2019 NFL Draft Position Review: Defensive Ends

Charlie lays out an overview at the top players from each position for the 2019 NFL Draft. For further information, check out our in-depth analysis of 2019 NFL Draft Prospects by Position.

By Charlie Campbell.
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This page was last updated April 11, 2019. Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

Defensive End Class
Early-round talent: B-
Mid-round: B-
Late-round: C
Overall grade: C+

2019 prospects vs 2018
Bradley Chubb
Nick Bosa
Montez Sweat
Rashan Gary
Clelin Ferrell
Marcus Davenport
Brian Burns
Zach Allen
Breeland Speaks
Kemoko Turay
Tyquan Lewis
Jaylon Ferguson
Chad Thomas
Sam Hubbard
Jachai Polite
Rasheem Green

The 2018 NFL Draft was weak at defensive end, and comparing this year’s edge rushers to last year’s class makes that all the more glaring. If you were to merge the two classes together, Nick Bosa and Bradley Chubb are equal as prospects. Montez Sweat, Rashan Gary and Clelin Ferrell are better prospects than Marcus Davenport, but Davenport is better than Brian Burns and Zach Allen. Burns and Allen are better than 2018 second-round pick Breeland Speaks. Jaylon Ferguson would go behind Tyquan Lewis at the end of the second round and ahead of Chad Thomas in Round 3. Jachai Polite is only toward the end of this group because of off-the-field issues. If Polite were clean off the field, he would be between Bosa and Sweat.

Safest Pick: Nick Bosa, Ohio State
Previous Picks:
2018: Bradley Chubb
2017: Myles Garrett
2016: DeForest Buckner
2015: Dante Fowler
2014: Jadeveon Clowney
2013: Bjoern Werner

Looking back at the previous picks, I’m pretty strong. Chubb got off to an excellent start with a strong rookie year. Garrett is on his way to being one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and Buckner was phenomenal in 2018. Buckner is one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL. An injury robbed Fowler of his rookie season, but he started to emerge as a dangerous edge defender in his third year. He has upside to be even better over the next year or two. Clowney is a Pro Bowler who was dominant in 2016 and 2017. He has become one of the top defensive players in the NFL. Werner was drafted into a 3-4, and that was a terrible fit for him as he was a 4-3 defensive end. He was a huge bust, so I was way off on him, but the most of the others are panning out very well, with Fowler being okay but not good.

This was an easy choice because Bosa is a safe prospect to develop into a good NFL pro. For the next level, Bosa looks like a potential franchise edge rusher capable of producing double-digit sack seasons on an annual basis. He could be a player who goes to multiple Pro Bowls and is one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the NFL. Bosa is worthy of being a high first-round pick in any draft class. Team sources also feel that he is a safe pick.

Biggest Bust Potential: Jachai Polite, Florida
Previous Picks:
2018: Arden Key
2017: Takk McKinley
2016: Kevin Dodd
2015: Owa Odighizuwa
2014: Kareem Martin
2013: Barkevious Mingo

Overall, I have a good track record here. I loved Arden Key as a player, but his off-the-field issues made him a risky pick. Key had a decent rookie year, so he might end up being a solid pro. I could be wrong about Takk McKinley, who has been solid for Atlanta. I was right on Dodd, Odighizuwa and Mingo, who were busts for the teams that drafted them. Kareem Martin is not a good pro, but he has managed to stick in the league.

This pick is like Key last year in that I love Polite as a player and have been high on him throughout the draft process. I have even included Polite as a mainstay in the top 10 of my big board. However, Polite has major bust potential because of off-the-field issues. He quit on his team in 2017, quit on his workouts at his pro day and at the combine, and also has issues that could lead to suspensions in the NFL. As a player, Polite is a dynamic pass-rusher who is a natural quarterback hunter. His character issues, on the other hand, could cause him to bust in the NFL, and that is why he has slid from being a projected top-16 pick to the middle of the draft.

Defensive End Rankings by Attributes

Pass Rush:
NFL prototype: J.J. Watt, Texans
  1. Nick Bosa
  2. Montez Sweat
  3. Jachai Polite
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Clelin Ferrell
  6. Rashan Gary
  7. Jaylon Ferguson
  8. Zach Allen

Recap: The NFL is a passing-driven league, and coaches will tell you that an elite pass-rusher is the most important position on the defensive side of the ball. Unless a team has a defensive tackle like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, Bengals’ Geno Atkins or Buccaneers’ Gerald McCoy, it has to have edge-rushers who can consistently pressure the quarterback.

In the pass rush, Bosa is a beast. He has an excellent get-off and fires off the snap. Bosa is fast off the edge with the ability to quickly get leverage by using his speed to find an angle to the quarterback. Bosa supplies a lot of quick pressure from tackles struggling to keep him from getting upfield. Along with his quick feet, Bosa has the agility to cut back to the inside thanks to his athleticism to bend and get underneath blockers. Aside from his speed and athleticism, Bosa has excellent hands with functional strength to fight off blocks, along with a burst to close, plus puts quarterbacks down hard. Bosa has developed technique and obviously has been working at his craft for years with his older brother. That development extends to the weight room, where Bosa has made himself extremely strong for his size. The Bosa brothers are very similar with the relentless presence with speed, power and physicality as pass-rushers. Nick Bosa has a real nose for the quarterback with instincts and natural feel. He is a dynamic edge rusher for the next level.

Sweat is a dangerous pass-rusher who shows good instincts and natural feel off the edge. He has good play recognition and uses his instincts to get in the right position to affect the quarterback or disrupt plays. For a tall defender, Sweat has a nice ability to redirect, and he uses that to get after the quarterback or defend the perimeter. As a pure pass-rusher, Sweat is quick off the edge with the speed to turn the corner and run around offensive tackles. One of his most impressive traits is his active hands to fight off blocks while using his feet at the same time. Sweat has some functional strength that he uses to get off blocks and shows impressive hand placement to get under the pads of blockers or rip them away from him. Sweat’s excellent length helps him to do that and also makes it harder for offensive tackles to get into his chest. Once he gets free, Sweat has a burst to close on the quarterback. He also gives a second effort and will continue to fight if he is initially blocked. For taking on NFL offensive tackles, Sweat could use more pass-rushing moves. He should add a spin and rip move to go with his speed or power rushes.

As an edge defender, Polite has huge potential from excellent instincts and physical tools. He has the skill set to be an annual double-digit sack producer in the NFL if he commits himself to working hard and being the best he can be. As a pure pass-rusher, Polite is fast off the edge with an excellent first-step and the speed to turn the corner while darting by offensive tackles. On top of his ability to fire off the snap and flat out run by tackles, he has a second gear, displaying impressive closing speed to finish plays. Polite shows an inside counter move as well that makes it hard on tackles to commit to just trying to stop his speed rush around the corner. Polite has a the potential for a repertoire of moves, such as a spin move and an ability to dip under blockers. When he gets there, Polite is physical, putting quarterbacks and running backs down hard into the turf. Polite also has good instincts to go for the strip and good awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks.

Burns is very talented in the pass rush and could produce a lot of double-digit sack seasons in the NFL. Off the snap, he displays explosive first-step quickness. Burns is fast to turn the corner and can just flat run by offensive tackles with pure speed. Burns has a long frame but shows some nice ability to bend around the edge. He can dip underneath blockers and has a burst to close that makes it difficult for tackles to recover against. For the NFL, Burns could use more pass-rushing moves. Featuring more spins, cuts to the inside, and rip moves would help him when he takes on better competition who won’t just be beaten by a speed rush. As a junior, Burns flashed the potential for a repertoire of moves, and he just needs to continue to work on it for pro offensive tackles.

Ferrell is a balanced pass rusher. He has a nice first-step that he uses to get upfield. Ferrell uses his functional upper body strength to fight off blocks and has an impressive left arm rip move to shed left tackles and get underneath them. Once he’s free, Ferrell has the quickness to close on the quarterback.

As a pass-rusher, Gary has the potential to be a dangerous off the edge. He is surprisingly fast for a big defensive end and is able to bend and dip underneath blockers, displaying rare speed to close on the quarterback. Sometimes, Gary has a delayed reaction in getting started, but he has tremendous speed to dart by tackles and achieve penetration. He possesses a serious burst to get upfield and can eat up space in a hurry. Along with his speed, Gary has quality size to him and the strength to get off blocks. He has active hands and is able to use them at the same time as his feet. He does well using his speed to get upfield, chops the tackles’ hands off of him, and then bolts around the corner to pressure the quarterback. Gary needs to develop more pass-rushing moves for the NFL. It would be good to see him add more rip, club and swim moves. In a few years, Gary could be more productive than players higher than him on this list – if he plays up to his incredible skill set.

In the pass rush, Ferguson has some natural ability to get after the quarterback. He has a quick first-step and the speed to close when he gets free of blockers. With his length and some developed strength, Ferguson does a nice job of bull rushing tackles close to the quarterback before shedding them and grabbing the signal-caller. Ferguson also makes splash plays, showing a good habit to go for the strip when taking down the quarterback.

Allen is a physical defender with the pass rush. He has a powerful bull rush and consistently pushes offensive tackles into the pocket. Allen plays with good leverage to get underneath the pads of tackles and then put them on roller skates in their backpedals. Allen has heavy hands to shed blocks and break free when he gets upfield. With versatile size and some quickness, Allen has the ability to rush from the inside as well as come off the edge. He could use more pass-rushing moves for the NFL. With his size and strength, it would be nice to see him add a club or rip move. Allen may never be a double-digit sack producer in the NFL and could end up producing consistent sack totals five to eight sacks per year.

Run Defense:
NFL prototype: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans
  1. Zach Allen
  2. Rashan Gary
  3. Clelin Ferrell
  4. Nick Bosa
  5. Jaylon Ferguson
  6. Montez Sweat
  7. Brian Burns
  8. Jachai Polite

Recap: Defending the run isn’t as in demand as it used to be with NFL coaches, but they still watch it closely when evaluating prospects, and teams need some tough run defenders at the point of attack. This class features four good run defenders.

Allen is a real asset in run defense, and his huge tackle total of 100 stops in 2017 was no accident. Constantly, he put his team in good down-and-distance situations from making tackles near the line of scrimmage. Allen is very good at taking on blockers, tossing them to the side, and taking down running backs before they can get to the second level. He is a very tough run defender. With his thick frame, Allen is strong to hold his ground at the point of attack. He anchors very well and is tough to move. Allen is disciplined, intelligent, and shows good vision to get in position to make stops.

As a run defender, Gary is at his best when he uses his speed to get upfield and cause disruption, but he has a strong base to hold up at the point of attack. Gary is a very good pursuit defender, doing a nice job of flowing to the ball. He uses his speed to close and his agility and strength to peel off blocks. With some development, Gary could become a well-balanced defender who is effective in both phases.

Ferrell is a sound run defender. He has enough size and strength to hold his ground and not get blown off the ball. When runs come straight at him, Ferrell has shown some ability to hold his ground, shed the block, and get in on the tackles. He has nice recognition skills and flows to the ball when runs don’t come his direction. While Ferrell is not a dominant run defender, he is solid and contributes.

Bosa has the potential to be a good run defender. He possesses developed natural strength and can hold his ground on some plays. As a pro, it will be interesting to see how he handles the length and strength from pro offensive tackles with runs coming straight at him downhill. Bosa being shorter and lacking length could be issues for him. At times, the length issue led to Bosa getting covered up some in the ground game. He is good in pursuit and chases down backs outside of his gap. Improving his run defense is the biggest point of improvement for Bosa entering the NFL.

As a run defender, Ferguson has the strength and length to set the edge. He can hold his ground and disengage from blocks to get in on tackles. His straight-line speed shows up in pursuit. As a pro, his run defense would not be as good in a 3-4 defense as an outside linebacker because he would have to redirect more frequently. However, he showed serious improvement as a run defender from 2017 to 2018, with his tackle total improving from 39 to 64.

Sweat sets the edge against the run better than one would expect for a 241-pound edge defender. He uses his functional strength to stand up offensive linemen and does a nice job of stringing out perimeter runs to the sideline. Still, there can be times when Sweat’s lack of weight is noticeable, like when he gets knocked to the ground and pushed out of his gap. Thus, if he stays in a 4-3 defense in the NFL, he should add more weight to his frame to hold up as a base end or outside linebacker.

As a run defender, Burns is much better in pursuit when he can use his speed and athleticism to chase down tacklers. He is agile to work through trash and get to the ball-carriers. Burns has good vision with read-and-react skills to get in position to make plays. There is no doubt that he is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, Burns is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. He has gained some weight, but he needs to gain a lot more. Luckily for Burns, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However right now, Burns is a liability for run support entering the NFL.

Polite is just okay as a run defender. He will flash well sometimes, but there have been other times when he seemed not that interested and did not appear to go all out. Some team sources say that they put in Polite’s report that he doesn’t always want to play against the run. That meshes with the personality and work ethic he has displayed throughout the pre-draft process.

NFL prototype: J.J. Watt, Texans
  1. Zach Allen
  2. Nick Bosa
  3. Clelin Ferrell
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Jaylon Ferguson
  6. Montez Sweat
  7. Rashan Gary
  8. Jachai Polite

Recap: Prospects who show a lack of effort can get knocked quickly by coaches when they start evaluating players. Coaches have zero patience for players who dog it. Conversely, a great motor will help players who may be short on athletic ability. This draft class has a lot of good motors amongst the early-round prospects, and there isn’t a player in the group who I would say has a bad motor.

Allen demonstrated one of the best motors in college football over the last two years, displaying a relentless effort to make plays. Considering the extra blocking attention he saw, it was very impressive. Bosa also has a steady motor that never quits. On top of giving great effort, Bosa has an infectious energy, and his motor bleeds over to defenders around him. His motor should be a real asset for his pro defense.

Ferrell doesn’t quit on plays and always gives a real effort. Burns and Ferguson also give good effort. Sweat does not have a bad motor, but he doesn’t appear to go all out in run defense at times.

Gary had issues with consistency and production that teams are knocking him for in his draft grade. Polite has a good motor as a pass-rusher, but he seems to check out of some plays in run defense. Some team sources say that they put in their report that Polite doesn’t always want to play against the run. If Polite had a more relentless spirit to him, he would have generated more production for his team and probably would have had a lot more playing time as a sophomore and a freshman.

Forcing Fumbles:
NFL prototype: Ryan Kerrigan, Redskins
  1. Jachai Polite
  2. Jaylon Ferguson
  3. Brian Burns
  4. Clelin Ferrell
  5. Nick Bosa
  6. Montez Sweat
  7. Zach Allen
  8. Rashan Gary

Recap: The art of a strip sack is a great equalizer in the NFL. Strip sacks can change games and have a big impact on the scoreboard.

Polite was phenomenal last year in going for the strip sack, totaling six forced fumbles and coming close on a number of other plays. He has good instincts to go for the strip plus an awareness to adjust to scrambling quarterbacks and an ability to redirect. Polite is very cognizant of trying to knock the ball out when he gets close to the quarterback even if he can’t wrap them up for a tackle.

Ferguson had eight forced fumbles over his career and makes a real effort to go for the ball. Burns is similar, totaling seven forced fumbles the past three years. He goes for the strip-sack and makes a play for the ball. Ferrell had three forced fumbles in 2018 and two the previous year. He is cognizant to go for the strip when he gets close to the quarterback.

Bosa had one forced fumble in each of the past two seasons, but he also played in a rotation. In 2018, Bosa showed the instincts to go for the strip before going out with his injury. Sweat had only one forced fumble over the past two seasons, which is surprising considering he racked up 22 sacks over that span. Sweat should work on his ability to create turnovers, but he has the potential to improve in the NFL.

Both Allen and Gary could stand to do a better job of trying to create turnovers rather than just being wrapup tacklers. They each had only one forced fumble over the past two seasons.

NFL prototype: J.J. Watt, Texans
  1. Nick Bosa
  2. Zach Allen
  3. Rashan Gary
  4. Jaylon Ferguson
  5. Clelin Ferrell
  6. Montez Sweat
  7. Jachai Polite
  8. Brian Burns

Recap: Bosa already has NFL strength, possessing real shock in his hands to disengage from blocks. Allen plays in the 280s with serious upper body strength to hold his ground against downhill blocks. As an end, he is very strong and sets a physical edge. Gary has some natural strength to him and should be even more powerful after spending some time in a pro strength and conditioning program.

Ferguson is strong and doesn’t get pushed around. Ferrell has functional strength and has added to his build over the past couple of years. Sweat displays some natural strength for his size, and he uses that with his length to disengage from blocks while also being able to bull rush at times. Polite has some functional strength, but he will never be an overpowering defender.

Burns was a weak edge defender at Florida State, and there is no doubt that he is going to need to add weight and strength for the NFL. Against pro offensive linemen, Burns is going to have problems holding up against downhill runs coming straight at him. He gained some weight prior to the combine, but he needs to gain more strength. Luckily for Burns, he has the frame to do it, so it is possible that he fills out as he as he ages and gets experience in a pro strength and conditioning program. However right now, Burns’ lack of strength is a liability for run support and the pass rush at the next level.

NFL prototype: Chandler Jones, Cardinals
  1. Rashan Gary
  2. Nick Bosa
  3. Montez Sweat
  4. Brian Burns
  5. Jachai Polite
  6. Zach Allen
  7. Clelin Ferrell
  8. Jaylon Ferguson

Recap: Defensive coordinators love versatility. Edge defenders who drop in coverage and play in space are in demand. Coaches also like defensive ends who can move inside to tackle on passing downs. This class of edge rushers features a lot of versatility, as all eight prospects could fit into a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

Gary has the potential for a lot of versatility because of his freaky skill set, which lets him do things that lesser athletes are incapable of doing. He can play traditional base end in a 4-3 defense. He also can slide inside to tackle in a 4-3 in a sub package. For a 3-4, Gary has excellent weight and strength to be a five-technique defensive end. Some team sources also say that Gary is athletic enough to be a standup 3-4 outside linebacker on some plays. He is a special athlete with a ton of versatile upside to develop.

In college, Bosa, Sweat, Burns and Polite were all speed-rushing ends in 4-3 defenses. They could stay in that role in the NFL, but they all could easily move to outside linebacker in a 3-4. In fact, playing in a 3-4 might better for each of them as pros.

Allen is a good fit as a 4-3 base end or as a five-technique end in a 3-4. He also could move inside to tackle in a 4-3 sub package. Being a 3-4 end could be his best fit.

Ferrell is a base end in a 4-3 defense. A 3-4 team could get away with him as an outside linebacker, but he would be a better fit in a 4-3.

Ferguson is more tailored to be a base end in a 4-3 defense. He could play five-technique in a 3-4, but would need to gain weight for that role. He also is not fluid enough athletically to be an outside linebacker in a 3-4.

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