B/R CFB 250: Top 10 3-4 Defensive Ends in College Football

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterDecember 24, 2013

B/R CFB 250: Top 10 3-4 Defensive Ends in College Football

0 of 10

    USA Today

    Editor's note: This is the 11th installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

    At one of the most misunderstood positions in football, who takes the top 3-4 defensive-end spot?

    When many fans hear defensive end, they think sacks, quarterback hurries and tackles for loss. Unfortunately, for the ends playing in a 3-4 scheme, they deal less in quantifiable stats and more in helping teammates make plays. These are the workhorses who gobble up blockers and free up linebackers to run to the football.

    Run defense takes center stage in these rankings. Effectiveness in the pass rush is a bonus at this position. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

    Keep in mind, these 3-4 defensive ends are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.

10. Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama

1 of 10

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    22/30

    Jeoffrey Pagan, like teammate Ed Stinson, fits into the traditional mold of eating space and collapsing the pocket around the quarterback. Pagan has shown some ability to disengage, but his primary role is occupying bodies and constricting the pocket around the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    63/70

    Pagan is a squeezer. He has a strong body that can hold off tackles, and that allows him to stop zone runs and create space for his linebackers to fill. It takes two linemen to push Pagan off his point, and that is exactly what his coach is looking for at his position.

    Overall

    85/100

    The junior from North Carolina has shown an ability to be a big-time player, especially against the run. Pagan collapses the pocket and possesses the athleticism, when the opportunity arises, to give chase to quarterbacks.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third Round. Has upside, but gets protected by the Alabama scheme.

9. Henry Anderson, Stanford

2 of 10

    Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    22/30

    Henry Anderson rebounded from injury to be a major player against the pass. Unlike Ben Gardner, Anderson fit into the more traditional, space-occupying role at the defensive-end spot. Anderson’s ability to consume blockers allows the linebackers to get to the quarterback and make plays.

    Run Defense

    63/70

    The senior from Atlanta is extremely stout against the run. After missing time, he started against Oregon and showed the ability to set the edge and dominate defenders, freeing his teammates to make tackles, flowing over the top to the football.

    Overall

    85/100

    Anderson missed much of the season with a knee injury, but his timely return, when Gardner went down for the year, was a big reason why Stanford was able to upset Oregon. The senior gets a strong push against the run, controls the line of scrimmage and disrupts opponents in the run and pass game.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third Round. Has starting potential, but bouncing back from knee injury is key.

8. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

3 of 10

    Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    27/30

    Stephon Tuitt has elite skills as a pass-rusher, although this season, injury and conditioning have prevented him from being the premier rusher at the position. That said, Tuitt does show a knack for getting to the quarterback. He can disengage from tackles, has the speed and strength to beat them to the edge or overpower them back into the quarterback, and requires attention from tight ends or backs.

    Run Defense

    58/70

    Tuitt’s game has taken a step back against the run in 2013. Still an elite talent, Tuitt can hold the edge, but has not shown the same knack for disengaging and making plays in the backfield against the run.

    Overall

    85/100

    Without high-quality linebacking play, Tuitt’s been forced to do more and he's failed to rise to the occasion on an every-game basis. He is still one of the best ends in the game, but just did not meet this season's elite expectations, falling short in these rankings as a result.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late First Round. Has an NFL body and the athletic ability to make it count.

7. Joey Bosa, Ohio State

4 of 10

    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    25/30

    Hybrid linebacker Noah Spence has gotten a lot of the praise, but newcomer Joey Bosa has had a quality season as well. Bosa is still learning the 3-4 position, but as the season progressed, he figured out how to not only squeeze the pocket, but disengage from tackles and become a factor against the pass.

    Run Defense

    61/70

    Against the run, Bosa gets to use his natural athleticism and skill set to make plays. The Buckeyes ask him to set the edge, but also allow him the freedom to disrupt plays in the backfield. Bosa happily obliges.

    Overall

    86/100

    Bosa beat out Adolphus Washington to play the position, and it is clear the Buckeyes made the right choice. The freshman is active in both facets of the game, displays great athleticism in getting to the quarterback and creating problems in the run game. As teams scheme to stop Spence, it is Bosa who has seen his role increase. He is capable of being a true impact player at the position.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First Round. The next great Ohio State defensive line prospect.

6. Ray Drew, Georgia

5 of 10

    Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    25/30

    Ray Drew is the Bulldogs’ pass rush. He has grown from a space-eater who occupies bodies into a more assertive role in getting to the passer. Drew has shown an ability to disengage from tackles, push the edge and go underneath to pursue the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    61/70

    In the run game, Drew does fill the more traditional role of pushing through the tackle to the guard, in order to free up his linebackers. The Dawgs junior does get reached at times and is indecisive against the zone read, which is partially why opponents gash the Georgia defense.

    Overall

    86/100

    Drew’s a quality player at the position who stepped up for Georgia when the team clearly lacked an influential, traditional rusher. Drew is best suited for the prototype role, but he can fill in as a pass-rusher when needed.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third Round. Impressive athlete for his size, but a scheme-specific pro prospect.

5. Mario Edwards, Florida State

6 of 10

    Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    24/30

    Mario Edwards is growing into the position every week and showing his comfort level with his new role. Edwards’ massive size and great strength make him a tremendous asset at the 3-4 end spot. He squeezes the pocket, manhandles offensive tackles and gives his rushing linebackers space to make plays.

    Run Defense

    65/70

    In the run game, Edwards gets to do a lot of the same things that he did well in the 4-3. The big sophomore holds his ground well, redirecting runs back into his speedy linebackers. He is quick enough to stay beyond the reach of tackles in zone blocking and strong enough to stymie lateral flow.

    Overall

    89/100

    He’s another player who is transitioning into the system and making it work for him. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's introduction of more 3-4 principles has highlighted Edwards’ best skills. His impact has been undeniable for the Seminoles.

    NFL Draft Projection

    First Round. Athletic enough to play defensive end or tackle in either the 3-4 or 4-3 scheme.

4. Martin Ifedi, Memphis

7 of 10

    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    27/30

    Martin Ifedi has clearly been the Tigers' best pass-rusher this season, operating from the 3-4 end. He fights through the outside shoulder well, has impressive power and still possesses great quickness to beat tackles on the edge.

    Run Defense

    63/70

    The Memphis end doesn't have the biggest frame for his position, but he uses his quickness to compensate for being smaller than his opponents. He can split double-teams, beats tackles to the edge in order to make a play on the run and has a propensity for getting to the mesh point to cause chaos.

    Overall

    90/100

    After a great season, Ifedi is a name not nearly enough people recognize among the nation’s best. He fights hard at the spot, demonstrates good technique and puts himself in position to make plays.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth Round. Not big enough for his lack of speed. Must add strength or quickness.

3. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama

8 of 10

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    25/30

    The Crimson Tide like to squeeze the pocket and bring controlled pressure to the quarterback. A'Shawn Robinson excelled at that and found a way to generate more pressure by disengaging from blockers as he neared the QB.

    Run Defense

    66/70

    Robinson’s athleticism shines through versus the rushing attack. Not only does his size allow him to set a hard edge against the run, but he brings a quickness that enables him to disengage and be a factor. He makes tackles in the run game that many defensive ends in the same scheme are unable to reach.

    Overall

    91/100

    A newcomer to the scene, Robinson made an immediate impact for the Tide as his playing time increased throughout the season. He brings great athleticism and an ability to separate from blockers, elevating him beyond the mere "occupying" role of the traditional 3-4 end.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second Round. A future top 50 player if he can keep his weight in check.

2. Ben Gardner, Stanford

9 of 10

    Stephen Lam/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    27/30

    Prior to his season-ending pectoral injury, Ben Gardner was an elite pass-rushing end. Not only did he possess the ability to compress the pocket from the edge against offensive tackles, but he could disengage and make plays as quarterbacks moved in the pocket.

    Run Defense

    64/70

    Gardner typifies what coaches want out of the end position in the true 3-4. He occupies two blockers at the point of attack, has the ability to force runs back inside and frees up his linebackers to make big plays in the backfield.

    Overall

    91/100

    The Cardinal senior is a tremendous blend of speed and power. He sets a hard edge and pushes through tackles’ outside shoulders to squeeze the pocket and reroute runs back to the inside. Gardner is the prototype at the spot.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third Round. An athletic anchor, but injury hurts his draft stock considerably. Looks like a pro starter.

1. Leonard Williams, USC

10 of 10

    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    27/30

    Leonard Williams is the nation’s premier pass-rusher from the 3-4 defensive-end spot, drawing from the same skill set that made him a beast as a 4-3 end. His coaches allow him to make plays in the backfield, instead of merely squeezing the pocket.

    Run Defense

    66/70

    The USC sophomore has the ability to set a hard edge, dictating the flow of the run back inside, something expected of a 3-4 end. However, Williams also has the quickness and body control to knife between defenders and make plays in the backfield on his own.

    Overall

    93/100

    Converting from a 4-3 to a 3-4 end was expected to be a challenge for Williams. But he has met it head-on with flying colors. He is flourishing in the new system, a testament to his athleticism and his coaches recognizing how to properly utilize his gifts.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early First Round. Has the power, strength and versatility of a future No. 1 overall pick.