It's a very interesting draft class for the defensive end position. Overall, this group of defensive linemen may be the deepest from a pure talent perspective we've ever seen, and the variety of player types is extreme. In addition to the more traditional 4-3 edge rushers like Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Aldon Smith of Missouri, there are several different ends that are slightly taller and heavier, making them intriguing hybrid players. With more and more NFL teams switching between 3-4 and 4-3 principles in-game, ends have to be more versatile. It's rarely enough anymore to just play the run decently off the edge and beat the left tackle for sacks; these days, teams want ends who can kick inside in nickel situations and understand every position on the line well enough to play anywhere in a pinch.
The ends featured here are on opposite sides of the "workout warrior" spectrum. Wisconsin's J.J. Watt was among the most impressive performers at the 2011 NFL scouting combine, while Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers had to wait through knee surgery to work out for NFL teams after leading the nation in sacks in 2010.
Here's a closer look at how Bowers and Watt measure up.
Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson
J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Pass rush: Doesn't always stack and shed; tends to wrestle with blockers at times instead of looking to cut loose. More of a force-led pass rusher than a player with a great deal of explosion off the snap. Can turn the corner off a wider setup and beat tackles with pure strength. Good at passing off to an inside lane and bulling through to disrupt. Gets sacks in bunches – had five games in 2010 with two or more sacks.
Pass rush: Watt's turn around the edge is the first things that pops right off the tape – he has an exceptional burst, gets up to speed quickly, and redirects well when necessary. Good variety of hand moves, and he's always looking to get in the backfield; he doesn't waste time wrestling. Spin and swim moves serve him well whether lined up inside or outside. Best in a wide set or off-gap set where he deals with less strength at the point from his blockers.
Against the run: Extremely efficient at closing in on a ballcarrier; big enough to absolutely smother most guys he tackles. Strong enough to bull blockers back, and does well inside in nickel or other situations as a three-tech end. Very difficult to deal with on outside running plays – Bowers will ride out blocks to the sideline and will crash into and break up piles. Can fall victim to misdirection at times.
Against the run: Watt keeps his head on a swivel when pursuing and can use his speed to peel off and double back for a ballcarrier off the pass rush. Lack of core strength will have him blown out of power run plays too often. Surprisingly for his timed speed, Watt struggles to get to the edge and deal with backs making the turn; he spends a lot of time diving for space. High percentage of arm and ankle tackles indicate his "missed it by that much" speed deficit.
Off the snap: Gets up and going out of his stance with decent speed; puts the full force of his weight behind the initial drive and hand-punch. Needs a more varied set of hand moves to be truly effective at the NFL level.
Off the snap: Among the quickest-to-engage ends off the snap in this draft class; Watt is especially impressive in that category for his size. Actual quickness is as much a function of aggressiveness and hand speed as pure foot quickness. Looks to split gaps immediately.
Tackling: Big and strong enough to eliminate ballcarriers in his area. Good change of direction keeps him in the play, though he will get over-aggressive and miss tackles every now and then. Closes quickly and can force fumbles.
Tackling: Good strength and effort when wrapping up. Overall, Watt's technique is still an issue – while some of his range tackles are high-effort wins, he also spends a lot of time trying to get outside and not necessarily impressing with his lateral speed. Probably best in positions where he isn't asked to cover so much ground and acts with more on-field discipline.
Intangibles: There are some concerns about Bowers' status as a "one-year wonder"; he blew up for 15½ sacks in 2010 after displaying little consistent pass rush before. Turned his head around and got a lot more serious about the game after the passing of his father and his friend and mentor, Gaines Adams(notes). No known off-field issues. Plays in a gospel band.
Intangibles: No known character issues whatsoever – in fact, Watt is regarded as one of the hardest-working players in this draft class. Great teammate and team leader; won the Lott IMPACT Award for integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity among college defenders, and was All-Big 10 Academic in 2009 and 2010.
Conclusion: It was unfortunate that Bowers missed out on the pre-draft process after tearing a meniscus midway through the season, but it's worth remembering that he got half his sacks last season on that knee. In the general sense, the ongoing concerns about that knee could be the typical NFL smokescreens and media speculation, but rating Bowers as an elite NFL pass-rusher may be a bit premature. What he does project as right away is an end who can slip inside at times, and play run and pass on the edge. Bowers may disappoint those expecting 15½ sacks in a season in the NFL right away, but teams in need of an every-down player with high value would do well to look his way.
Conclusion: There's no question that Watt is a very talented player with exceptional athleticism – he was a tight end at Central Michigan before transferring to Wisconsin after the 2007 season, red-shirting 2008, and excelling in 2009 and 2010 in his new position. The real questions about his NFL potential are how he best fits in a scheme, and how much developmental work must be done before he can make a consistent difference. Watt's constant effort is endearing, but the NFL demands more from its best defenders than pure speed and a high-motor style. If Watt can get it all under control, he could provide extreme value in different spots along any type of defensive front.
Doug Farrar is a writer for Yahoo's Shutdown Corner blog, and a senior writer for Football Outsiders.