2011 NFL Draft: Top Five Defensive Ends
The closer a position is to the football, the more valuable the position. On defense then, defensive ends are the second-most valuable and for good reason. They factor into nearly every play whether it be a pass or run. A good defensive end seals the edge, collapses the pocket, occupies blockers, rushes the passer, fills running lanes, swats down passes, covers the flat and the list goes on and on.
But given the position value, tons of draft busts have emerged every year. Teams continue to reach higher and higher for them because after all, if you can sack the quarterback, it doesn’t matter if the secondary is awful. As long as a team is pressuring the quarterback, it takes pressure off the defensive backs.
This year’s defensive end draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory. As many as 11 defensive ends could be drafted in the first round alone. Here are the top five.
1. Robert Quinn, North Carolina (JR, 6’4″, 265)
Versatility to play a 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE is the key factor when discussing defensive end prospects and Robert Quinn could play both. Little known fact: Quinn was diagnosed with a brain tumor in high school but he’s fully recovered now for quite some time. Quinn’s skill set doesn’t have many holes. He has a good bend to get around the edge with above average speed. He’s solid against the run and knows how to attack a blocker in order to get after the ball-carrier. He’s the No. 1 prospect because there is nothing he doesn’t do well. All of his flaws are fundamental or technique issues that a coaching staff can correct in a matter of a few months. Quinn isnt’ a sure-thing, but he’s close.
2. Cameron Jordan, Cal – (SR, 6’4″, 287)
Jordan is solid. He’s got long arms, big hands, good speed for his size and can play inside or outside. Jordan is excellent the run and in a game that seems to overvalue quickness, he can immediately come in and contribute because he understands how to defend the run. Most draft experts have him in their top five, but for full disclosure, few have him as second-best so don’t expect him to be the second DE off their board. That being said, fans are going to love this young man’s energy and motor. He really gets after it.
3. Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson – (JR, 6’3″, 280)
Personally, I feel Da’Quan Bowers is a bust. He has had injury problems throughout high school and college. He’s not that particularly fast. He does possess a solid mix of strength and initial burst but the majority of his college production was limited to his junior year. He was almost non-existent before that. Furthermore, most of his sacks that year came against weak competition. That being said, he did put forth the effort to turn around his career and he played very well last season. Bowers has gone from a potential No. 1 pick to someone experts are saying could slip into the mid-teens due to a knee injury. That’s unlikely but his stock is trending down.
4. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin – (SR, 6’5″, 290)
There’s a lot to like with Watt. He’s very tall, strong, versatile and has a non-stop motor. Right now, he’s a 4-3 DE but could fill into a five-technique once improving his core and lower body strength. He has shown a rapid improvement throughout his college years. Watt has gone from a potential second-round sleeper to someone who could go in the top 15. If a coach can work with him to lower body strength and his jump off the snap, he could end up a steal in the middle of the first round.
5. Aldon Smith, Missouri – (JR, 6’4″, 263)
Smith has a ton of potential but he has a long way to go. A team has to understand that they will need to groom him over the next couple years. He has the most athletic body of any other DE in this draft class. He’s very fast and definitely passes the eye-ball test. Coaches will need to work on his technique as a pass rusher because he’s very raw. There’s a lot of risk here. Many other recent draft busts at defensive end were just like Smith. There were a lot of flashes of exceptional talent interspersed lulls on his game-tape. If a team can harness and tap into the things he does well, he should be a great player within one or two seasons.
6. Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
7. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
8. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
9. Brooks Reed, Arizona
10. Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
More 2011 NFL Draft Coverage