Top defensive player thumbnails for NFL draft

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A brief scouting report on some of the top defensive players available at each position in NFL draft, which will be held May 8-10 in New York.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Group is short on edge pass rushers but seems to be deep on run-stuffers.

JADEVEON CLOWNEY, South Carolina (6-foot-6, 266 pounds). Production fell off after spectacular sophomore season for defensive end. Finished last season with 11 1-2 tackles for loss and three sacks after getting 23 1-2 and 13 in 2012. Most talented and athletically gifted player in draft. Blazing fast for size. Moves fluidly. Plays with power, gets off line quickly and can chase down running backs from sideline to sideline. Some questions about playing with consistently high effort and he needs to develop more pass rushing technique, but he’s likely No. 1 pick.

Projection: Top five.

AARON DONALD, Pittsburgh (6-1, 285). As productive as any college defensive player last season, and has hardware to back it up. Defensive tackle won Bronko Nagurski Award as national defensive player of year, and Outland and Lombardi trophies as top lineman after leading country in tackles for loss with 28 1-2. A bit undersized and there are some complaints about ability to anchor down against double-teams, but instincts, quickness, technique and tenacity have more than made up for any physical shortcomings.

Projection: Top 10.

LOUIS NIX III, Notre Dame (6-2, 331). Left knee injury limited him to eight games last season, but was one of best nose tackles in country in 2012, helping Fighting Irish reach national title game. He had 50 tackles that season, and only 27 last season. Size, strength and power are textbook for position. Conditioning could be issue; needs to keep his weight down.

Projection: Middle of first round.

STEPHON TUITT, Notre Dame (6-5, 304). Like his teammate Nix, was not quite as productive in 2013 as 2012 and battled nagging injuries. Defensive end finished with 7 1-2 sacks last year. Good tackler, strong against run and has excellent size and strength. Doesn’t project to being big-time pass rusher.

Projection: Middle of first round.

TIMMY JERNIGAN, Florida State (6-2, 299). Anchored Seminoles’ defense at nose tackle and made plenty of plays from middle with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. Gets into backfield and provides good pass rush with quick hands. Size is less than ideal and conditioning needs work to stay on field more often.

Projection: Middle-late first round.

RA’SHEDE HAGEMAN, Minnesota (6-6, 310). Became starter as junior and was one of best defensive tackles in Big Ten as senior last season. Chosen team MVP with 13 tackles for loss, eight passes defended, an interception and two blocked kicks. Impressive athlete, but not as dominant a player considering his physical tools.

Projection: Possible late first round.

DEMARCUS LAWRENCE, Boise State (6-3, 252). Had 20 sacks in last two seasons at Boise State. Has skills of potential double-digit sack defensive end or outside linebacker in NFL.

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