A conference-by-conference look at the top senior NFL defensive end prospects.
Chris Long, Virginia – The son of former NFL star pass rusher Howie Long, he has made a name for himself, currently sitting third in the nation with 11 sacks. Long is strong enough to be considered as a 3-4 DE, but would fit well if lined up in a conventional 4-3 scheme. He will be picked in the top 15 because of his pass-rush numbers, but is also a well-rounded defender with upside to follow in his dad's All-Pro shoes.
Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech – Great athlete for his size and position, while also showing a very good motor on the field. Has struggled with consistency and also has a few off-field issues that need to be addressed. If he were to put on the type of "wow" performance at the NFL Combine that he is capable of – 4.60 40-yard dash and 35-plus inch vertical jump at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds it is possible he could jump into the late first if not early second round.
Darrell Robertson, Georgia Tech – A versatile pass rusher who is being evaluated as either a 4-3 defensive end or even a standup linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He is very active and aggressive off the ball and shows an extra burst to finish off the play. Shows some big-play potential thanks to his natural pass-rush skills.
Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest – A steady performer who has rebounded from injuries during his junior season to post a fine senior year. He has 6.5 sacks, which puts him among the leaders in the conference and has made big stops for the Demon Deacons. Has good size (6-5, 265 pounds) and will run in the 4.70-4.75 range in the 40-yard dash.
Eric Foster, Rutgers – Has played mostly inside at defensive tackle and been highly productive. But his size (6-1, 265 pounds) and lack of growth potential would limit his chances of playing full-time as an interior defender in the NFL. He could slide outside nicely and play some passing downs at defensive tackle, but he needs to show improved workout numbers to impress scouts as much as he has on game film.
Cliff Avril, Purdue – Another in a recent line of fine, versatile Boilermakers pass rushers. Avril has the size (6-3, 255 pounds) and speed (4.6 range) to excite scouts. He will likely be asked to perform linebacker drills in the postseason to evaluate him as a possible outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Kenny Iwebema, Iowa – A full-sized defensive end (6-4, 270 pounds) who has battled a few injuries and inconsistencies, but flashes quickness and pass rushing skills off the edge. He missed last week's game against Michigan State because of a concussion and was sidelined with a shoulder injury for part of his junior season. The Texas native shows some upside, but needs to prove he is durable enough to handle an NFL schedule.
Chris Harrington, Texas A&M – Has great size (6-5, 268 pounds), long arms and shows the ability to collapse the pocket. He has only one sack this season, but has been one of his team's most productive defenders, forcing two fumbles, recovering one and blocking a kick. His willingness to do all the little things should allow him to play on Sundays.
Robert Jackson, Kansas State – Not a flashy or well-known defender, but he is steady in most areas and highly productive. A junior-college transfer, he has helped improve the Wildcats up front. He has good leadership skills.
Lawrence Jackson, USC – Was thought to be a possible top-10 choice, but opted to return for his senior season and is still looking for his signature game. Has all the attributes needed to become a standout defensive at the NFL level, but plays in spurts and can get blocked by less-talented linemen. He does not have a lot of moves at the line of scrimmage and looks lost at times when locating the ball. His Senior Bowl practices will go a long way to making up the minds of evaluators.
Bruce Davis, UCLA – One of the nation's most productive pass rushers, he has proven to be a disruptive force off the edge. He is under-sized, but uses great technique and strong hands to shed blockers and has a burst of closing speed. Many will be tempted to move him back off the line of scrimmage, possibly to a stand-up linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. I would keep him at end.
Louis Holmes, Arizona – A junior-college standout who has flashed great potential as an edge rusher, but has been highly inconsistent. He has long arms, a quick first step and a burst of closing speed to the quarterback. But his work ethic and ability to translate that talent into production on the field has yet to meet his natural ability.
Quentin Groves, Auburn – Had the highest preseason grade, but has failed to deliver a strong senior season. He has great speed (4.55 range) and athleticism, which might cause scouts to evaluate him as a possible standup outside linebacker. Groves needs to step up his game down the stretch and in the postseason in order to warrant a first-round grade.
Wallace Gilberry, Alabama – A good-looking pass rusher who has helped carry the Crimson Tide defense back into national prominence. He will not wow scouts with his workout numbers, but he plays consistently and is able to get upfield and create havoc in opponent's backfields. So, while he may slide a bit on draft day if he runs in the 4.8-4.9 range in the 40-yard dash he has an NFL future nonetheless.
Tommy Blake, TCU – Blake was considered a first-rounder before a strange senior season. He has missed time with off-field issues, which has many red-flagging him. Blake will be evaluated in the postseason at defensive end and OLB since he can run and looks athletic.
Chase Ortiz, TCU – A chase-and-hustle type player who will make it in the NFL because of his desire and love for the game. An average athlete who gets the most out of his ability and will find a home as a situational defender and special teams standout.
Trevor Scott, Buffalo – Has great physical tools, but is a raw-skilled prospect who was converted from tight end to defensive end. He is 6-5, 260 pounds and will run sub-4.6 40-times with about a 35-inch vertical. His speed and athleticism have led him to make big plays off the edge, but now he needs to hone his skills to become as good of a football player as he is an athlete.
SMALL SCHOOL PROSPECTS
Kendall Langford, Hampton – Physically one of the best-looking defensive line prospects in this group, but has had an up-and-down senior season. He flashed great upside potential based on his versatility, long arms and ability to play with both quickness and leverage a year ago. Many agents touted him as a sure-fire first-round pick, but most NFL evaluators consider him to be a third- to fourth-round pick.
Brian Johnston, Gardner-Webb – A big, physical pass rusher who can also run very well for his size (6-5, 270 pounds) and runs in the 4.7 range. He can look a bit like a straight-line speed guy who has trouble changing directions at the point of attack. But if you can limit his responsibility and use his natural skills in the right scheme, he could grow into a solid defender at the pro level.
Curtis Johnson, Clark-Atlanta – A pure speed edge rusher who has scouts flocking. He is roughly 6-4, 245 pounds and has been recording tackles for loss and sacks at a fantastic pace. If he continues to impress, he will land a spot in the NFL Combine.
Andy Studebaker, Wheaton (Ill.) – The best lower-division prospect at this position. He has been timed in the 4.55 range and has shown the ability to get to the quarterback against his current level of competition. He needs to get bigger and stronger but could also be tried as a stand-up outside linebacker since he is roughly 6-3, 255 pounds. Studebaker has 22.5 sacks over the past year-and-a-half.
Eric Bakhtiari, San Diego – He dominated the line of scrimmage against Drake in what was billed as their "Game of the Year," recording four sacks, three that ended with either forced fumbles or fumble recoveries. He has 19 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two blocked kicks.
Jacob Owens, Fairmont State – A physically impressive defender who has shown the ability to play a variety of positions. He has a big upper-body, plays with a nasty streak and always looks to be hustling. Has a better motor than pure straight-line speed. It is difficult to totally translate his game to the pro level because he is playing against guys who just don't compare to the type of athletes or size he will be facing at the next level. But he is the type of raw kid who good teams find and develop into strong role players.