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2014 Draft Preview: Defensive Ends

Posted Apr 25, 2014

This year’s group of defensive end prospects features several undersized pass rushers who could find themselves getting switched to outside linebacker in the NFL.


Defensive end was one of the richest positions in the draft in 2013 in terms of elite prospects, with three pass rushers taken among the first six picks and five overall going in the first round. That kind of quality depth is lacking this year, but Jadeveon Clowney stands out as one of the best defensive prospects at any position in the past decade.

As is usually the case, this year’s group of defensive end prospects features several undersized pass rushers who could find themselves getting switched to outside linebacker in the NFL. Clowney is considered the only sure first-round pick among the class, although Kony Ealy from Missouri and Dee Ford from Auburn stand a good chance of also earning that distinction.

The Dolphins selected three defensive ends in the past four drafts, including first-round picks Jared Odrick in 2010 and Dion Jordan last year. Overall, the Dolphins have taken eight defensive ends in the first round, with the other selections being Bill Stanfill in 1969, Don Reese in 1974, A.J. Duhe in 1977 (even though he would spend most of his NFL career at linebacker), John Bosa in 1987, Eric Kumerow in 1988, and Daryl Gardener in 1996.

BREAKING DOWN THE TOP DEFENSIVE END PROSPECTS (In Alphabetical Order)

Easily the most talked-about defensive prospect in the draft, Jadeveon Clowney likely would have been the first overall pick in 2013 had he been allowed to enter the draft and he still could earn that distinction this year if the Houston Texans decide not to select a quarterback. Clowney, the top high school recruit in the country three years ago, has the complete package when it comes to physical attributes and he’ll enter the NFL with huge expectations. After finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a true sophomore in 2012 when he set school records with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, Clowney saw his numbers dip dramatically (3 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss) last season and that raised questions about his work ethic and his commitment. On pure talent, Clowney is close to a perfect prospect.

Unlike Jadeveon Clowney, Scott Crichton isn’t considered an elite athlete, but he’s a strong, relentless pass rusher. A three-year starter at Oregon State, Crichton showed consistency by recording between six and nine sacks every season. Crichton also showed a knack for big plays by forcing a school-record 10 fumbles, including six as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Crichton was used as a nose tackle occasionally in college, but his future in the NFL is as a defensive end. Crichton, who entered the draft as an underclassman, was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2013 after earning first-team honors in 2012.

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was named SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 after recording 11.5 sacks, but Kony Ealy is the better athlete and the better NFL prospect. Ealy started the last two seasons and earned first-team All-SEC honors in 2013 when he finished with 9.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and a team-high three forced fumbles. Ealy also had a 49-yard interception return for a touchdown against Indiana. Ealy has the size to hold up as a 4-3 defensive end, but he’s also athletic enough that teams using a 3-4 scheme could line him up at outside linebacker. At this stage of his development, Ealy is clearly better as a pass rusher than a run defender.

Dee Ford, whose given name is Donald Ford, put on 50 pounds after arriving at Auburn, but he remains an undersized pass rusher. In fact, his physical dimensions might make him better suited for a pass-rushing outside linebacker role in a 3-4 defense. Ford spent five seasons at Auburn, starting the last two years after his 2011 season was cut short by a back injury. After recording 10 sacks in his first four seasons at Auburn, Ford really emerged as a big-time defensive prospect in 2013 when he led the Tigers with 10.5 sacks — nobody else on the team had more than four. Ford then closed out his collegiate career with a pair of sacks against Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.

Kareem Martin is the latest University of North Carolina defensive lineman to emerge as a top NFL prospect. The Tar Heels have had a D-lineman taken in the first round each of the last three drafts and six overall selected in the past four drafts. Martin, who certainly looks the part and enjoyed a breakthrough senior season, will make it seven in five drafts, although he likely won’t go in the first round. Martin made an immediate impact at North Carolina when he started the first three games of the 2010 season as a true freshman and then was a full-time starter the last three years. After recording four sacks in both 2011 and 2012, Martin had 11.5 last fall when he earned first-team All-ACC honors. Even then, Martin isn’t considered as good a pass rusher as he is a run defender.

THE BEST OF THE REST (In Alphabetical Order)

Jackson Jeffcoat
6-3, 245
Texas

Trent Murphy
6-5, 250
Stanford

Marcus Smith
6-3, 250
Louisville

Demarcus Lawrence
6-3, 250
Boise State

Brent Urban
6-7, 295
Virginia

BREAKING DOWN THE DEFENSIVE END CLASS

Other small-school prospects to watch: Zach Moore, Concordia; Larry Webster, Bloomsburg; Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M; Kerry Wynn, Richmonda

NFL bloodlines: Texas’ Jackson Jeffcoat is the son of former Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Jim Jeffcoat … Bloomsburg’s Larry Webster is the son of former Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens defensive end Larry Webster.

Long shot to watch: Zach Moore ended up at Concordia, a Division II program in Minnesota, because of academic issues and became the first player from that school invited to the scouting combine. At 6-5, 270 pounds, Moore looks the part and he showed pass-rushing ability with 31 sacks over his last three collegiate seasons.
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