NFL Draft: Breaking Down the Top Defensive Line Prospects

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South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7). Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports



1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: 6-6, 266 (4.53)

Clowney is the unanimous top prospect in this year’s draft, but this does not mean it’s a guarantee he’ll land in Houston with the first overall pick.

It may be a case of draft over-analysis, but some question if Clowney is the same spectacular player he demonstrated during his 2012 season at South Carolina (13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss).

Clowney still flashed brilliance in 2013, but his production on the field and overall effort fell short of his 2012 effort, only recording three sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.

Clowney still has all of the tools to be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL, but it remains to be seen if he’ll put it altogether and make the most of his elite abilities.

(Draft Projection: Top-5)


Pittsburgh Panthers defensive lineman Aaron Donald (97). Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh: 6-1, 285 (4.68)

Donald was the most dominant defensive lineman in college football last year, and there hasn’t been a more impressive player during the pre-draft evaluation process.

However, because he lacks ideal size for the position, Donald continues to be one of the more underrated prospects in this year’s draft.

On film, Donald stands out as a three-technique defensive tackle with a quick burst to shoot the gap and disrupt the backfield. This also enables him to split double teams and get after the quarterback.

He also possesses incredible strength for his size. He can hold the point of attack and stonewall linemen against the run.

Donald is an ideal fit as a three-technique tackle in a 4-3 defense, much in the mold of Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins. However, Donald is a good enough athlete where could play as a five-technique end if a 3-4 team like the Packers drafts him.

(Draft Projection: First Round)


Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Louis Nix III (9) fights off a block by Alabama Crimson Tide offensive linesman Anthony Steen (61). Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

3. Louis Nix III, NT, Notre Dame: 6-2, 331 (5.42)

Nix is the top nose tackle prospect in the draft and one of the better interior defensive lineman coming out of college.

Nix’s college stats do not tell the whole story. Nix is a hold-the-point, run-stuffing nose tackle who can anchor the middle of the defensive line.

He does a lot of the dirty work and keeps the linebackers clean against the run.

Nix’s game will hold a lot of value for 3-4 teams in the draft. There is a good chance he’ll be gone by the time the Packers pick with the 21st overall pick, but if he falls, then maybe Green Bay considers the former Notre Dame prospect as Raji’s future with the team remains unclear in beyond the 2014 season.

(Draft Projection: First Round)


Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Kony Ealy (47). Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

4. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri: 6-4, 273 (4.92)

Ealy is a dynamic pass rusher who’s game still needs polish.

The Missouri prospect possesses a high motor, which paired with his athleticism, allows him to disengage with blockers and get after the quarterback.

Ealy only started one season at Missouri, so he will still need time to develop and grow as a defensive end in the NFL.

However, Ealy offers tremendous upside and could be a real steal at the end of the first round for a team looking to add another athletic pass rusher.

(Draft Projection: First Round)


Florida State Seminoles defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (8). Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

5. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State: 6-2, 299 (5.06)

Jernigan is a three-technique defensive tackle who excels at penetrating and disrupting as an interior rusher.

Jernigan is great at using his hands and quick first step to beat blocks and make plays in the backfield.

Jernigan may lack the ideal length to play as a 3-4 end, but his ability to explode off the line and shed blockers would offer better value as either an undersized nose tackle or as an interior pass rusher in nickel packages.

Jernigan may be drafted high by a 4-3 team looking for a three-technique defensive tackle.

(Draft Projection: Rounds 1-2)

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