B/R CFB 250: Top 15 4-3 Defensive Ends in College Football

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterDecember 18, 2013

B/R CFB 250: Top 15 4-3 Defensive Ends in College Football

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    Editor's note: This is the sixth 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.

    This season began with Jadeveon Clowney as the clear-cut No. 1 at the 4-3 defensive end position, but is that where he finished on this list?

    In a world where quarterbacks dominate the landscape, there is a premium placed on being able to make his life difficult. For most teams, that means using defensive ends to apply pressure off the edge in hopes of disrupting the quarterback’s timing and creating sack opportunities.

    For the B/R CFB 250, we looked at the pass-rushing ability of defensive ends, as well as their play against the run. The goal, of course, was to put together a comprehensive list of players who could not only get to the quarterback but were also capable against the run. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

    Keep in mind, these 4-3 defensive ends are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where they 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.  

15. Jermauria Rasco, LSU

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    51/65

    Jermauria Rasco is an active defensive end who pushes the pocket from the outside. He’s not great at disengaging, but he does have the ability to give chase and be disruptive in the pass game.

    Run Defense

    31/35

    Against the run, Rasco is a quality player. He’s capable of setting the edge, something LSU lacked a season ago. He does not run around blocks, and although he does not split defenders well, he gives the linebackers room to operate by turning runs back to the interior.

    Overall

    82/100

    Rasco is not the high-pressure guy off the edge that Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery were for the Bayou Bengals in 2012, but he is a stout defender. He’s strong against the run and is a big enough body to be an every-down player, not just a pass-rush specialist.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Another athletic edge-rusher from LSU, Rasco has the tools to be a starter at outside linebacker.

14. Frank Clark, Michigan

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    53/65

    Frank Clark plays like an older player than his three seasons would indicate. He understands how to work his skills to his advantage, pushing upfield to get underneath tackles and slapping away hands to keep defenders from grabbing him. He isn’t an elite athlete at the position, but he’s a relentless pass-rusher.

    Run Defense

    29/35

    The run is another area where Clark simply knows what he’s doing. He holds the edge well and pushes back against tackles to turn runs inside. Clark has also developed an ability to split defenders, disengage and get to the running back, something his team needs him to do.

    Overall

    82/100

    Clark is Steady Eddie on the edge, a guy who can get pressure on the quarterback and hold his ground against the run. What he lacks in dynamic ability, he makes up for with a true understanding of playing the position.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. A throwback defensive end with good strength but questionable speed.

13. Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss

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    No. 5
    No. 5Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    50/65

    Robert Nkemdiche is not a steady factor against the pass the way many expect a high-profile defensive end to be in the college game. He can push the pocket and overpower tackles, but he needs to master the ability to disengage and make a move to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    32/35

    Against the run, Nkemdiche proves his worth. He is an every-down defensive end because he is strong enough to the edge against offensive tackles on any given play. He is the rare freshman who can get full arm extension, turn blockers, disengage and work his way to the ball-carrier.

    Overall

    82/100

    Nkemdiche is not the sack machine that people wanted when he came out of high school, but he’s been a treat to watch. The freshman does things in the run game that go unnoticed by casual viewers, but that frees up his teammates to make plays. He is a monster against the run, a rare trait for someone so young. 

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early first round. The total package, Nkemdiche is a future No. 1 pick at defensive end or defensive tackle.

12. Carl Bradford, Arizona State

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    No. 52
    No. 52Christian Petersen/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    54/65

    In the pass game, Carl Bradford has two big assets: Will Sutton playing on the interior, and his understanding of not getting deeper than the quarterback. Bradford pushes upfield, stops, gets extension on tackles and then works back downhill to get to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    28/35

    Bradford is a strong player who can collide and disengage quickly to slip the blocker and get to the mesh point. Although he is strong enough to hold the edge, a good tackle will wear on him, freeing up space in the run game.

    Overall

    82/100

    As a junior, Bradford has emerged as a quality contributor for the Sun Devils. He benefits from Sutton’s inside push, but he provides advantages of his own with his blend of power and speed. Bradford is an active player in both facets of the game. 

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Bradford's pass-rushing and run-stuffing production are sound, but his speed and strength will be questioned.

11. Kasim Edebali, Boston College

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    Pass Rush

    55/65

    Kasim Edebali is a long player who uses his arms to get separation from blockers and disengage to get to the quarterback. The senior is also good at working leverage to squeeze the pocket or work underneath a blocker by slapping his hands away to get across his face.

    Run Defense

    28/35

    Edebali uses his length in the run game to separate from blockers and make a tackle. Unlike other defenders, the BC end brings a good power base and the ability to set the edge. He can control the blocker and still disengage to make a play. 

    Overall

    83/100

    Edebali has flown under the national radar because he plays at Boston College. That said, the kid from Germany has a lot of skills, few bad habits and is still learning how to use his length.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Undrafted free agent. A productive college player, but he lacks the explosive ability needed for the NFL.

10. Chris Smith, Arkansas

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    Pass Rush

    57/65

    Chris Smith is a strong defensive end, and he has shown an ability to beat tackles off the edge. His relentless push has helped his teammate, Trey Flowers, emerge as a capable defensive end, as Smith flushes quarterbacks in his direction. Smith has a nice spin move and the ability to get upfield before working back down to the quarterback, separating from the tackles.

    Run Defense

    27/35

    The Arkansas end is strong and can set the edge, but he is also quick enough to slip blockers to get into the backfield. His problem in the run game is gambling on the slip to make a play, and then being washed out of position. When his focus is holding the edge, he gets results.

    Overall

    84/100

    If Smith was not in a league with Michael Sam having a phenomenal season or Jadeveon Clowney projecting to be the first pick, he’d likely be a household name. Smith is a heck of a player and shows that every week, despite playing for a team that is less than stellar.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late second round. A solid 4-3 defensive end prospect, Smith just needs to make more explosive plays in space.

9. Tony Washington, Oregon

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    Pass Rush

    60/65

    Tony Washington is in the speed, edge-rusher mold. He’s an athletic player who can explode past tackles and get to the quarterback to create problems. The Oregon junior has good balance; even as tackles try to push him off his point, he has the body control to stay on course.

    Run Defense

    27/35

    Physical attacks neutralize Washington, forcing him off the edge and downfield to try to make tackles. He is at his best knifing between blockers to create problems at the mesh point.

    Overall

    87/100

    Washington is effective in the Ducks’ multiple-front defense. He has the athleticism to play in coverage, but he’s at his best blowing past tackles to get to the quarterbacks. Against the run, Washington has to penetrate because bigger players can get the best of him.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Athletic, versatile pass-rusher who needs to make more big plays.

8. Dee Ford, Auburn

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    No. 95
    No. 95Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

     

    Pass Rush

    61/65

    Dee Ford puts together speed and power with some quality go-to moves. He swats tackles’ hands out of the way to get to the edge. Ford also has the ability to recognize when he’s getting too far upfield. He can stop, push the tackle past him and get back to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    26/35

    Although Ford has to improve at using his strength to hold the edge, it is more an execution point than a lack of ability. He has to do a better job at picking his spots to be disruptive, especially against the zone read, so that he does not leave openings for opponents.

    Overall

    87/100

    The Auburn Tigers defensive end came on strong after sitting out the first two games, excelling against Ole Miss and continuing to be a monster on the edge for most of the season. He has to improve his consistency against the run to move into the upper echelon.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late second round. An explosive pass-rusher, but size concerns will affect his draft stock.

7. Randy Gregory, Nebraska

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    No. 44
    No. 44Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    60/65

    Randy Gregory has been a revelation getting after the passer. He’s shown a good swim move and the use of a stutter to get tackles off-balance before exploding past them. Gregory is also a versatile player who can stand up or rush from the interior.

    Run Defense

    27/35

    Very few players are as active at the position as Gregory. He can split defenders to get to the mesh point and is fast enough to close down to the interior after playing the quarterback on the zone read. The junior can also set a good edge in an effort to turn the running back inside.

    Overall

    87/100

    Against both the run and the pass, Gregory is an active player. He is effective inside and outside, and he has developed a few solid moves to help him get free. He’s shown a knack for disengaging from tackles and has provided a much-needed spark in Nebraska’s rush.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early first round. A future No. 1 overall pick at defensive end.

6. Kareem Martin, North Carolina

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    Pass Rush

    58/65

    Kareem Martin got off to a slow start, but he came on strong toward the end of the season. He has excellent strength and can control offensive tackles on the edge. Martin pushes them upfield to rip underneath or can engage with them, get his arms extended and then swim past.

    Run Defense

    29/35

    The senior has the ability to hold the edge, get tackles’ bodies turned and set his teammates up to pursue. However, he’s also able to disengage and split defenders to make tackles on his own, when UNC’s linebacking cavalry does not show up.

    Overall

    87/100

    Martin came on midyear to become a big-time player. He showed an ability to respond when his team needed him most, being a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. Looks the part, but he lacks the athletic ability to be a productive edge-rusher in the NFL.

5. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

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    Pass Rush

    57/65

    Shilique Calhoun is a controlled pass-rusher who excels at squeezing the pocket and then disengaging when the opportunity to make a play arises. He understands his role in blitz packages, and as quarterbacks get flushed, he uses his length to separate and track them down.

    Run Defense

    31/35

    With his long arms and ability to disengage, Calhoun serves two major purposes in the Spartans’ run defense. First, he can hold the edge, turning tackles’ shoulders and allowing linebackers to fill to make tackles. Second, he is agile enough to split defenders and create disruption in the backfield.

    Overall

    88/100

    Calhoun is one of the most underappreciated defensive ends in the country. He has played a major role in the Spartans’ defensive success, and that should not go unnoticed. He’s solid against the run and the pass, and he shows flashes of true elite capabilities in both facets.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late first round. A future stud, Calhoun is an all-around talent at defensive end.

4. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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    Pass Rush

    58/65

    Jadeveon Clowney is an explosive player who beats tackles off the line and then runs down the quarterback. At times he uses a swim, a bull rush and an up-and-under move, but if he’s going to get to the quarterback, it’s because he beats the tackle off the line.

    Run Defense

    30/35

    Clowney's best move in the run game is the one that gained him all of the accolades: his hard inside step. When he beats his defender, he creates big plays. Clowney is strong enough to hold the edge; he just has to improve on disengaging when locked up with tackles.

    Overall

    88/100

    Clowney is the most talented player at the position. Although hampered by injuries and illness, his presence was very real, and it forced teams to alter their entire game plan.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early first round. The total package athletically, you just have to question his work ethic and desire.

3. Vic Beasley, Clemson

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    Pass Rush

    62/65

    Vic Beasley is largely a one-dimensional pass-rusher, but his one dimension, speed, is exceptional. Beasley gets upfield in a hurry, gets tackles’ shoulders turned and can slip past them on the edge to get to the quarterback. 

    Run Defense

    28/35

    The Clemson junior’s big positive against the run is his quickness. He beats defenders to the spot, resulting in chaos in the backfield. That is where Beasley’s quick inside move comes into play, something coordinator Brent Venables uses to Clemson’s advantage.

    Overall

    90/100

    Although run-oriented teams can lean on him and move him off the point, Beasley makes up for it with disruptive play against the pass and quickness to get into the backfield.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late first round. An undersized edge-rusher, Beasley has the look of a weak-side edge player or stand-up linebacker in the pros.

2. Michael Sam, Missouri

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    No. 52
    No. 52Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    61/65

    Michael Sam is an experienced pass-rusher, not a phenom who burst onto the scene. He understands when to use his rip, when to spin and when to swim. The fifth-year senior knows he can outrun tackles to make a play. 

    Run Defense

    31/35

    Here again, Sam’s experience shines through. He has played enough football to know when to split defenders and when to set the edge and let the cavalry clean up the tackle. He uses his balance and body control well and has good power to push tackles upfield.

    Overall

    92/100

    Sam plays like a seasoned veteran. His explosion on the scene is less a phenomenon and more a culmination of putting all of his skills together. He’s not the most talented of the bunch, but he performs at a high level when he steps between the white lines.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early second round. A complete edge-rusher, Sam projects as a stand-up 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

1. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

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    Pass Rush

    61/65

    Jackson Jeffcoat brings speed to run the edge, a repertoire of moves and some raw power to the position. He is fast enough to beat tackles out of his stance, and unlike many players, he has a second plan of attack when his speed move is shut down. He will use a bull rush against tackles that lets him get leverage on them and knock them off their mark. 

    Run Defense

    31/35

    Here is where the Texas end separates himself from other players. He’s comfortable against the run in myriad ways. Jeffcoat can set a hard edge, he can muscle through a tackle’s inside shoulder to collapse on an interior run, and he is quick enough to play the zone read and then react to the give after slow-playing the quarterback.

    Overall

    92/100

    Jeffcoat offers the best blend of athleticism and technique in the nation. He is one of the few ends who has a second and third option in the pass and run game. Add that to his dogged pursuit of the football, and Jeffcoat belongs at the top.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early third round. Jeffcoat has all the tools to be great, but injuries and inconsistency hurt his stock.