Ranking the nation's top 20 defensive ends

Mike Huguenin

It's tough to have an elite defense without a solid pass rusher, so coaches at Florida State, LSU, South Carolina and Texas have to be doubly happy this season because each of that quartet has two of the nation's top 20 defensive ends. And one of them has the nation's best.

This is the sixth part of our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position; today, we're picking the top 20 defensive ends. Part one of our position breakdowns was on running backs, part two covered wide receivers and tight ends, part three dealt with interior offensive linemen, part four was on offensive tackles and part five highlighted defensive tackles.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 27, when we rank all 124 of the nation's quarterbacks. Next, we will look at linebackers.

Here are the defensive end rankings.

20. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati

Particulars: 6-5/249, Sr.; Ashville (Ohio) Teays Valley
Buzz: Stewart will be a four-year starter for the Bearcats, but this will be just his second season at end; he was an outside linebacker in his first two seasons. He had six sacks, 11 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups and four forced fumbles last season, and has 203 tackles and 12.5 sacks in his career.

19. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame

Particulars: 6-4/306, Sr.; Weatherford (Texas) High
Buzz: Lewis-Moore will be a four-year starter for the Fighting Irish. He suffered a knee injury that cost him the final six games last season, but still managed 32 tackles in the Irish's sturdy 3-4 defense. He played tackle earlier in this career, but is a good fit at end in the 3-4 because he is stout against the run. He has 140 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss in his career.

18. Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

Particulars: 6-2/233, Sr.; New Milford (Conn.) Canterbury School, preceded by Bridgeport (Conn.) Central
Buzz: Williams, who was born in Jamaica and didn't move to the United States until he was in junior high, was fifth in the nation last season with 12.5 sacks. He had at least two sacks in three games. He was a star sprinter in high school, finishing second in the state in the 100 meters three consecutive years.

17. Jamie Collins, Southern Miss

Particulars: 6-4/239, Sr.; Meadville (Miss.) Franklin Co.
Buzz: Collins switched to end from linebacker last season and had a big season: 98 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He actually plays a hybrid end/'backer role and should break into double digits in sacks and seems likely to garner at least 20 tackles for loss.

16. Joe Vellano, Maryland

Particulars: 6-2/285, Sr.; Syracuse (N.Y.) Christian Brothers Academy
Buzz: He is coming off an excellent season playing tackle: 94 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He has moved to end in the Terps' new 3-4 scheme. Vellano led all FBS linemen in tackles last season, his second as a starter. He had four games with double-digit tackles, an extraordinary feat for an interior lineman.

15. Stansly Maponga, TCU

Particulars: 6-2/265, Jr.; Carrollton (Texas) Hebron
Buzz: He was No. 2 in the Mountain West with nine sacks last season, but will be facing better offensive lines this season. Maponga also had 55 tackles and led the Horned Frogs in tackles for loss (13.5), forced fumbles (five) and fumble recoveries (two).

14. James Gayle, Virginia Tech

Particulars: 6-4/269, Jr.; Hampton (Va.) Bethel
Buzz: Gayle made the jump from important reserve to key starter last season, finishing with seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Gayle is an excellent athlete (39.5-inch vertical) who is both strong (400-pound bench) and quick. Consistency was a problem at times last season, but it shouldn't be this season. He has a chance to be a first-team All-ACC pick.

13. Bjoern Werner, Florida State

Particulars: 6-4/272, Jr.; Salisbury (Conn.) High
Buzz: Here's another guy with a shot at first-team All-ACC honors. Werner is a German native who was an exchange student when he caught the eye of college recruiters. He had a solid season as a freshman reserve in 2010 before making a splash last season as a fulltime starter. Werner had seven sacks, eight quarterback hurries and eight pass breakups. He also fared well against the run. He and Brandon Jenkins form one of the nation's top end duos.

12. Michael Buchanan, Illinois

Particulars: 6-6/240, Sr.; Homewood (Ill.) Homewood-Flossmoor
Buzz: The athletic Buchanan is headed into his third season as a starter and emerged as a playmaker in 2011. He finished with 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, which was fourth in the Big Ten. Buchanan was a second-team All-Big Ten pick in 2011. A 10-sack season is a legitimate goal this fall.

11. Devin Taylor, South Carolina

Particulars: 6-8/267, Sr.; Beaufort (S.C.) High
Buzz: Taylor is a freakish athlete for a guy his size; he won the state triple jump title with a leap of 48 feet 3 while a high school senior. He has 15 career sacks and is heading into his third season as a starter. While known as a pass-rusher, Taylor plays well against the run, as evidenced by his career-high nine tackles last season against Navy's option-based attack. He and Jadeveon Clowney form one of the nation's best end tandems.

10. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

Particulars: 6-5/240, Jr.; West Monroe (La.) High
Buzz: Mingo, known as "KeKe, " had eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season despite starting just three games. He also had 11 quarterback hurries. He has started just four games in his career but still is seen as a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft because of his pass-rushing ability. He has tremendous quickness off the edge and looks to be a perfect fit as a 3-4 linebacker in the NFL. Barkevious has a brother named Hughtavious.

9. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

Particulars: 6-3/260, Sr.; Tallahassee (Fla.) Florida
Buzz: Seminoles fans should be glad he decided to stay at home to go to college. He has 21.5 sacks in the past two seasons to go along with 104 tackles and nine quarterback hurries. While known as a pass rusher first and foremost, Jenkins has gotten better against the run.

8. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

Particulars: 6-6/256, Soph.; Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe
Buzz: He was eighth in the SEC with eight sacks and tied for eighth in the country with five forced fumbles last season as a true freshman, when he basically was getting by on athletic ability alone. Once he truly understands the nuances of the position, Clowney – who was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in the 2011 signing class – truly should be something special. His work against the run needs to improve this season, but his pass-rushing ability already is big time.

7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn

Particulars: 6-4/240, Jr.; Hialeah (Fla.) High
Buzz: Lemonier is an elite pass rusher. He had 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles for the Tigers last season. As a true freshman backup on Auburn's 2010 national title team, Lemonier had two sacks and five tackles for loss, including one in the championship victory over Oregon.

6. Dion Jordan, Oregon

Particulars: 6-7/241, Sr.; Chandler (Ariz.) High
Buzz: He was signed as a tight end in 2008 and didn't move to defense until spring practice in 2010. He became a fulltime starter for the first time last season and responded with an All-Pac-12 season: 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He is a good athlete (a 33.5-inch vertical leap) and has a big wingspan and quick first step.

5. Alex Okafor, Texas

Particulars: 6-4/260, Sr.; Pflugerville (Texas) High
Buzz: Okafor will be a three-year starter for the Longhorns, including eight starts at defensive tackle as a sophomore in 2010. Okafor had seven sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hurries last season. He also had three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He was a first-team All-Big 12 selection and will team with Jackson Jeffcoat to give Texas perhaps the nation's top end duo.

4. John Simon, Ohio State

Particulars: 6-2/260, Sr.; Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney
Buzz: Simon is on the short side, but he is relentless and a great leader (he will be just the seventh two-time captain in school history). He has excellent quickness and was a first-team All-Big Ten honoree last season, when he had 53 tackles, seven sacks, 16 tackles for loss and three pass breakups while playing tackle and end. He is heading into his third season as a starter, with almost all of his time in 2010 coming at tackle.

3. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Particulars: 6-5/245, Jr.; Plano (Texas) Plano West
Buzz: Jeffcoat is a former five-star recruit who began living up to his hype last season. He has excellent speed off the edge and has gotten better against the run. Jeffcoat led Texas with 7.5 sacks last season and added 54 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. He played especially well in the second half of the season, with all of his sacks coming in the final seven games.

2. William Gholston, Michigan State

Particulars: 6-7/278, Jr.; Detroit Southeastern
Buzz: Gholston had 70 tackles, five sacks, 16 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery last season. But conventional wisdom seems to be that he just started to scratch the surface of his potential. He has unreal athleticism for his size and can wreak havoc off the edge. He had 27 sacks as a high school senior.

1. Sam Montgomery, LSU

Particulars: 6-4/245, Jr.; Greenwood (S.C.) High
Buzz: Montgomery is another freakish athlete who is one of the best pass rushers in the nation. He had nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season; two of his sacks came in LSU's regular-season win over Alabama. Montgomery is fast and shifty off the edge, and while his work against the run isn't necessarily stellar, he holds his own in that facet of the game.

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