NFL draft preview: Defensive ends

As the NFL draft nears — it takes place May 8-10 — we're taking an 11-day, position-by-position look at what's out there and what the Bears need.

Bears status

The offseason's revolving door at defensive end sent Julius Peppers to Green Bay, Corey Wootton to Minnesota and Shea McClellin to linebacker in a position change. In came Jared Allen from the Vikings, Lamarr Houston from the Raiders and Willie Young from the Lions. The Bears are highly optimistic about the potential of Allen and Houston as their starters and comfortable with the added depth players like Young and David Bass provide.

Level of draft need: High Moderate LOW

With all the free-agent moves, the Bears bought themselves the luxury of addressing bigger needs across the defense in the draft. Shoring up the interior of the line needs to be a top priority. Strengthening the competition and depth across the secondary also is a must. It wouldn't be a shock if the Bears didn't address defensive end at all in this year's draft.

Top prospect

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

6-6, 266 pounds

Worth a look: Two words: athletic specimen. It's not just Clowney's size, it's his explosion. He ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 4.53 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 371/2 inches. He has great speed, power and flexibility and could be a perennial Pro Bowler as a disruptive edge rusher. If the Texans don't want to pounce with the top pick, Clowney won't stay on the board long. The Falcons are rumored to be making a push to trade up to the No. 1 slot.

Stay away: No other player in this year's class has been twisted through the microanalysis roller coaster like Clowney. Stock dropping one day, stock rising the next. The biggest questions concern Clowney's overall passion for the game and ability to play with maximum effort more consistently. He may need to find a home with a strong coaching staff and an encouraging locker room.

Intriguing options

Michael Sam, Missouri

6-2, 261 pounds

Worth a look: He was the SEC's defensive player of the year. Enough said. Sam's productivity last fall (48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 111/2 sacks) were byproducts of his instincts and motor. He's a pass rush specialist who could bring great value if picked in Round 5 or later. His football awareness and positive energy are additional pluses.

Stay away: Sam's a bit undersized with athleticism and flexibility that are ordinary for the next level. He likely would be a developmental project. Also, with Sam in position to become the first openly gay active player in the NFL, an initial wave of extra media attention will pour into whatever locker room he joins. Teams will need to consider how well they are equipped to handle that blitz.

Brent Urban, Virginia

6-7, 295 pounds

Worth a look: Urban's impressive stature includes 341/4-inch arm length, which gives him additional disruption ability in passing lanes. He played productively in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in college and can be an effective rusher from the inside as well. Upside is there.

Stay away: A high ankle sprain suffered in October lingered long enough for Urban to pull out of the Senior Bowl. He later missed the on-field testing at the combine and Virginia's pro day.

Zach Moore, Concordia-St. Paul

6-5, 269 pounds

Worth a look: A Division II prospect and a product of Simeon High School, Moore comes with a sleek frame, good athleticism and proven pass rush ability after recording 33 sacks in college. He's still raw but could be worth a late-round investment for a team like the Bears who have immediate stability at the position.

Stay away: Moore needs dramatic improvement in refining his leverage and learning to use better burst off the snap.


Marcus Smith, Louisville

6-3, 251 pounds

Worth a look: With former Louisville assistant Clint Hurtt now on staff at Halas Hall as an assistant defensive line coach, the Bears will have plenty of informed intelligence on Smith, a quick pass rusher with the drive to get better. Bears GM Phil Emery values versatility, so it's worth noting that Smith transformed from a quarterback in high school to a linebacker early in college to a dangerous defensive end by his senior year when he recorded 141/2 sacks and was named the American Athletic Conference's defensive player of the year.

Stay away: Smith needs to become more dependable as a run defender and will need to diversify his pass rush moves to stick at the next level.

Next: Linebackers

Twitter @danwiederer

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