Drafting a Defensive End: A Preview

Scout.com's Michael DiJulio gives an in-depth preview of the defensive line.

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
6:04.0-265-4.74


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 fumbles.

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 brain tumor.

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
6:03.3-280


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 deflection.

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 Strahan.

CAMERON JORDAN, California
6:04.1-287-4.76


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 first round.

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