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2014 NFL Draft Rankings: 4-3 Defensive Ends
By Matt Horkman

1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
The most freakish talent in the draft, Clowney has the upside to emerge into one of this decade’s premiere pass rushers. He explodes off the snap and has tremendous closing speed. He doesn’t just make the players around him better, but he also makes big plays as a rusher and run defender. He has a giant wingspan and consistently knocks down passes at the line of scrimmage. Teams would not block him with just one player. He would routinely require a back or tight end to chip him. Clowney is great at containing the outside, forcing ball carries to cut inside. In conclusion, Clowney is one of the elite talents of this year‘s class. His combination of size (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) and athleticism doesn‘t come around very often. The impact he’ll have early in his career could measure up with Jevon Kearse, who Clowney resembles.

2. Kony Ealy, Missouri
Ealy explodes off the snap. He displays good pursuit, hunting down whoever possesses the ball. He has a good pass-rushing repertoire, as he’s capable of making a move to the inside or accelerating around the edge. He also disrupts the running game, crashing down and making the stop. While his size compares with many 3-4 outside linebackers, Ealy lacks the athleticism (and comfort) to play in space. Overall, Ealy is a three-down player suited best to play in the 4-3, where he can be a hand in the dirt defensive end.

3. Dominique Easley, Florida
During his college career, Easley played both defensive end and tackle. He is a terrific athlete for his size (6-foot-2, 282 pounds), exhibiting the movement skills to even standup. In many ways, he’s not so different from Green Bay defensive lineman Datone Jones, who went in the first round of last year’s draft. He gets good penetration against the run and uses his power to overwhelm tackles. Easley tore his ACL for the second time in three seasons last September. The injury took away any opportunity he may have had to shine during the pre-draft process. Despite the injury, Easley displays the versatility, athleticism, and power to be a frontline player in a 4-3 defense. He may not contribute immediately, but his long-term outlook is bright should he recover from his recent injury. 

4. Cassius Marsh, UCLA
Marsh played the five-technique in UCLA’s base 34 defense, but he’s unlikely to play anything but defensive end in a 4-3 as a pro. Standing 6-foot-4, he has the frame to add 10-15 pounds to his already 253. He’s an incredibly powerful player, with a quick but violent punch. He also does a nice job of disengaging from blocks. The team that drafts him will be getting an intense player, who hustles on every play and displays enough athleticism to develop into a potential starter.

5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
Martin was a three-year starter at North Carolina, showing production as a pass rusher. In addition, he‘s a competent run defender, wrapping up ball carriers and preventing them from getting around the corner. Martin needs to cleanup some technique issues, but he has the athleticism and size to develop into a three-down defensive end.

6. Scott Crichton, Oregon State
A productive three-year starter, Crichton has all the physical tools to develop into a starting NFL defensive end. He explodes off the ball and does a fine job of closing in on his target. He is able to disrupt both the run and pass, though he struggles to get off blocks.

7. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
Some teams will likely ask Lawrence (251 pounds) to bulk up. He lacks the ideal strength to take on blockers, but is explosive with his hand in the dirt. His athleticism is very mediocre standing up, so it’s unlikely he’ll make the transition to pro linebacker.
Michael Sam
8. Michael Sam, Missouri
The 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Sam lacks the athleticism go from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker. However, he also lacks the size to be an every-down defensive end. What he does well is rush the quarterback. He’s quick off the ball and does a good job of disengaging from blocks. Because of his underwhelming size and speed combination, Sam’s best role is as a third-down pass rush specialist.

9. Ben Gardner, Stanford
Given his status as a three-year starter on one of college football’s most intense defenses, it was somewhat shocking the NFL didn’t invite Gardner to the combine. The Stanford prospect is a good, not great athlete. He demonstrates the ability to get off the ball fast and displays good effort in hunting down quarterbacks. A pectoral injury ended his season midway through.

10. Aaron Lynch, South Florida
As a freshman at Notre Dame, Lynch emerged as one of college football‘s top underclassman. In the spring of 2012, he transferred from Notre Dame to South Florida where he failed to re-ignite some of the magic from his freshman year. Lynch is incredibly talented, though, with the ideal measurables (34-inch arms) to develop into an NFL starter. His focus and consistency are major red flags, however. He is a developmental prospect.

Best of the Rest
Darryl Cato-Bishop, North Carolina State
Tevin Mims, South Florida
Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M
Chris Whaley, Texas

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