Many of the players in our defensive end rankings are fits for a 4-3 defensive end, and a 3-4 outside linebacker. Generally, outside linebackers are pure pass rushers, who are quick, able to contain, and athletic enough to drop back in coverage at times.
4-3 defensive ends are often a little bit stronger and are more of a force against the run, but there are also elite pass rushing defensive ends, like Dwight Freeney for the Indianapolis Colts.
A great pass rusher is critical to any team trying to make a playoff run. If you can’t pressure the opposing quarterback, your defense will wear down quickly as the opposing team will continue to get first downs, and move the ball down the field. The lack of a great pass rusher can also hurt the secondary.
1) Robert Quinn, North Carolina*—6’5", 270 lbs
It’s hard to say if Quinn will come out after not playing a down in 2010 thanks to the Player/Agent scandal with North Carolina. However, there is no questioning his physical ability. The 6’5", 270 pound defensive end has an excellent motor and ACC offensive lineman have had trouble stopping his speed rush.
Quinn is one of the most athletic prospects for 2011, and he could really make some noise in the NFL with a little more strength. He looks to be an ideal 3-4 outside linebacker candidate, especially if he can improve in coverage. Projection: Top 15
2) Marcel Dareus, Alabama*—6’3", 305 lbs
Talk about a dominant big man up front, Marcel Dareus is a prototype 3-4 defensive end at the next level. He already plays the position at Alabama and is an impact player. He eats up blockers, and is very strong, often forcing double teams. He moves well laterally, and is a force against the run. With a lot of teams running a 3-4 in the NFL, Dareus will be coveted heavily. Projection: Top 15
3) DaQuan Bowers, Clemson*—6’4", 280 lbs
Bowers is one of the most athletic 280+ pound players in the NCAA. He’s strong enough for a bull rush on an offensive tackle, and he’s quick enough to get around the edge. He’s strictly a 4-3 defensive end. I do question his ability to play in space, which is why 3-4 outside linebacker is a bit of a reach. Bowers is very tough against the run and is one of the best penetrators in the nation. Projection: 1st
4) Adrian Clayborn, Iowa—6’4", 286 lbs
Clayborn is another quick defensive end who really does well shooting down the line making a play on runners going the opposite direction. He’s very stout against the run, and does a great job of slapping the tackle’s hands down and getting a good push against the pass.
He moves well laterally, but needs work on wrapping up and finishing plays, often trying to make arm tackles. He could be a good fit playing a five technique at the next level with a little more strength. Projection: 1st
5) Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh—6’4", 260 lbs
Sheard could be the next Kamerion Wimbley, Derrick Harvey or Tyson Alualu, as guys who come out of nowhere to become first-round picks. Sheard is a big, agile defensive end who has the athleticism to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Sheard is solid against the run, and while he lacks a great inside, move, he does well using his hands to get off of the block. He’s a pure pass rusher who has the ability to make a huge impact immediately. Projection: 1st
6) Cameron Jordan, California—6’4", 285 lbs
Jordan is a guy who could easily be a first-round pick, as he has loads of potential as a penetrator in the NFL. He’s played defensive tackle and defensive end at Cal, and has excelled doing both. He’s a strong, bull rusher who can rip through even the better offensive lineman to get into the backfield. He moves well laterally, and could be an option to play as a 3-4 defensive end. Projection: 2nd
7) Cameron Heyward, Ohio State—6’5", 290 lbs
The son of the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, Cameron is a big bodied run stuffer with some pass rush ability. His best fit at the next level is as a 3-4 defensive end. Like Cam Jordan, he’s played defensive tackle, and end in his career at Ohio State and has been a force in the run game.
He moves well in pursuit of the quarterback, doing a great job in contain on the edge. Heyward could be a first-round pick, but his stock has slipped as he hasn’t been as dominant in 2010. Projection: 2nd
8 ) Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue—6’4", 263 lbs
Kerrigan is a pass rushing defensive end who uses his strength and his quickness off of the ball to penetrate the backfield. His athleticism makes him somewhat limited in coverage, which is why his best fit is probably in a 4-3. He plays a lot like former Purdue defender Ray Edwards who is now a stud for the Vikings. He does very well in contain and gets a good push against the run. Projection: 2nd
9) J.J. Watt, Wisconsin*—6’6", 292 lbs
Watt is a bullying defensive end who really has made a big impact in the run for the Badgers in 2010. He’s not a bad pass rusher, and does a great job getting his arms in the air to bat balls down. Watt is very strong, and gets a good jump off of the ball. For a big guy, he moves down the line well, but is best in forcing double teams. He’s an ideal 3-4 defensive end prospect at the next level. Projection: 2nd
10) Aldon Smith, Missouri**—6’5", 260 lbs
Smith may not come out this year, but he has been a force as a pass rusher in Missouri. Smith is very quick and has a great move to the outside, utilizing his speed to get around the edge and force pressure on the quarterback. He could afford to get stronger and plays a bit stiff at times. He’s very raw, which is why he should stay in school for another season. He could be a dominant 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level and has plenty of room to grow. Projection: 2nd
11) Allen Bailey, Miami (Fl.)—6’4", 285 lbs
You’ll see Bailey a bit higher on many other lists, but I question his ability to stop the run. Bailey is a very good pass rusher as a 4-3 defensive end. Despite his size, he lacks the strength to be a true 3-4 defensive end, and should stick to a 4-3 scheme.
He’s athletic for a guy his size and gets a good push in the pass game. He could easily move into the first round, but he needs to get a bit stronger at the point of attack and get off of the snap a bit faster. Projection: 3rd
12) Cliff Matthews, South Carolina—6’4", 268 lbs
Matthews is a very quick pass rusher, who uses his hands well to get to the quarterback. He’s got the speed around the edge to beat even the best offensive tackles and makes for a nice 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
He could afford to get a bit stronger and add an inside move when rushing the passer, but he has the athleticism to make the transition and be somewhat effective in coverage as well. Projection: 3rd
13) Sam Acho, Texas—6’3", 260 lbs
Sam Acho (bless you) is a stronger defensive end who can rush the pass rusher effectively. He’s an excellent penetrator, often disrupting the backfield. He’s not the quickest defender, and he’s best suited as a 4-3 defensive end due to being a bit stronger, and more effective against the run. Acho is a very solid pass rusher and has a nice inside move getting off of the snap quickly. Projection: 3rd
14) Brooks Reed, Arizona—6’3", 262 lbs
Reed is one of the big time workout warriors in the 2011 NFL Draft. He’s very strong and very fast for a 260 pound defensive end. He has the athleticism to make the transition to the 3-4 as an outside linebacker at the next level, but his strength and bull rushing pass rush ability makes him ideal for the 4-3. Reed is one of the hardest working athletes in the nation. Projection: 4th
15) Quinton Coples, North Carolina*—6’6", 245 lbs
Coples is a very raw prospect and will most likely stay at UNC for another season. He’s a very quick edge rusher who beats his man with a quick jump off of the snap and moves down the line very well in pursuit on run plays. He’s not very strong and needs to hit the gym and beef up quite a bit, but he could be a very good 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level. Projection: 4th
16) Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh—6’6", 270 lbs
Romeus is a top-notch pass rush specialist who is talented enough to be a first-round pick. Unfortunately, his stock will fall a bit after having two major injuries in 2010, playing in only two games with a back injury, which required surgery and most recently a torn ACL. Projection: 4th
17) Ryan Winterswyk, Boise State—6’4", 270 lbs
Winterswyk has been a crucial part of a successful Boise State defensive line. He is a stronger pass rusher who is best suited to play in a 4-3 as a defensive end. He’s very stout against the run and is an above average pass rusher. Projection: 4th
18) Eddie Jones, Texas—6’3", 260 lbs
Jones is a stronger pass rusher who excels more against the run. He’s not the most athletic player, but has good upside as a 4-3 defensive end. He could use some work dropping in coverage, but he won’t be required to do that much in the NFL. Projection: 5th
19) Markus White, Florida State—6’4", 260 lbs
I like White a lot. He’s a sleeper 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level with good speed and athleticism. He could afford to bulk up a bit and become a bigger run stuffer if he wants to succeed in the 4-3. White is a bit of a raw prospect. Projection: 5th
20) Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State—6’4", 287 lbs
McPhee is a big, strong defensive end who does a great job in run support. He does well in penetration, sometimes forcing a double team. With a bit of bulk, he could be a very stout 3-4 defensive end. Projection: 5th
21) Nick Perry, USC**—6’3", 250 lbs
Perry is a very raw pass rusher, who’s just a redshirt sophomore in 2010. He’ll most likely stay in school, but he has the potential to be a dominant 3-4 pass rusher at the next level. He needs to build strength and play the run better. Projection: 5th
22) Scott Solomon, Rice—6’3", 270 lbs
Solomon is a bigger, stronger defensive end that can shut down the run. He’s a penetrator who can disrupt the backfield. Solomon has lined up at defensive tackle and defensive end for the Rice Owls. Projection: 6th
23) Pierre Allen, Nebraska—6’5", 264 lbs
Allen’s calling is as a 4-3 weak side defensive end. He’s strong at the point of attack and can shut down the run. He lacks the speed and athleticism to make the transformation to the 3-4. Projection: 6th
24) Craig Marshall, South Florida—6’4", 265 lbs
Marshall is a sleeper 3-4 outside linebacker prospect. He gets off of the ball well, but lacks the strength to get off of blockers, often having to use his quickness to get around the corner. Projection: 6th
25) Jake Laptad, Kansas—6’4", 260 lbs
Laptad is a pure pass rusher who is also quite strong against the run. He could make a change to the 3-4, but he’s a better fit as a 4-3 defensive end, keeping contain and using his strength to penetrate the offensive line. Projection: 7th
26) Rick Elmore, Arizona—6’5", 260 lbs
27) Kentrell Lockett, Ole Miss—6’5", 260 lbs
28) Steven Friday, Virginia Tech—6’4", 250 lbs
29) Alex Albright, Boston College—6’5", 251 lbs
30) B.J. Williams, San Diego State—6’3", 252 lbs
31) Jonathan Freeny, Rutgers—6’3", 250 lbs
32) DeQuin Evans, Kentucky—6’2", 256 lbs
33) Bryant Turner, UAB—6’2", 260 lbs
34) Lazarius Levingston, LSU—6’4", 285 lbs
35) Michael Goggans, Auburn—6’3", 261 lbs
36) Mario Addison, Troy—6’3", 254 lbs
37) Bruce Miller, Central Florida—6’2", 248 lbs
38) Wayne Daniels, TCU—6’2", 250 lbs
39) Ugo Chinasa, Oklahoma State—6’5", 260 lbs
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