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Top 5 defensive end prospects
Heading into the 2013 season, there's simply no question at No. 1
Originally Published: May 13, 2013
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
Jadeveon Clowney is the top defensive player going into the 2013 season.
As you read the list below, remember that I'm not simply classifying a defensive end based on how the player is listed on a college depth chart. I project the prospect based on how I believe he'll fit in at the NFL level. So you'll see a mix of players who, at a basic scheme level, could project as either 4-3 defensive ends, or the 3-4 version. There are guys who might be closer to 250 pounds and could be considered potential 3-4 outside linebackers, or others whom some teams could consider 3-technique defensive tackles in a 4-3.
But looking at this class, there's no question about who currently sits at No. 1. Had Jadeveon Clowney been eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, I believe he would have gone No. 1 overall.
Here's a first look at the top defensive ends for 2014.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Junior, South Carolina
An instinctive, gifted natural pass-rusher who has developed a nose for the run game in his two years at South Carolina, Clowney would be a top prospect based on his raw athleticism and pass-rushing skills alone, but will enter the NFL with plenty of polish, and hopefully, completely healthy.
If there's any question about Clowney, it's exactly what his future position will be. He's athletically gifted enough to be a 4-3 outside linebacker who doesn't have to come off the field, but his value could be extraordinarily high as a 4-3 defensive end, which is where I see him. He'll probably be the best one to enter the draft since Julius Peppers.
2. Stephon Tuitt, Junior, Notre Dame
The amazing thing about Tuitt is that he probably has enough burst to be a 4-3 defensive end, a guy who could drive tackles into the lap of a QB. That said, at over 300 pounds, he's likely to become a 5-technique in a 3-4. Tuitt got to the QB for a sack 12 times last year, and can shock a blocker with his initial punch, then shed and clear space for himself to penetrate. The interior of the Notre Dame defense is going to be scary this year with Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
3. Aaron Lynch, RS-Sophomore, South Florida
Speaking of that scary Notre Dame defensive front, just imagine if Lynch were still in South Bend. The one-time Irish pass-rusher is now at South Florida and, with an added year of work in the weight room, should be a huge force this season.
Lynch was good as a freshman, when he picked up 5.5 sacks, and given a very high level of athleticism at his size, is going to be a matchup nightmare for defenses in 2013.
4. Scott Crichton, Junior, Oregon St.
Crichton has a big-time motor. As a freshman, he was second in the Pac-12 with 14.5 tackles for a loss, and that jumped to 17.5 tackles for loss in 2012. He also forced six fumbles as a freshman. Crichton has a quick get-off, gets defenders off balance with his burst and does a pretty good job of clearing his inside arm and bending to turn the corner. But what makes him special is his effort level, and if he marries that to more technical savvy as a pass-rusher, he's going to have a huge season.
5. Jackson Jeffcoat, Senior, Texas
He came into college with the pedigree of a guy who would make an impact right away, and while he has been good, Jeffcoat has never been great. I think he was a bit too reliant on simply being quicker at his size than most players, and he hasn't developed an arsenal of moves that allows him to provide impact when good blockers neutralize his quickness. But on natural ability alone he's a prospect, and a big year could push him into the first-round discussion.
Demarcus Lawrence, Junior, Boise State
He picked up 9.5 sacks as a sophomore, and had at least one tackle for loss in every game he played last season.
Dominique Easley, Senior, Florida
Led the Gators in sacks last season, and can move around on the line.
Kareem Martin, Senior, North Carolina
Great athleticism and frame, but needs to be more productive. He's ready for a breakout year.
Anthony Chickillo, Junior, Miami (FL)
He's quick, and plays with a great motor. I expect the production to increase.
James Gayle, Senior, Virginia Tech
Looks the part, and has one very good season under his belt, but Gayle needs to find new ways to separate from defenders.