Much attention will be paid to the defensive ends in the 2014 NFL Draft class. For obvious reasons, phenom Jadeveon Clowney is the position’s headliner. Then, it’s one of the most difficult positions to project from college to the professional ranks, and the inexact science begs for intense scrutiny.
Clowney grabbed the national spotlight a little more than a year ago when he found his way onto our monitors following his “Hit Heard ‘Round the World’ against Michigan. But while Clowney was unable to replicate that sensational tackle this season, he did solidify his status as the best defensive end in the nation.
According to numerous scouting services, Clowney is the top-rated prospect overall in the draft. A 6-foot-6, 274-pound athletic beast, Clowney had a decorated collegiate career at South Carolina, earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors, winning the Hendricks Award and finishing a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award, Bernarik Award, and even the Heisman Trophy.
Behind Clowney is a pair of SEC standouts in Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Auburn’s Dee Ford, who for ranking purposes are practically No. 2 and 2A. Ealy registered 9.5 sacks this past season in the shadow of his teammate, co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam. Ealy, though, packs a lot of promise as an edge rusher due to his high-octane motor and is steady against the run. Ford had similar success with Auburn in 2013, recording 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He helped elevate his stock by earning MVP honors at the Senior Bowl last month.
Rounding out the top four is Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt who brings a different type of skill-set to the position. Tuitt — by some accounts — is the second-best end in the class. Despite being hindered by injuries last year he was still able to earn All-American honors, leading the Fighting Irish in both sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9.0). Tuitt is a bigger body than the other ends, and though he fit in as a 3-4 end for Notre Dame he could also serve as a 3- or 5-technique in a 4-3 defense. He’s drawn comparisons to former New England Patriots All-Pro Richard Seymour.
XN Sports DE Rankings:
1. Jadeveon Clowney
2. Kony Ealy
3. Dee Ford
4. Stephon Tuitt
6. Demarcus Lawrence
7. Kareem Martin
8. Marcus Smith
9. Aaron Lynch
10. Jackson Jeffcoat