2014 NFL Draft: Updated Defensive End Rankings with Draft Grades

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2014 NFL Draft: Updated Defensive End Rankings with Draft Grades
Mike Groll/Associated Press

One of the most fundamental principles in winning football is the need to rush the passer. No team can hope to succeed if they cannot put the opposing team's quarterback under consistent and significant duress.

For many NFL franchises, this task falls firmly on the defensive end.

Yes, there are plenty of teams who run a 3-4 base defense and use their outside linebackers as pass-rushing specialists, but the fact is many of these players were college defensive ends as well. 

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

There are really two kinds of defensive ends in the NFL. There is the defensive end that wins with speed and the one that wins with power. Obviously, there is always some overlap, but in most cases, an end will favor one trait over the other.

Looking at the 2014 class, there is a nice mix of pure 4-3 power ends that can bull rush off the corner or set the edge in the run game. There are also several excellent hybrid players who project as both 4-3 rush ends as well as 3-4 outside linebackers. These are the money guys. The dynamic, athletic types that teams drool over.

Obviously, the king of this pack is South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney is a nightmare-inducing blend of power and speed all wrapped up in a 6'5", 274-pound package that destroys the hopes and dreams of everyone he faces.

While Clowney's game is not without some flaws, one simply cannot overlook how he is capable of overpowering an offensive lineman on one play and then blowing past them on the next.

It's this element of the unknown that often finds linemen flat-footed and Clowney in the backfield, tossing the ball-carrier around like a rag doll.

Another aspect of Clowney's game is his size. There's nothing to say that Clowney couldn't play anywhere along the defensive front in a 4-3 and don't rule out his ability to stand up as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.

He's huge, but still so athletic.

If your favorite team chooses to pass on Clowney or one of the other four defensive ends that project as first-rounders, all is not lost. In the second round, Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith offers a lot in a slightly smaller and less terrifying package.

Smith has a compact build, with thick legs and long arms. He shows a great first step and most importantly understands how to use leverage to shorten his angles to the football. Expect Smith to have a great combine and really open some eyes.

Moving later into the draft, some team is going to get a real steal when it selects West Texas A&M's Ethan Westbrooks. Westbrooks sort of splits the difference between Clowney's size and speed and Smith's technique.

Unfortunately, playing for West Texas A&M, Westbrooks hasn't had a chance to showcase his talent much against top competition. He will need to really impress scouts in offseason workouts to get himself a spot on an NFL roster.

However, like so many of these prospects, he just needs a chance to show what he can do. 

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Another important note: These rankings are strictly for defensive ends. It does not distinguish between 4-3 ends, hybrid players, or 5-technique 3-4 defensive ends. As the draft approaches, these groups will be split by scheme, but for now, this is how they break down based purely on talent and NFL potential.

Look for scouting reports on many of these prospects in the coming months and don't be shocked if this fluid group still has some late movement as more film study gives a clearer picture of its talent.

Rank Name School Height Weight Grade
1 Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina 6'5" 274 lbs 1st
2 Khalil Mack Buffalo 6'3" 248 lbs 1st
3 Kony Ealy Missouri 6'5" 275 lbs 1st
4 Anthony Barr UCLA 6'4" 248 lbs 1st
5 Dee Ford Auburn 6'2" 243 lbs 1st
6 Chris Smith Arkansas 6'1" 266 lbs 2nd
7 Trent Murphy Stanford 6'6" 252 lbs 2nd
8 Kyle Van Noy BYU 6'3" 245 lbs 2nd
9 Michael Sam Missouri 6'2" 255 lbs 3rd
10 Stephon Tuitt Notre Dame 6'6" 312 lbs 3rd
11 Scott Crichton Oregon State 6'3" 265lbs 3rd
12 Jackson Jeffcoat Texas 6'4" 250 lbs 3rd
13 Adrian Hubbard Alabama 6'5" 252 lbs 3rd
14 Marcus Smith Louisville 6'4" 258 lbs 4th
15 Jeremiah Attaochu Georgia Tech 6'3" 242lbs 4th
16 Josh Mauro Stanford 6'6" 276 lbs 4th
17 Will Clarke West Virginia 6'6" 271 lbs 4th
18 Demarcus Lawrence Boise State 6'3" 245 lbs 4th
19 Kareem Martin North Carolina 6'6" 272 lbs 5th
20 Ethan Westbrooks West Texas A&M 6'4" 264 lbs 5th
21 Ed Stinson Alabama 6'3" 292 lbs 5th
22 Taylor Hart Oregon 6'6" 287 lbs 6th
23 James gayle Virginia Tech 6'4" 255 lbs 6th
24 Aaron Lynch USF 6'5" 244 lbs 6th
25 Ben Gardner Stanford 6'4" 277 lbs 6th
26 Cassius Marsh UCLA 6'4" 254 lbs 6th

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