Football

Rating the top defensive ends in the NFL Draft

Southern California defensive end Leonard Williams.
Southern California defensive end Leonard Williams. The Associated Press

1. Leonard Williams, 6-5, 302, Southern California

Bio: Three-year starter who had 80 tackles (9 1/2 for loss), seven sacks, two hurries and three pass breakups in 13 games in 2014. Turns 21 this year. 34 5/8-inch arms. 10 5/8-inch hands. 4.97 40-yard dash. 29.5-inch vertical. 106-inch broad jump. 7.59-second three-cone drill. 4.53-second 20-yard shuttle. Did not bench press at the combine; dealt with shoulder problems this season.

Evaluation: Is young for this draft. Does not fire off the ball consistently and is sometimes late off the snap when asked to two-gap but can really get after it when allowed to get upfield and shoots gaps. Checks every other box. Is well-proportioned, aware and possesses good agility, quickness and speed for his size. Even shows some degree of comfort in space in coverage. Has a pet swim move that is very effective in pass rush. Does a good job of using his strong hands to separate from linemen as a pass rusher. Does a nice job of locating and getting to the ball vs. the run — has the big hands and long arms necessary to control offensive linemen — and flashes the ability to stack and shed. Tries very hard to get his hands up and knock down passes. Is advanced, in general, when it comes to using his hands to defeat linemen. Spent a lot of time as a two-gap five-technique player but might be more effective shooting gaps as a three-tech. Consistently plays hard and runs to the ball.

Grade: 7.4

2. Malcom Brown, 6-2, 319, Texas

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Kansas State’s Jake Waters was taken down by Texas’ Malcom Brown on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Austin, Texas. Eric Gay The Associated Press

Bio: Two-year starter who had 70 tackles (13 for loss), 6 1/2 sacks, seven hurries and one pass breakup in 13 games in 2014. Turns 21 this year. 32 1/2-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.05-second 40-yard dash. 26 bench reps. 29.5-inch vertical. 98-inch broad jump. 7.84-second three-cone drill. 4.59-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Three-technique tackle with good get off. Quick enough to be disruptive and not get reached. Finds the ball vs. the run — can stack and shed when single-blocked — but gets moved vs. the double and on down blocks and is generally on the ground too much. Needs to do a better job of using his hands in the pass rush but has some some jolt in his hands, a decent closing burst and an interesting swim move. Occasionally used as a stand-up rusher. Is fairly quick looping around on stunts. Runs to the ball and consistently plays hard. Mature — married father of two.

Grade: 7.0

3. Xavier Cooper, 6-3, 293, Washington State

Xavier Cooper.JPG
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson took a hit from Washington State defensive lineman Xavier Cooper on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Washington State won 28-27. Rick Bowmer The Associated Press

Bio: Two-year starter who had 37 tackles (9 1/2 for loss), five sacks, four hurries in 12 games in 2014. Is 23. 31 1/2-inch arms. 9 3/8-inch hands. 4.86-second 40-yard dash. 29 bench reps. 29-inch vertical. 110-inch broad jump. 7.23-second three-cone drill. 4.37-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Does not have a great body; is lean with short arms but is very disruptive. Three-technique player with very good burst off the snap and a really nice 40-yard dash time. Has some jolt in his hands and good movement skills on stunts. Plays very hard and is surprisingly quick. Gets after it in the pass rush; shows a good rip move and wins one-on-one battles often. Looked surprisingly comfortable rushing from defensive end, too. Does a good job of using his hands. Plays with some power and attitude. Does a good job of locating the ball on running plays but will need to improve his overall strength to hang in there vs. NFL linemen. Is an aware player who can sniff out screens. Typically does not stay blocked and is rarely caught at the line of scrimmage. Probably a better fit in a 4-3 scheme but can help the Chiefs in the pass rush in the nickel and as a three-tech in their base 3-4 defense.

Grade: 6.7

4. Arik Armstead, 6-7, 292, Oregon

Bio: Two-year starter who had 46 tackles (5 1/2 for loss), 2 1/2 sacks, six hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turns 21 this year. 33-inch arms. 10 1/2-inch hands. 5.10-second 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 34-inch vertical. 117-inch broad jump. 7.57-second three-cone drill. 4.53-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Is young for a prospect. Former basketball player who boasts elite size for a five-technique tackle. Often does not fire off the snap quickly when asked to two-gap — stands up, then rushes — but has plus athleticism, which he shows off when allowed to get upfield and attack gaps. Displays a strong jolt when he can extend his long arms; will overpower smaller offensive linemen and put them on skates. Flashes the ability to find the ball and disengage with his length and plus athleticism vs. the run. Can be moved on the double team but flashes the ability to anchor. Has the potential to be a solid pass rusher with his natural gifts but needs to refine his technique, although he has a promising spin move. Motor runs hot and cold. Does not always hustle to the ball (see 2015 National Championship Game). Should have been more productive, overall, given his immense physical talent, but a good D-line coach could unlock his potential as a three-down interior lineman — if he wants it.

Grade: 6.6

5. Preston Smith, 6-5, 271, Mississippi State

Bio: Two-year starter who had 48 tackles (15 for loss), nine sacks, 15 hurries, three deflections in 13 games in 2014. Is 22 years old. 34-inch arms. 10 1/8-inch hands. 4.74-second 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 34-inch vertical. 121-inch broad jump. 7.07-second three-cone drill. 4.28-second 20-yard shuttle. 11.7-second 60-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Has a good body — big frame, long arms with big hands. Versatile player who could fit in a number of schemes — has lined up at zero, three and five-technique positions — but mainly plays out of a three-point stance. Has OK get off and good jolt with his hands, but probably not twitchy enough to threaten the edge as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Does has the frame and power to set the edge, however. Has a nice push-pull pass rush move and a swim move. Gives OK effort but his motor runs a tad hot and cold. Can be moved against the double when lined up inside but flashes upside as an interior rusher on passing downs.

Grade: 6.6

6. Gabe Wright, 6-3, 300, Auburn

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Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott was pursued by Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014 in Starkville, Miss. Rogelio V. Solis The Associated Press

Bio: Three-year starter who had 24 tackles (4 1/2 for loss), one sack and 10 hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turns 23 this year. 32 3/4-inch arms. 11-inch hands. 5.07-second 40-yard dash. 34 bench reps. 26.5-inch vertical. 100-inch broad jump. 7.73-second three-cone drill. 4.56-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Three-technique tackle with a very good burst off the snap. Has good jolt in his large hands, plays with some power and does a nice job locking out. Generally plays hard. Shows the ability to find the ball, disengage from the lineman and make the play vs. the run. Does not get moved very much. Is very quick on stunts and has a solid closing burst to the quarterback. Can sniff out screens and is light on his feet for his size. Overall lack of statistical production is a bit of mystery, given effort and talent level, but looks the part of a starting-caliber NFL lineman.

Grade: 6.6

7. Carl Davis, 6-4, 320, Iowa

Bio: Two-year starter who had 36 tackles (nine for loss), two sacks and five hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turned 23 this year. 34 1/2-inch arms. 11-inch hands. 5.07-second 40-yard dash. 28 bench reps. 33-inch vertical. 103-inch broad jump. 7.91-second three-cone drill. 4.47-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Physically gifted gap-shooter with good jolt and acceleration off the snap. Massive hands and long arms. Shows a powerful club move he’ll occasionally chain with a swim and a rip. Has enough power to stack and shed. Moves well for his size; good quickness on stunts and has a solid closing burst to the quarterback. Possesses a good base; can be tough to move when motivated. Does not always play hard. Does not always hustle to the ball. Middling college production. Proved to be unblockable at the Senior Bowl.

Grade: 6.5

8. Grady Jarrett, 6-1, 304, Clemson

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Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (left) at the Senior Bowl. Brynn Anderson The Associated Press

Bio: Three-year starter who had 45 tackles (10 for loss), 1 1/2 sacks and four hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 32 3/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.06-second 40-yard dash. 30 bench reps. 31-inch vertical. 112-inch broad jump. 7.37-second three-cone drill. 4.56-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Is squatty, plays hard and runs to the football. Is quick off the ball and possesses good get off. Does not possess long arms so will need to win with quickness and hustle at the next level. Is smart and aware; does a good job finding the ball. Durability will always be a concern because of his size. Is probably a better fit in a 4-3 front but can help any team as part of a rotation. Production slipped in 2014 after posting 83 tackles (11 for loss) and two sacks in 2013.

Grade: 6.5

9. Michael Bennett, 6-2, 293, Ohio State

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Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett (63) during practice for the Sugar Bowl. Gerald Herbert The Associated Press

Bio: Two-year starter who had 40 tackles (14 for loss), seven sacks, three hurries and three pass breakups in 15 games in 2014. 33 5/8-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.98-second 40-yard dash.

Evaluation: Has some durability concerns; did not workout at the combine and injured his hamstring at his pro day. Three-technique tackle with really good burst and jolt off the snap. Flashes good power at the point of attack but is light for his position and can be overwhelmed on the double vs. the run. Could stand to be more disruptive overall. Comes out hard and low out of his stance but ends up on the ground too much. Does a good job of locating the football vs. the run. Good quickness on stunts. Has a swim move but needs to do a much better job using his hands as a pass rusher. Has an interesting spin move but isn’t a consistent pass-rush threat. Average closing burst to the quarterback. Is not relentless in pursuit — could stand to play hard, more consistently.

Grade: 6.5

10. Henry Anderson, 6-6, 294, Stanford

Bio: Three-year starter who had 65 tackles (14 1/2 for loss), eight sacks, nine hurries and two pass breakups in 13 games in 2014. Turns 24 this year. 33 1/2-inch arms. 9 3/4-inch hands. 5.03-second 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 30-inch vertical. 110-inch broad jump. 7.20-second three-cone drill. 4.19-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Five-technique defensive end who occasionally reduced inside to the three- or-one-tech and consistently gives very good effort. Long frame for a five-tech DE but lacks lower-body girth and ideal power and can be driven to the ground by bigger players. Smart, aware player who finds the ball and sniffs out short passes. Is competitive; bounces back after getting beat. Won’t give you a ton in the pass rush — he does have an interesting swim move — but possesses decent athleticism, get off and closing burst. Has a chance to be a starter if he can bulk up and gain strength.

Grade: 6.4

11. Marcus Hardison, 6-3, 307, Arizona State

Bio: Juco transfer. First-year starter who had 53 tackles (15 for loss), 10 sacks and one hurry in 13 games in 2014. Turns 23 this year. 33 1/2-inch arms. 10 3/8-inch hands. 4.92-second 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 25 1/2-inch vertical. 107-inch broad jump. 7.29-second three-cone drill. 4.65-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Impressive combination of size and athleticism — with his big frame and long arms, he has the physical tools to play the five-technique defensive tackle position. Has more experience getting upfield, which means he’s probably a three-tech, though. Flashes above-average get off and quickness for his size. Had tremendous sack production in 2014 and has some feel for pass rushing but will need to be more physical, overall, to reach his potential. Needs to improve his awareness. Plays on the line of scrimmage too much. Motor runs a bit hot and cold.

Grade: 6.4

12. Mario Edwards Jr., 6-3, 279, Florida State

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Florida State’s Mario Edwards Jr. tried to sack Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall during the first half of the BCS National Championship in 2014. David J. Phillip The Associated Press

Bio: Two-year starter who had 44 tackles (11 for loss), three sacks, two hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turns 21 this year. 33 1/4-inch arms. 10 7/8-inch hands. 4.84-second 40-yard dash. 32 bench reps. 32.5-inch vertical. 120-inch broad jump. 7.44-second three-cone drill. 4.55-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Is young for a prospect. Is the son of former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Mario Edwards. Spent a lot of time as a stand-up rusher at defensive end but also reduced inside and put his hand in the dirt. Looks the part; has a big frame, long arms and good athleticism for an interior five-technique lineman — can actually stick with some tight ends in coverage — but doesn’t make enough plays, overall. Still learning how to put it all together. Stays blocked too long, needs to improve his feel for rushing the passer. Mainly just has a bull rush. guy Average motor. Average initial burst off the snap.

Grade: 6.4

13. Quayshawne Buckley, 6-2, 296, Idaho

Bio: Four-year starter who had 72 tackles (15 1/2 for loss), four sacks, three hurries in 11 games in 2014. Turns 24 this year. 4.9-second 40-yard dash. 35.5-inch vertical. 110-inch broad jump.

Evaluation: Is old for a prospect. Disruptive, gap-shooting tackle who understands how to use his hands in the pass rush and vs. the run. Has very good get off but has a tendency to stand straight up out of his stance. Has good closing burst. Has room to add weight on his frame. Can sufficiently overpower less gifted linemen. Has a very effective swim move. Motor runs hot and cold but generally plays hard. Did not play against great competition. Was arrested for DUI before the 2013 season.

Grade: 6.3

14. Leterrius Walton, 6-5, 319, Central Michigan

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Purdue’s Danny Etling lost the ball after getting hit by Central Michigan’s Leterrius Walton on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Purdue lost 38-17. Michael Heinz The Associated Press

Bio: Three-year starter who had 33 tackles (3 1/2 for loss), two sacks and six hurries in 13 games in 2014. Turned 23 this year. 32 1/4-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 5.25-second 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 27-inch vertical. 103-inch broad jump. 7.91-second three-cone drill. 4.78-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Possesses a big frame; can shoot gaps or potentially be a five-technique player. Great hustle. Good burst off the snap. Didn’t face great competition. Good athlete and is light on his feet. On the ground too much — needs to get stronger. Raw as a pass rusher but flashes a promising swim move. Developmental type who will likely need a redshirt year but offers intriguing potential down the road.

Grade: 6.3

15. Christian Covington, 6-2, 289, Rice

Bio: Three-year starter who had 20 tackles (3 1/2 for loss), 2 1/2 sacks and one hurry in seven games in 2014. Turns 22 this year. 33 1/4-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.89-second 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 30.5-inch vertical. 111-inch broad jump. 7.43-second three-cone drill. 4.43-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Proportioned well with long arms. Three-technique gap shooter who only played seven games in 2014 because of a knee injury. Level of competition is a question but he fared well in 2013 against top 10-pick Jake Matthews. Good burst and pop off the snap. Has a good rip move. Good pop in his hands. Declared early for the draft. Needs to get stronger. Motor runs hot and cold.

Grade: 6.2

16. Ray Drew, 6-4, 265, Georgia

Bio: Two-year starter who had 39 tackles (1 1/2 for loss), one sack and 10 hurries in 13 games in 2014. Led the nation in blocked kicks with three. Turns 22 this year. 4.81-second 40-yard dash. 18 bench reps. 32-inch vertical. 112-inch broad jump. 7.44-second three-cone drill. 4.47-second 20-yard shuttle.

Evaluation: Former outside linebacker who bulked up to play defensive end. Marginal production is a concern but plays hard. Can push the pocket when allowed to shoot gaps. Fires off the ball quickly and extend his arms with power. Shows ability to stack and shed. Good speed for the position; chases the play in pursuit. Can be overpowered by stronger linemen; needs to gain strength. Needs to work on his hand usage to develop as a pass rusher, where he still has lots of room to grow. Has trimmed down to be a defensive end in preparation for the draft; would need to gain it back to play end. Listed at 284 pounds as a senior.

Grade: 6.2

17. Brian Mihalik, 6-9, 295, Boston College

Bio: Three-year starter who had 31 tackles (5 1/2 for loss), 4 1/2 sacks, one hurry in seven games in 2014. Turns 23 this year.

Evaluation: Average athlete who is occasionally a beat late off the snap but the frame to be a two-gap, five-technique defensive end. Flashes some upside as a three-tech pass rusher but needs to develop a better feel for it. Needs to get stronger and play with good leverage to keep smaller players from getting under him. Possesses good awareness; picked off a screen in coverage vs N.C. State. Has some scheme versatility; lined up at nose, three-tech and end. Plays hard.

Grade: 6.1

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.

Grading scale

7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick

7.0: 11-20

6.9: 21-32

6.8: Top half of the second

6.7: Bottom half of the second

6.6: Top half of the third

6.5: Bottom half of the third

6.4: Fourth round pick

6.3: Fifth-round pick

6.2: Sixth-round pick

6.1: Seventh-round pick

6.0: Priority free agent

NOTE: All rankings are based on a combination of extensive personal film study, interviews conducted with draft analysts and information gleaned from NFL Network draft broadcasts. Evaluations are cross-checked with multiple draft resources. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to NFL.com. Grades are assigned based on where The Star believes the Chiefs should take each player, based on their needs and scheme fit.

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