NFL Scouting Analyzes DEs

Michael DiJulio of NFL Scouting breaks down the strengths and weaknesses of the top eight prospects of this bumper crop of defensive ends. Ohio State's Cameron Heyward is a definite possibility for the Packers in the first round.

Michael DiJulio of NFL Scouting breaks down the 2011 class of defensive ends. These rankings are based on a 4-3 defense, though their role as a 3-4 outside linebacker is noted. He will have a 3-4-specific story coming closer to the draft.


Robert Quinn, North Carolina
6:04.0-265-4.74


3-4 outside ilnebacker

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.

J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
6:05.3-290-4.91


Good News: Possesses very strong hands and uses them extremely well…Slaps down the tackle's hands when rushing off the edge to turn the corner…Delivers a jolting initial punch…Can shed tight ends with ease…Does a good job of getting his hands up to disrupt passing lanes…Gives relentless effort…Pretty good quickness off the ball…Flashes an effective spin move to bring the rush back inside.

Bad News: Lacks the flexibility to bend around the corner, as well as the speed/burst to take the edge…Not quite as effective against the run as you would expect, but still is very solid overall in this aspect...Can get turned sideways and driven out of the play on occasion...Plays a little high at times.

2010 Statistics: Lott IMPACT Trophy winner and second-team All-American…Registered 62 total tackles with 21 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks…Added 10 quarterback hurries, eight pass deflections, three forced fumbles, three blocked kicks and an interception.

Prediction: After transferring as a tight end from Central Michigan, Watt moved to the defensive line for Wisconsin and became a star. His hands are simply some of the strongest in the game and he uses them as well as anyone. Some view him as a potential strongside defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but I think his best fit is playing the five-technique in a 3-4 defense. With roughly half the league employing the 3-4 defense, he's another player whose skills will be coveted in that role and he should be off the board midway through the first day.

Aldon Smith, Missouri
6:04.2-263-4.82


3-4 outside ilnebacker

Good News: Nimble on his feet and displays excellent lateral agility…Good speed in the open field and was able to spy athletic QBs…Uses length very well to prevent defenders from fully engaging and can shed blocks…Displays very quick hands and uses them extremely well…Much better strength than his frame would indicate…Flashes a strong punch…Able to slide inside and rush from the defensive tackle spot, where he is simply too quick for interior linemen.

Bad News: Very young and still requires time to fully grow into his body…Loaded with potential, but still raw…Plays too high and needs to consistently get his pad level down…Will need to improve lower-body strength in the running game to become a three-down player (and has the frame to do so), as he can be moved off the ball when the play is run at him…Some durability concerns – missed time in 2010 with a broken leg.

2010 Statistics: All-Big 12 Conference first-team selection despite missing three games with a broken leg…Registered 48 total tackles with 10 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks…Added one quarterback pressure, a forced fumble, two pass deflections and an interception.

Prediction: Smith is loaded with potential, but left Missouri as just a redshirt sophomore. Had he stayed in school another year, it's not far-fetched to think he could've been a top-10 pick. Smith can provide great pressure as a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment and has enough athletic ability to stand up and rush the passer as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He will need some time to develop and grow into his frame, but should be a solid mid-to-late first round choice.

Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
6:03.7-267-4.79


3-4 outside ilnebacker

Good News: Great pass rusher that gets by more on hustle than athletic ability…Good explosion off the ball…Enough speed to beat the right tackle to the edge on occasion…Exceptional closing burst and has a knack for causing fumbles…Generally plays with leverage and has the strength to hold up against the run…Plays with motor on high from snap to whistle.

Bad News: Doesn't display elite flexibility to bend around the corner and tackles will ride him around the pocket…Lacks the elite speed and burst to consistently take the edge…Very limited experience dropping back if he is to convert to outside linebacker…Good overall size, but upper body is a bit disproportionate compare to thinner legs.

2010 Statistics: Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year…Registered 70 total tackles with 26 tackles-for-loss and 12.5 sacks…Added five forced fumbles and a pass deflection.

Prediction: Kerrigan plays like his hair is on fire from start to finish. Despite lacking elite physical tools, he gives relentless effort and is a difference-maker up front. Although he has extremely limited experience playing in space, I believe he's versatile enough to convert to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme (think Mike Vrabel). Most teams will view him as a 4-3 defensive end and he should be selected in the mid-to-late first round.

Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
6:02.5-281-4.85


Good News: Displays very good overall strength and anchor well against the run…Stout at the point of attack…Understands assignments in the running game and maintains gap integrity…Possesses very strong hands and uses them well…Violent sheds blocks when play is run at him…Can effectively push-pull to quickly shed a block…Good effort.

Bad News: Won't be a dominant pass rusher at the next level…Lacks great burst off the snap, as well as elite speed off the edge…Owns short arms at 32 1/2 inches…Overall athletic ability is average.

2010 Statistics: Consensus All-American…Registered 52 total tackles with seven tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks…Added six quarterback hurries, a pass deflection, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Prediction: Clayborn is a fantastic fundamental football player. Although he lacks the dynamic ability and athleticism to consistently bring pressure off the edge, he's incredibly stout at the point of attack and is a dominant force against the run. He has the talent to play the five-technique defensive end position in a 3-4 scheme, but his best fit may be on the strongside in the 4-3 defense. Clayborn is a solid pick later in the first round.

Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
6:04.5-294


Good News: Exceptional strength at the point of attack…Generally maintains leverage…Can use his bull rush to drive opponents into the backfield…Cognizant run defender…Uses a nice spin move to defeat the block and get to the ball carrier…Pretty quick off the snap for his size…Strong hands and can deliver a jolting initial punch.

Bad News: Simply won't be a threat to rush off the edge…Lacks the burst and speed of traditional 4-3 defensive ends, but is quick for an interior defender…Injury issues – coming off a left elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in January…Can get pushed back with a solid double-team.

2010 Statistics: All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection…Registered 48 total tackles with 13 tackles-for-loss and 3.5 sacks…Added three quarterback hurries, a pass deflection, a fumble recovery and an interception.

Prediction: Heyward has seen his stock suffer a bit due to an elbow injury that required surgery. He's been limited in the pre-draft process, but has shown enough throughout his career to warrant late first-round or early second-round consideration. Heyward fits best as a defensive end in a 3-4 defense but could also play along the interior as a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme.

OTHERS TO WATCH: 

Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
6:02.7-264-4.73

3-4 outside ilnebacker

Notes: Effective pass rusher with good length as a strongside end in college, but may need to transition to linebacker at the next level.
Projection: 2nd round.

Allen Bailey, Miami (FL)
6:03.0-285-4.83

Notes: Mostly a bull rusher that struggles to generate pressure off the edge and will be a better fit as a 3-4 defensive end or 4-3 defensive tackle.
Projection: 2nd-3rd round.

Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State
6:02.5-278-5.04

Notes: Entered the season as one of the most highly regarded prospects at the position, but a lackluster performances in his senior season and at the Senior Bowl have his stock on the decline.
Projection: 4th round.

Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh
6:04.7-264

3-4 outside ilnebacker

Notes: Gifted pass rusher with outstanding size, but suffered major back and knee injuries that nearly cost him his entire senior season.
Projection: 4th-5th round.


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