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2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Defensive Ends

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Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

We begin our first impression positional rankings for the 2014 NFL Draft at the edge rushers. Some are 3-4 outside linebackers who may project as defensive ends, others are full-time DEs -- including the best pro prospect in college football.

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

6-foot-6, 272 pounds

2012 season: Unanimous All-America, 13 sacks, 21.5 TFL

Not since Tennessee’s Peyton Manning finished his sophomore year in 1995 with 22 TDs and nearly 3,000 yards passing has there been a player like Clowney, the presumptive No. 1 overall draft pick after his junior year.  Of course, Manning chose to return to his Volunteers as a senior, but that would seem unlikely for Clowney, considered a near unanimous choice as the nation’s greatest defensive player. All this, and Clowney has started only 13 career games.

2. Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young

6-3, 235

2012 season: 53 tackles, 13 sacks, 22 TFL, 6 forced fumbles, 8 QB hurries

Van Noy is a swift outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid, who lined up last year in a 3-4 defense for BYU’s third-ranked defense. He returns in 2013 as the only FBS player to have recorded at least one mark in all nine major defensive categories, and he did it in both 2011 and 2012. He received All-America mention from five services in 2012.

3. Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

6-6, 303

2012 season: 42 tackles, 12 sacks, 13 TFL

Manti Te’o got most of the publicity on Notre Dame’s seventh-ranked defense in 2012. Tuitt might have been the most important cog in that defense as he led the team in sacks and contributed 13 tackles for loss. His biggest play came when he went 77 yards to a touchdown on a fumble return and added a blocked kick.

4. Anthony Barr, UCLA

6-4, 245

2012 season: 71.5 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 21.5 TFL

Barr was a pistol formation fullback until the spring of 2012 and thrived after his switch to a 3-4 outside linebacker post by the new UCLA staff. He led the nation for most of the season in sacks and showed real consistency by making at least seven tackles in six different games.

5. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

6-6, 252

2012 season: 39 tackles, 6 sacks, 10, TFL, 3 forced fumbles

The nation’s perennial preeminent defense—the national champion Crimson Tide topped the statistical heap in 2012—keeps producing star NFL prospects.  Hubbard and running mate Ed Stinson (6-4, 292) likely both will play in the league in 2014.

6. Morgan Breslin, USC

6-2, 250

2012 season: 62 tackles, 13 sacks, 19.5 TFL

Breslin arrived with a bang from junior college last season as he was named USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year.  He led Troy in sacks and tackles for loss, while adding four pass deflections.  Breslin was named National Defensive Lineman of the Week after a 3.5 sack effort against California. The Trojans' new defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, will introduce a new 5-2 alignment, so Breslin, a three-point-stance end last year, likely will have to adjust to outside LB.

7. Trent Murphy, Stanford

6-6, 261

2012 season: 56 tackles, 10 sacks, 18 TFL, 40-yard INT return

Murphy enjoyed an outstanding spring session and is primed for an All-American season as a DE/OLB hybrid in Stanford’s 3-4. During the spring, he destroyed one offensive series with a hurry and two pass break-ups to force a 3-and-out .  

8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

6-5, 245

2012 season: 11 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 6 QB hurries

As a junior, Jeffcoat played only the first six games of 2012 due to injury, so his numbers easily could be doubled over a full season. He has notched 10 sacks in his last 13 games, going back to 2011. Jeffcoat came to Austin as the No. 2 national recruit at his position four years ago.

9. Will Sutton, Arizona State

6-2, 288

2012 season: 13 sacks, 23.5 TFL

The energetic Sutton came very close to declaring for the NFL Draft after his spectacular junior season in 2012. He ranked second nationally in tackles for loss and third in sacks.  The one knock is his somewhat short arms. He lines up on the end of the Sun Devils’ 3-4 defense, and lack of height will push him inside in the NFL.

10. Ronald Powell, Florida

6-4, 250

2012 season: Missed entire year following knee injury

Judged the nation’s top recruit when he arrived in Gainesville in 2010, Powell started a bit slowly but as a sophomore led the Gators in sacks with six.  He enjoyed a terrific spring practice session in 2012, but a knee injury at the end of the spring cost him the entire season.  Last month, he again won a starting OLB spot and is a potential breakout performer to watch because of his remarkable gifts.