Pay attention Bucs fans, this is literally the part of the big board that pertains directly to you. The Bucs needs a defensive end or a pass-rush specialist badly, last year the secondary bailed the Bucs out of a lot of passing situations. This year (especially with Taqib Alib in legal trouble) the Bucs will need to actually generate a pass-rush. It wouldn’t hurt if the end in question could also help against the run too. Last season the Buccaneers were bottom five in sacks and run defense, both need to improve for a playoff run to happen in 2011.
Fortunately this is a great class for defensive ends, there are between six-to-eight players that could find themselves being picked within the first round. Not all of them project to be 4-3 ends, some project to be outside linebackers, but there is certainly plenty of talent to pick from in this class.
Here are the Defensive Ends in the 2011 NFL Draft:
1.) Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson - A lot of people are down on Da’Quan Bowers because he’s been nicked up recently, that may actually work to the Buccaneers’ advantage. Bowers could potentially fall from the top of the first into the 20’s, that’s a prospect the Bucs would jump at. Bowers has all the physical tools to be a solid pass-rusher, the one knock on his pass-rushing is he needs to improve his first step. Beyond that though there’s not much to change, Bowers has elite upper-body strength and good leverage to abuse college tackles. Is already well-equipped to be a run-stopper on the strong side. Does need to improve some fundamental issues here and there but he has become a student of the game. In the past year after losing his father and mentor (Gaines Adams), Bowers has dropped 20 pounds and recommitted himself to football. All the marks against him during the draft process are also fuel for that fire. This kid is going to be very good.
2.) Cameron Jordan, Cal - Jordan is better as a run-defender than a pass-rusher. He’s probably not what the Bucs are looking for at defensive end as he’s never going to apply a ton of pressure on his own. He could be quite good when paired with another capable end, but he’s hardly a cure-all for an ailing pass rush. Truly more of a 3-4 defensive end than a 4-3 rush-end. Has only moderate quickness but relies on very impressive strength and comes off the line low, capable of being very disruptive. High character, high effort player with NFL bloodlines. Father was a pro-bowl tight end for the Vikings. Very durable played in 50 of 51 games at Cal.
3.) Robert Quinn, UNC - Robert Quinn truly does get by on sheer athleticism, something that makes him very enticing as a prospect. Quinn is inconsistent off the snap and is often amongst the last players off the line, aside from a rip move and jab-step, he shows very little in the way of pass-rushing technique. And yet he is still dominant off the edge. He has great speed and quickness with an impressive burst and some good, but not great strength. With some coaching he could develop into an exceptional pass-rusher. He could either work on technique and add some size and strength to stay at defensive end, or a lot of teams like him at 3-4 OLB. He will not be on the board by the time the Buccaneers pick, should be gone in the top ten.
4.) Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue - Kerrigan is high-character guy. The undisputed leader and captain of the Purdue defense, he was nicknamed Superman by his teammates for his max effort and tireless work ethic. Kerrigan may not be as physically gifted as some of the other guys on this list but he works a lot harder and will ultimately find success because of it. He’s not an elite athlete and is a bit stiff in the hips, not the type of player whose going to get the corner on NFL tackles consistently, but plays intelligently and will still manage to be productive on either side of the line. Very assignment-oriented, may not always be the guy that makes the play against the run but will always be where he needs to be. Almost always wins the battles he’s supposed to (against tight ends, backs, etc…)
5.) J.J. Watt, Wisonconsin - Watt transferred to Wisconsin from Central Michigan, changed positions on the fly and became a starter. He’s got a lot of impressive tools, including good quickness, nimble feet, above-average agility and good strength. He’s a very solid pass-rusher and he can be effective against the run as well. Ideally would be best served to add a little bit of weight and perfect his technique. Has a tendency to get turned sideways and pushed back on double teams and plays a bit high from time to time. High-character player won the Ronnie Lott IMPACT award as a senior, very involved in community service. Has already set up a foundation to help schools fund athletic programs.
Best of the Rest:
6.) Allen Bailey, Miami (FL) – Impressive physical specimen that needs to perfect his game. Changed positions from linebacker to end in college, high character, team-first guy.
7.) Aldon Smith, Missouri - Very talented player with massive potential but just two years experience at the college level. Tough kid, played through broken ankle in 2010.
8.) Adrian Clayborn, Iowa - Clayborn is touted by Iowa coaches as being a true leader and high-character guy, but he also has had run-ins with the law in his past as well. Very talented player with first-round ability. Could slide because of loaded class at defensive end.
9.) Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh – Sheard plays a lot stronger than he looks on paper, solid pass-rusher who is above-average against the run. Has character concerns stemming from July 2010 fight where he threw a man through a plate-glass window.
10.) Cameron Heyward, Ohio State - Not a true outside pass-rusher, still manages to apply good pressure from all over the field. High character guy with great work ethic.