- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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Could the defensive end position be in for a repeat? The 2008 class finished with Clemson signee DaQuan Bowers sitting atop the recruiting world as the No. 1-ranked player in the nation. The defensive end from South Carolina didn't start out ranked first, but he worked his way into the No. 1 spot in the last month with an excellent senior year and impressive showings at all-star games. With the first release of the 2009 ESPNU 150, history may be poised to repeat itself; another defensive end prospect sits just outside the top spot. No. 1-ranked defensive end Devon Kennard (Phoenix, Ariz. / Desert Vista) is a wonderful prospect who currently ranks fourth nationally overall, but he has the tools to mount a campaign to be No. 1.
Three high school quarterbacks sit above him in the rankings, but it is the terror Kennard unleashes on quarterbacks that helps make him such a sought-after recruit. Kennard is one of the better passing-rushing prospects we have seen since the beginning of the ESPNU 150. He can be explosive off the ball, which is a key, but it is what he does after that get-off that makes him so dangerous.
You can tell there is a plan of attack formulated when he rushes the passer. He is so good at using his hands to keep blockers off of him. He does not try to just out-athlete blockers, but sets them up and defeats them with moves and counters. If a tackle is not sound in his technique, Kennard is the type of player who can exploit those weaknesses. We love his passing-rushing ability, but overall, he is a sound football player. He plays the run well because Kennard can mix ability with execution.
Kennard also possesses good size. You wish he was a little taller, but he has good bulk. After seeing him in person, he has a thick lower body that allows him to be a stout yet explosive defensive presence. There have been some very talented defensive end prospects over the past few years, and Kennard is proving he is among the best of them.
Believe it or not, Arizona boasts more than Kennard when it comes to defensive-end talent. The state actually has two prospects ranked among the top five ends and three among the top 30, which is more than football power states like Texas (two), California (zero), Ohio (two) and Georgia (two). Joining Kennard in the top five is Craig Roh (Scottsdale, Ariz. / Chaparral). A standout in the classroom, Roh is a high-motor, technically sound football player on the field. He is a lean, wiry kid who will need to keep working to add bulk -- but he's not just skin and bones. He is physical and quick off the ball. He is good with his hands, plays with leverage and gets himself into positions to be successful. Roh is a player who impresses us more the more we watch him. He is creating buzz for several major universities. The other Arizona native in the top 30 is Billy Sanders (Phoenix, Ariz. / Brophy Prep). A case could be made for Sanders to be ranked among the tight end prospects, but this Miami commit is a talented football player who impressed us enough at defensive end to be ranked there at this point.
DE grading criteria
Scouts Inc. grades defensive ends in eight categories:
1. Against run: Are they one- or two-gap linemen? Are they strong at the point of attack? Can they ward off blocks?
2. Pass rush: Are they power rushers or finesse rushers? What pass-rush moves do they show, and do they vary? Are they able to get good, consistent penetration?
3. Pursuit: Do they get over trash? Do they have the quickness to get to the outside? Do they show good effort in pursuit?
4. Tackling: Do they wrap up well? Do they tackle low or high? Are they able to drag down? Do they tackle with power and are they punishing?
5. Initial quicks: How is their get off the snap? How are their feet? Do they anticipate the snap?
6. Recognition: Can they see blocks coming? How are their overall football instincts? Can they find the ball?
7. Neutralizing blocks: How are they one-on-one? How are they against a double-team trap? Can they anchor?
8. Key and diagnose: Do they reads blocks well? Do they have a good feel and see the ball?
Although California and Texas aren't well-represented among the top-ranked end prospects, Florida has several prospects ranked highly. Florida has six defensive ends ranked among the top 30. Florida's talented crop of pass-rushers includes: Ryne Giddins (Seffner, Fla. / Armwood) and Ed Stinson (Homestead, Fla. / South Dade). Stinson is one of three Sunshine State prospects ranked in the top 30 defensive ends, along with Brandon Jenkins (Tallahassee, Fla. / Florida ) and ESPNU 150 prospect Demonte McAllister (Tampa, Fla. / Alonso), who is committed to the Florida State Seminoles. McAllister leads the way ranked No. 61 nationally; he is one of the most explosive defensive linemen in the country. He lines up at the three-technique spot for his high school, but he likely will be an end in college. He is so quick off the ball that he can get penetration and cause problems in the offensive backfield. He is a kid who has the tools to be a defensive playmaker. Dyron Dye (Sanford, Fla. / Seminole) is the third of the Florida natives to be ranked among the top 10 defensive ends in the nation. Dye is a tall, lean, and athletic defender. He still needs to add bulk and play lower, but he has very good initial quickness and can run. The raw tools are there for him to turn into a very good defensive end and a disruptive pass-rusher.
South Carolina is also well-represented, with four defensive end prospects among the top 30 and two in the ESPN 150. One is Aldrick Fordham (Saint Stephen, S.C. / Timberland) who checks in at No. 30 among the defensive ends. We feel this Gamecock commit could end up being a nice steal for Steve Spurrier. Malliciah Goodman (Florence, S.C.), the 128th-ranked player in the ESPNU 150, is also worth mentioning. Goodman is truly a physical freak, with nice upside. When we saw him in person his build made our jaws drop. He's tall, but what really stands out is his build from his traps down. He has huge traps that lead in to huge deltoids that connect to long arms that then sprout out cartoon-like large hands. He is impressive-looking, and uses that freakish long wingspan to help take on and separate from blockers. He needs to keep growing into his body, but this kid is pretty good and should only keep getting better.
The top-ranked defensive end prospect in South Carolina is Sam Montgomery (Greenwood, SC ) who is actually ranked second nationally at the position and in the top 25 overall. Montgomery is an amazing kid not only because of his athleticism and his ability between the white lines, but also because he achieved such a lofty ranking despite 2007 being his first season in high school football. A young man who played only basketball his freshman and sophomore years, Montgomery quickly made an impact when he went out for football as a junior. He's tall with a good wingspan and can run. He has the physical tools college coaches desire in an end, but he also seems like a natural at the game. He does things you wouldn't expect to see from a player with limited experience, like using his hands and reading blocks. Montgomery is an excellent football player who should keep getting better, which could be scary for opposing offenses.
Although Montgomery's rise is impressive, he's not the only highly ranked prospect with a limited football background. Anthony LaLota (Princeton, NJ / The Hun School) just missed the ESPNU 150, and, like Montgomery, he picked up football in his junior year. LoLota is a good-sized prospect with nice upside not only at defensive end, but also at offensive tackle. We feel defensive end will be a better fit for him; he can get-off of the ball and displays good power. Still a bit raw in some phases of his game, Montgomery is a versatile, talented prospect who has quickly made a splash in the recruiting world.
LaLota is uncommitted, as are several other highly graded defensive ends. Unlike the quarterback position -- at which most of the top prospects are off the board by start of the senior season -- there's still some outstanding talent available at defensive end, such as the previously mentioned Montgomery, Kennard, and Giddins. In fact, of the top-10 rated ends, six are still checking out their options.
Craig Drummond (Chicago / Morgan Park), who is ranked among the top 100 players in the nation, is one of the top unsigned end prospects.
We feel that this defensive end class is good and deep and that very good prospects can still be found as you near players ranked around 50. Uncommitted prospects like Jamil Merrell (Newark, Del. / Paul M. Hodgson Voc-Tech) a skinny but very athletic end, Nick Kasa (Broomfield, Colo. / Legacy), Montez Robinson (Avon, Ind.) -- ranked at No. 32 -- and Bernardo Nunez (Hoboken, N.J.) -- ranked at No. 45 -- are still out there.