This might not be the strongest group of defensive front players compared with recent drafts, but the one thing that is standing out during the evaluation process is the diversity of this group. Most of the top prospects possess distinct positional and scheme fits.
For this article, I've broken down our potential first- or second-round prospects by category -– 4-3 right defensive ends, 4-3 left defensive ends, 4-3 D-tackles, 3-4 nose tackles, 3-4 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers –- and explained the ideal team fits (based on where they'll likely be drafted) for each. All of these guys fit as "on-the-line" defenders in the NFL, including the 3-4 outside linebackers who will spend most of their time standing up near the line of scrimmage.
4-3 right defensive ends
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
What he brings: Clowney possesses a rare combination of size, strength and speed, and he's equally as effective with his speed rush as with his bull rush.
How he fits: He's talented enough to play multiple roles in multiple defensive fronts, including the ability to rush the passer from the interior defensive line and hold up in underneath coverage on occasion, but his ideal fit is as a 4-3 right defensive end who can get after the QB using his elite pass-rushing skills. Even though right DEs aren't typically as strong against the run, Clowney holds up very well with his combo of size, strength and acceleration.
Where he fits: If the Texans decide Clowney is their guy at No. 1 , they'll certainly find a way to make good use of him. He'd be a 3-4 outside linebacker in the base formation, which isn't ideal for him, but he's athletic enough to handle coverage duties when called upon, and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel likely would mix in more 4-3 looks to maximize the Houston personnel with him in the lineup. Most important, Crennel would find ways to create one-on-one opportunities for him to rush the passer, which is his greatest strength. Clowney would be a perfect fit as a 4-3 defensive end with the Rams (picking No. 2) or Jaguars (No. 3).