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B/R NFL Draft 100: Top Defensive Ends

Matt MillerNFL Draft Lead WriterApril 23, 2014

B/R NFL Draft 100: Top Defensive Ends

1 of 10

    John Raoux

    The 2014 draft class is anchored by one of the best defensive end prospects of this era in Jadeveon Clowney. The rest of the class is pretty good too. 

    The defensive end class of 2014 comes in all shapes and sizes. There are potential 5-techniques, future outside linebackers and the type of scheme-versatile studs who are ready to be molded into NFL superstars. So who comes in graded as the top overall player?

    That’s what the NFL Draft 100 aims to identify. Looking only at the film, who is the best? 

    The B/R NFL Draft 100 metric is based on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance on a 100-point scale. Unlike our NFL 1000 series, this project factors in upside for each player—as the NFL draft is as much about upside as it is about production.

    Defensive ends are judged on run defense (30 points), pass rush (50 points), upside (20) and all of the technique, athletic ability and football intelligence needed to play the position.

    In the case of ties, the ranking is based on which player I prefer personally.

    Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.

    I scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study and in-person evaluation.

9. Kareem Martin, North Carolina

2 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    25/30

    A big, long defensive end (6'6", 272 lbs) with some scheme versatility, Kareem Martin can look downright dominant at times. He has a strong punch and can hit a blocker and come free to find the run off the edge but also uses his length well to lock his arms out and hold anchor. He could stand to get stronger in the legs and play with better leverage. If he can strengthen his base, Martin could be a stud at left defensive end in a 4-3 or maybe even an athletic 5-technique in a 3-4. 

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    Martin lined up at right defensive end in North Carolina's 4-3 defense but has yet to show he can be a consistent threat as a pass-rusher. He has the strength to stun most college linemen with his powerful hands but lacks the burst to be an attacking edge-rusher in the NFL. While he does show good closing speed and power, his lack of a secondary pass-rush move and average agility are concerns. He's a high-character, likable player, but he must get better at setting up blockers and then using his strength and high-end vision/awareness to succeed. 

    Upside

    17/20

    Martin has the frame to get bigger, but he must also get stronger. A defensive end without a great pass-rushing game doesn't have a ton of value in the NFL, so his upside is limited. 

    Overall

    84/100

8. Marcus Smith, Louisville

3 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    20/30

    Marcus Smith (6'3", 251 lbs) is a work in progress as a run defender. With his short-arm play and just average strength, he's a liability on the edge. That said, his speed and agility make him an exciting pursuit player. He is able to work down the line to attack the run in the backfield and is a strong open-field tackler. He has considerable upside, and if coached up in terms of technique (hand use, how to disengage from blockers), he could be special in space. 

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    Smith doesn't have great length, but he does have a nice first step and the quickness to turn the corner. He's agile enough to play outside and loop around blockers, and he has surprising strength to work on inside rushes, too. He does need to develop a secondary pass-rush move and use his hands better, but he shows very good timing and closing speed on stunts and counters. He was productive and more impactful with each season and shows the flexibility to play in a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. The worry is that Smith does need a lot of work and would project right away as only a situational pass-rusher. If he doesn't develop, his role would be limited.

    Upside

    19/20

    A former high school quarterback, Smith outgrew the position and moved to linebacker at Louisville. His newness to defense and raw athleticism make his upside very impressive. 

    Overall

    84/100

7. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

4 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    21/30

    At 6'3" and 247 pounds, Jackson Jeffcoat looks the part of an athletic edge defender. Against the run he shows solid instincts and awareness to find the ball and attack. He's not great at the point of attack when the run comes his way, but he can play in space (think 9-technique) and force the run back inside. He won't be able to split doubles to make tackles for a loss, but he has the speed to be a menace when he does beat blockers on outside runs. Jeffcoat won't offer much against inside runs, but he does come down the line of scrimmage well. 

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    Jeffcoat has the tools to be very effective in space. He has good length (33.875" long arms) and the strength to take the outside edge around a left tackle. He uses his hands well to disengage a punch in motion and has the flexibility to turn the corner and get into the backfield. He will struggle against agile pass-protectors and must learn to use strength as well as speed. He doesn't excel at converting speed to power, but he is so fast off the jump that many left tackles struggle to keep up with him around the edge. If his lower body can get stronger, he could become a true threat as an edge-rusher. 

    Upside

    17/20

    If Jeffcoat can stay healthy, he has the athleticism to emerge as a playmaker. His best fit would be in a 3-4 scheme, and he has good upside in that role if he's able to stay on the field. 

    Overall

    84/100

6. Trent Murphy, Stanford

5 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    23/30

    At 6'5" and 250 pounds, Trent Murphy has the long arms (33.875") and reach to be an effective edge defender against the run. He'll use his arms to lock out blockers while setting the edge, but he needs to get stronger in his base to prevent being driven off the line. He's relentless in pursuit and excels at read-and-react skills but must get stronger to fill out his long, lean frame. Matched up against a tight end he can dominate, he uses his big frame well to position himself to stop the run. 

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    The most productive pass-rusher in college football during the 2013 season, Murphy has a skill set that translates to the NFL. He can use his length to create distance between himself and the blocker and then use a good combination of agility and hands to close the deal. He fights through blocks well and does an excellent job of keeping his feet going when locked up with a blocker. His awareness skills allow him to be a threat to knock the ball down even if he can't complete the sack. Murphy has scheme versatility, as he can easily bulk up and play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or stay where he is as a 3-4 outside linebacker. 

    Upside

    17/20

    Murphy has the frame to get bigger and fill out more for the role of a 4-3 defensive end, but he also has some room to get stronger and quicker if he's left in a stand-up role. He doesn't have a super high ceiling for development but can be improved. 

    Overall

    85/100

5. Scott Crichton, Oregon State

6 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    24/30

    Playing the run at defensive end can be a struggle at times for Scott Crichton (6'3", 273 lbs), as he doesn't have the length to keep blockers off his legs. He needs to develop the hand use to keep his frame clean while using his athletic gifts to shed those linemen and attack the ball. In pursuit he is very good, showing off impressive closing speed and good play recognition. He's exceptional at stripping the ball when attacking the ball-carrier and reminds you of Derrick Johnson's days at Texas with his surprising ability to get the ball free from the runner.

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    Pass-rushing technique is something Crichton will need to learn in the NFL. At Oregon State he was often able to win battles with his length and athleticism, but in the pros he will have to work on playing with better leverage. That's a teachable skill, though, and he has the body, strength and athleticism to be molded. He already shows good use with his hands and a nice enough get-off to stun blockers out of their stance. He could ideally work at either left or right defensive end—he played both at Oregon State—and give a defensive coordinator flexibility in his alignment and personnel. 

    Upside

    17/20

    Crichton was a bit of a surprise as a redshirt junior entry into the 2014 draft, but he has undeniable upside and ability. The three-year starter can still improve his raw technique while getting stronger in an NFL weight room.

    Overall

    86/100

4. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State

7 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    22/30

    A smaller player, Demarcus Lawrence (6'3", 251 lbs) will struggle in one-on-one situations against power blockers in the run game. He ideally needs to play in space, where he has room to operate as opposed to firing off the line and into a blocker. There are times when he doesn't look involved in the run game, as he doesn't show the same burst or power that he does as a pass-rusher. He must learn to use his hands to control tight ends to either shed the block or force the run back inside to his help defense. 

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Lawrence has the body and athleticism of an outside linebacker and the versatility to play either 'backer or defensive end depending on the scheme. Immediately you notice exceptional athletic tools in his game. He's explosive coming off the line, with fluid hips and fast hands. Even as a young, raw player he has flashes of great pass-rushing traits—things like keeping his feet and hands moving at the same time, swinging wide around the edge without giving up too much depth and dropping his shoulder but not giving up leverage. Lawrence is hungry and violent, too, and will finish plays with big hits when provided the chance. 

    Upside

    20/20

    A former JUCO player, Lawrence is still very raw when you look at technique and tools. Once he's in a stable, consistent environment, he has the athletic tools to flourish. 

    Overall

    89/100

3. Dee Ford, Auburn

8 of 10

    Gregory Bull

    Run Defense

    22/30

    Dee Ford might not be very big (6'2", 252 lbs), but he uses his speed and length (32.875" arms) to hold the edge much better than you would expect from a smaller player. He is crazy fast off the jump, but he's also aware and won't give up positioning on rushing downs. He does have a habit of getting depth at the snap and then working back to the ball, but he was quick enough to get away with this in college. In the NFL he'll have to gain lower-body strength to hold anchor in that role and not let the run get back inside of him.  

    Pass Rush

    48/50

    Ford is electric coming off the edge of the defense. From his spot at left defensive end, he was a nightmare for blockers, showing foot speed, flexibility and good hand use to separate from blockers. His ability to time the snap and jump the line was among the best in college football. He uses that timing well in combination with his awesome first step to get past the hip of blockers before they are completely out of their stance. He will need to bulk up some in the NFL to play defensive end, but his best projection is standing up as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

    Upside

    20/20

    Ford has been in college since 2009, but through injuries and being lost on the depth chart, he hasn't had a ton of developmental work done. He has the athleticism and drive to become a much better pro through some coaching and strength training. 

    Overall

    90/100

2. Kony Ealy, Missouri

9 of 10

    Michael Conroy

    Run Defense

    26/30

    Kony Ealy (6'4", 273 lbs) has the length (34.25" arms), power, quickness (6.83 20-yard shuttle, per NFL.com) and vision to stop the run in-line or in space. He's good at locking out tackles and setting the edge, and does flash the hand use to break free of those blocks to make tackles in the backfield. He doesn't let the run get stretched out in front of him and will either penetrate or push the run back inside. He needs work against double-teams and with his pad level to be a more effective run defender.  

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    An All-State basketball player growing up in Missouri, Ealy still flashes that same agility and burst on the football field. He uses his incredible length well and is able to set up blockers for a big finish. The Missouri defense did two things that hurt his development and production, though—spying mobile quarterbacks and rotating its defensive line. Ealy hasn't developed a great second pass-rush move and could play a bit meaner, but his raw tools are elite. With length, natural power and top-tier short-area quickness, he has all the tools to play anywhere from 3-technique all the way down the line to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He may be considered green, but his production at Missouri shows he's ready to be an impact player from day one. 

    Upside

    20/20

    An early entrant in the 2014 class, Ealy still has considerable upside. It will also help him develop once he knows his position and is able to work with NFL strength coaches to fill out his frame to fit that role. 

    Overall

    92/100

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

10 of 10

    John Raoux

    Run Defense

    26/30

    In all my years of covering the NFL draft, there has not been a player with Jadeveon Clowney's freakish mixture of size (6'5", 266 lbs), speed and natural power. Oh, and he's still getting bigger and better. Against the run, he's instinctive and fast, but he was also routinely run away from at the college level. You would like to see him split double-teams instead of toy with the blockers and look for a splash play, but he's strong enough to shed or split blocks and then use his speed to seal the deal. He will want to learn to play lower in the NFL to have an impact as an edge-setter against the run.

    Pass Rush

    50/50

    Explosive. Violent. Rare. Clowney has running-back speed in a defensive end's body. With his combination of first-step burst, agility and then closing speed, few blockers can keep up with him. He's naturally flexible and has no trouble bending the edge and then flattening out the rush to close with a tight angle. He uses a good rip move and has the upper-body strength to beat blockers. What makes him so dangerous is that blockers must account for his speed and the instant depth he can get off the snap, so many blockers jump off the line to meet him at the corner and expose their inside shoulder. Once Clowney learns to see this and set up his blockers better, his natural tools will be nearly impossible for even the upper tier of NFL blockers to handle. All the tools are there for him to be great from the first day.  

    Upside

    20/20

    For all the talk about poor work ethic or bad character, Clowney is still a kid. He's raw as a technician and still growing into his frame. A good NFL defensive line coach will take this immense talent and turn him into a once-in-a-generation weapon. 

    Overall

    96/100

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