2014 NFL Draft Positional Preview (Defensive Ends)

By Nick Paulenich

Special to Pro Football Guru

Courtesy of NFL draft writer Nick Paulenich, here is the second in our series of positional previews for the 2014 NFL Draft. Nick’s rankings will include the Top 5 project players at each position. Last week, Nick previewed the top defensive tackles available this May.

Part 2: Defensive Ends.

Overview:  South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney leads the way as the top defensive end prospect in the 2014 draft. Clowney could be the first defensive end selected overall since the Houston Texans selected Mario Williams in 2006.

Since 2010, every draft has seen at least five defensive ends being selected in the first round. This year it may end at four. Possibly joining Clowney in the first round are Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Notre Dame’s Stephen Tuitt and Auburn’s Dee Ford. The breakdown:

Top 5 Defensive Ends

1. Jadeveon Clowney, 6-5 1/4, 266 lbs., South Carolina

Clowney would have been a top five pick last season. His production declined in 2013 as he missed two games due to injury. Clowney is a two-time First-team All-SEC selection. He was a First-team All-American in 2012, as well as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Clowney wowed at the Combine by recording a 40 time of 4.53 seconds.

Strengths: Is an athletic freak who can take over games with speed, quickness and power. Has a variety of moves and explodes off the snap. Plays the run just as well as the pass. Seen as a once in a generational talent.

Weaknesses: Questions about motor and nagging injuries. A tendency to play upright.

Projection:  Top five pick

2. Kony Ealy, 6-4, 273 lbs., Missouri

Ealy was a two-year starter for the Tigers. Last season, he was First-team All-SEC despite being frequently double-teamed by opponents. Ealy had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2013.   

Strengths:  Possesses athleticism and the ability to rush the passer. Has the frame that NFL GMs and scouts like for an edge rusher. Has a great deal of upside.

Weaknesses: Tends to play high and can be a bit mechanical. Is still a bit raw. Needs to learn better hand technique as well as moves to reach the quarterback.

Projection:  Mid- to late first-round pick.

3. Stephen Tuitt, 6-5 1/2, 304 lbs., Notre Dame

Tuitt was a First-team All-Independent in 2013. He was Second-team All-American in 2012 after recording 12 sacks. Tuitt is very versatile and can play anywhere on the defensive line, including inside and outside.

Strengths:  Has great athleticism, power and versatility. Been compared to former Patriots’/Raiders DL Richard Seymour.

Weaknesses: Needs to come off the ball quicker and improve pass-rushing skills. May be more of a run-stuffer in the NFL.

Projection:  Mid- to late first round pick.

Dee Ford, 6-2 1/8, 244 lbs., Auburn

Ford enjoyed a big-time performance in the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State, sacking Jameis Winston twice. He earned First-team All-SEC recognition last season. Ford had 10.5 sacks in 2013.  

Strengths: Explodes off the snap with a quick first step. Has great speed and lateral quickness. Can change direction quickly.  

Weaknesses: Needs to improve as a run defender. Plays too high. Will need to show that he can drop into pass coverage. May need to change position due to his size.

Projection: Late first-round or second-round pick.

Scott Crichton, 6-2 7/8, 273 lbs., Oregon State

Crichton was Second-team All-PAC-12 in 2013 and First-team PAC-12 in 2012. He has 23.5 sacks in three seasons in Corvallis.

Strengths: Has a non-stop motor and is a hard worker. Is good against the run and pass. Can push blockers into the pocket. Good hands.

Weaknesses: Lacks pure athleticism, speed and height. Had shoulder surgery in spring of 2013.

Projection: Second-round pick.

Others to Watch:  Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State; Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas; Kareem Martin, North Carolina; Chris Smith, Arkansas; Marcus Smith, Louisville

Small-School Sleepers: Zach Moore, Concordia St. Paul; Larry Webster, Bloomsburg; Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M 

Next up: Inside Linebackers

Nick Paulenich is an experienced NFL writer and researcher and the founder of The Sports Savant. You can find Nick on Twitter at @npaulenich.