The Big Ten might not produce a top 10 pick in April's NFL draft. The league likely won't fill up the boards with elite skill players.
But when it comes to the defensive end position, no other league stacks up to what the Big Ten offers this year.
The Big Ten could see four defensive ends drafted in the first round this year: Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, Ohio State's Cameron Heyward and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. Both Kerrigan and Watt had monster 2010 seasons, while Heyward turned in his best performance as a Buckeye in the Sugar Bowl win against Arkansas. Clayborn didn't have the season most of envisioned, but his skill set still impresses the NFL talent evaluators.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Steve Muench breaks down the Big Ten defensive ends in this Insider piece. All four players receive a draft grade higher than 90, with Iowa's Clayborn (95) leading the group.
Here are some tidbits from Muench:
Clayborn: "He has a powerful punch to rock offensive tackles back, the active hands to prevent blockers from locking onto his frame and the quick-twitch, lateral mobility to redirect inside after starting outside. He will sometimes take a split-second too long to react to the snap, but Clayborn has the initial quickness to turn the corner, and he closes well when he has a lane to the quarterback."
Kerrigan: "Kerrigan has perhaps the best closing speed of the ends on this list. He excels at ripping under the outside arm of the defensive tackle and bending back inside, and his ability to deliver the big hit and knock the ball loose is impressive. Kerrigan is a disruptive run-stopper who would fit well as a one-gap player in a 4-3 front, but I question his ability to hold up in a two-gap, read-and-react scheme."
Watt: "Watt's first-step quickness isn't elite and he doesn't close as quickly as the players ahead of him on this list, but he's got enough burst to turn the corner on occasion. He is also a savvy pass-rusher who can use outside moves to set tackles back up to the inside. He can work the edge several times and then shoot inside when he sees the offensive tackle cheating outside."
Heyward: "His ability to line up at defensive tackle in certain situations gives defensive coordinators the ability to go a four-man front by kicking him inside and walking an outside linebacker up on the outside. Heyward doesn't have the explosive burst NFL front offices covet in their edge-rushers and he'll have a harder time getting to the quarterback at the next level, but he is an effective power-rusher with active hands and an above-average motor."