- Craig Haubert, ESPN Staff Writer
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The end position can be a glamour position on the defensive side of the ball. The ability to have a player who can terrorize quarterbacks off the edge is a key element to a good defensive unit.
The defensive end position entails more than just sacking quarterbacks. It often requires a tough-to-find blend of size, strength and athleticism. Substitutions can be used to take advantage of a player's best skills at any position on defense, and the end spot is no exception. As always, the player who can stop the run and pressure the quarterback at a high level is the ideal choice.
Programs in search of promising defensive end prospects have a good group to choose from in the 2011 class. The deep group is highlighted by 15 defensive ends in the ESPNU 150, including two five-star prospects. One of those five-stars, Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe) not only leads the group of defensive ends, but the entire 2011 class.
(Clowney could be listed under all of the following categories, even best upside, because he amazingly still has plenty of room to grow physically and as a player, but in the spirit of recognizing some other fine prospects in this class we limited his recognition.)
Top pass rushers
What we look for: The most sought after trait for the end position is a player with the ability to get to the quarterback and create sacks. Like a home run in baseball, the sack has become a signature statistic that can earn players attention and, at the highest level, big money. The ability to get to the quarterback consistently is often a combination of quickly getting off the ball and using pass-rush moves to defeat the blocker in front of you. Oftentimes, pure speed can be the most dangerous weapon, but a pass rusher who understands how to set up and expose a blocker's weaknesses can be just as dangerous.
The No. 1 overall player can be a dominant force in many ways, especially getting after the quarterback. It all starts with his fantastic get-off, which can strike fear into the hearts of blockers. While his pass-rushing arsenal could still be developed, he can use his long arms, quickness and overall athleticism to work past blockers. You also can't discount his ability to rush the passer with power. He may look lean, but he carries a good amount of bulk on his 6-foot-6 frame and with his explosiveness he can quickly get into a blocker and power his way to the quarterback. With a wonderful combination of quickness, power and agility, Clowney has all the tools to be an excellent pass rusher.
Greg Townsend Jr. (Beverly Hills, Calif./Beverly Hills)
The son of a former NFL defensive end, Townsend has obviously been blessed with some of his father's talents as well as advice about how to make a quarterback's life miserable. He is not a pure speed rusher, but he does get off the ball well and looks to attack with a plan. The ESNPU 150 end prospect is active with his weapons and displays a solid pass-rushing arsenal, as well as the ability to counter. Thanks to his 6-3, 260-pound frame, Townsend can also slide down inside and present a pass-rushing presence from the interior of the line. His versatility, savvy and ability allow him to be a very good pass rusher.
Anthony Rabasa (Miami, Fla./Columbus)
There are several prospects from the South Florida area who can get after the passer and one of the best is Rabasa. The Notre Dame commit has a good feel for rushing the passer and his success starts with good initial quickness. When he utilizes his good get-off, he can beat blockers with a speed rush by getting to the blocker's outside shoulder while traveling a tight path. He displays good body lean and balance when turning the corner and bending back inside. The ESPNU 150 end is also active with his weapons, and as he continues to develop his counters, he could become real tough for blockers to handle.
Toughest run defenders
What we look for: There is more to this position than just chasing quarterbacks. If a player is going to be successful on defense, he needs to be able to stop the run. He must be able to take on a blocker and even double-teams without being pushed off the line of scrimmage. He must be able to move well laterally and keep containment on the outside. He has to be strong enough to keep blockers off him and shed them, so that he can make tackles or be fast enough to chase down plays if an offense runs away from him.
Steve Miller (Canton, Ohio/McKinley)
The No. 3-ranked defensive end can be tough to run at or away from. Miller needs to keep adding bulk to his frame, but can be tough to block one-on-one. He has good strength, brings his hands and uses his reach to keep blockers off him. He plays with good leverage and can set the edge. He is also athletic enough to be disruptive from the backside and can run down plays if not accounted for. Plenty of teams still like to try to pound the rock in the Big Ten, so Buckeyes fans should be happy a good run defender like Miller is headed to Columbus.
Ishaq Williams (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln)
Williams hails from a school more known for its basketball, and the No. 6 defensive end possesses a basketball-type build, but don't be misled: The gridiron star can be very tough against the run. He needs to keep developing his frame, but he plays with good leverage for a long, lean kid. He uses his nice reach to separate and shed from blockers, stays active and is tough to keep blocked. He can also run and tackle well. Williams may not look like the most stout presence, but running against him is no easy task.
Nathan Hughes (Klein, Texas/Oak)
The Oklahoma commit is a good-sized, physical run defender. He can win the leverage battle when taking on blockers and displays the strength and physical nature to knock blockers back. He uses his hands well to create separation and play off blocks. A stout kid at the point of attack, Hughes is also an active defender with good speed for his size.
What we look for: One of the most important traits of a defensive end is his get-off. Most defensive line coaches start their practices with a series of get-off drills to hone their players' ability to move with the snap of the ball and explode out of their stance. If a defensive end can consistently beat a blocker out of his stance, he will be tough to block and will be very productive. A great get-off as an end also makes him a nightmare as a pass rusher.
The five-star defender has a lot of tools that make him tough to block, but one of his greatest attributes is his first-step quickness. Clowney has the ability to explode out of his stance on the snap of the ball and can quickly get penetration. He is able to get off the ball and get penetration so quickly at times, that when he gets into the backfield he has a tough time gearing down and corralling the ball carrier. Clowney can cause problems in many ways, but it all starts with his outstanding get-off.
Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast)
This is a big kid who can quickly get moving and while you expect him to be a physical, stout presence with his size and raw strength he can also be a disruptive and penetrating force with his ability to quickly get off the ball. The Florida State commit still has room to grow physically and as a player, but he brings a nice combination of size and athleticism. As he continues to develop, he should be a real handful.
Anthony Chickillo (Tampa, Fla./Alonso)
The ESPNU 150 defensive end can be a tough defender versus the run and pass. There are several attributes that allow Chickillo to be a tough and well-rounded defender, but one key is his initial quickness. He is able to explode out of his stance, which allows him to get up field and cause problems as a pass rusher as well as quickly get into position and keep blockers off him as a run stuffer.
What we look for: Some of the defensive ends in this class are well-rounded and display few weaknesses in their game, even for high school prospects. Others have tremendous natural ability but need to develop and shape those raw skills. These prospects may need a little work in certain areas but have outstanding potential and in time can be very good college players.
Jabrian Niles (Mobile, Ala./Davidson)
Niles is just one of a trio of promising defensive line commits in Auburn's class. He sits not too far outside the ESPNU 150, which is impressive considering his experience on the defensive line is somewhat limited. The four-star defender started out his high school career at quarterback but looks to have made the smart move to defensive line. He shows good feel for the position, despite not having as much experience as some of the other top end prospects, but still has room to grow as a player. Niles has the tools to be a productive defender for the Tigers, and with the savvy he shows it may not take to long for him to be able to realize some of that upside and contribute.
Tyler Alberts (Lewisville, N.C./Forsyth Country Day)
Alberts reminds us of a prospect who was in this category a year ago. Adrian Hubbard was a basketball player who came to football late but quickly made a splash and gained attention by showing good ability and promising upside. Like Hubbard, Alberts has spent most of his high school career playing another sport, but now he's shining on the gridiron. The UNC commit may not be the same type of natural athlete that Hubbard was and may be further away from being able to contribute, but Alberts displays a good feel for the game despite the lack of experience. He is a tall kid who needs to add serious bulk and work on the little things, but Alberts shows upside and is a sleeper at defensive end.
Thompson Brown (Richmond, Va./Saint Christophers)
Brown comes from a smaller high school program, fills several roles for his team and has battled injuries, but with further development has some interesting upside. What Brown brings to the table is a nice mixture of size and athletic ability to work with. Raw as a player, he possesses good speed and an explosive nature and has the tools to develop into a productive defensive end that can be tough against the run and pass. He will need to adjust to a higher level of competition when he arrives at Virginia and may take some time to grow as a player, but Brown has the raw tools and is someone to keep an eye on in Charlottesville.
Craig Haubert is the recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has more than a decade of coaching experience. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter.