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Draft's top defensive ends

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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NFL.com's 10-part series looks at each position in the draft.

Thursday, April 10: QBs | Rankings
Friday, April 11: RBs | Rankings
Saturday, April 12: TEs | Rankings
Sunday, April 13: OL | Rankings
Monday, April 14: WRs | Rankings
Tuesday, April 15: DEs | Rankings
Wednesday, April 16: DTs | Rankings
Thursday, April 17: LBs | Rankings
Friday, April 18: CBs | Rankings
Saturday, April 19: Safeties | Rankings

Top defensive ends in 2008 NFL Draft:

1. Chris Long, Virginia

Height: 6-3   Weight: 272
College stats: 37 starts, 183 tackles, 43 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.75 40-yard dash, 4.21 short shuttle

Long is a complete player. He can stand up and play the outside backer spot in a 3-4 or he can line up as a five technique end in a 4-3. He has a non-stop motor and he lives the game. 65 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 37 games is an excellent ratio. Draft projection: Round 1.

 Long: Combine highlights | Interview | Virginia Pro Day | First Draft | Best of DEs | Ready for NFL


2. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State

Height: 6-3   Weight: 266
College stats: 25 starts, 87 tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, 22.5 sacks, 0 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.58 40-yard dash, 4.40 short shuttle

Gholston has rare strength and I was more than impressed when he told me he squatted 455 pounds for 20 reps. He is a playmaker with excellent explosiveness to shock an offensive tackle and get to the quarterback. I struggle when I watch his inconsistent effort to pursue plays away. There just isn't enough tape of him passing teammates while chasing plays down from behind. He has excellent skills to drop in coverage and will excel as a 3-4 outside linebacker or in a 4-3 fire-zone scheme where he drops out as well as rush. 53 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 25 starts is an excellent ratio. Draft projection: Round 1.

 Gholston: Combine highlights | Workout examination | Exclusive interview | On bench at combine


3. Derrick Harvey, Florida

Height: 6-4   Weight: 271
College stats: 18 starts, 91 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 20.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.85 40-yard dash, 4.36 short shuttle

Harvey could fit in any scheme, but after talking with him I think he prefers a one gap 4-3 front where he can use his quickness to get up field. He has little trouble losing weight if he were to be a 3-4 OLB or gain weight and play a LDE spot. He occasionally reminds me of the pass rush style of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila in Green Bay, with a good shoulder dip to get under a blocker and turn the corner. His 31 reps on the bench indicate the strength is there to survive the run game. Some of the teams that worked him out told me they were satisfied with his ability to take a drop into coverage if they want to scheme him that way. 51.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 18 starts is a very impressive ratio. Draft projection: Round 1.

 Harvey: Combine highlights | First Draft


4. Phillip Merling, Clemson

Height: 6-4   Weight: 276
College stats: 26 starts, 146 tackles, 31 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, 4 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: No times due to hernia operation

Merling can get after the running game. He combines a good initial strike with power and hustle to make plays. He doesn't bring the flash in the pass rush that the first three candidates possess but can collapse a pocket. 43 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 26 starts is a good ratio. Draft projection: Round 1.


5. Calais Campbell, Miami (Fla.)

Height: 6-8   Weight: 287
College stats: 25 starts, 169 tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 19 sacks, 6 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.85 40-yard dash, 4.36 short shuttle

There is some controversy about Campbell. His height may be a concern to some who like players to fit into the mold of former great ends. His forty time is a hair to slow but his short shuttle (ability to change direction) is decent for a guy this tall. He could develop like Mario Williams in a year or two because of effort in pursuit and his pass rush techniques. When I talked with Campbell, I discovered his lower body strength is far superior to his upper body strength. He also feels his speed rush is his best move up field, but recognizes he needs to convert to a bull rush and occasionally cross the tackle's face. At 6'8 those moves will take time at the NFL level. 57.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 25 starts are better than two per game. Draft projection: Rounds 1-2.

 Campbell: Combine highlights


6. Lawrence Jackson, USC

Height: 6-4   Weight: 271
College stats: 38 starts, 181 tackles, 35 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, 7 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.82 40-yard dash, 4.40 short shuttle

If Jackson had run a tenth faster, he would be at the top of this class. Some feel he lacks the quick twitch to be a premiere pass rusher but they can't argue with his college experience and production. Lawrence is a smart football player and rarely gets fooled which makes up for his pedestrian measurables. The seven forced fumbles indicate he plays to the whistle trying to make a play. Draft projection: Round 2.

 Jackson: Combine highlights


7. Quentin Groves, Auburn

Height: 6-3   Weight: 259
College stats: 22 starts, 119 tackles, 44 tackles for a loss, 26 sacks, 8 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.57 40-yard dash, 4.42 short shuttle

Groves recently had heart surgery to repair a rapid heart beat. Teams have told me that will not downgrade him with the draft only days away. His weight will fluctuate; he was 10 pounds less (249) at his pro day than he was at the combine. He probably is a better fit for the 3-4 teams than the 4-3 teams. He should start out his career as a situational pass rusher. One personnel director told me he was concerned with his inconsistent effort but he makes a lot of plays. 70 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 22 starts are more than three per game! Draft projection: Rounds 1-2.

 Groves: Combine highlights


8. Kendall Langford, Hampton

Height: 6-6   Weight: 287
College stats: 38 starts, 236 tackles, 56 tackles for a loss, 24.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.95 40-yard dash, 4.69 short shuttle

I got a chance to talk with Langford just before I finished this report, and he has five team visits and is getting interest from 3-4 and 4-3 teams. He has rare size and was capable of taking me through his two-gap techniques as well as his multiple pass-rush skills. He found his way to Hampton because of his grades coming out of high school but was recruited by Virginia and Virginia Tech. He dominated the level of competition he played at and told me he needs to work on his technique at the next level. He is rising up draft boards and is worth the risk. 80.5 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 38 starts. Draft projection: Round 3.

 Langford: Combine highlights


9. Jason Jones, Eastern Michigan

Height: 6-5   Weight: 273
College stats: 36 starts, 174 tackles, 50 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.78 40-yard dash, 4.32 short shuttle

I watched Jones struggle at the beginning of Senior Bowl week and rally back later in the week for some better work. I have had two good conversations with him and he has a good football mentality. I asked him what he thought was his best college game to watch on tape and he directed me to the Michigan game. He played well in the in-state game. It appears the 3-4 teams looking for a '5 technique' defensive end with the ability to two gap and occasionally turn it loose on a slant have shown the most interest. 64 plays behind the line of scrimmage are under two per game. Draft projection: Round 3.

 Langford: Combine highlights


10. Jeremy Thompson, Wake Forest

Height: 6-4   Weight: 264
College stats: 32 starts, 112 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.75 40-yard dash, 4.23 short shuttle

Thompson passes the eye ball test, but the tapes indicate he doesn't always play up to his potential. 29 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 32 starts are just over one per game. Draft projection: Round 4.

 Thompson: Combine highlights


11. Chris Ellis, Virginia Tech

Height: 6-4   Weight: 263
College stats: 35 starts, 165 tackles, 36 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, 6 forced fumbles
Vital numbers: 4.75 40-yard dash, 4.23 short shuttle

Ellis is a high motor player who gets the job done with effort. In the NFL, guys such as this can be neutralized if they don't develop technique. Ellis could struggle to disengage from NFL blocking to make plays. He will be at his best in a stunting front which puts him in motion from the snap of the ball. He has some off the field incidents in his past that may cause teams to pass on him until late in the draft. His 4.7 speed could put him on every special team until he develops. 58 plays behind the line of scrimmage in 35 starts is less than two per start. Draft projection: Round 5.

 Ellis: Combine highlights

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