A position-by-position look at prospects in this year's NFL Draft. This entry: Defensive ends.


A Look at This Year's NFL Draft Defensive End Prospects
Having grown up about an hour's drive from Indianapolis, Ryan Kerrigan saw the impact on a game that explosive defensive ends can make. He saw it often in the play of Colts ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

Kerrigan tried to emulate it.

"Absolutely," the former Purdue defensive end said recently when asked about the Colts' stars. "Our motto at Purdue was, it's not enough just to get the sack or get the tackle. But you wanted to force a fumble and get the ball back for your offense. We really tried to do that every game."

Kerrigan's statistics at Purdue reflected that attitude. He amassed 33.5 sacks, 57 tackles for loss and 14 forced fumbles during his Boilermakers career. During his senior season, when he was Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, he recorded 26 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles to lead the conference.

Now Kerrigan is viewed as one of the top defensive end prospects for the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28-30. His stock appears on the rise, too, in the wake of some reported strong workouts. Observers project him as one of perhaps seven first-round prospects at his defensive end position, which is bulging with standout picks.

"I feel like I've had a fairly productive college career," Kerrigan said the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, "and I think that speaks volumes about myself that I've done it year in and year out. That's one of my biggest attributes."

Kerrigan grew up and played high school football in Muncie, Ind., about an hour northeast of Indianapolis. He didn't go far away to play at Purdue, located in West Lafayette, an hour northwest of the state capital.

When Kerrigan arrived at Purdue, his teammates quickly noted his strength, resolve and unrelenting style. They nicknamed him "Superman."

Kerrigan had all the right stuff, and his first position coach, Terrell Williams, wasted no time building on that foundation.

"He basically told the freshmen when we first got there, 'If I ever see you guys not sprinting every play, I'm going to take you out,' Kerrigan recalled. "That kind of resonated with me for the rest of my career.

"Every play after that, I was sprinting to the ball, 100 percent. It really paid dividends."

As Kerrigan's college career advanced to his senior season, when he became a unanimous All-American, he learned valuable lessons that he will carry into the NFL. His Purdue coaches emphasized the tomahawking move that created fumbles. They preached preparedness and anticipation.

"I was just really sure of myself every snap," the 6-3, 267-pound Kerrigan said. "I had a good idea of what plays were coming and that came from watching a lot of game tape. I was able to take that to the field and have a good idea of what play was coming. That allowed me to be a little bit quicker at the start when the ball was snapped."

A slim possibility exists that Kerrigan could be switched to an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He worked on some linebacker drills at the Combine. After the draft, Kerrigan won't balk if the move happens.

"Whatever a team wants," he said.

"I played a 4-3 defensive end in college, so I don't have much experience with it. But in my training for the Combine, I've been working on a lot of drops from a 3-4 linebacker standpoint and I feel I've made a lot of strides with that.

"When you're a 4-3 defensive end, you drop back in pass coverage occasionally, but not too often. Whereas, with a 3-4 linebacker, you drop back quite a bit. I think that will be the biggest adjustment. ... I feel that I'm a good pass rusher. I can get after the passer. But I'm also athletic enough to drop into coverage and be able to cover tight ends and wide receivers."

Play-making defensive ends are always a hot commodity in the NFL Draft, and this year is no different. This year, too, there will be plenty on the board. As many as seven could be selected in the first round. Throw in three players who could wind up playing either defensive end in a 4-3 defense or outside linebacker in a 3-4 – Texas A&M's Von Miller, Missouri's Aldon Smith and Georgia's Justin Houston – and the group is even more impressive. Generally rated at the top of the defensive end class is Da'Quan Bowers of Clemson, J.J. Watt of Wisconsin and Robert Quinn of North Carolina. Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue is one of the fastest risers on the board after some eye-popping workouts.

The last three defensive ends drafted by the Colts ...

2010: Jerry Hughes, first round, Texas Christian.

2008: Marcus Howard, fifth round, Georgia.

2007: Keyunta Dawson, seventh round, Texas Tech.

THIS YEAR'S DRAFTAn alphabetical list of 10 defensive ends expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL Draft ...

Sam Acho, Texas, 6-2, 260
Allen Bailey, Miami (Fla.), 6-3, 285
Christian Ballard, Iowa, 6-3, 283
Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson, 6-3, 280
Adrian Clayborn, Iowa, 6-3, 281
Cameron Heyward, Ohio State, 6-5, 294
Cameron Jordan, California, 6-4, 287
Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue, 6-3, 267
Robert Quinn, North Carolina, 6-4, 265
J.J. Watt, Wisconsin, 6-5, 290

Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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