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NFL Draft: Top 5 DEs heading into combine

Chase Young
Chase Young (Scott Stuart)

The NFL Scouting Combine is right around the corner and so it’s time to take a look at our list of top defensive ends entering the event, along with two others to watch heading into Indianapolis.

MORE COMBINE: Top 5 QBs | Top 5 RBs | Top 5 WRs | Top 5 TEs | Top 5 OL

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

TOP FIVE

1. Chase Young, Ohio State

Recruiting: Young had a lengthy list of favorites through the summer before his senior season, but many felt it was Ohio State, Alabama and Maryland competing for his services. In July, Young committed to the Buckeyes.

Stats: Young had a junior season worthy of the Heisman Trophy with 46 tackles (21 for loss) including 16.5 sacks. In his three-year career, the former five-star totaled 98 tackles and 30.5 sacks. He also had nine forced fumbles in his career, seven this season.

Farrell’s take: Young was a five-star out of high school and a physical freak, and he’s taken that to the next level in college. He’s added size without losing speed and he is by far the best and most dominant pass rusher in the country this year. There was no doubt he was going to be special if he stayed healthy, and he’s the best NFL prospect in the country.

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2. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa

Recruiting: An Iowa legacy since his father, Eppy, played for the Hawkeyes in the 1990s, Epenesa committed in January of his junior year. Oklahoma and others made a push but it always seemed like Iowa would be impossible to beat.

Stats: In three seasons, Epenesa finished with 101 tackles (36 tackles for loss) including 26.5 sacks. In his sophomore and junior years, the former five-star had 10 or more sacks each season.

Farrell’s take: Epenesa was a five-star coming out of high school as a huge defensive end with the ability to push the pocket, beat opponents with quickness and technique and an excellent ability to play the run. He’s shown many flashes of that ability and has become one of the best ends in the Big Ten. He’s received extra attention from blockers this year freeing up his teammates and the NFL loves this kid. He’s a surefire first-rounder.

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3. Curtis Weaver, Boise State

Recruiting: On National Signing Day, Weaver picked Boise State over a number of Power Five offers including Boston College, Duke, Illinois, Washington State, Wisconsin and others. He visited with Boise State in January, weeks before his decision.

Stats: In three seasons at Boise State, Weaver totaled 128 tackles (47.5 for loss) including 34 sacks. The former three-star had 11 sacks as a freshman and 13.5 in his junior season.

Farrell’s take: Weaver was a three-star out of high school who had some nice offers and decided to go the Group of Five route at Boise State and it has worked out well for him. He had good size and power, but wasn’t super quick off the edge. However, he’s improved his snap quickness quite a bit and is now a terror as a pass rusher.

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4. Julian Okwara, Notre Dame

Recruiting: In the spring of his junior year, Okwara committed to Notre Dame over Clemson, Georgia, Ole Miss and Michigan. Okwara’s older brother, Romeo, also played for the Irish.

Stats: Over four seasons that included just 35 games, Okwara finished with 79 tackles and 15.5 sacks. The former four-star had 24 tackles for loss.

Farrell’s take: Okwara was a four-star outside the Rivals250 who was a long, skinny pass rusher who could also do some work standing up. He played for a big-time program in North Carolina and certainly had a lot of potential coming out. He’s developed into one of the better pass rushers in the country and his technique is flawless. He’s also very good against the run in addition to his pass rushing skills.

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5. Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State

Recruiting: In February of his junior season, Gross-Matos committed to Penn State over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Shortly before his pledge, Tennessee had also offered and was being considered but it was too late.

Stats: In three seasons, Gross-Matos had 111 tackles including 36.5 for loss and 18.5 sacks.

Farrell’s take: Gross-Matos was a Rivals250 four-star who got better each time we saw him, and he finished the rankings cycle on an upswing after a great week at Under Armour. He had good length and a frame he continued to fill out, but it was his agility and balance that impressed us the most. He was very hard to knock off balance. Another key get for Penn State from Virginia, a state the Nittany Lions have done well in, Gross-Matos will impress NFL scouts with his motor on film.

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TWO TO WATCH

Darrell Taylor, Tennessee

Recruiting: At halftime of his own football game, Taylor committed to Tennessee over Virginia Tech, Ohio State, South Carolina and Florida. He committed to the Vols on the same day as Shy Tuttle.

Stats: Over a five-year career in Knoxville, Taylor totaled 118 tackles (26.5 for loss) along with 19.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.

Farrell’s take: I mentioned Taylor a few years ago as the next guy up on the defensive line for the Vols after Derek Barnett because of his tenacity and effort and that has shown on film. He makes a lot of plays in the backfield with hustle and also great anticipation. We liked those skills out of high school and he lived up to the hype.

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Terrell Lewis, Alabama

Recruiting: An early Ohio State commitment, Lewis (then named Terrell Hall) backed off that pledge and picked Alabama on National Signing Day. He selected the Crimson Tide over his other finalists - Maryland, Ole Miss and Florida State.

Stats: A five-star who was the top-rated weak-side defensive end in the 2016 class, Lewis dealt with numerous injuries during his time in Tuscaloosa. In only 14 college games, Lewis totaled 47 tackles (13.5 for loss) and seven sacks, including six this past season.

Farrell’s take: Lewis will have more to prove in medical assessments than on the field at the combine but his ceiling is super high if he’s clear medically after a bounce back season. He was a surefire can’t-miss out of high school, but injuries derailed him. He could be a second round steal for someone as an edge rusher.