2015 draft: 11 edge rushers in demand despite mixed production

With the way NFL offenses sling the ball around every week, defenses must have guys who can get to the opposing passer. The value placed on edge rushers is clear based on recent drafts. Three edge rushers have gone in the top 10 in each of the past two drafts, and 32 defensive ends and outside linebackers have gone in the first round in the past five drafts.


» Jeremiah: Fowler Jr. safest pick among edge rushers in 2015 draft


The demand for edge rushers is such that teams are often willing to overlook subpar college production and gamble on potential in drafts.

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Four edge rushers could go in the top dozen or so picks this year -- Clemson's Vic Beasley, Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska's Randy Gregory and Missouri's Shane Ray. And it's not a stretch to think six could go in the first round; there have been six first-round edge rushers in each of the past two drafts, and eight went in the first round in 2011.

Here's a look at the top 11 edge rushers in this draft -- they're listed alphabetically -- and if recent drafts are any indication, expect them to be taken within the first two rounds: In the past five drafts, the first 10 edge rushers have been off the board, on average, by the 53rd overall pick.

We'll also take a look at the first 10 edge rushers taken in the each of the past five drafts. Remember that we are considering all defensive ends as "edge rushers;" obviously, there are some defensive ends who fit best in a 3-4 and aren't necessarily known for their pass-rush skills.

This year's crop

Vic Beasley, Clemson
Measurements: 6-foot-3, 246 pounds
College production: 33 sacks, 52.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
Skinny: Beasley's combine weigh-in was a pleasant surprise -- he was listed at 235 during the season -- and NFL Media analyst Gil Brandt expects Beasley to go in the top 10 and says he could be the first pass rusher taken. Beasley will have to move from end to outside linebacker, and his ability to drop into coverage is a question. There also are some worries about his effectiveness against the run.

Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky
Measurements: 6-4, 269
College production: 23.5 sacks, 37 tackles for loss
Skinny: Dupree unquestionably is a great athlete, but he is somewhat raw. He was inconsistent at UK and has had his instincts questioned.

Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
Measurements: 6-2 5/8, 261
College production: 14.5 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss in three seasons
Skinny: Fowler was used in a variety of roles by Florida coaches, lining up all over the place. But he had just one season of high productivity and left after his junior season. Still, NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah said Fowler is the "safest" pick among the edge rushers.

Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Measurements: 6-4 7/8, 235
College production: 17.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss in two seasons
Skinny: Gregory is a high-level athlete who can get to the passer. His lack of weight and bulk is bothersome to some, and NFL Media analyst Mike Mayock said he thinks Gregory will need to add about 20 pounds to fulfill his potential.

Eli Harold, Virginia
Measurements: 6-3 1/8, 247
College production: 17.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss in three seasons
Skinny: While he can become better-rounded, he is extremely athletic. "He is an ideal fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker," Jeremiah says.

Danielle Hunter, LSU
Measurements: 6-5 1/8, 252.
College production: 4.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss in three seasons
Skinny: Hunter is a big-time athlete, but the production -- or lack thereof -- is noteworthy. Still, he could go in the second round because of his upside. "You're not buying him for what he is now; you're buying him for what he can be in the future," Jeremiah said last week on the NFL Network's "Path to the Draft."

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Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
Measurements: 6-2 3/8, 253
College production: 36 sacks, 51.5 tackles for loss
Skinny: He was a productive collegian, but also has a long injury history and isn't near as athletic as most of the other top edge rushers. His pro-day workout April 2 is going to be important. "He's the most accomplished pure pass rusher in the 2015 draft, but there are some questions about his athletic ability. Is his outstanding production a result of effort or does he have the athleticism to do it at the next level?" NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein asks.

Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
Measurements: 6-3 5/8, 259
College production: 20.5 sacks, 32 tackles for loss
Skinny: Mauldin battled injury issues as a senior, but is physical and has played defensive end in a 4-3 and outside linebacker in a 3-4. "He works his butt off and he wants to be great," an NFC North scout said. "I'm cheering hard for this kid, and I'll bang the table for him when the time is right."

Owa Odighizuwa, UCLA
Measurements: 6-3 1/2, 267.
College production: 12.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss in four seasons.
Skinny: He was a national top-20 prospect out of high school in Portland, Ore., but while he was a steady performer who flashed at times at UCLA, he never truly lived up to that billing. He has had some injury issues and missed the 2013 season. Mayock has called him "a freaky athlete" and says he believes Odighizuwa can be a base end in a 4-3.

Nate Orchard, Utah
Measurements: 6-3 1/4, 250
College production: 25 sacks, 39.5 tackles for loss
Skinny: He certainly can get to the passer, though his toughness and work against the run worry some observers. "Orchard wins with quickness and effort over skill and counter moves," Zierlein wrote. "He also struggles against the run. Teams will be banking on his athleticism and huge upside, although he could wind up as a situational pass rusher."

Shane Ray, Missouri
Measurements: 6-2 5/8, 245
College production: 19 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in three seasons
Skinny: As with a lot of highly productive college ends, Ray is going to have to make the move to linebacker at the next level. Can he play in space? "Ray exhibits exceptional first-step quickness and overwhelms opponents with his non-stop motor, routinely notching sacks on extra-effort plays," NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks wrote. "Despite his success, scouts question whether he is athletic enough to play OLB in a 3-4 -- and the uncertainty could see his stock plummet, with so many teams utilizing that scheme."

2014 class


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DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Draft status: 1st overall pick, by Houston
Draft measurements: 6-5, 266
College production: 24 sacks, 47 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: An injury robbed him of all but four games as a rookie. He is attempting to come back from microfracture surgery, and there's some doubt whether he will be able to regain his form.

OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
Draft status: 5th overall pick, by Oakland
Draft measurements: 6-3, 251
College production: 28.5 sacks, 75 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He gives Oakland a nice defensive building block and should be an important player for the Raiders for a while. Mack had four sacks as a rookie, and that total should increase in 2015.

OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
Draft status: 9th overall pick, by Minnesota
Draft measurements: 6-5, 255
College production: 23.5 sack, 41.5 tackles for loss in two seasons (spent first two seasons on offense)
In the NFL: He had a solid rookie season, finishing with 70 tackles and four sacks. He has a big upside and is in line for a breakout season this fall.

OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Draft status: 15th overall pick, by Pittsburgh
Draft measurements: 6-1, 237
College production: 14 sacks, 44.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Shazier is expected to be a fulltime starter on the inside for the Steelers. He was a big-play machine in his final two seasons at Ohio State, and his athleticism remains impressive.

DE Dee Ford, Auburn
Draft status: 23rd overall pick, by Kansas City
Draft measurements: 6-2, 252
College production: 20.5 sacks, 27.5 tackles for loss in five seasons (had 1 sack and 2 TFL in 2011 before missing final 10 games with an injury; he eventually was redshirted that season)
In the NFL: Ford had one big season at Auburn and parlayed that into a first-round selection. He is trying to make the move from end to outside linebacker, and saw scant time (122 snaps) in 2014. But he did have two sacks, and if Justin Houston leaves, the pressure will be on Ford to produce in 2015.

OLB Marcus Smith, Louisville
Draft status: 26th overall pick, by Philadelphia
Draft measurements: 6-3, 251
College production: 24 sacks, 32 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: He was inactive for all 16 games in 2014. That's not good.

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DE Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
Draft status: 34th overall pick, by Dallas
Draft measurements: 6-3, 251
College production: 20 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in two seasons
In the NFL: He didn't do much as a rookie (nine tackles in seven games), but should be expected to play a big role in 2015.

OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Draft status: 40th overall pick, by Detroit
Draft measurements: 6-3, 243
College production: 26 sacks, 62 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He saw scant time in 2014, playing in eight games and making six tackles. He should get more opportunities in 2014.

OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford
Draft status: 47th overall pick, by Washington
Draft measurements: 6-5, 250
College production: 32.5 sacks, 52.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Murphy lacks athleticism, but he is a big, physical guy who was good against the run as a rookie. The Redskins hope he can add a bit of a pass rush.

OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
Draft status: 50th overall pick, by San Diego
Draft measurements: 6-3, 252
College production: 31.5 sacks, 43.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: As with Van Noy, Attaochu saw scant time in 2014 and had two sacks. He also should get more opportunities this fall.

2013 class


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DE Dion Jordan, Oregon
Draft status: 3rd overall pick, by Miami
Draft measurements: 6-6, 248
College production: 14.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in four seasons.
In the NFL: A lot of folks were shocked when he went third overall, and going by his first two seasons, those detractors were right. Jordan has three sacks in two seasons and served a four-game suspension in 2014 for substance abuse.

DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU
Draft status: 5th overall pick, by Detroit
Draft measurements: 6-5, 271
College production: 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Ansah was as raw as they come when he left BYU. He had never played football until he was at BYU, but is a top-flight athlete. He remains raw but has 15.5 sacks in two seasons and showed well vs. the run in 2014. His upside remains enormous.

OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Draft status: 6th overall pick, by Cleveland
Draft measurements: 6-4, 241
College production: 15 sacks, 29 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Seven sacks in two seasons -- we're pretty sure the Browns expected more. Mingo is an example of an edge rusher whose upside led to him being selected too early. This fall is important for his future.

OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Draft status: 17th overall pick, by Pittsburgh
Draft measurements: 6-2, 245
College production: 28 sacks, 45.5 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: He was dominant in his two seasons at Georgia after transferring from USC, but he has struggled with the Steelers, with just three sacks in two seasons. Is he a full-fledged bust or still learning his way?

DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Draft status: 24th overall pick, by Indianapolis
Draft measurements: 6-3, 266
College production: 23.5 sacks, 35 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: He has struggled making the move to outside linebacker and is not assured of a starting role in 2015; he has 6.5 sacks in two seasons.

DE Datone Jones, UCLA
Draft status: 26th overall pick, by Green Bay
Draft measurements: 6-4, 283
College production: 12.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He has five sacks in two seasons and needs to show more against the run, too.

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DE Cornellius Carradine, Florida State
Draft status: 40th overall pick, by San Francisco
Draft measurements: 6-4, 276
College production: 16.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss in two seasons
In the NFL: The guy known as "Tank" has played in nine NFL games, with three sacks (two of them came vs. Seattle late in the 2014 season). The 2015 season probably will be a make-or-break one for him with the 49ers.

OLB Jamie Collins, Southern Miss
Draft status: 52nd overall pick, by New England
Draft measurements: 6-3, 250
College production: 21 sacks, 45 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Collins wasn't necessarily a sack guy at Southern Miss, but he was productive. That has carried over to the NFL, where he is one of the best young linebackers in the league.

DE Margus Hunt, SMU
Draft status: 53rd overall pick, by Cincinnati
Draft measurements: 6-8, 277
College production: 16.5 sacks, 28 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Hunt, a native of Estonia, arrived at SMU as a track athlete. He is athletic but remains raw and definitely is unproven. How much more time is he going to get to prove himself?

OLB Sio Moore, Connecticut
Draft status: 66th overall pick, by Oakland
Draft measurements: 6-1, 245
College production: 16 sacks, 44 tackles for loss
In the NFL: UConn has put out some good linebackers in the past decade, and Moore is one of them. He is a solid pro known more for his work against the run than his abilities as a pass rusher (7.5 sacks in two seasons).

2012 class

DE Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Draft status: 15th overall pick, by Seattle
Draft measurements: 6-3, 245
College production: 22.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss in two seasons
In the NFL: He has 16.5 sacks in three seasons as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 set. For a guy who never really did anything but rush the passer at WVU, he has adjusted nicely and become a key cog for perhaps the league's best defense. You also wonder what he could do as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.

DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Draft status: 16th overall pick, by New York Jets
Draft measurements: 6-6, 284
College production: 24 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Coples has 16.5 sacks in three seasons, and it appears he'll never be anything more than adequate.

DE Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
Draft status: 18th overall pick, by San Diego
Draft measurements: 6-1, 264
College production: 21.5 sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Injuries have been an issue, and he has just six sacks in three seasons as an outside linebacker.

DE Shea McClellin, Boise State
Draft status: 19th overall pick, by Chicago
Draft measurements: 6-3, 260
College production: 20.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: One reason the Bears desperately need to add a pass rusher in the draft is that McClellin -- who plays outside linebacker -- has just 7.5 career sacks. He is good against the run, though.

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DE Chandler Jones, Syracuse
Draft status: 21st overall pick, by New England
Draft measurements: 6-5, 247
College production: 10 sacks, 27 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: He wasn't a big sack producer at Syracuse, and actually has been a better pass rusher with the Pats (23.5 sacks in three seasons).

DE Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
Draft status: 26th overall pick, by Houston
Draft measurements: 6-3, 261
College production: 18 sacks, 29 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Mercilus had 16 of his sacks in one college season, and he has not lived up to first-round billing with the Texans, with 18 sacks in three seasons. But he was steadier in 2014 than in either of his first two seasons.

DE Nick Perry, USC
Draft status: 28th overall pick, by Green Bay
Draft measurements: 6-3, 271
College production: 21.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Perry, who is an outside linebacker for Green Bay, has nine sacks in three seasons.

OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Draft status: 35th overall pick, by Baltimore
Draft measurements: 6-2, 272
College production: 17.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He has been adequate, nothing more. He has three NFL sacks but provides a big body vs. the run.

DE Andre Branch, Clemson
Draft status: 38th overall pick, by Jacksonville
Draft measurements: 6-4, 259
College production: 17.5 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He has 10 sacks in three NFL seasons and has the look of a backup.

OLB Zach Brown, North Carolina
Draft status: 52nd overall pick, by Tennessee
Draft measurements: 6-1, 244
College production: 5.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Brown had a great senior season. He started in his first two seasons with the Titans, then missed all but one game in 2014 with a torn pectoral muscle. He now is an inside linebacker.

2011 class

OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
Draft status: 2nd overall pick, by Denver
Draft measurements: 6-3, 246
College production: 33 sacks, 50.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He is one of the NFL's best pass rushers and has lived up to the draft hype. He has 49 sacks in his four seasons, including two seasons of at least 14.

OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri
Draft status: 7th overall pick, by San Francisco
Draft measurements: 6-4, 263
College production: 14.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss in two seasons
In the NFL: He was great as a second-year pro in 2012 (19.5 sacks), but injuries and a suspension have greatly curtailed his production the past two seasons. Can he regain his form?

DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Draft status: 11th overall pick, by Houston
Draft measurements: 6-5, 290
College production: 11.5 sacks, 36.5 tackles for loss in 3 seasons
In the NFL: You can make a strong case than he is the best defensive player in football and even the best player. Watt has a high-revving motor and has had 20.5 sacks twice in the past three seasons.

DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Draft status: 14th overall pick, by St. Louis
Draft measurements: 6-4, 265
College production: 13 sacks, 25.5 tackles for loss in two seasons
In the NFL: Quinn has 45 sacks in four seasons, highlighted by a monster campaign in 2013 when he had 19.

OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Draft status: 16th overall pick, by Washington
Draft measurements: 6-4, 267
College production: 33.5 sacks, 57 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He steadily has improved each season and is coming off a campaign in which he had 13.5 sacks. The Redskins have some issues, to be sure, but Kerrigan is one of their best players.

DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Draft status: 20th overall pick, by Tampa Bay
Draft measurements: 6-3, 281
College production: 19 sacks, 37.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Clayborn, who had more than 3.5 sacks just once in his four seasons at Iowa, has had an injury-plagued NFL career. And even when he has been healthy, he has been adequate, nothing more.

DE Cameron Jordan, California
Draft status: 24th overall pick, by New Orleans
Draft measurements: 6-4, 287
College production: 16.5 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He has 28 sacks in the past three seasons. He played at a high level in 2013 (12.5 sacks) but slipped a bit in 2014.

DE Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Draft status: 31st overall pick, by Pittsburgh
Draft measurements: 6-5, 294
College production: 15.5 sacks, 37.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Heyward wasn't drafted for his pass-rush skills, though he does have 12.5 of them in the past two seasons. He's a big guy who sets the edge and appears to be truly coming into his own as a big-time end in a 3-4 defense.

DE Jabaal Sheard, Pitt, by Cleveland
Draft status: 37th overall pick, by Cleveland
Draft measurements: 6-3, 264
College production: 19.5 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Sheard is a free agent who has 23 career sacks, but his sacks total has declined in each of the past three seasons (from 8.5 to 7 to 5.5 to 2).

OLB Akeem Ayers, UCLA
Draft status: 39th overall pick, by Tennessee
Draft measurements: 6-2, 254
College production: 14 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Now with New England, Ayers has career 13 sacks.

2010 class


DE Brandon Graham, Michigan
Draft status: 13th overall pick, by Philadelphia
Draft measurements: 6-1, 268
College production: 29.5 sacks, 56 tackles for loss in 4 seasons
In the NFL: He has started just 13 games in his career, but has flashed some pass-rush ability. Still, the 13th overall pick should have more than 17 sacks in six seasons.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul, USF
Draft status: 15th overall pick, by New York Giants
Draft measurements: 6-5, 270.
College production: 6.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss in 1 season
In the NFL: Pierre-Paul was a JC transfer who oozed athleticism and left USF after one season. He recently re-signed with the Giants, for whom he has 42 sacks - - 29 of them coming in two seasons (2011 and '14).

DE Derrick Morgan, Georgia Tech
Draft status: 16th overall pick, by Tennessee
Draft measurements: 6-3, 266
College production: 19.5 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: He hasn't provided the sack totals expected of him (23 in his career) but has started in each of the past four seasons at outside linebacker and is a steady presence.

OLB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri
Draft status: 19th overall pick, by Atlanta
Draft measurements: 6-1, 239
College production: 12 sacks, 44 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Weatherspoon was an all-over-the-field guy for Mizzou and wasn't considered a great pass rusher. Injuries have curtailed his NFL career (he didn't play at all in 2014), but he will get some free-agent looks this month.

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DE Jerry Hughes, TCU
Draft status: 31st overall pick, by Indianapolis
Draft measurements: 6-2, 255
College production: 28.5 sacks, 40.5 tackles for loss
In the NFL: Hughes would've been a coveted free agent this year because of his pass-rush ability; he re-signed with Buffalo. It took a while for him to adjust to the NFL, but he has 20 sacks combined in the past two seasons.

DE Koa Misi, Utah
Draft status: 40th overall pick, by Miami
Draft measurements: 6-3, 251
College production: 10.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Misi wasn't a sack guy in college and hasn't been one in the NFL. He still has been a steady performer for the Dolphins.

DE Sergio Kindle, Texas
Draft status: 43rd overall pick, by Baltimore
Draft measurements: 6-3, 250
College production: 16.5 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: Kindle was a big-time recruit who didn't live up to the hype at Texas. He didn't come close to living up to his second-round billing in the NFL: He played in three games in two seasons and played in his final game in 2012.

OLB Jason Worilds, Virginia Tech
Draft status: 52nd overall pick, by Pittsburgh
Draft measurements: 6-1, 254
College production: 15 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in three seasons
In the NFL: Worilds is a free agent who will garner interest because he has 15.5 sacks in the past two seasons. He has 25.5 sacks in his career.

DE Jermaine Cunningham, Florida
Draft status: 53rd overall pick, by New England
Draft measurements: 6-3, 266
College production: 18.5 sacks, 33 tackles for loss in four seasons
In the NFL: He now is with the New York Jets but has played in just two games total in the past two seasons. He has 3.5 career sacks.

DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Draft status: 54th overall pick, by Cincinnati
Draft measurements: 6-6, 277
College production: 19.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss in 3 seasons
In the NFL: Dunlap has been a solid performer for the Bengals, with 35.5 career sacks.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.