2014 NFL Draft: Updated Defensive End Rankings with Draft Grades

Curt PopejoyContributor IFebruary 10, 2014

Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack (46) runs on the field during the first half of an NCAA football game against the Connecticut on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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.

NEW-West Texas A&M DE-Ethan Westbrooks vs Winston Salem St 2012 https://t.co/dfHs6JlsuW #Jmpasqdraftvids #Draftbreakdown #2014NFLDraft

— Jmpasq (@Jmpasq) June 7, 2013

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. 

Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Michael Sam (52) reacts after a play during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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.

RankNameSchoolHeightWeightGrade
1Jadeveon ClowneySouth Carolina6'5"274 lbs1st
2Khalil MackBuffalo6'3"248 lbs1st
3Kony EalyMissouri6'5"275 lbs1st
4Anthony BarrUCLA6'4"248 lbs1st
5Dee FordAuburn6'2"243 lbs1st
6Chris SmithArkansas6'1"266 lbs2nd
7Trent MurphyStanford6'6"252 lbs2nd
8Kyle Van NoyBYU6'3"245 lbs2nd
9Michael SamMissouri6'2"255 lbs3rd
10Stephon TuittNotre Dame6'6"312 lbs3rd
11Scott CrichtonOregon State6'3"265lbs3rd
12Jackson JeffcoatTexas6'4"250 lbs3rd
13Adrian HubbardAlabama6'5"252 lbs3rd
14Marcus SmithLouisville6'4"258 lbs4th
15Jeremiah AttaochuGeorgia Tech6'3"242lbs4th
16Josh MauroStanford6'6"276 lbs4th
17Will ClarkeWest Virginia6'6"271 lbs4th
18Demarcus LawrenceBoise State6'3"245 lbs4th
19Kareem MartinNorth Carolina6'6"272 lbs5th
20Ethan WestbrooksWest Texas A&M6'4"264 lbs5th
21Ed StinsonAlabama6'3"292 lbs5th
22Taylor HartOregon6'6"287 lbs6th
23James gayleVirginia Tech6'4"255 lbs6th
24Aaron LynchUSF6'5"244 lbs6th
25Ben GardnerStanford6'4"277 lbs6th
26Cassius MarshUCLA6'4"254 lbs6th
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