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.
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.
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.
|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|