Top Defensive Ends in the 2016 NFL Draft: Bosa Isn’t The Only Intriguing Name


In today’s NFL you have to be able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With the proliferation of the passing game, even opposing teams with mediocre quarterbacks will carve up defenses if they don’t get some pressure on the signal caller. The position primarily responsible with supplying that pressure is the defensive end, which is why getting one is the top priority of most franchises in the NFL.

Not only are defensive ends asked to get after quarterbacks, but they are crucial in run defense with their ability to set the edge. Athleticism is a key component of playing on the edge and most of the best pass-rushers are elite athletic talents.

This year’s class of defensive ends isn’t as stacked as last year’s, but there are still a lot of players who can contribute in the NFL for a long time.

Joey Bosa, Ohio State

Size: 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds

Quite possibly the premier player in the 2016 NFL draft, Joey Bosa is as close to a complete prospect as you can be. He isn’t the type of defensive end that’s going to bend and capture the corner and win with pure speed on the edge, but he can do everything else with premier ability.

Bosa plays with a ton of technical nuance with his hand placement, hip roll and footwork. He can convert speed to power better than any prospect in recent memory as he consistently attacks the weak planes of opposing offensive tackles. This allows Bosa to keep offensive tackles on their toes, which allows him to consistently beat them throughout a game. Against the run, Bosa is just as dynamic. Running at him is like running into a black hole as he easily stacks and sheds blockers and makes a ton of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage.

Overall, Bosa is easily the best defensive end in this class and he looks like he could become an All-Pro in the NFL one day.

Shaq Lawson, Clemson

Size: 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds

Much like Bosa, Shaq Lawson wins with his power and strength as a pass-rusher and run defender. He uses his upper body strength to bench press blockers off of him, which gives him all the separation he needs to shed the block. Furthermore, Lawson plays with a nonstop motor, which allows him to make a lot of plays that some other players would not make.

Lawson doesn’t have the lower-body flexibility to consistently bend around the edge, but he has enough that offensive tackles have to be fearful of it. Lawson is extremely advanced with his hand use and ability to win with a variety of moves. Also, he plays with great leverage, which allows him to set up his power moves extremely effectively.

Ultimately, Lawson may never develop into a 12 sack-a-year type of player, but he will be a fantastic run defender who can be a great secondary pass-rusher on a defense.

DeForest Buckner, Oregon

Size: 6-foot-7 and 290 pounds

Oregon’s DeForest Buckner isn’t your typical defensive end who plays on the edge; instead, Buckner’s best fit is as a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Buckner’s elite length allows him to two-gap with a ton of success as he can control offensive linemen and then shed to make a tackle. Also, for as big as Buckner is, he reduces his surface area extremely well, which allows him to generate more pressure than you typically see from a 3-4 defensive end.

Buckner has the ability to be one of the rare 5-technique defensive ends who can generate a lot of stats in the box score. He will likely be a fantastic run defender with his length, strength and awareness, but he can also develop into a very good pass-rusher with his hand use and deceptive quickness.

Buckner will likely only generate attention from teams employing a 3-4 defense, but his value to those teams will be extremely high. His teammate Arik Armstead went in the Top-15 last year and Buckner is a much better player.

Carl Lawson, Auburn

Size: 6-foot-2 and 257 pounds

If Carl Lawson could stay healthy, he would likely be Bosa for the top ranking on this list; however, his inability to stay healthy hurts his stock quite a bit.

When healthy, Lawson is the premier draft-eligible pass-rusher in college football. If you have any questions about his ability, just watch the performance he put up against the premier offensive tackle in college football, Laremy Tunsil. Lawson has the speed, bend and quickness to get around the edge and he has the power to bull rush offensive tackles into the quarterback’s lap.

Against the run, Lawson isn’t as technically sound as Bosa or Shaq Lawson, but he is effective with his ability to beat blockers and make tackles for loss. he needs to do a better job with his body positioning, but that should be easily fixable once he is in the NFL.

Lawson is the ultimate boom-or-bust player as he can be an elite pass-rusher if he stays healthy, which is as big of an if as you can get.

Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky

Size: 6-foot-3 and 261 pounds

The forgotten man among draft-eligible defensive ends is former Ohio State, and current Eastern Kentucky, pass-rusher Noah Spence. Before becoming ineligible with the Buckeyes, Spence showcased elite pass-rushing skills. Since joining Eastern Kentucky, Spence has shown that he is still an elite talent as he has looked like a man amongst boys on the football field.

When you watch Spence play, it looks like he is playing at another speed than opposing players. He effortlessly blows by opposing linemen and makes them look silly in the process. Spence can win with speed, power or with a variety of pass-rush moves. Against the run, Spence uses his elite quickness to penetrate and make plays in the backfield.

The biggest part of Spence’s evaluation will be in the offseason as teams try to sort through some of Spences past troubles that led to his departure from Ohio State. If that checks out, Spence could be a late-riser who could sneak into the top-15 of the 2016 NFL draft.

Five Other Names To Consider

Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

Carl Nassib, Penn State

Jonathan Allen, Alabama

Shawn Oakman, Baylor
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About John Owning

John Owning

John Owning is a NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has years of experience covering the NFL, NFL draft and NCAA football. John's work has been featured on the Bleacher Report and