NFL Draft Preview: Defensive Ends

Posted Apr 10, 2013

LSU DE Barkevious Mingo brings a dynamic physical skill set that makes him one of the top prospects in the draft. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

While the splashy, big name signings such as left tackle Jake Long and tight end Jared Cook rightfully drew much of the attention for the Rams during the free agent period, there was another move the team made that was every bit as important.

On the heels of a season in which the Rams tied for the league lead in sacks, the idea of keeping intact a defensive line which led the charge for that production became a priority. As such, the Rams moved quickly to secure perhaps their most versatile players in defensive end William Hayes before he ever hit the light of the free agent market.

Hayes signed a three-year deal worth around $10 million just before free agency opened and fortified a defensive line that is rapidly becoming one of the best groups in the league.

With Hayes in place alongside starting ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn and the continued ascension of another valuable and versatile young end in Eugene Sims, the Rams appear to be set at one of the league’s most important positions for 2013.

Although it’s never wise to completely rule out an entire position for a team entering a draft because a player may prove to be too good to pass up at some point in the draft, the Rams almost certainly won’t find themselves in the market for an edge rusher on the defensive line at any point early in this month’s NFL Draft.

Much like quarterback, the Rams’ greatest interest in the end position is likely tied directly to how many of them will go before the Rams make their selections in the first round at No. 16 and 22.

From the team’s perspective, the more ends and quarterbacks that go before they pick would push down players of greater need with better value for them when they do make their selections.

Put bluntly, the Rams almost certainly won’t be in the market for what looks like an interesting and diverse albeit somewhat green group of defensive ends in the early part of the draft.

Heading the list is Oregon’s Dion Jordan, who likely projects more as a 3-4 rush linebacker but could also potentially put his hand down as a 4-3 end. Many believe he will go in the top five, if not the top three of the draft after he posted 12.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Behind Jordan is a group of intriguing if unproven players who bring massive upside but also have a floor a bit lower than teams near the top of the draft might desire.

LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is one of the best pound for pound athletes in the draft and certainly looks the part but his production didn’t match the physical skills in his time in Baton Rouge. In his final season with the Tigers, Mingo had 38 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Still, he’s expected to go somewhere in the top 15 and could even sneak into the top five.

Like Mingo in terms of his raw physical ability is BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah, who didn’t put up any eye popping numbers for the Cougars but has proved to be a freak of nature athletically with enormous potential. That potential has drawn comparisons to the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, who had a similar resume before becoming a dominant pass rusher.

Ansah’s physical traits measured against his production have opinioned on him all over the map but the general consensus seems to have him going in the top 10, particularly to a team that runs a wide 9 defensive front that would allow him to get up the field.

For a bit safer bet, teams could turn to Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, a player with underrated athleticism and an impressive resume to boot. Werner posted 20 sacks over the past two seasons and his relentless approach to the game makes his floor much higher even if the ceiling isn’t as high as guys like Ansah or Mingo.

Perhaps even more intriguing for teams in search of pass rush help is Werner’s teammate, Cornelius “Tank” Carradine. Carradine had 11 sacks in the first 12 games of last season before a torn ACL cost him the final two games of the year. Were it not for the injury, many believe Carradine would be sought amongst the top ends in the draft.

Beyond that group of five, the draft offers plenty of depth in many different flavors. For teams in search of 3-4 ends, Southern Methodist’s Margus Hunt and UCLA’s Datone Jones could offer value. For more pure 4-3 ends, players like Texas’ Alex Okafor and LSU’s Sam Montgomery could be options.

And then there is always an X factor, the player who can get after the quarterback but doesn’t do much else particularly well. Last year, Seattle surprised many by taking Bruce Irvin in the first round but he provided the pass rush they’d hoped in a role that asked him to do it exclusively. Auburn’s Corey Lemonier might be the most apt comparison to fit that bill this year and could hear his name called a bit earlier should a team with a like-minded approach to Seattle’s crave pass rush.

Top Five Defensive Ends

1. Dion Jordan, Oregon – Explosive, dynamic athlete who can stand up or put his hand in the ground and get after the quarterback.
2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU – A bit of a project but one that could be well worth the wait given his athleticism and physical skill package.
3. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU – Pure, unadulterated raw talent who fits any defense where he can line up wide and get after the quarterback. Tremendous upside.
4. Bjoern Werner, Florida State – A relentless pass rusher with solid athleticism and great hand usage.
5. Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, Florida State – Knee issues keep him from being higher on this list but his versatility and strength could make him the best all around end in this draft.

Sleeper: Devin Taylor, South Carolina – The forgotten man opposite stud Jadeveon Clowney but Taylor is a solid all around player who could be a nice find in the middle rounds.