The top defensive ends in this year’s class are mostly underclassmen. With the likes of Jadeveon Clonwey, Vic Beasley and Stephon Tuitt all being juniors. But the crop of senior defensive ends is also quite talented. There is no one deserving of a top 15 selection, but there are a few who will be drafted in the top 100 for sure.
Here are the top five senior defensive ends.
5. Taylor Hart, Oregon
One thing about Hart is his technique, he seems to almost lean back, and have most of his weight on his heels, and this allows him to be dominated off the snap by a quick, powerful offensive lineman. In addition, it takes a split second longer to explode forward and limits the momentum going forward. Once engaged, he does show good ability to shed and make a tackle. Also, on more than one occasion, he is ability to disrupt a screen. This is a huge plus, because in the NFL, often the only way to limit a well-executed screen is to have a defensive lineman recognize it. Hart uses his frame well to tackle, and once his technique is fixed, he could be a good player in the NFL.
4. Trevor Reilly, Utah
At Utah, he is used as a down lineman, as a linebacker, and even drops into coverage. Anytime he is used as a down lineman rushing off the edge, he seems to make plays, especially in the run game. Reilly has an explosive first step, and really flies towards the ball when a choice is made. He lacks tentativeness in his angle towards the ball, which is a huge plus for a defensive end. While he uses his hands well, if his first move does not work, usually the play is over; he’ll need to use a variety of moves and techniques in the NFL to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The catch is, his first move works more often than not. Reilly may be a better fit in a 3-4 as an outside linebacker; he will definitely be able to play well in a 4-3 as a defensive end.
3. Michael Sam, Missouri
Sam was one of the reasons the Tigers defense was among the best in the country this season. His first step is among the best in the SEC, which is a big compliment if you think about some of the names. Sam is also a relentless player in the run game, and despite being double teamed in most of his games this season, he can still make an impact. One thing that bothers me about Sam is the fact that he will disappear for ten plays in a row, before making a jaw dropping one. He will keep his hands down sometimes, which leaves him exposed to the opposition. Consistency is the biggest flaw for Sam, and once he can play at a high level for an extended period of time, he will be a very good player in the NFL.
2. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Jeffcoat had to vastly improve this season for a chance in the NFL, and he has. He has the physical tools and talent to be an incredible player at the next level, but needs to put it all together to be able to maintain the consistency needed in the NFL. It seems each and every time he lines up where a normal defensive end does; he is in the backfield in a flash. Jeffcoat uses his hands very well at the line of scrimmage, and this enables him to get his hands up to swat passes should he not get to the quarterback. He uses his long arms to disengage on the run, and is able to get around the edge with the best of them. On one specific play against Texas Tech, he ran a stunt from the inside to the end, and was able to swat the left tackles hands away and continue to get to Texas Tech’s quarterback all in one motion. One flaw of his is the tendency to be tentative at times. In the NFL, there is no time to decide what you are going to do. He looks as if he is choosing on the fly, rather than attacking and exploding in one direction. He shows his talent in flashes, and if he puts it together, Jeffcoat could be a special player.
1. Trent Murphy, Stanford
Murphy is a large human being at six and a half feet tall and over 260 pounds. Not to mention his sheer ability to get off blocks. Often he will use a left hand swim move, and it looks lethal should it be timed correctly. With his size, if he gets the first step on an offensive lineman, it is impossible to stop him without being penalized. In terms of athleticism, he is a tad underrated. In a game against USC this season, he chased a USC ball carrier 40 yards down field and beat him to the corner, which shows swift feet for a 260-pound man. Murphy’s first move is to engage, which is how he lives and dies in the passing game. Should he be able to use his swim move to get off the block, it is almost guaranteed he will be in the backfield, but sometimes he gets caught in the block, and will just drop in coverage. But in the run game, he uses this technique to near perfection. He will seemingly “submit” to the block, then shed it quickly and make the tackle once the ball carrier thinks he has a lane. Once Murphy is used strictly as a 4-3 defensive end, the consistency will show, and his first step and left hand swim move will be tough to match.