Top Ranked Defensive Ends
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
No doubt one of the best athletes of the last decade, and a sure fire top five pick, I wouldn't draft this guy if my life depended on it. He came on the scene in 2011 as a freshman and lit the world on fire, and had every NFL scout in the nation salivating over this moment in his life. After that, he returned with an attitude that the college game wasn't good enough for him, and just did the bare minimum of what he had to do until he could cash a check. That being said, his bare minimum is still better then most, but his numbers sank like a rock over the last two seasons, and before 2013 started, he threatened to sit out until the draft. He has a highly questionable moral center, a motor that only works when he so chooses, and has all the markings of a dramatic cancer in the locker room when things don't go his way. Despite his undeniable talent, I say leave this to another team to lament later.
Grade: A+ on talent and ability, F on everything else.
Kony Ealy, Missouri
It amazes me that Ealy ranks so highly when he was outplayed in college by teammate and fellow bookend Michael Sam. Ealy may have some intangibles, but is he a first round franchise DE? Absolutely not. Missouri has had a history of putting out highly thought of defensive players who bust out later, and I'm not banking on Ealy either. I'm not saying that Ealy is a terrible player, but I am saying that scouts have him ranked much too high, and he may be drafted in a spot that overvalues what he brings to the table. Buyer beware.
Dee Ford, Auburn
Again, I am a bit perplexed when scouts rank a DE who basically looks like a built up OLB as the third best DE in the draft class. Ford has solid intangibles as a pass rusher coming off the edge, but has no experience, or limited at best experience grabbing safety valve receivers coming out of the backfield in college to justify kicking him to the OLB spot. Everyone is sold on him as a DE, but I see too much tweener to feel safe there. Again, he projects to late first rounder, but I just don't feel good about him there. Third round seems more justifiable to me with Ford.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State
We finally have an undervalued player at the DE spot in Crichton. He is built like a solid DE, and can push around some tackles on the next level as a pass rush and contain guy, who is actually built for his position, and plays with a quantifiable motor. Crichton actually looks more like a first rounder than Ealy or Ford, and plays with more class and moral fiber than Clowney. He is my favorite end in this draft, and would actually qualify as a late first round pick, even though scouting services tend to look at him as a mid second rounder.
Trent Murphy, Stanford
I'm still trying to figure out why so many players who are built like linebackers (and in this case actually was a LB) are being graded out as DEs in this draft. Too many people are getting fixated with creating smaller rush ends instead of just developing traditional ends who can muscle up against big standard bearing tackles. Murphy is an excellent LB who plays with great range despite not being a phenomenal athlete. He is a great motor guy who just screams team captain, but as a LB, and not as a DE. He fits best as an ILB in a 3-4 defense.
Grade: B+ as an ILB, and B- as a DE
Kareem Martin, North Carolina
Like Crichton, Martin is a traditional DE, and plays like one. He really exploded onto the scene as a senior, when he developed with 11 sacks. Martin can explode inside and out, and can stand up against most big time tackles. He is a driver, and while he still needs some fundamental work, he will play nicely in a rotation until year two or three, when he should be ready to be a full time force.
Marcus Smith, Louisville
Smith is yet another tweener, who maybe works best as an OLB in a 3-4. He has a highly productive motor, and can play off the edge, but his lack of bulk on a 6-4 frame concerns me as a three technique end. Because of this, Smith ranks all over the place amongst the scouting services, and becomes very difficult to grade out. His potential is interesting, but where he fits is confusing.
Grade: B- (Potential and athleticism based grade)
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Jeffcoat has enormous athletic talent, and would rank far higher, but he has a major size differential, as he weighs in at times at under 250lbs. He has a massive motor, and his talent level is up there, but he doesn't look the part, and may be just too small to play down on the line. If a creative DC gets him, he could line up all over the place as a situational blitzer, but he will never be an every down DE.
Grade: D as a DE on Sundays, B as a situational guy lined up strategically
Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
We have yet another tweener who some scouts really like, and others are split on. Lawrence has been a highly productive end in college, but don't overvalue his numbers at Boise State. As much as I like Boise, the level of competition isn't all that high. Lawrence will have to be used very creatively to get the best use out of him.
Top Ranked Defensive Tackles
Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
Nix is a perfect fit at DT or NT, and has the frame for either spot. A solidly built bull rush guy, Nix can clog up the middle and move a pile. He keeps his feet churning, and can disrupt both a run game, or get into the backfield on passing downs and disrupt the pocket. His skill and his football IQ makes him a leader on defense. His only drawback is some minor injury concerns that may pop up from time to time.
Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
A big time producer, Donald may lack the height to really be all too impactful in the middle. He has amazing skill on the edge, and despite great size, he can really get after the bigger tackles, and makes lives of opposing linemen miserable. Donald has put up huge numbers, and I can see him playing outside on rush downs, and inside on pass downs.
Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Jernigan is another guy who really plays beyond his size. Not that he is limited, or not good, because he is a solid, high motor, aggressive player. He may be a guy who can play down at tackle in a 4-3, but would not fit into a 3-4. He could play more at end on rush downs, and would be a solid bull rush guy on passing games. I like him, but like him best in creative situations.
RaShede Hageman, Minnesota
One of the faster risers in the draft, Hageman has really served himself well in the postseason workouts this winter. He was a fringe prospect at one time who has pushed himself in some circles into first round territory. Hageman has a solid frame that can add more bulk, but has decent athleticism. He has the ability to collapse the pocket, and really works well against the run. Any North division who face run heavy offenses would be wise to select him.
Dominique Easley, Florida
Easley is a bit undersized at DT, and because of that, I fear for him going up against the massive guards that inhabit the middle of the line in the NFL. He may be just a situational DT on pass downs, but because of his shorter stature and missing bulk for a tackle, and so his potential seems limited to me. Even the best running motors can only do so much.
Will Sutton, Arizona State
Sutton is a short, but stout, DT. He may fit in as a NT in a 3-4, but he lacks athleticism, and he's rather slow for a smaller tackle. He measures only 6-0, and weighs just a shade over 300 lbs., so his frame can't really bulk up any. Sutton played on a very poor defense at Arizona State, so what he brings to the table escapes me.
Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
Quarles is a rangy tackle who may fit better as a big end. He has the height to build some bulk on his frame, but may not be able to handle it without slowing down, and he has no speed to give. He may have had a solid season in 2013, because other attention was used to counter Clowney. Quarles has a bit of bust written on him, and he may never be better than a rotational guy.
Ego Ferguson, LSU
Ferguson has the size and weight one would like at tackle, but he also has shocking speed for a tackle on defense, running a sub five 40. He is athletic, and undervalued, and could be one of the better tackles in the draft, and would be a real bargain in the third round, which is where he is projected to go. It wouldn't surprise me to see someone take a chance on Ferguson and grab him a bit earlier, and I think they would be right to do so.
DaQuan Jones, Penn State
Jones is an intriguing guy, as he has a solid size ratio, and uses his frame to his utmost ability. He was exposed by not playing next to any stars in 2013, and he exceled. Jones may be yet another undervalued guy in the tackle class that could really surprise when given the chance. I see starter potential here, even if it takes a couple of seasons to fully break in.
Anthony Johnson, LSU
Johnson can explode off the snap, but after that, he seems limited by getting winded quickly, and becoming upright and easy to block. He never has fully developed, even though he has gained accolades in the past. I'm not certain that he will be any thing other than a rotation guy inside, and although at one time he was too heavy, he now seems a bit underweight to play inside, and lacks the overall motor to kick out to end. He just seems to all over the place for my taste. Take a pass on him and move on with your day.
Coming Up Next: Linebackers