Here are the 28 defensive ends who have been invited to the Scouting Combine. Players are listed in alphabetical order. Heights and weights come from CBSSports.com/NFLDraftScout.com. All players are seniors unless noted. Many of these players project to 3-4 outside linebackers.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama (6-3, 291): Allen had a huge senior season of 69 tackles, including 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses. He added 15 additional hurries and three fumble recoveries, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Allen hauled in a bunch of awards and honors, including unanimous first-team All-America and first-team all-SEC. Plus, he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award (both for best defensive player) and Ted Hendricks Award (best defensive end), and was a finalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year, Lott IMPACT Trophy and Lombardi Award (best defensive lineman or linebacker). For his career, Allen recorded 28 sacks — only Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas has more in school history — and 44.5 tackles for losses. Simply put, Allen starred as “Superman” on the Tide’s powerful defense.
So many prospects play for their mother. Allen would simply like to find his. As a kid, he moved from hotel to hotel and spent 10 months in foster care. He missed so much school that he had to repeat second grade. “It was tough not having my mom around, but you've got to be tough," Allen said. "Tough times require tough people. Everything you've got to do is hard. As long as I have an older brother, it really didn't matter, to be honest. As long as I had my brother, everything was good.”
Filling the void was his military father and a brother seven years his senior. “I knew a lot more than Jonathan did,” his brother, Richard, said. “A lot of times it was literally just me and him — in a house by ourselves, in foster care by ourselves. So we had to take care of each other. I was really all he had at the time. He was nervous, but we had each other.”
Derek Barnett, Tennessee (6-3, 265): Junior. Barnett spent most of his three years in the opponent’s backfield. His 33 sacks broke Reggie White’s school record of 32, and his 52 tackles for losses were one off Leonard Little’s record. He was a first-team All-American in 2016 with 13 sacks and 19 tackles for losses making up the bulk of his 40 tackles. He added 16 quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one interception. Barnett was the only player in SEC history to have 10-plus sacks in three consecutive seasons.
Barnett’s mother, Christine, sacrificed for her son. As a single mom, she worked two jobs. After getting home from UPS, she’d go to bed at 4:30 a.m. and get up at 7 a.m. to get Barnett off to school. She passed up a better job because it would have prevented her from watching Barnett play his high school games. “She’s a grinder. She gets stuff done. Me seeing that makes me want to work harder. That's where I get my motivation from, honestly. I'm doing whatever I can to repay her.”
The Combine might not be his thing. He wasn’t a great tester before college but played faster than the stopwatch. “I don’t think combines are really for football,” Barnett said before his sophomore season. “It’s when you put the pads on is when you can really tell how good someone is. Hustling to the football has always been my thing. I just don’t want anybody to outwork me because I feel like even if I make a mistake, if I’m hustling to the ball, I can make up for it. I take a lot of pride in my conditioning. In the fourth quarter that’s when you can make some big plays, because those O-linemen are bigger guys and they get tired. Everybody plays hard at the beginning of the game.”
Tarell Basham, Ohio (6-4, 259): Basham was the program’s first MAC Defensive Player of the Year. Among 49 tackles were 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses. He added 12 hurries and one forced fumble. His big-play production dwarfed his junior campaign, when he had 5.5 sacks and 10 TFLs.
“The NFL scouts, they’ve come by a ton and … they feel that he’s a legitimate pro prospect,” said Ohio coach Frank Solich, who coached plenty of professional players while at Nebraska. “There are a lot of guys that are 6-2 and got decent size and strength and play the position, but there’s not a ton of them out there that have his height, his wingspan and still has all that athleticism. I think that makes him very appealing to the pros.”
Basham set the school’s career sacks record in September (finished with 29.5) and wound up with the single-season record, as well.
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Tashawn Bower, LSU (6-4, 248): If Bower gets drafted, it might be because of his final collegiate game. Of his 5.5 career sacks, three came against Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in LSU’s bowl game rout of Louisville. In 40 career games, Bower started only seven times and recorded 60 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 12 tackles for losses. Playing outside linebacker in new coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme as a senior, Bower posted four sacks.
Fadol Brown, Mississippi (6-4, 273): In three seasons at Ole Miss, Brown recorded four sacks and 16 tackles for losses. As a senior, Brown missed four games due to lingering issues with a stress fracture in his foot but produced 39 tackles, 2.5 sacks and six TFLs.
Brown started his career at Florida International in 2012, tallying eight tackles and 1.5 sacks as a freshman.
In April 2015, a 50-year-old, unarmed black man named Walter Scott was shot and killed by a police officer in South Carolina. Scott was like a “stepdad” to Brown. Brown made the dean’s list three times and boasted a 3.03 GPA.
Taco Charlton, Michigan (6-5, 272): After starting four games in his first three years, Charlton was first-team all-Big Ten as a senior with 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and 43 tackles — all career-best numbers. He added eight hurries. In four seasons, he notched 19 sacks and 28 TFLs.
Charlton’s real name is Vidauntae. If you guessed his favorite food is tacos, you’d be right. But only in the present tense. His mother and grandmother gave him the nickname. Being a typical little kid, he decided that he didn’t like tacos. Now, he loves them. "Definitely, it's always Taco Tuesdays, it's Taco Tuesdays on Thursdays, it's a lot of tacos. I'll try to be a Taco Tuesdays on Saturdays this year, and the next level you've got the Sundays and Mondays. Right now, I'll definitely take those Taco Tuesdays. It's a great thing to kind of build off my name. I was gifted to have a great name. I go along with it and I love it.”
Charlton’s basketball skill caught the eye of Wolverines coach John Beilein, who watched him at Pickerington (Ohio) Central High School. That’s the same school that produced fellow Michigan star Jake Butt.
Bryan Cox, Florida (6-3, 264): Yes, Cox is the son of former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox, who played 12 seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, New York Jets, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.
Cox didn’t do much as a senior, recording 19 tackles with one-half sack and 2.5 tackles for losses while fighting through nagging injuries. He added six hurries. Cox had a much larger impact as a junior, with 45 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10.5 TFLs, two forced fumbles and six hurries. In four seasons, he tallied 10 sacks and 20.5 TFLs. “This guy loves to play the game,” coach Jim McElwain said. “He plays the game the way you should, with an effort and an intensity on that given down, as hard as he can go. That’s a credit to him. We always talk about being proud of what you put on film. Your film is your résumé. It’s what’s out there forever. He truly can be proud of what he puts on film because of how hard he plays.”
Among Cox’s childhood memories are being on the field and in the confetti following the Patriots’ upset victory over the Rams in the Super Bowl that capped the 2001 season. “I just have a love for the game. I’ve been around (it) when I was obviously growing up. And (my dad) never force-fed it down my mouth. I just started loving it.”
Keionta Davis, Chattanooga (6-3, 274): Davis was a two-time FCS All-American, including first-team honors as a senior, when he was named the Southern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. In 2016, he led the league with 10.5 sacks while tallying 44 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses, seven hurries and seven passes defensed. For his career, he piled up 31 career sacks — including a career-high 13.5 as a junior — and forced eight fumbles.
Davis missed his senior year at Red Bank High School in Chattanooga due to a torn ACL — and didn’t play as a sophomore — which scared off bigger schools. So Davis stayed home and went to UTC.
Dylan Donahue, West Georgia (6-2, 243): Donahue had two tremendous seasons for the Division II school. As a junior, he was second-team All-American with 12 sacks and 17.5 tackles for losses. He was better as a senior, as he was a first-team All-American and a finalist for the Gene Upshaw Award, which goes to the best lineman (offense or defense) in Division II. He set a Gulf Coast Conference record with 13.5 sacks and contributed 20 tackles for losses. That gave him a two-year total of 25.5 sacks — a school record.
How did Donahue wind up at a Division II school? After redshirting at Montana Western, he transferred to Palomar Junior College in hopes of landing at an FBS-level school. However, he learned he’d have only one year of eligibility at a Division I program but two at a Division II school.
Donahue’s father, Mitch, played 31 games for the 49ers and Broncos from 1991 through 1994. “My dad taught me that the harder you go on the football field, the more successful you’re going to be,” Donahue said. “He had a nose for the ball — he just had a sense for where the ball was going to be. He’s passed that on to me. I just try to go as hard as I can on every play and get to the football as fast as I can.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.