The Chicago Bears had quality depth at the defensive end position last season. Julius Peppers made his eighth Pro Bowl, Corey Wootton emerged as a starter and Israel Idonije was arguably the most consistent player at the position. On top of that, the Bears still have high hopes for last year's first-round selection Shea McClellin.
Considering that solid core, many believe the depth at defensive end will allow the club to forego the position in this year's draft. Look further though and you see a position standing on shaky legs.
Peppers is 33, dealt with plantar fasciitis all last year and will be due more than $18 million in 2014. Considering his age, injury history and price tag, the odds of Peppers being in Chicago beyond this season are slim.
Wootton broke out last season but that doesn't guarantee he'll continue improving. And when you consider his extensive injury history, it's hard to feel comfortable relying on him for a full 16-game season.
As of this writing, Idonije still hasn't re-signed with the club and Chicago's available salary cap space dwindles by the day. The longer he stays un-signed, the less likely it is Idonije will be with the Bears in 2013. As for McClellin, the jury is still out on him. He did not impress as a rookie in 2012, failing to get consistent pressure as a nickel pas rusher and getting destroyed against the run.
Chicago did sign Turk McBride this offseason but he's a seven-year veteran who has played for three different teams during his career. The journeyman has just 9.5 career sacks and is signed for only one season, so he's not a long-term option.
Considering the uncertainty surrounding Chicago's defensive ends, don't be surprised if Bears GM Phil Emery has some early round edge rushers high up on his draft board. If the right player falls to Chicago in the first or second round, Emery may very well pull the trigger.
With that in mind, here is a full analysis of the defensive ends in the 2013 NFL draft class likely to be selected in the first three rounds.
**The Bears don't have a third-round pick in this year's draft due to the Brandon Marshall trade. Yet we will still include third-round prospects in our analysis, in case Emery trades into that round.**
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Bjoern Werner, Florida State (6-3, 266)
Werner has a rare blend of speed and power, which could make him a Top 10 selection in this year's draft. On top of his ability to rush the passer – in 2012, he led the ACC in sacks (13) and was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year – he's also very strong against the run. He has a high football IQ and shows great awareness and diagnostic skills on the field. Werner is arguably the most complete defensive end in this year's draft class. He projects as a pure 4-3 DE.
Projected: Top 10
Dion Jordan, Oregon (6-6, 248)
Jordan came to Oregon as a tight end but was moved to the defensive side of the ball his sophomore year. His junior year, his first as a starter, he earned first-team All-Pac 12 honors after accumulating a team-high 7.5 sacks. In 2012, he added another five sacks before a shoulder injury slowed him. He had surgery on the shoulder and missed the Senior Bowl. At the combine, he showed his outstanding athleticism and speed, finishing third amongst defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (4.60). He's a quick, lean defender who can get after the quarterback, while also showing well in coverage. His all-around skill set makes him a potential fit in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes.
Projected: Top 15
Ezekiel Ansah, BYU (6-5, 271)
"Ziggy" Ansah played basketball and track before joining the BYU football program in 2010. He developed rapidly and added considerable bulk, and earned a starting role by his senior season, when he racked up 62 tackles, 13 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He played defensive end in a 3-4, outside linebacker in 4-3 sets and even worked as a defensive tackle on occasion. He's raw but his combination of size, length and speed is rare for NFL prospects. Ansah could be the most athletic player in this draft but will need some refining.
Projected: Round 1
Datone Jones, UCLA (6-4, 283)
Jones missed the 2010 season with a fractured foot and didn't stand out the following year. As a senior, though, Jones was great, picking up 62 tackles, 19 for loss, and 6.5 sacks. He has the ideal frame for a 4-3 defensive end, and there's room for him to get even bigger. In terms of pure power off the ball, Jones is unmatched at his position. He can dominate against the run, rocking offensive lineman at the snap and using his powerful hands to rip away from blockers. Jones is versatile enough to play any position along the defensive line, making him a first-round talent.
Projected: Round 1
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Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (6-4, 250)
"Da Monster" showed steady improvement during his collegiate career, racking up 5.5 sacks as a freshman, 8.5 as a sophomore and 12.5 as a junior. He played both rush outside linebacker and defensive end. He's a coordinated, fluid athlete who is methodical in his approach to the quarterback. He's quick off the ball and can be extremely disruptive when gets in a groove. On the field, Moore flashed good strength but at the combine, he posted a paltry 12 bench-press reps. He'll need to get stronger if he's going to set the edge in the NFL.
Projected: Round 1
Alex Okafor, Texas (6-4, 264)
After rotating at every position along the defensive line his first two years at Texas, Okafor took over the starting defensive end gig in 2011 and picked up 7.5 sacks. He followed that up last year with a 12.5-sack campaign. He finished his collegiate career with a 4.5-sack performance against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl. He projects as a true 4-3 defensive end that will fit well in a rotation, while providing solid run support.
Projected: Round 1-2
Sam Montgomery, LSU (6-3, 262)
Montgomery garnered first-team All-SEC honors the last two seasons, in which he combined for 17 sacks. He has a motor that never stops, which makes up for a lack of elite natural talent. He played on the weak side and his constant effort resulted in Montgomery getting countless chase-down tackles. He has some limitations as a pass rusher but he's strong against the run and can be a three-down player in the NFL.
Projected: Round 1-2
Cornellius Carradine, Florida State (6-4, 276)
Carradine only has one year of starting experience under his belt, but it was heck of a year. In 2012, he registered 80 tackles, 13 for loss, and 11 sacks. He's a high-motor player with plenty of explosiveness and a strong punch. He has a lot of natural tools but his lack of experience is concerning. On top of that, he tore his ACL late last year, which has held him out of all the offseason activities to this point. Talent-wise, though, Carradine is at the top of this class.
Projected: Round 2
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Margus Hunt, Southern Miss (6-8, 277)
Hunt is an award-winning shot put and discus thrower from Estonia who came to SMU to join the track and field team. When that didn't pan out, he switched to football. The massive human being blocked seven kicks his freshman year, one short of an NCAA record, and finished his career with 14 blocked kicks. His senior season, he accumulated 31 tackles, 11.5 for loss, eight sacks and one interception on his way to earning first team All-Conference USA honors. At the combine, Hunt was beastly, running a 4.60 40-yard dash (3rd best amongst defensive linemen) and posted 38 reps in the bench press, which was the most at his position. The 25-year-old's combination of size, speed and freakish athleticism will likely land him in the top half of the first round.
Projected: Round 2
John Simon, Ohio State (6-1, 257)
This two-time All-Big Ten pick and two-time Buckeyes captain lacks the height and length most NFL teams want in a defensive end but many teams will covet his exceptional weight-room work ethic. He's too often late off the ball and not an explosive athlete, but he understands pad level and hand usage. He's going to have to prove to NFL teams that he can handle himself effectively enough in coverage.
Projected: Round 2-3
Malliciah Goodman, Clemson (6-4, 276)
Goodman is not an overly impressive athlete, possessing only average speed and change-of-direction ability. He compounds this issue in the pass-rushing department by being slow to react to the snap. However, he has a tremendous frame, with long arms and active, violent hands. Goodman possesses strength and can really get a push on his blocker,but needs to develop a better set of counter moves when engaged. He fits the profile of a three-down, 4-3, strong-side defensive end.
Projected: Round 3
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.