The defensive end class in this year's NFL Draft is very interesting because of the versatility in the group. So many of them have the skillset to transition to the 3-4 outside linebacker position that it will be hard to peg down whether they'll be drafted by 4-3 or 3-4 teams.
In the next article, we'll cover the conversion prospects, and I will go into more detail into how you can tell the difference between the two.
Melvin Ingram is a perfect example of this, but for this piece, I have him rated as my top defensive end. Rex Ryan recently compared him to Adalius Thomas which may be the best comparison I've heard in this year's draft because, like Thomas, Ingram played end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker at South Carolina.
At just over 6'1" and 264 pounds, you certainly wouldn't want him playing inside much, but having an athlete that versatile would make a defensive coordinator giddy with the number of packages he could install on a weekly basis.
As a 4-3 end, Ingram has all of the abilities a prospect needs. He's got great burst, violent hands which include a very impressive rip move—something essential for a pass rusher in the league today—and the ability to run the arc with great flexibility and a good angle to the ground. Simply put, he's a natural pass rusher, which is hard to find these days.
My third-ranked end is a bit more of a conundrum. Quinton Coples has gone from a sure-fire top five pick to a guy some people think may slip into the twenties. Unfortunately, none of it has to do with his abilities.
Coples has all of the tools to dominate at the end position. He's roughly the same dimensions as Julius Peppers and Mario Williams, but he doesn't have the overall natural ability that they do. I think he fits best as a 3-4 5-technique.
Still, he shows flashes of being a regular double-digit sack machine. However, those flashes don't appear quite often enough. The book on Coples is that he has motivational issues. Watching his film, you can clearly see that he sometimes loses interest in games and, in many cases, simply packs it in.
Now, it's simply impossible to ask 270-plus pound men to give it 100 percent all the time, but with Coples, you can see there's a real motor issue.
Here are the rest of the rankings:
1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
2. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
3. Quentin Coples, North Carolina
4. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
5. Andre Branch, Clemson
6. Nick Perry, USC
7. Vinny Curry, Marshall
8. Cam Johnson, Virginia
9. Chandler Jones, Syracuse
10. Jared Crick, Nebraska
One of the guys I really like is not getting any publicity whatsoever leading up the draft: Cam Johnson. His statistics won't "wow" anyone, but you can easily see the explosion coming off the corner. He's played several positions while at Virginia, and has been described as a total "team player", which may be the reason for the lack of stats.
The one knock that I can see is that he's slightly raw and needs to be coached up. I think he'll go anywhere from the late second to early fourth, and whoever gets him is going to get a heck of a piece of clay to mold.