NFL Draft 2011: Defensive End Preview

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NFL Draft 2011: Defensive End Preview
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The defensive end position is easily regarded as the most talented position in the 2011 NFL Draft.  While the position does not include a sure-fire first-round pick, it does include eight likely first-round picks with another two likely to go off the board early in the second.  The only caveat to this talented class is after the top 10 the drop-off is severe and sleeper options are not as plentiful at other positions.  So in other words, if your team needs a defensive end be sure to target them early.  Here's a look at my top 10 plus two sleepers to watch.

2011 Defensive End Prospect Rankings
1)    Robert Quinn, North Carolina, 6’5", 270 lbs
2)    Cameron Jordan, California, 6’4", 282 lbs
3)    DaQuan Bowers, Clemson, 6’4", 275 lbs
4)    Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, 6’4", 263 lbs
5)    JJ Watt, Wisconsin, 6’6", 292 lbs
6)    Aldon Smith, Missouri, 6’5", 255 lbs
7)    Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, 6-4, 285 lbs
8)    Cameron Heyward, Ohio State, 6-5, 288 lbs
9)    Brooks Reed, Oregon, 6-3, 262 lbs
10    Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh, 6-4, 260 lbs

After missing the 2010 season due to NCAA violations, Robert Quinn enters the draft as a bit of an unknown. Had he played this past season, he may have been a top-5 lock.  Despite the lost season he ranks as the top defensive end in the draft on the basis of being the best pure pass rushing end in the draft.  He has 4-3 size at 6'5" 270 pounds and the athleticism to play in a 3-4 as well.  Could go as high as Cleveland at sixth overall.

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One of the biggest misconceptions of the 2011 NFL Draft is that Cameron Jordan is only a five technique.  Anyone who saw him play at the Senior Bowl knows he is the most complete defensive end in the draft irregardless of scheme.  He does not project as an elite pass rusher but can provide ample pressure off the edge while also serving as a stout run defender.  He's one of the safest prospects in the draft. 

Just a few weeks ago, DaQuan Bowers was getting consideration as the number one pick in the draft but concerns about his knee have him spiraling as far as 20th (Tampa) in recent mock drafts.  This past season, Bowers was arguably the most dominant defensive end in the land as he stuffed the stat sheets with an impressive 26 tackles for loss including 15.5 sacks.  He is a bit of a one year wonder and may not project as a pure pass rusher but he plays with tremendous power and is disruptive in the backfield.

Ryan Kerrigan does not possess any remarkable physical characteristics but rather is a gritty football player who has maximized his ability.  He was a thorn in opposing offenses, garnering 12 forced fumbles the past two years along with 44.5 tackles for loss and 25.5 sacks despite being the focus of blocking schemes.  He's a lunch pail guy any coach would want on their team.

As a converted tight end with just two years of playing experience at defensive end, JJ Watt has wasted little time adjusting to his new position.  An athletic freak at 6'6" 290 pounds, he is an ideal fit as a five technique or left end.  He is still refining his technique but plays with remarkable intensity and determination.  He may never be an elite pass rusher but pushes the pocket and uses his size and length to deflect and alter passes.

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From an upside perspective few defensive ends have generated the buzz of Aldon Smith.  Entering the draft after his sophomore season, Smith has an excellent combination of size and athleticism and projects as one of the top pass rushers in the draft.  He is still raw from a technique standpoint and needs to utilize a more consistent motor.  He may need to play in a 3-4 to maximize his potential.

Entering the season Adrian Clayborn was considered one of the top 10 players in this year's class (20 TFL and 11.5 sacks in 2009) but failed to dominate this past season (seven TFL and 3.5 sacks).  Concerns that he may be limited to playing the right side due to Erb's palsy have further damaged his stock.  He remains a force to be reckoned with in the trenches but his game is more about power and hustle than sheer athleticism limiting his upside.

Cameron Heyward is not the most explosive defensive end but fits the mold of a five technique to a "T."  He plays hard, anchors well versus the run and is capable of pushing the pocket.  He will never standout on the stat sheet but has the potential to develop into a difference maker in the trenches.

Drawing comparisons to Clay Matthews Jr., Brooks Reed has seen his stock rise as much as anyone this draft season.  Lacking the bulk to play with his hand down, Reed has the burst and tenacity to be a threat off the edge in the 3-4.     

Entering the season, Jabaal Sheard was hidden beneath Greg Romeus' first round shadow but with Romeus missing the bulk of the season, Sheard came into his own in 2010 earning Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors.  A little bit of a DE/OLB tweener, Sheard overcomes his measureable deficiencies with power effort and intensity. 

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Sleeper Alert:
1)    Bruce Miller, UCF, 6-2, 248 lbs
2)    DeQuin Evans, Kentucky, 6’2", 266 lbs

Bruce Miller is the best pass rusher in the draft no one is talking about. He is a lunch pail guy who lacks ideal measure-ables (6'1" 250 pounds) but has a relentless motor and a nose for the quarterback (34.5 career sacks).  He's a two time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year who probably will fit best as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 or a situational pass rusher in a 4-3.

Entering the season DeQuin Evans was on the verge of a breakout season after leading Kentucky in tackles for loss and sacks in 2009.  Unfortunately, he tore a labrum early in the season and played through the pain.  Furthermore, his production suffered, making him one of the draft's dark horses.  Possessing speed off the edge and a strong motor, he has the potential to develop as a rush linebacker.

Chris Maier is Senior Editor for NFLDraft101.com.  He can be reached at cmaier@nfldraft101.com.  Follow me on Twitter: nfldraft101

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