The 2015 NFL Draft is less than two months away. Already, the XN Sports NFL Mock Draft 1.0 has been released.
Over the next two weeks, we will be releasing the top five draft prospects at each position leading up to the second edition of the mock draft.
In today’s NFL, there is now a distinction between natural defensive ends and pure edge rushers. This collection of talent refers to prototypical defensive ends that line up at the line of scrimmage with a hand in the dirt. In other words, a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense or even a 3-technique in certain situations.
Here are the top five defensive ends in the 2015 draft:
1. Leonard Williams, USC
Far and away the top defensive line prospect in this year’s draft and considered either the No. 1 or 1A player overall, Williams is an immediate difference-maker for a defense.
Williams is a stout run defender. He shows an initial burst and easily sheds blockers, while displaying a relentless pursuit to the football. He can also get to the quarterback from both the edge and interior parts of the defensive line.
Williams can slide in as a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense, a 3-technique in a 40 front or a natural defensive end in a 40 front. His versatility reminds scouts of Richard Seymour.
2. Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
Like Williams, Fowler is a versatile defensive lineman who is capable of lining up in multiple positions along the defensive front and provides a range of services.
Fowler is more of a power rusher off the edge, able to drive opposing offensive tackles back to reach the quarterback. He can also be used as an inside rusher in nickel/dime packages. Fowler is also a tough run-stopper with good range and looks to strip the ball.
Fowler boasts major upside as a chance to be a true defensive end who can rack up double-digit sack totals. He’s a fierce, athletic competitor and can be dangerous when paired with the right coaching staff.
3. Arik Armstead, Oregon
Like both Williams and Fowler, Armstead is equally as effective when lined up on the inside as he is on the outside. However, he may be best suited as a traditional defense end in a four-man front.
Armstead has immense lower-body strength and his power allows his to drive back offensive linemen. He very rarely will let the ball-carrier escape once he’s in his grasps.
Armstead has his work cut out for him as a pass-rusher. Though he’s big, strong and plays aggressively, Armstead must learn how to finish at the point of attack. That can come with time and coaching, though. He has the physical traits and raw skill to be an enticing defensive lineman.
4. Preston Smith, Mississippi State
The nearly 6-foot-5, 270-pound Smith is physically imposing with elite top-end speed and major athleticism. He played all over the defensive front at Mississippi State but his best fit is as a true defensive end.
Smith is an instinctive player who excels at tracking the football. His above-average strength allows to him to rush the passer from both the edge and inside, making him disruptive in most pass-rush situations. He finished with 7.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014.
During the Mississippi State Pro Day, Smith continued to bolster his stock with an impressive outing. He showed off a unique combination of versatility and elite strength.
5. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
Odighizuwa is a physical specimen, one who can be used all over the defensive line. Ideally, he’ll line up as a 4-3 defensive end, but he can also move inside when need be or even be a 5-technique.
Odighizuwa’s strength gives him the upper hand when clashing with offensive linemen, while his power suggests he can continue to improve as a pass-rusher. He’s best suited to line up with a hand in the dirt, and because of his overall athleticism and array of techniques has the ability to beat either tackles or guards.
Likely a second-round selection, Odighizuwa will be among the few traditional defensive ends coveted by teams still rocking the 4-3 defense. He has high upside, but questions remain about his production with the Bruins.