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August 21, 2011

Preseason top 15: Defensive ends

We continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at defensive ends.

This was one of the toughest positions nationally to pick, mainly because of the departure of so many good ones from last season.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Aug. 29, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. Monday, we will look at defensive tackles. Here are the defensive end rankings.

15. RONNELL LEWIS, OKLAHOMA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/244, Jr.; Dewar (Okla.) High
THE BUZZ: In 2010, Lewis was moved to a hybrid end/linebacker spot and showed flashes of big things as a starter in the final four games of the season. He notched a career-high eight tackles at Oklahoma State, then had seven against Nebraska in the Big 12 title game. Lewis is an explosive athlete who has a deadly combination of strength and speed.

14. JABAREE TUANI, NAVY
THE PARTICULARS: 6-1/265, Sr.; Brentwood (Tenn.) Brentwood Academy
THE BUZZ: He is one of the Midshipmen's best defensive linemen in recent history. Tuani is strong at the point of attack and knows how to use his hands. He also is quick off the edge, making him a disruptive force. His 10.5 career sacks are fifth in Navy history.

13. JACQUIES SMITH, MISSOURI
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/255, Sr.; Dallas South Oak Cliff
THE BUZZ: With Aldon Smith off early to the NFL, Smith must become a star for an underrated Tigers defense. Smith garnered second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 after tallying 35 tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He is explosive off the edge and relentless in pursuit from sideline to sideline.

12. JONATHAN MASSAQUOI, TROY
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/250, Jr.; Lawrenceville (Ga.) Central Gwinnett
THE BUZZ: Massaquoi was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection last season, notching multiple tackles for loss in seven contests. He arrived at Troy from Butler County (Kan.) CC in 2009 and redshirted before debuting in 2010. He has been tabbed the Sun Belt preseason Defensive Player of the Year and is the latest in a long line of productive Trojans defensive linemen.

11. SHEA McCLELLIN, BOISE STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/258, Sr.; Caldwell (Idaho) High
THE BUZZ: A first-team all-league choice in 2010 who has made 24 consecutive starts, McClellin had 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks - both team highs. He has an explosive first step off the edge and also plays like his hair is on fire.

10. DONTE PAIGE-MOSS, NORTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-4/260, Jr.; Jacksonville (N.C.) Northside
THE BUZZ: He got his feet wet as a true freshman in 2009, when he played eight games. Paige-Moss then emerged last season as a future star, making 49 tackles and 9.5 sacks. He was especially productive down the stretch, with 10.5 of his 13.5 tackles for loss coming in the second half of the season. He will be an important part of what could be the best defensive line in the nation.

9. JAKE BEQUETTE, ARKANSAS
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/271, Sr.; Little Rock (Ark.) Little Rock Catholic
THE BUZZ: He enters 2011 tied for 10th in school history with 13.5 career sacks. Last season, Bequette was a disruptive force off the edge who tallied 8.5 tackles for loss and a career-high seven sacks. He also is solid against the run.

8. JUNIOR ONYEALI, ARIZONA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 5-11/244, Soph.; Denver Mullen
THE BUZZ: He is lauded for his pass-rushing ability, as Onyeali is a powerful, explosive and fast player who can play end or linebacker. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Onyeali had 6.5 sacks. He also had 11.5 tackles for loss, often overpowering or outrunning offensive linemen to make a play.

7. VINNY CURRY, MARSHALL
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/242, Sr.; Neptune (N.J.) Harmony Community
THE BUZZ: He contemplated turning pro after last season, when he dominated by registering 12 sacks and 94 tackles. But Curry wants to be just the second person in his family to earn a degree. He should be one of the nation's top playmakers this fall.

6. DEVIN TAYLOR, SOUTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-7/260, Jr.; Beaufort (S.C.) High
THE BUZZ: He was a first-team All-SEC pick last season. Taylor's 46 tackles paced South Carolina defensive linemen, and he led the squad and ranked eighth in the SEC with 13 tackles for loss. He also had 7.5 sacks.

5. BRUCE IRVIN, WEST VIRGINIA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/245, Sr.; Mt. San Antonio College (Calif.), preceded by Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson
THE BUZZ: Irvin was second nationally with 14 sacks last season, which is No. 3 on West Virginia's single-season sack list. He was a second-team All-Big East selection last season and should vie for All-America honors this season. Last season, he was a one-trick pony of sorts, as 14 of his 21 total tackles were sacks. This season, he has bulked up and is expected to be an every-down end.

4. VINCE BROWNE, NORTHWESTERN
THE PARTICULARS: 6-5/265, Sr.; Lisbon (Ohio) David Anderson
THE BUZZ: He may be the top playmaking defensive lineman in the Big Ten after ranking second in the league in sacks (7.0) and third in tackles for loss (15.5) last season. Browne, who ranks fifth in Northwestern history in sacks (16.0) and ninth in tackles for loss (31.0), has a nice combination of size and speed, and his quick first step makes him deadly off the edge. Browne had a career-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss, against Penn State last season.

3. QUINTON COPLES, NORTH CAROLINA
THE PARTICULARS: 6-6/285, Sr.; Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy, preceded by Kinston (N.C.) High
THE BUZZ: Coples should join Kentwan Balmer and Robert Quinn as recent UNC defensive linemen who developed into first-round picks. Because of some NCAA-mandated suspensions, Coples moved from end to tackle last season and adjusted to the switch well enough to collect 59 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Now that he's back at his natural position, Coples should emerge as an even more dangerous pass rusher.

2. BRANDON JENKINS, FLORIDA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-3/258, Jr.; Tallahassee (Fla.) Florida High
THE BUZZ: Jenkins emerged as arguably the nation's most improved pass rusher last season. After recording 12 total tackles and three tackles for loss in 2009, Jenkins earned second-team All-America honors with 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last season. Jenkins' rise to stardom helped Florida State produce 48 sacks, which tied Boise State for the nation's lead. Jenkins had a nine-tackle, two-sack performance against Boston College.

1. BRANDON LINDSEY, PITTSBURGH
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/250, Sr.; Aliquippa (Pa.) High
THE BUZZ: Lindsey began last season as a backup, but Greg Romeus' season-long injury woes put Lindsey into a more prominent role. He finished tied for second in the Big East in sacks with 10. Lindsey will move to a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position under new coach Todd Graham, and Pitt still will look to him to be its premier pass rusher with Romeus and Jabaal Sheard gone. His dad, John, played basketball at Memphis State (1969-71).

Rankings and player capsules compiled by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.



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