Football season is right around the corner! Not only in the NFL, but at the college level, too. As a resident guru of the Saturday standouts, Chad Reuter provides the top draft-eligible college players at each position in a 10-part series. Today's group is the defensive ends.
The role of an NFL defensive end can be summed up in one word: pressure.
They pressure offensive tackles on the edge by reacting quickly after the ball is snapped, pressure quarterbacks to unload the ball before they wish and pressure running backs to make a quick cut inside when playing containment.
Defensive ends also feel pressure themselves when picked early in the draft, as they carry the load in trying to prevent the league's prolific passing offenses from putting up big numbers. The Seattle Seahawks took a chance on West Virginia pass rusher Bruce Irvin in April, selecting him 15th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft despite off-field issues. Quinton Coples entered the NYC media pressure-cooker when the New York Jets took him with the next pick, and three slots later, Shea McClellin found out he'd be moving from picturesque Boise to sports-crazy Chicago.
As talented as those players are, scouts could be evaluating a deeper class of defensive ends this year -- if the prospects' games progress as anticipated. It's an interesting group that includes both starting ends from the Texas Longhorns' front four, two pass rushers trying to make their own name after playing across from top-40 picks in the 2012 draft last season, and even two guys who were born outside the United States.
Some college defensive ends listed below will project as rush linebackers at the next level, like 2012 first-rounders Melvin Ingram (picked 18th by the San Diego Chargers), Whitney Mercilus (26th, Houston Texans) and Nick Perry (28th, Green Bay Packers). But even if they stand up on most plays instead of putting their hand on the ground at the next level, their position description will still revolve around their ability to create -- and handle -- pressure.
* Denotes underclassmen.
1. Jackson Jeffcoat, 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Texas
The son of 15-year NFL veteran lineman Jim Jeffcoat began fulfilling his promise as an impact pass rusher in his sophomore season (16.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks in 2011). His NFL-caliber length, explosive athleticism and still-growing frame give him the intriguing overall package scouts covet.
NFL comparison:* John Abraham
2. Sam Montgomery, 6-4, 245, LSU
This lean All-SEC pick and Ted Hendricks Award finalist used very good quickness and a high motor to rack up nine sacks in 2011. If Montgomery adds strength and more consistency in his get-off, he'll be a highly sought-after end/linebacker hybrid prospect.
NFL comparison:*Andre Carter
3. Margus Hunt, 6-8, 275, SMU
Hunt initially moved to the United States from his native Estonia to further his amateur track career. (He won gold medals in the shot put and discus at the 2006 World Junior Championships.) But nowadays, Hunt uses his elite size/athleticism combination to make an impact on special teams (14 blocked kicks in three years) and at 24 years old is just scratching the surface of his potential as a starting NFL five-technique defensive end.
NFL comparison:J.J. Watt
4. Bjoern Werner, 6-4, 272, Florida State
Werner was born in Germany, but played two years of American high school ball before coming to Florida State. He's a tall strong-side defensive end with growth potential, showing an excellent combination of strength and agility on the edge as a pass rusher (seven sacks in 2011) while still doing his job against the run. This kind of well-roundedness leads scouts to believe he'll be a long-time starter who won't come off the field often.
NFL comparison:* Kyle Vanden Bosch
5. Datone Jones, 6-5, 280, UCLA
This enormous lineman lacks great production and missed 2010 due to injury, but he stuns opposing offensive linemen with his length and pure power. Also, he showcases enough agility and hustle to play inside or outside in the right NFL system.
NFL comparison:Cory Redding
6. Alex Okafor, 6-4, 260, Texas
The All-Big 12 pick might not become an elite NFL pass rusher, but he will be valued by scouts because he can pressure quarterbacks (seven sacks in 2011) while controlling the edge effectively as a starter able to play either side of the line.
NFL comparison: Ray Edwards
7. John Simon, 6-2, 260, Ohio State
This All-Big Ten pick (16 tackles for loss, seven sacks in 2011) lacks the height and length most NFL teams want in a defensive end, but teams with less stringent size requirements will covet his exceptional weight-room work ethic and surprising quickness. He'll also get a chance at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine to prove he has the agility to play 3-4 rush linebacker.
NFL comparison:Jason Babin
8. Dion Jordan, 6-7, 241, Oregon
Jordan, an exceptionally long and lean All-Pac-12 defensive end/linebacker (13 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks), grew out of the tight end position and learned to play with physicality -- all while still maintaining his surprising agility.
NFL comparison:Mathias Kiwanuka
9. Malliciah Goodman, 6-4, 280, Clemson
Clemson has produced some truly elite pass-rush prospects over the last few years, and Goodman is not quite up to this standard. But he should be a powerful NFL starter with just enough quickness to trouble tackles and the vision and hustle to force quarterbacks and running backs into making decisions more quickly than they would prefer.
NFL comparison:Cameron Jordan
10. Michael Buchanan, 6-6, 240, Illinois
This extremely lean edge defender needs to get stronger, but he shows violent hands, covers a lot of ground and has a good motor as a pass-rushing defensive end (7.5 sacks in 2011). Not to mention, he can handle short-area coverage responsibilities when asked to stand up as a linebacker.
NFL comparison:Manny Lawson
11. Devin Taylor, 6-8, 267, South Carolina
Taylor is a hustling edge defender who should become a starter in the NFL using his extreme height and length to seek out quarterbacks (13.5 sacks in 2010-2011) and get into passing lanes. However, scouts might wonder if he'll be able to a) stand up to NFL linemen, given his lean frame; and b) consistently finish plays against pro ball carriers, due to his average short-area agility.
NFL comparison: Israel Idonije