The 2011 crop of defensive ends may be the deepest group of the entire class and as many as eight players at the position could be off the board after day one. There is plenty of talent to be had for every defense this April, regardless of scheme.
The cream of the crop is North Carolina's Robert Quinn, a
ferocious pass rusher who was one of many Tar Heels defenders
surrounded by scandal. Quinn was suspended for the entire 2010 season,
but would've received a lot more attention as a candidate for the top
overall pick had he played. Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers finally lived up
to his billing this past year after arriving as the highest-rated
recruit in school history. The Tigers standout led the nation in
sacks, but a knee injury has raised red flags about his durability.
Cameron Jordan of California and J.J. Watt of Wisconsin are bigger
ends who both play the game with relentless effort and passion. Both
fit best as five-technique defensive ends in a 3-4 alignment.
Conversely, Missouri's Aldon Smith and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan played
as defensive ends in 4-3 schemes in college, but could see a
transition to 3-4 outside linebacker in their future.
The elite group is rounded out by two Big Ten standouts, and as
you would expect coming from the power conference, both are stout
against the run. Iowa's Adrian Clayborn is versatile enough to play
strongside end in a 4-3 scheme, as well as five-technique defensive
end in a 3-4 alignment. Cameron Heyward of Ohio State is the perfect
fit as a five-technique, but could also find a home along the interior
of a four-man front.
POSITION REPORT CARD: Simply put, this class is one of the
deepest in recent memory. With eight possible first-round picks at the
position, how could it warrant anything other than an A?
ROBERT QUINN, North Carolina
Good News: Excellent pass rusher capable of being an elite
player on the weak side…Explosive burst and speed off the
edge…Exceptional agility and flexibility to bend and turn the
corner…Displays an effective rip move…Explosive tackler that causes
Bad News: Lacks elite strength to anchor against the
run…Flashes quickness off the ball but is a little inconsistent and
can be late…Suspended for the entire 2010 season and has been away
from live action for over a year…Medical concerns regarding a benign
2010 Statistics: Suspended.
Prediction: I've maintained that if Quinn had played this
season, he would be garnering a lot more consideration as the top
overall pick. He's a gifted athlete and incredibly explosive off the
edge as a pass rusher. Bowers' struggles in the pre-draft process have
opened the door for Quinn to retake the lead as the top defensive end
available, and he will be a top-10 selection. The Tar Heels standout
has enough talent to play weakside defensive end in a 4-3 or stand up
as a linebacker in a 3-4.
DA'QUAN BOWERS, Clemson
Good News: Excellent strength at the point of attack and
can anchor against the run…Displays very good awareness – keeps his
head up to locate the ball…Keeps containment and does a good job of
using his length to create distance before shedding the blocker…Solid
use of hands – fights blockers while working his way to the
quarterback...Good quickness and great effort.
Bad News: Likely a strongside defensive end and doesn't own
elite edge rushing ability…More of a bull-rusher who doesn't display a
wide array of pass rush moves…Significant injury concerns – coming off
surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
2010 Statistics: Led the NCAA (FBS) in sacks…Registered 67
total tackles with 26 tackles-for-loss and 15.5 sacks…Added 10
quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, an interception and a pass
Prediction: Bowers has top-five talent, but was unable to
perform at the combine due to surgery on a torn meniscus. Couple that
with a less-than-stellar outing at Clemson's Pro Day, and there are
enough red flags to scare some teams. He's viewed as one of the
"fallers" right now, but shouldn't slip out of the top 15. Bowers may
lack the elite edge rushing ability of a blindside defensive end, but
on the strongside he could be an impact player similar to Michael
CAMERON JORDAN, California
Good News: Strong against the run…Uses length to lockout
blockers and find the football before shedding…Violent use of hands
and battles aggressively…Displays an effective swim move to the
outside and often uses the spin to counter back inside…Plays with
leverage and displays a very strong bull rush…Good strength in his
hands and displays a nice punch…Plays with all-out effort.
Bad News: Upside could be viewed as somewhat limited due to
limited athletic ability…Not an elite pass rusher…Lacks great speed
off the edge and won't be the type to rack up sacks.
2010 Statistics: All-Pac-10 Conference first-team
selection…Registered 62 total tackles with 12.5 tackles-for-loss and
5.5 sacks…Added one quarterback hurry, three forced fumbles, four pass
deflections and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown.
Prediction: Jordan is stout against the run, aggressive
with his hands and plays with relentless effort. His ceiling could be
viewed as lower than other defensive ends due to limited athletic
ability, but he's versatile enough to play in either scheme. In a 4-3
defense, he can play the strongside end position and possibly kick
inside on third-down to increase the interior pass rush. I think his
best fit is his position from college – five-technique defensive end
in a 3-4 alignment. He should be selected in the middle portion of the
Drafting a Defensive End: A Preview
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