As evidenced by countless NFL drafts and essentially every BCS champion in the modern era, premium defensive ends are generally the most feared defensive players on the field. Along with the fact they do not grow on trees and every program covets them, DEs have become almost as critical as quarterbacks. The ability to affect an entire offensive game plan with one player, particularly on passing downs, is invaluable and why great defensive football teams start up front.
In three of the past four years, a defensive end has sat atop the first edition of the 2012 ESPNU 150. The likes of Ronald Powell and Jadeveon Clowney are pretty exclusive company, but it is Da'Quan Bowers that this year's No. 1 overall player Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) seems to be compared to the most.
With 14 defensive ends littered throughout the ESPNU 150 and three in the top 10 alone, it is fair to say this is a strong class.
Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan)
College: Florida State
As mentioned above, Edwards draws favorable comparisons to Bowers for his size, strength and impressive bulk for such a young player. Few players at the position are as college ready, physically, to hold up and anchor versus the run. Many players can play early on passing downs, but Edwards has the stature and strength to hold the point. Hailing from Texas just as Jackson Jeffcoat did out of the 2010 class, Edwards reminds us of Jeffcoat due to similar technical qualities with leverage, hand usage and get-off. We would expect Edwards to be ready for the next level rather quickly once he arrives on campus at Florida State.
Noah Spence (Harrisburg, Pa./Bishop McDevitt)
The evaluation of Spence was a long process. Early on, we were not quite seeing the production and ability reflective of the early recruiting attention he had received. However, the more we studied and the more film we were able to obtain, a different player began to emerge. While not the technician Edwards is, Spence has raw ability much like Ronald Powell had. He is so explosive off the edge, has great speed and quickness for a player of his size and, at times, he shows flashes of a terrific motor. Spence needs to continue to enhance his motor as well as develop a plan with his hands. He has serious upside and his ceiling for development is extremely high.
Chris Casher (Mobile, Ala./Faith Academy)
College: Florida State
This one may surprise some, but all you have to do is watch the film. Casher's elite height, long arms and frame capable of carrying 270-280 pounds project him as a as a possible difference maker in a few years. He is so rangy and long with body control, adequate pad level and a terrific motor. He reminds us of Adrian Hubbard out of the 2010 class. The impressive thing about Casher is he probably is one of the best tight ends in this class. Florida State is loading up in the defensive front, which is why the Seminoles will be back to college football's elite sooner rather than later.
Players to watch
There is a good chance the athletic and leaner Odenigbo could move to outside linebacker in college, but regardless of how he is used, this tough and high-motor defender is someone to keep an eye on. He is a good athlete who can run down plays and potentially be a factor anywhere on the field. He has good initial quickness to get off the ball and, with a little more polish as a pass rusher, could be a handful off the edge. To remain at defensive end he needs to add more size, but even at his current weight the physical nature of his play can't be discounted. He is a kid with good raw strength who plays bigger than his measurables. There is some room for improvement physically and in his game, but this is a prospect who offers some versatility.
Adolphus Washington (Cincinnati/Taft)
This four-star end is a talented enough prospect to make the ESPNU 150, but you need to keep an eye on him because he is still a bit raw and it seems his best football is very much ahead of him. This is a good-sized kid who still possesses physical upside. He displays good initial quickness and runs well. When he keeps his pads down and uses his hands and reach to his advantage, he can be very tough to handle, whether he is defending the run or hunting down quarterbacks. Washington is a prospect with a lot of physical tools, but he can rely on those too much at times to get by and needs to keep working on the little things in his game. If he can begin to meld his raw abilities with more consistent technique, he has the physical tools to be a very good and disruptive college defender.
Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, N.C./Crest)
This is a big kid who carries good bulk, looks to have a nice reach and big hands, and plays physical. He possesses good explosiveness off the ball, displays a good motor and moves well for his size. He can use his size and power to be a real stout presence against the run as well as to harass quarterbacks. This uncommitted prospect also offers some versatility in the type of scheme in which he can play. Bullard can get a little wild at times, but with some more development could be a very tough college defender.
One of two ESPNU 150 prospects currently in TCU's class, Devonte Fields (Arlington, Texas/James Martin) is a defender with good size and ability and seems to be able to get around the football and make plays. He is a nice pickup for a program getting ready to make a move to a BCS conference. ... We don't see a lot of upside in defensive end Darius Hamilton (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco), but we do see a good-sized and physical kid with a feel for the game. He displays the tools to be a tough and productive college defender and could play early on if needed. ... Dante Fowler Jr. (St Petersburg, Fla./Lakewood), Torshiro Davis (Shreveport, La./Woodlawn) and Tyriq McCord (Tampa/Jefferson) are all ESPNU 150 defensive ends that need some development in various areas, but also show the ability to be dangerous and disruptive pass rushers coming off the edge. ... Jamal Marcus (Durham, N.C./Hillside) just missed making the initial ESPNU 150, but he is a physical kid that can get off the ball and move well. ... Stephen Weatherly (Atlanta/North) needs to add bulk and probably will play outside linebacker at Vanderbilt, but however deployed, we think the Commodores will find ways to get him after the quarterback because the four-star has shown that he can be a dangerous speed rusher. ... Canton (Ohio) McKinley has produced an ESPNU 150 defensive end two years in a row. Last year it was Steve Miller and this year it is recent Michigan State commit Se'Von Pittman. ... Clemson commit Shaquille Lawson (Central, S.C./D.W. Daniel) needs to work on his get-off, but once this kid gets in motion he can be a productive player and displays the tools to develop into a good college defender. ... Polo Manukainiu (Euless, Texas/Trinity) is an intriguing prospect. You can't help but feel he can get more out of his natural abilities, but the kid has good size and shows that he can use it well. He is someone to keep an eye on. ... Honolulu Punahou High School is home to a pair of high three-star defensive end prospects in Luke Kaumatule and DeForest Buckner. ... Kisima Jagne (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler) is a two-sport athlete who flashes promising upside, and with focus on just the gridiron, he could develop into a very good defensive player. ... Danielle Hunter (Katy, Texas/Morton Ranch) needs to channel some of his aggression into better technique and become a more consistent player, but this is one of the most violent players in this class. He possesses good length and can run well and you can't help but like his leave-it-all-on-the-field style of play. ... It is a good year for defensive end talent in the state of Ohio. The Buckeye State placed more players at this position (three) in the initial ESPNU 150 than either Florida, Georgia, California or Texas.