Defensive ends are probably the most important position in a defense. Good defensive ends get to the quarterback quickly to help out the secondary, stop the run and contain the outside.
An NFL 4-3 prototypical defensive end is 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, while a 3-4 defensive end is usually around 300 pounds. They have long arms, great strength, a good first step, good instincts, show great effort and get off of blocks.
This year's class of defensive ends is very deep with many that could go in the first two rounds. Here are my top 10 defensive ends in the 2011 NFL Draft.
McPhee is a solid pass-rusher. He gets in the backfield, displays good skills, is stout against the run and maintains containment. He has good lateral mobility and was an All-American in his two seasons at junior college.
McPhee was not a very productive player at Mississippi State and will probably not be explosive in the NFL, but he will be a good backup defensive end in the league.
Bailey is a great athlete with good speed and power, playing the run and containing well. He will play through injuries and as of now will play 4-3 defensive end.
However, Bailey had a horrible showing at the Senior Bowl. He is a very inconsistent player that needs to develop better pass-rushing skills.
Romeus has excellent size for a defensive end. He was double-teamed a lot at Pittsburgh and has a lot of upside, even though he didn't play football until his senior year of high school. Good NFL coaching could make this smart player with good technique and ability a dominant force in the league.
Romeus has had injury problems with back surgery and a torn ACL in the 2010 season-opener. High risk in that regard, but if he can stay healthy, he could be a star in the NFL. Romeus needs to play lower, get stronger and play to the whistle.
Kerrigan will be more suited as a rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4 and would have to add 15-20 pounds to be a 4-3 defensive end. He is a very hard worker with good awareness that forced 14 fumbles in his career, a Big Ten record. By using his arms and hands well against offensive lineman, Kerrigan had 30.5 sacks in his last three years at Purdue.
However, Kerrigan is not a good athlete and probably won't be able to cover in the NFL. He could be just a great college football player that just doesn't fit anywhere in NFL defensive schemes. Although he played well in the Senior Bowl, he did not have good practices leading up to the game.
Smith could play as a 4-3 defensive end if he adds the weight, or he could be a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Before surprising some people by entering the 2011 NFL Draft, Smith had 11.5 sacks his freshman year and six his sophomore year. He is an explosive player with good pass-rushing skills and a great first step, not to mention a lot of potential and ability to cover people in space. He reminds me of a better Kalimba Edwards.
Smith isn't a complete football player yet, since first starting to play his junior year of high school. He did not play in three games due to injury in 2010 and will have to work on technique wherever he plays.
Clayborn is a very high-motor guy who had a great junior season with 11.5 sacks, but slumped his senior year with only 3.5 sacks. He is a good tackler who can be very disruptive, and he's got great strength and versatility.
With Clayborn going all-out during games though, he tired out at the end of them quite often. He doesn't have a good first step, and it takes him a while to get going.
Watt will play at either defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme or defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. By playing every position along the defensive line at Wisconsin, Watt dominated Big Ten offensive lineman, disrupted plays in the backfield and knocked down a lot of quarterbacks' passes at the line of scrimmage. He has a very high motor and displays outstanding technique.
However, Watt isn't a great athlete and sometimes over-pursues plays due to his great effort. He needs to learn how to better contain and keep things inside of him.
Jordan projects to be a 3-4 defensive end in the NFL. He was very impressive at the Senior Bowl, with good strength and plays the run very well. With a good burst and good hands, Jordan also displays sound pass-rushing capabilities.
Despite this, Jordan gets high in his pass rush and plays with poor leverage at times. He has been an inconsistent performer in college and hasn't played to his potential, but he looks like he's on the right track after raising his draft stock by dominating at the Senior Bowl.
Due to a NCAA rules violation of being involved with agents prior to eligibility for the NFL draft, Quinn didn't play in the 2010 season.
He could be moved to a 3-4 outside linebacker, but has the frame to gain to dominate as a 4-3 defensive end if he gains a little more weight. With great speed and body control, Quinn uses his long arms and hands well and has a good motor for getting after the quarterback.
Quinn still needs to get better against the run and gain strength to hold up against bigger offensive lineman. He could fall in the draft because of the NCAA violation, but probably won't due to his immense talent.
Bowers is a great athlete with good size for a defensive end. Despite a slow start to his college career, he still had an FBS-leading 15 sacks his junior year and could be the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Bowers can beat double-teams and gets in the backfield disrupting plays. He also shows good closing speed and uses good technique.
Sometimes Bowers gives up on plays and hasn't shown much consistency in his career at Clemson, disappearing at times.