D-End the Deepest Position in the Draft

Mike Mayock of NFL Network said he has handed out first-round grades to nine defensive ends, so it's the deepest position in the draft. Here's a look at the Divine Nine and where they may go.


Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn is considered a hot prospect for the NFL Draft because he can play the five-technique end position in a 3-4 scheme. (Chuck Burton/AP)

Da'Quan Bowers

A 6-3, 280-pounder out of Clemson, Bowers had 74 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, two pass breakups and 20 quarterback pressures this past season for the Tigers. A protégé of the late Gaines Adams that wants to be the next Julius Peppers, he's a threat to go No. 1 overall to the Panthers even if some scouts have reservations that he could be a one-year wonder.

Should Carolina decide to go in a different direction, it would be hard for the Broncos to dismiss Bowers at No. 2 and there's no chance he gets past the Bills at No. 3. His best position is probably right end in a 4-3, although it's possible he could be a monster outside linebacker in the 3-4.

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Adrian Clayborn

A 6-3, 281-pounder out of Iowa, Clayborn had 52 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one pass breakup, one pass defensed, six quarterback hits, one forced fumble and one blocked kick this past season for the Hawkeyes. His numbers weren't as impressive as they were his junior year, but he told reporters at the Scouting Combine that he simply didn't have as many opportunities because opponents tried to avoid him.

If the Cowboys can't get the corner they need so desperately, probably Nebraska's Prince Amukamara, Clayborn may not be a bad consolation prize at No. 9 overall. His best position down the road should be five-technique end in a 3-4, although he can definitely play either left or right end in a 4-3.

Cameron Heyward

A 6-5, 294-pounder out of Ohio State, Heyward had 48 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception, one pass breakup, two passes defensed, three quarterback hits, one fumble recovery and one safety this past season for the Buckeyes. The son of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, the late former running back and Zest pitch man, the younger Heyward told members of the media he isn't leaning on his father's legacy and instead wants to make his own name in the NFL.

Because Seattle tinkers with 4-3 and 3-4 elements, Heyward could be a great addition at No. 25 and play all over the defensive line depending on where he's needed snap to snap. His best position may end up being five-technique end in a 3-4, but he can also contribute at either tackle position in 4-3 looks.

Cameron Jordan

A 6-4, 287-pounder out of California, Jordan had 62 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four pass breakups, one quarterback hit, one fumble recovery and three forced fumbles this past season for the Bears. Likely no better than a second-round prospect at the beginning of the evaluation process, he was arguably the best player on display at the Senior Bowl last month and proved he could get pressure on anyone.

While the Buccaneers no longer employ the Cover 2 that made them so dominant on that side of the ball for so long, they still need a pass rusher at No. 20 and Jordan may be the one. His best position is probably left end in a 4-3, but it's not out of the question for him to slide inside and play some three-technique tackle on passing downs.

Ryan Kerrigan

A 6-4, 267-pounder out of Purdue, Kerrigan had 70 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, one pass breakup, two fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles this past season for the Boilermakers. Another player that did well for himself at the Senior Bowl, he actually participated in drills at the Scouting Combine as a linebacker in hopes of catching on with a 3-4 team.

The Chiefs could use another pass-rushing threat off the edge to take some of the burden off Tamba Hali on the other side, so they could call Kerrigan's name at No. 21 overall. His best position may still be right end in a 4-3, but he's a little undersized for that role in the NFL.

Corey Liuget

A 6-2, 298-pounder out of Illinois, Liuget had 63 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, three pass breakups, three passes defensed and 10 quarterback hits this past season for the Illini. Not as big a name as some of the other prospects along the defensive line, he's rising up a lot of draft boards recently in part because he can perform at one of the hardest positions to scout in the NFL: five-technique end.

Houston is moving from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 next season under new coordinator Wade Phillips, so Liuget could go there at No. 11, but No. 17 to New England is a possibility, too. His best position should be five technique, although he's big enough to play inside in a 4-3, too.

Robert Quinn

A 6-4, 265-pounder out of North Carolina, Quinn had 52 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, three pass breakups, 15 quarterback hits and six forced fumbles two seasons ago for the Tar Heels -- he was suspended this past year for "violations of NCAA agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct rules." Nevertheless, he was impressive in Indianapolis with a 4.7-second 40-yard dash, 34 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds and a 9-8 broad jump, so the raw athleticism is there.

He may have been in the running for No. 1 overall if he had more game tape and there was no off-the-field history, but the Bills could still take Quinn at No. 3 if Bowers isn't there. His best position is going to be outside linebacker in a 3-4, but he can certainly be a Pro Bowler at right end for a 4-3 team, too.

J.J. Watt

A 6-5, 290-pounder out of Wisconsin, Watt had 62 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, one interception, eight pass breakups, nine passes defensed, 10 quarterback hits, two fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and three blocked kicks this past season for the Badgers. While he filled up the stat sheet as a collegian week in and week out, he may have to get used to letting the linebackers get all the glory if he indeed makes the move to five-technique end in a 3-4.

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Watt could be a consideration as early as No. 9 to Dallas, so perhaps he goes to Houston at No. 11 and does some of the dirty work to make it easier on Mario Williams on the other side. His best position is five-technique end in a 3-4, but he could still make for a terrific left end in a 4-3 defense.

Muhammad Wilkerson

A 6-4, 315-pounder out of Temple, Wilkerson had 70 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, three pass breakups, three passes defensed, two quarterback hits, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles this past season for the Owls. While he may be an unknown name to many football fans because of the college program he played in, Mike Mayock of NFL Network loves what he sees on tape and believes he's a first rounder.

If New England addresses another position with its first pick in Round 1 at No. 17, Wilkerson would make sense at No. 28 playing alongside Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork. His best position is going to be five-technique end in a 3-4, but it's not unreasonable for him to be an inside player on Sunday at any of the tackle spots.


John Crist is an NFL Analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.


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