It will be years until we see a talent at defensive end like Jadeveon Clowney. With Clowney, the hyperbole is true. Clowney is a big, physical pass rusher with unreal athleticism. To sum all the conjecture up, he's Julius Peppers 2.0.
After Clowney, there are a few good pass rushers in this year's draft starting with Missouri's Kony Ealy. While there is some projection with Ealy, his talent is unmistakable. Auburn's Dee Ford is somewhat limited as a prospect, but he's too fast off the line to ignore.
Deeper in the draft, there's some mystery and intrigue with players like South Florida's Aaron Lynch and Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat. The talent is there, but there are issues.
1. Jadeveon Clowney | 6'5 1/4, 266 pounds | Defensive end | South Carolina *
No, Clowney is not the perfect prospect, but he is the best one available in the 2014 NFL Draft. Not many defensive ends are involved in as many plays as Clowney is, whether he is getting pressure on the quarterback or disrupting a running play. Every team, regardless of scheme, would be better with Clowney on its roster. He's best suited for the 4-3 defense, in which he can cause havoc on the edge and move inside to play tackle in certain situations. However, that's not to say he couldn't plan end in a 3-4 defense or even stand up as a pass rushing linebacker. He's one of those prospects who transcends scheme.
2. Kony Ealy | 6'4, 273 pounds | Defensive End | Missouri *
Ealy has all of the physical tools to play at a high level in the NFL but needs to refine some of the mental parts of his game. The fire and emotion he flashes on the field need to be more consistent and also reigned in. He needs to prove he can bring it on every play. Ealy is not without flaws as a prospect, but all of his flaws are easily fixable. His physical talent is something that can't be taught.
3. Dee Ford | 6'2, 252 pounds | Defensive end | Auburn
There is something to say about a player who knows his limitations and abilities. Ford knows them as well as any player in the draft. In a sentence, he's an undersized speed rusher. He knows it, but he knows how to make it work. Ford mastered three pass rush moves and he uses them to great effect. Ford's first step is uncanny. He gets around the edge in a flash and knows how to turn his speed into power to get off blocks. When a lineman over-commits to Ford's speed move, he knows how to blitz the inside. Ford has value as a pass rusher, whether it's at end or linebacker.
4. Demarcus Lawrence | 6'2 7/8, 251 pounds | Defensive end | Boise State *
Demarcus Lawrence has an outstanding combination of length and athleticism to be a quality edge rusher in the NFL. He definitely needs to get stronger at the point of attack and work on disengaging from blocks, but when attacking the passer, but Lawrence is at his best when attacking the passer. He has excellent bend around the edge and changes directions with ease. Lawrence is still developing some pass rush moves, but his natural skill set could make him a first-round pick.
5. Scott Crichton | 6'2 7/8, 273 pounds | Defensive end | Oregon State *
Scott Crichton won't be as much of a threat off the edge as other players in this class, but he has the skills to be an effective defensive end on the weak size. He's not all that flexible, which limits his pass rushing ability, but he's strong at the point of attack and disengages from blocks with ease. Crichton is quick off the snap to get interior penetration. He is advanced in his ability to use his hands to drive blockers back words and free up space. Players like Crichton don't always end up as first-round picks, but count on him starting in the league for a long time.
6. Marcus Smith | 6'3 3/8, 251 pounds | Defensive end | Louisville
If teams miss out on a pass rusher in the first round, Smith is a solid consolation prize in the second. At the Senior Bowl, Smith showed he's capable of playing end and linebacker. He possesses good lateral agility and can really dip around the edge. Smith knows when he should be working to the inside instead of sticking with his outside move. Shows a good array of pass rush moves – speed around the edge, a spin to the inside. Would be rated higher if he had a better closing burst. Won’t do a lot moving backward. Is a straight-ahead player.
7. Kareem Martin | 6'5 7/8, 272 pounds | Defensive end | North Carolina
Certainly has the size and length teams like in an edge rusher. Flashes a good first step on obvious pass downs. Has shown he can move inside to tackle on some downs and is quick enough to split gaps. Is a high-cut player and doesn’t always bend to get leverage on offensive linemen. Because of that, Martin’s strength can be neutralized. Needs to build up his counter moves as a pass rusher. Has to get stronger, but he does have the frame to do so. Completely disappeared in some games (had almost half his 11.5 sacks in two games). Will put in the work against the run, even when it’s going away from him. A lot of upside if he can figure a few things out.
8. Aaron Lynch | 6'5, 249 pounds | Defensive end | South Florida **
With Lynch, you wonder what could have been. When he was at Notre Dame as a freshman, Lynch looked like a certain first-round pick. He was a terror playing end in Notre Dame's 3-4. Then he transferred out and never seemed to get in rhythm at South Florida. The obvious talent showed itself on occasion, but not consistently. You just wonder if Lynch is ever going to get it. Has a frame to get much bigger and stronger. Still, he’s is a powerful player and has a very good first step. That combination can be hard to find. Boom or bust, thy name is Aaron Lynch.
9. Jackson Jeffcoat | 6'3, 247 pounds | Defensive End | Texas
Jackson Jeffcoat is a tweener type that never showed enough ability at either outside linebacker or defensive end to inspire a ton of confidence. That being said, his athletic potential could still entice a team to spend a late day-two pick on him. He's comfortable enough moving in space to fit into a 3-4 scheme, but a lot of his damage came on inside moves used to beat offensive tackles with his quickness. On paper, he looks like he should dominate. Jeffcoat has speed and quickness to cause trouble in the backfield. He's just not strong enough and is too easily blocked far too often.
10. Chris Smith | 6'1, 266 pounds | Defensive end | Arkansas
Chris Smith's game is built on speed. Think of Dee Ford without quite as much functional strength. Smith wins with his quick first step at the line of scrimmage and his willingness to chase plays all over the field. He doesn't have a ton of length and that hurts him when pass rushing.
11. Michael Sam | 6'2, 261 pounds | Defensive end | Missouri
Michael Sam burst onto the scene as an All-American and the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the Southeastern Conference in 2013. He plays with proper technique, getting outstanding leverage on offensive tackles. He lacks the length and explosiveness of some of the other pass rushers in this class, but he plays the game with a relentless motor and has a few pass rush moves that proved effective in 2013, particularly his inside move. Sam isn't the most fluid athlete and will likely be a day three pick.
12. Brent Urban | 6'7, 295 pounds | Defensive end | Virginia
13. Larry Webster | 6'5 3/4, 252 pounds | Defensive end | Bloomsburg
14. Cassius Marsh | 6'4, 252 pounds | Defensive end | UCLA
15. Will Clarke | 6'6 1/4, 271 pounds | Defensive end | West Virginia
16. IK Enemkpali | 6'0 3/4, 261 pounds | Defensive end | Louisiana Tech
17. James Gayle | 6'3 7/8, 259 pounds | Defensive end | Virginia Tech
18. Chaz Sutton | 6'4, 248 pounds | Defensive End | South Carolina
19. Ben Gardner | 6'4, 277 pounds | Defensive end | Stanford
20. Josh Mauro | 6'5 7/8, 271 pounds | Defensive end | Stanford
21. Jeoffrey Pagan | 6'3, 310 pounds | Defensive end | Alabama *
22. Jamil Merrell | 6'4, 255 pounds | Defensive end | Rutgers
23. Darryl Cato-Bishop | 6'3, 266 pounds | Defensive end | North Carolina State
24. Jonathan Newsome | 6'2 5/8, 247 pounds | Defensive end | Ball State
25. Ryne Giddins | 6'3, 253 pounds | Defensive end | South Florida