senior. He has five sacks this season after having just 3.5 in 29 games entering the 2013 season. Clarke is incredibly raw and plays with no technique whatsoever. That said, his activity and movement off the ball is intriguing.

Clarke is physical and aggressive, but his skills need to be refined. Clarke is developing as a pass-rusher with a good rip move, with good bend and burst to the quarterback. With his terrific size and flashy skills, he is a promising project player with high upside.

17. Tyler Scott, Northwestern (6’4’’, 265 lbs)

Scott has been a solid starter on the Wildcats defense over the past two seasons with nine sacks, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks through 10 games in 2013. Scott is not overly athletic or impressive in his ability off the ball, but he plays with a good motor and instincts. Despite a limited variety of pass-rush moves, Scott gets to the quarterback with effort and tenacity.

Scott holds up decently as a run defender. He plays with good technique with solid leverage and hand use. Scott doesn’t have great physical traits, but his effort, instincts and production have him on the radar.

18. Cassius Marsh, UCLA, (6’4’’, 260 lbs)

After an eight-sack, 10.5-tackle for loss season as a junior in 2012, Marsh has had a dip in production as a senior, with just three sacks in UCLA’s first 10 games.

Marsh is physical at the point of attack and has good hand usage, but he lacks the lower-body strength to be consistent. Marsh is more of a power rusher who gets to the quarterback with his effort and motor, but his ability to set up blockers and execute pass-rush moves needs refinement. He has enough ability to be a rotational piece in the NFL.

19. Chaz Sutton, South Carolina (6’5’’, 263 lbs)

Coming off a five-sack season as a reserve player and playing opposite Jadeveon Clowney, Sutton was a breakout candidate for 2013, but the results have been underwhelming as Sutton has just two sacks in his first 10 games as a senior.

Sutton shows some burst and a decent variety of pass-rush moves, but he does not have the strength or technique to consistently win matchups. He does not hold up well against the run and is very movable. Sutton has enough ability to be a late-round selection, but he is very unproven.

20. Kasim Edebali, Boston College (6’3’’, 246 lbs)

With just 1.5 career sacks heading into his senior season, Edebali wasn’t on anyone’s radar. After eight sacks through 10 games as a senior, he has caught attention.

Edebali is a relentless rusher who brings high effort on every snap. He explodes off the ball and looks to win with speed and quickness around the edge. He is in love with his spin move when he doesn’t win with speed, but his motor gives his opposition fits. He also executes and times stunts very well.

Edebal is weak in run defense as he is easily driven off the ball. He is, however, the type of high-effort, high-energy player that I tend to have a soft spot for. I am interested to see what he can do as a situational pass rusher in the NFL if given the opportunity.

Honorable Mention: Denico Autry (Mississippi State); Larry Webster (Bloomsburg)

Autry transferred in from the junior college ranks and had a decent season while posting four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss as a junior. As a senior, however, he only has one sack in 10 games as a senior. Autry does not show much in terms of ability off the ball, but he does have a solid frame to work with at 6’6’’ and 275 pounds. He is only an average athlete, but he could be intriguing as a late-round pick or priority free agent.

Webster, a four-year starter on the Bloomsburg basketball team, began playing football last season for the first time since high school and contributed nicely with 13.5 sacks. Webster has a great frame to work with, coming in at 6’7’’ and 240 lbs, but despite his production, he has an incredibly raw skill set and hasn’t shown much physicality to this point. His production and basketball background is intriguing, but he needs to show more in terms of football ability.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Ben Gardner, Bloomsburg, Boston College, Cassius Marsh, Chaz Sutton, Chris Smith, Dee Ford, Defensive Ends, Denico Autry, Dominique Easley, Ed Stinson, Ethan Westbrooks, Florida, IK Enemkpali, Jackson Jeffcoat, James Gayle, Kareem Martin, Kasim Edebali, Larry Webster, Louisiana Tech, Louisville, Marcus Smith, Michael Sam, Mississippi State, Missouri, Morgan Breslin, North Carolina, Northwestern, Oregon, Positional Rankings, Prospect Rankings, Rankings, Seniors, South Carolina, Stanford, Taylor Hart, Texas, Trent Murphy, Tyler Scott, UCLA, USC, Virginia Tech, West Texas A&M, West Virginia, Will Clarke

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