Ranking the NFL Draft's defensive end prospects


UT's Ayers flying up draft boards (Scout.com)

As the 2009 NFL Draft approaches, we here at Buffalo Rumblings will continue interviewing bloggers and consulting outside sources in putting together detailed scouting reports on some of the Draft's most noteworthy prospects - concentrating, of course, on prospects that could pique the interest of the Buffalo Bills. This post continues a series in which I'll rank prospects at each position; ultimately, this project will roll itself into the "Buffalo Rumblings Big Board", which is exactly what it sounds like - the same type of big board NFL teams keep handy on draft day.

We've already ranked the tight ends, linebackers and interior offensive linemen. Full rankings of those positions, as well as all positions, will be made available prior to the draft, which is just under three short weeks away. What follows is a ranking of the draft's best defensive end prospects - an area that is still a huge concern for the Bills.

FIRST ROUND PROSPECTS
1.  Aaron Maybin, Penn State:
Lightning quick, very productive and highly controversial are the three best ways to describe Maybin.  A polarizing figure because of his inexperience, his size and the amount of polish he'll need to become an every-down NFL starter, Maybin has by far the most potential of any pass rusher available this year.  Whether that potential will be enough for the Bills to consider drafting him, however, remains to be seen.

2.  Everette Brown, Florida State: Nearly as quick as Maybin and a bit more experienced and productive, Brown is equally polarizing as he's not yet considered an every-down 4-3 end prospect.  He does, however, also have elite potential as a pass rusher.  Like Maybin, 3-4 teams will be looking at Brown as a potential OLB prospect, which may not even make him available to the Bills at No. 11 overall.

3.  Brian Orakpo, Texas: His name has cooled of late, but Orakpo still remains an athletic marvel with top pass-rushing skills.  He's dealing with an "underachiever" label, however, as he was relatively run-of-the-mill through his first three years at Texas.  This is another guy who many consider to be a better 3-4 prospect right now than a 4-3 end.

SECOND ROUND PROSPECTS
4.  Larry English, Northern Illinois:
Hey, look!  Another productive speed rusher that 3-4 teams will covet!  Unlike our first-round prospects, however, English has a lot more experience defending the run in a 4-3, but comes with less athleticism and a lower ceiling.  English is going to be a very good pro, but again, is he ready to contribute on early downs if he goes to a 4-3 team?

5.  Robert Ayers, Tennessee: Ayers is flying up draft boards for one reason: he's big, experienced, and the best every-down 4-3 end available this year.  That fact alone has driven his stock up to the point where he very well might be Buffalo's - as well as many other 4-3 teams' - top consideration at the position this year.  Don't label Ayers as lacking talent, though - he may not have the athleticism of the top speed rushers this year, but he's quick off the edge and can get after the passer.  He's just not going to be a perennial league leading sack artist.

6.  Connor Barwin, Cincinnati: The tight end-turned-defensive end has also climbed up draft boards to the point where he'll be a first-round consideration.  He's another speed rusher that's not ready to contribute on every down in a 4-3, but he's a hard-working player with great intangibles - which will make him appealing to the majority of NFL franchises.  He's an outstanding athlete that will also contribute immediately on special teams.

7.  Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech: Of the many "boom or bust" prospects available at DE this year, Johnson has both the biggest boom potential as well as the biggest bust potential.  Easily the most outstanding athlete of the group, Johnson had a rather mediocre college career.  Questions remain about his love for the game and whether he can turn it on in the pros.  It's going to take the right situation for Johnson to realize all of his vast potential.  Buffalo may not be that situation.

Four more names to chew on after the jump.

THIRD ROUND PROSPECTS
8.  Lawrence Sidbury Jr., Richmond:
He's going to fall into the "speed rusher" category right out of the gate, but unlike some of his bigger-name peers, Sidbury has the size to eventually develop into a top-flight every down end for a 4-3 team.  He's raw and is making a serious talent jump from tiny Richmond, and it might not be wise to expect much production-wise from Sidbury as a rookie.  But again, there's a large amount of potential here.

FOURTH ROUND PROSPECTS
9.  Cody Brown, Connecticut:
He's small, fast and wonderfully athletic in his lower body - which means that a 3-4 team will roll the dice on him much earlier than the fourth round.  At 244 pounds, Brown is another guy who would contribute only in specific situations as a rookie.  (Getting a theme here, folks?)  But his speed off the edge is outstanding, and he'd be fun to watch in a Tampa 2 scheme as a pass rush specialist.

10.  Phillip Hunt, Houston: Speed rusher.  Good off the edge, low center of gravity, has a good amount of potential.  Just like 90% of the ends available this year - except he wouldn't cost an arm and a leg pick-wise.

11.  Paul Kruger, Utah: Eleven names in, Kruger is the second end on this list that might resemble an every-down player right out of the gate.  He'll likely go before the fourth round because of it.  Kruger ranks low here because he's entering the NFL as a 24-year-old rookie; add in his marginal pass rushing skills and his uncanny resemblance to the current ends on Buffalo's roster, and he's not exactly an enticing prospect (to fans, anyway).  Buffalo needs to complement, not duplicate.

***

This is just my opinion, folks. These are the top eleven defensive ends in the draft by my book, but an alarmingly small number of them can be considered something more than situational players as rookies.  Whether we like it or not, the Bills aren't likely to look for a situational player in the first three rounds - and they're not likely to draft more than one end this year.

If you think I've made a grievous error in these rankings, let me know. If you think I've got some sort of hidden agenda, I'd love to hear about it. If you're itching to re-shuffle my rankings, let it rip. Consider this an open forum on 2009 NFL Draft defensive end prospects. Go.

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