BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
Perhaps it’s the draftnik in me since I’ve said this about every position, but there is intriguing talent throughout this year’s draft class of defensive ends. In a league where pass-rush and stout defensive line play is at a premium, the defensive end position is among the most important to have a great rotation at.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is one of the most exciting talents to enter the NFL in recent memory. The spotlight has been on Clowney throughout his three seasons at South Carolina which has made him one of the most analyzed and debated players in recent memory. The team that drafts Clowney will have to deal with the attention that comes with taking a player with as much potential as he has and with as much criticism as he has faced. Nonetheless, his playing ability should make him one of the first picks in the draft, if not the No. 1 overall selection.
First Round Grades
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Clowney is a special athlete with rare and unique ability as an edge defender. He should be able to dominate on physical traits alone. Some say he is the best defensive prospect since Bruce Smith.
2. Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton offers scheme versatility and is a relentless pass-rusher. He is physical and strong at the point of attack.
3. Dee Ford, Auburn: Ford came up with big play after big play on an Auburn defense that desperately needed him to. He is an explosive and relentless edge rusher who has risen the most of any player on my board this season.
4. Kareem Martin, North Carolina: Martin blossomed into a playmaker in his senior season with 82 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. He is a well-balanced defender with a great frame and athletic ability to work with.
5. Kony Ealy, Missouri: Ealy is one of the few edge defenders in this draft class with great length, bend and power. That could push him up the draft board.
6. Trent Murphy, Stanford: The Football Bowl Subdivision leader in sacks in 2013, Murphy is a high-motor presence on the edge. Murphy is balanced against the run and pass and plays with good technique.
7. James Gayle, Virginia Tech: A three-year starter for the Hokies, Gayle is a well-balanced player. He can consistently pressure the quarterback and make plays against the run.
8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat quietly had a prolific senior season and recaptured the playmaking ability he displayed as a sophomore. He is a disciplined player with good bend as a pass-rusher.
9. Will Clarke, West Virginia: Clarke has a tremendous frame and athletic ability to work with. He is a promising project with terrific size, flashy skills and high upside.
10. Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart is an ideal 5-technique defensive end for a 3-4 scheme. He has strong, violent hands, underrated athleticism and great power and instincts.
11. Chris Smith, Arkansas: Smith is a solid 4-3 defensive end prospect with upside. He needs to add strength and to his repertoire of pass-rush moves to be a consistent player at the next level.
12. Brent Urban, Virginia: Urban has excellent strength and surprising burst. He is ideally suited to play as a two-gap defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
13. Aaron Lynch, South Florida: Lynch is extremely raw but his talent is obvious. After switching positions and schools from Notre Dame in 2011 to USF in 2013, he has never been able to develop any consistency. That said, he has excellent burst off the ball and pass-rushing upside.
14. Morgan Breslin, Southern California: Breslin brings a lot to the table as a pass-rusher. He is quick off the ball and anticipates the snap well. Overall, he is an instinctive player with good awareness and play-recognition skills. He must improve against the run but has upside if he can stay healthy.
15. Ed Stinson, Alabama: 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 defenses, players like Stinson will have opportunities.
16. Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M: Westbrooks 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 for the next level. He had a strong showing at this year’s East-West Shrine Game.
17. Cassius Marsh, UCLA: Marsh is physical at the point of attack and uses his hands well, 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.
18. Kasim Edebali, Boston College: 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. Edebali 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.
19. Ben Gardner, Stanford: 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 from the inside.
20. Zach Moore, Concordia: Moore has plenty of raw ability and size. With a good career against small-school competition, Moore is an intriguing developmental prospect later in the draft.
21. Josh Mauro, Stanford: Mauro is an intriguing 5-technique prospect who plays with a high motor like most Stanford defensive linemen. He is stout against the run but offers little as a pass-rusher at this point.
22. Michael Sam, Missouri: Sam is a good dip-and-rip rusher who is relentless in his pursuit of the quarterback. Sam has a decent counter move and will utilize a spin move at times. Sam is not a great run defender, but he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and maintaining his gap. He lacks ideal size and athleticism.
23. Terrence Fede, Marist: Fede has prototype size and measurables that should give him the ability to play at the next level. The question will be if he can step up to the NFL and play against the best football players in the world.
24. IK Enemkpali, Lousiana Tech: 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.
25. Larry Webster, Bloomsburg: Webster has outstanding athleticism and production, but 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. He is worth a flier late in the draft.
Top Undrafted Free Agents
26. Devon Kennard, Southern California
27. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
28. Tyler Scott, Northwestern
29. Colton Underwood, Illinois State
30. Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
31. Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
32. Kaleb Ramsey, Boston College
33. Denico Autry, Mississippi State
34. Darryl Cato-Bishop, North Carolina State
35. Tevin Mims, South Florida
36. Kerry Wynn, Richmond
Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Aaron Lynch, Ben Gardner, Brent Urban, Cassius Marsh, Chaz Sutton, Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Chris Smith, Colton Underwood, Darryl Cato-Bishop, Dee Ford, Defensive Ends, Denico Autry, Devon Kennard, Ed Stinson, Edge Defenders, Ethan Westbrooks, IK Enemkpali, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jadeveon Clowney, James Gayle, Josh Mauro, Kaleb Ramsey, Kareem Martin, Kasim Edebali, Kerry Wynn, Kony Ealy, Larry Webster, Michael Sam, Morgan Breslin, NFL Draft, Nikita Whitlock, Pass-Rushers, Positional Breakdowns, Positional Previews, Positional Rankings, Scott Crichton, Taylor Hart, Terrence Fede, Tevin Mims, Trent Murphy, Tyler Scott, Will Clarke, Zach Moore