South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney looks on during a game Sept. 14, 2013, in Columbia, S.C.
Scouting the defensive linemen
1. Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina, DE, 6-5, 266
With his remarkable 4.52 speed and seven-foot wingspan, Clowney is one of the most physically gifted athletes in years. Career: 24 sacks, nine forced fumbles in 24 games. But while there's potential for greatness, there's also potential for great disappointment.
2. Aaron Donald
Pitt, DT, 6-0 1 ⁄ 2 , 285
Disruptive speed, power and drive, he wants to get it done and does. Career: 291⁄2 sacks, 281⁄2 tackles for loss. Probably best suited for 4-3. Compared often to Bengals' Geno Atkins.
3. Ra'Shede Hageman
Minnesota, DT-DE, 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 310
Fast mover on draft boards. Might end up as DE. Long and rangy, he had 201⁄2 tackles for loss, eight sacks past two seasons. High school basketball star; blocked two kicks in 2013.
4. Louis Nix
Notre Dame, DT, 6-2, 331
Projects as a 3-4 nose tackle after having 21⁄2 career sacks. His 2013 season was cut short by a knee injury. Good lateral quickness given his size. Doesn't tire as much in fourth quarter as some big linemen.
5. Timmy Jernigan
Florida State, DT, 6-1 1 ⁄ 2 , 299
Came off the bench until 2013, when he had 41⁄2 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Strong, disruptive and moves well for size. Looks best-suited for 4-3. Nine tackles in BCS title game vs. Auburn.
6. Stephon Tuitt
Notre Dame, DT, 6-5 1 ⁄ 2 , 304
Big producer playing alongside Nix; 191⁄2 sacks the past two seasons. Lots of potential but sometimes inconsistent and could be more aggressive. Was ejected last season for targeting Pitt QB Tom Savage.
7. Dee Ford
Auburn, DE, 6-2, 250
Might be moved to OLB. Stats: 16 sacks, 21 tackles for loss in 2012 and '13. Competitive, get-after-it temperament. Missed combine (back). Good athlete. Says he'll outperform Clowney.
8. Kony Ealy
Missouri, DE, 6-4, 273
Good production (271⁄2 tackles for loss, 13 sacks the past two seasons). Teammate Michael Sam got more awards and attention, but he's faster, stronger and projects as a much-higher pick. Ran the 40 in 4.88. Athletic and doesn't need outside motivation.
9. Demarcus Lawrence
Boise State, DE, 6-2 1 ⁄ 2 , 251
Big stats guy: 20 sacks, 34 tackles for loss in 2012 and '13. Can play multiple positions. Good quickness and acceleration (4.83 in 40). Maturity is a question. Served three one-game suspensions.
10. Scott Crichton
Oregon State, DE, 6-2 1 ⁄ 2 , 273
School-record 10 career forced fumbles in three seasons. Didn't have a great combine and not as athletic as others but is self-driven. Looks better for 4-3 than 3-4. Visited Steelers.Best fit for Steelers
Louis Nix could be the NFL's next Casey Hampton as a run stuffer, but the Steelers are likely to look elsewhere during the first round. Nix is all but certain to be gone by the second. If so, does Scott Crichton intrigue them?One to watch
Michael Sam, Missouri, DE, 6-2, 261
The entire league will be watching to see which team takes the first openly gay player to enter the draft. SEC co-defensive player of the year (111⁄2 sacks), but projects as a Day 3 pick because of a lack of ideal height and strength. And he can't play LB.
Will Clarke, West Virginia, DL, 6-6, 271
Figures to go in the mid-rounds after having 91⁄2 career sacks. Boston College DL Kaleb Ramsey (6-3, 293), of Laurel Highlands, is a potential seventh-round pick. Ramsey was granted a medical redshirt (foot) that allowed him to stay in college for six years.
A year ago, Jadeveon Clowney was seen as the all-but-certain No. 1 pick following his 13-sack sophomore season at South Carolina.
But arguably the most gifted player in the 2014 draft class had a so-so junior season, and there are questions about his motivation and intangibles as the draft approaches.
Aaron Donald, on the other hand, is a case study in football perseverance — a testimony to his work ethic, drive and dedication.
The Penn Hills native wasn't projected to be one of college football's elite players before last season. But he won every possible award except the Heisman Trophy.
Donald wasn't expected to be a first-round draft pick after the season ended. But after an exceptional offseason, he is likely to become only the eighth Pitt defensive lineman drafted during the first round.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. calls Clowney “the best defensive end (prospect) in 20 years.” But many in the NFL are waiting to see if the overachieving-to-date Donald or the underachieving-to-date Clowney has the best career.
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