Defensive end is the one position where you see more than a few true freshmen making an impact, sometimes from day one.
2010's D-end crew was epic, with Florida's Ronald Powell the choice for many recruitnik's No. 1 prospect overall. You'll see him and his pal Dominique Easley terrorizing SEC offensive lines once college football kicks off (gulp) four months from now.
Well, as Mark Twain said, history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. 2011's defensive end crew may not be as historic as 2010's, but it breaks down almost the same: a clear front runner who is pushing for No. 1 overall consideration; a runner-up deciding between three top-tier schools, and a host of raw talent that, depending on their school selections, could see time from day one.
Take a look at the best of 2011's defensive ends.
Cape Coral, Florida native Aaron Lynch has named Notre Dame his leader, and will surely drop for the Irish if Brian Kelly's recent successes on the recruiting trail are any indication.
The 6'5", 240-lb strongside end said he "feels most wanted" by the Irish, and probably is, given the state of ND's defense predating Kelly's taking over Charlie Weis.
Scout raves about his size and upside but knocks his technique and the variety of moves he deploys. He notched 55 tackles, 16 sacks and two forced fumbles as a junior.
I couldn't find film of him, but with offers from every top SEC school and numbers like his, I have no reason to believe he won't be what Notre Dame's been missing in their pass rush for some time.
Cedric Reed of Cleveland, Texas surprised exactly no one by committing to the Longhorns late last month.
The ever-thorough Burnt Orange Nation has an outstanding evaluation of him both from a physical and an instant-impact standpoint.
Highlights from that article mention his upside and his elite frame. At 6'5" and 243-lbs, Reed faces a certain redshirt year, but should be able to pack on another 20-25 pounds (he's already up from 231-lbs at the Scout combine) while keeping an edge in pass-rush situations.
Texas is one of the few schools with the depth at the strongside position that will afford him that kind of time. Having taken ESPN's top defensive end, Jackson Jeffcoat, in last year's class, the Longhorns now have his backup, a project player with elite tangibles and boundless upside. He'll be chasing Sooner quarterbacks around before you know it.
ESPN's film of him is here, and here's video of Cedric Reed killing it on Open Mic Night in El Paso. How y'all doin' tonight?
Ishaq Williams of Brooklyn, New York (have you heard of it?) is another thin weakside defensive end with great height.
He has an excellent wingspan that helps him get a paw on quarterbacks and running backs. And per his highlight film (below), he has sub-4.6 speed, terrific for a D-end playing against increasingly speedy skill position players.
That speed and athleticism also makes him a very effective tight end, and he looks great catching passes as well. Let the comparisons to 2010's Ronald Powell commence.
Powell's not a bad comparison from an upside standpoint. Ishaq isn't generating the buzz that Powell did, but offers from Ohio State, Florida, Penn State and USC suggest he's worthy of a top 10 ranking.
He caught ESPN recruiting analysts J.C. Shurburtt's eye during a trip to New York.
I'm thinking the only thing holding him back from a top ranking is his geographical location. Brooklyn is known for many things, elite weakside defensive ends not being one of them.
Ishaq will look to change that perception as he searches for a school where he can enroll early and compete for playing time as a freshman. I'd suggest Penn State, but we all know how JoePa feels about early enrollees.
Beverly Hills, CA prospect Greg Townsend stands 6'4", weighs 240-lbs, and thinks it's important to be honest in a relationship.
Actually, that's his father, Greg Townsend, who played defensive end for TCU and then the Oakland Raiders.
As we saw with Jackson Jeffcoat, 2010's top defensive end per ESPN whose father was also a D-line coach, you can expect a sound grasp of technique and vocabulary from the younger Townsend.
He hasn't reached his ideal weight but has a good frame and good height, and he's turned all that into a 73 tackle, 7.5 sack season for his high school, pretty accomplished for a D-lineman on the outside.
I would expect great coachability and a lot of production out of the younger Townsend, who talks about his top choices here.
You can probably guess what makes Ray Drew an elite weakside defensive end prospect.
Look at those arms! Those are some long, long arms. It's easy to fight off an offensive linemen when you have arms as long as those!
Add to that elite size (6'5", 253-lbs), and a 315-lb bench press, it's fair to say he has all the physical tools to be the top weakside end in this class.
Without film, I can't vouch for how well he uses those arms, but he posted 72 tackles and 16 TFLs, so it must be effective.
Georgia Tech is making a great push for him, and he took his first unofficial to the GT campus. For a closer look on where he might be headed, click here.
Las Vegas, NV strongside end prospect Jalen Grimble just dropped for USC this past week, setting off a great spring game weekend for the Trojans.
He flashed great inside and outside moves against some seriously overmatched tackle prospects at USC's camp last summer.
His speed and tackling looked equally elite in a game scenario, when he stepped up in a playoff game for Bishop Gorman.
He has the elite weight for a strongside end, though he might be just a half-inch shorter than the height the NFL prefers.
But he's bound for one of the best D-line coaches in the country, and he's the cousin of one of 2010's best athletes at the tight end position, Xavier Grimble. I'd say it's in the cards that he becomes one of the best bull-rushers in the class.
You can find more film of him here.
I would rather post video of the Steve Miller band playing "Fly Like an Eagle" than the video below. But that's only because I have nightmare visions of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson getting chased down from behind two years from now once Steve Miller and Kenny Hayes don the Scarlet and Grey.
Ohio State has had some elite defensive end prospects over the last few years, but Miller's speedy first step and Hayes' tenacious pursuit of the ballcarrier rank among the finest.
At 235-lbs (tops), Miller is light, but boasts elite height. He could see time at weakside end. More than likely he'll be in Ohio State's rotation before locking down the top D-end spot and topping out in the 260-lb range.
Hayes is a purer strongside end, a 6'5", 255-lb pound monster who looks like he could keep up with Miller step-for-step in all the video I've seen.
I could also picture a move to linebacker, and think one or both will end up one of the best 3-4 outside linebacker pro prospects, i.e. Thaddeus Gibson or Michigan Brandon Graham.
But as far as college goes, both hold up too well against offensive linemen to be wasted in the linebacking corps. Their strength is what will keep Big Ten O-lines from creating anything useful at the point of attack. Their speed will keep Big Ten running backs checking the rearview mirror.
Unfortunately, I think both are going to be awesome.
Jermauria Rasco of Shreveport, LA is the highly sought defensive end that Texas, LSU and Alabama are all shooting for.
Scout took issue with his first step and techniques, but I saw plenty of first-step quickness and a variety of bull-rush and nimble moves to reckon with in this clip of an OL v. DL camp in Baton Rouge.
He looked a little light in that video, but his strength and quick feet allow him to move back offensive linemen who are late to engage with him.
Here's some good video of him holding up well against the rush, as well.
Whoever lands him between Texas, LSU and Alabama will be landing an immediate-impact end, but with the riches those teams have stockpiled, a redshirt and some weight-room time is equally as likely.
Jadeveon Clowney of Rock Hill, South Carolina's South Pointe is generating buzz as a candidate for 2011's top prospect not just at defensive end, but overall.
Watching his film offers several reasons why. Clowney's height affords him the ability to read and react to what is happening in the backfield, and he doesn't lose anything in terms of leverage against shorter players.
Though he's capable of being knocked off course because he lacks weight, he never gives up on the play—that mythical "nonstop motor" that coaches are always on the lookout for. Watch how many plays he chases down from behind—that's a kid you want on your defensive line.
And just look at this initial explosion off the ball, and the way it generates enough power and momentum to blow his blocker into the backfield. Explosiveness can be coached up to an extent, but when it's that pronounced, that early, it's a precursor to an elite career.
I'd be a little concerned over how well Clowney will do with more weight on his frame. You don't see many ends, even weakside ends, holding at 225-lbs, even in college.
But the intangibles are all there for the taking. In the right strength and conditioning program, it likely won't be an issue.
For an update on his favorites and his likely choice, click here.