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NFL Draft 2011: Sizing Up the 10 Best Pass-Rushers in This Year's Draft Class

Alec DoppCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: Sizing Up the 10 Best Pass-Rushers in This Year's Draft Class

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    2011 NFL Draft: Which Pass-Rushers are at the Top of Their Game Heading Into the Draft?

    Let's face it.

    With the negativity surrounding the NFL players and owners potentially cutting into the 2011 regular season, we may be reduced to watching PBA bowling Sunday afternoons next fall.

    I, for one, am not looking forward to that—and neither should you.

    So with the NFL Draft approaching faster than ever before, now is the time to take a good look at which prospects could be difference makers for your team in the coming future.

    But the recurring theme of the 2011 NFL Draft remains the plethora of talent available on the defensive side of the football, and there are more than enough prospects to go around.

    So without further ado, here are the 10 best pass-rushers headlining this year's NFL Draft.

Cameron Heyward, Defensive End, Ohio State

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    A genuine talent coming out of Ohio State, Cameron Heyward will quickly become one of the league's most tenacious pass rushers.

    A massive yet athletic 6'5", 288 pound frame allowed Heyward to accumulate 15 sacks over the course of his four years as a starter under Jim Tressel—making him a highly regarded prospect to many NFL teams with high aspirations heading into the NFL Draft.

    Great work ethic and physical attributes that are second to none coupled with capabilities that have scouts salivating put Heyward on our list as one of the draft's most tenacious defensive pass rushers.

J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Wisconsin

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Bursting onto the national scene late in Wisconsin's 2010 Rose Bowl season, J.J. Watt is now one of the most highly regarded defensive ends available in the first round of this year's draft.

    In his two seasons as a starter for the Badgers, Watt managed 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 106 tackles against some of he most stout Big Ten offensive lines, and looks to do the same at the next level.

    Truly impressive combine showings are hard to come by, but Watt's clear strength and speed capabilities will take him to a starting position on a lucky NFL roster come the start of the 2011 NFL season.

Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker, Georgia

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The dark horse of our list, Justin Houston is just one of the many defensive prospects headlining this year's NFL draft.

    As a three-year starter for Georgia, Houston managed to severely improve his abilities to pursue the quarterback, most notably in his 10 sack 2010 campaign last season for the Bulldogs.

    Many NFL defenses would be more than willing to give Houston a shot at a starting position as early as next season, and it's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that a Pro-Bowl appearance could be in Houston's immediate future.

    Nevertheless, the body of work is there, and Houston looks to become a difference maker from week one of the 2011 NFL season—that is, if there is a 2011 NFL season.

Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, Iowa

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    A look at Adrian Clayborn's body of work during his four years as a starter with the Hawkeyes, and you'd think he would be a surefire top ten selection in this year's draft. 

    Unfortunately, that's not the case.

    After his 2009 season in which he furnished 11 sacks for Iowa on the defensive side of the football, Clayborn's draft status was second to none amongst fellow defensive ends.  However a lackluster showing in his senior season with a disappointing showing at the NFL Combine has Clayborn projected to go early in the second round.

    Fortunately for Clayborn, there is a dire need for proficient play at the defensive end position in the NFL, and he's almost guaranteed a starting role next season.

    His 6'4", 285 pound frame and tenacious attitude should bode well with NFL scouts across the league.

Da'Quan Bowers, Defensive End, Clemson

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Bowers is undoubtedly one of the most feared defensive prospects in this year's draft class.

    Registering an undisputed 16 sacks in his 2010 campaign at Clemson has catapulted his draft stock, and he's widely projected to go in the top five on draft day.

    Whoever is lucky enough to have Bowers roaming the line of scrimmage for their defense next season is guaranteed to put pressure on the opposing quarterback in 2011 and beyond.

Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, Texas A&M

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Texas A&M's all-purpose outside linebacker Von Miller is without question this year's most versatile talent at the linebacking position.

    As a four year starter with the Aggies, Miller has produced an unheralded 33 sacks, including a 2009 season in which he recorded 17 total sacks.

    Standing at 6'3", 243 pounds of pure talent, Miller will become a difference maker at the next level beginning as early as next season.

Marcell Dareus, Defensive Tackle, Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Before Alabama's 2010 season began, we were already under the impression that Marcell Dareus could in fact be a mediocre draft selection in 2011. Clearly, we were mistaken.

    A season in which the Crimson Tide fell short, Dareus became one shining light in Alabama's woes—accumulating five sacks on opposing quarterbacks while achieving a reputation as one of the best defensive tackles in this year's draft class.

    When draft day comes around, Dareus could certainly be selected by the Panthers with the first overall pick with the intention of shoring up their lagging defensive front.

Cameron Jordan, Defensive End, Cal

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    Amid all the lead up and hype that the NFL Draft brings with it, one such prospect has remained under the radar—and that prospect would be Cal's top defensive end Cameron Jordan.

    Jordan, who maintains a reputation as one of the most promising defensive talents in this year's class, was primarily a starter in his three years as a Golden Bears, and furnished 17 total sacks.

    Compared to his fellow defensive ends, Jordan's physique matches up as well as any prospect in the draft, and will be evident once draft day comes around.

    This 6'4", 283 pound talent will be a force at the next level.

Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Despite the Cam Newton controversy hovering over Auburn last season, Nick Fairley managed to steal the show against Oregon in the BCS national championship.

    We all knew he possessed the talent to become a first round selection prior to last season, but his overall body of work and NFL Combine workouts have had scouts raving about his NFL potential.

    The 6'5", 298 pound Fairley managed 12 sacks in his junior season with Auburn, and should do the same with one lucky NFL franchise in the seasons to come. 

Robert Quinn, Defensive End, UNC

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Despite not participating in his senior season with the Tar Heels, Robert Quinn carries with him a reputable profile as a future difference maker at the next level.

    Great instincts and superior strength on the edge coupled with upfront explosiveness will serve Quinn well against NFL offensive lines, and his impressive showing at the combine makes him an automatic top ten selection.

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