NFL draft preview: Defensive ends
Eleventh in a series exploring the April 26-28 NFL draft. Next: Middle linebackers.

Many teams in need of defensive ends will find what they are looking for on draft weekend. The 2012 crop of pass rushers is pretty strong, in terms of both top-end talent and depth. And it will need to be as a majority of teams is believed to be in the market for an upgraded pass rush.

The best

1. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, 6-3, 261. He was highly productive, leading the country with 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. But he left school early, had only one year of solid production and is raw. He needs to develop pass-rush moves. It could take him some time to make an impact, but he has a lot of upside. Mercilus had outstanding workouts, and teams believe he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4 as well as end in a 4-3. He has all the tools the NFL looks for in a pass rusher — speed, explosion, flexibility and length. Plus, he plays hard. He is consistently solid against the run and plays with good pad level. Mercilus is lighter than some teams like and struggles to keep weight on.

2. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, 6-1, 272. He does not have ideal length or elite athleticism, but he is a fine player. Upshaw is a power rusher who uses leverage, plays hard and gets to the quarterback. He sets the edge as well as anyone in the class. Upshaw is one of the most polished end prospects in the draft. His hand use is excellent. He might struggle as an outside linebacker in a three-man front.

3. Quinton Coples, North Carolina, 6-6, 284. He is the top-ranked end by many analysts and one of the most gifted players at any position. However, he could fall on draft day because teams question his love of the game. Some believe he was trying not to get hurt in 2011. Coples is highly inconsistent. When he wants to, he can dominate, but he doesn't want to very often. He has the kind of size, athleticism and speed Julius Peppers has, though he isn't as powerful. Some think he can play tackle in a three-man front.

4. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, 6-1, 264. He is a draft enigma because no one is sure what position he fits best. Some think he might be a man without a position. Ingram is a possible end in a 4-3, outside linebacker in a 3-4, tackle in a 4-3 or inside linebacker in a 3-4. He has short arms (31½ inches) and a short frame to be an edge rusher. He was a very productive college player, but he moved all over. Ingram is highly athletic and has quick feet. His change of direction is outstanding. He seems to be a natural pass rusher. Weight, conditioning and effort level have been issues.

5. Shea McClellin, Boise State, 6-3, 260. He is viewed as either an outside linebacker in a 3-4 or an end in a 4-3. He can rush, drop, cover and play the run. He played all over the field in college and made a lot of plays on instinct and hustle. He is considered NFL-ready. McClellin runs well and is very athletic. Setting the edge could be a weakness.

6. Nick Perry, USC, 6-3, 271. He is the strongest of all the ends in terms of playing the run and an ideal candidate to play left end. He has a big frame and big lower body. He is effective stunting and uses his hands well. As a pass rusher, he is a little robotic. He does not always play with consistent effort, and some consider him an underachiever. His workouts have been impressive. Perry, who turned pro with eligibility remaining, has outstanding potential.

7. Chandler Jones, Syracuse, 6-5, 266. This is a tall base end prospect with quick feet. He can create havoc but does not always finish plays. He plays with strength and is solid against the run but is not a dynamic speed rusher. Jones has a good motor. Injuries have limited him. He's the brother of UFC fighter Jon "Bones" Jones and Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones.

8. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, 6-3, 245. This is a very explosive pass rusher and an outstanding athlete. He has an unbelievable takeoff. Irvin's speed rush is exceptional, but it's the only thing he really does well. He does have the ability to be stout. Some scouts question his ability to drop and cover in a complex defense, but he is built more like a 3-4 outside linebacker than he is an end. He has had a tough upbringing and has made questionable off-field decisions.

9. Andre Branch, Clemson, 6-4, 259. He came on in 2011 to impress teams with his athleticism, quick feet and speed. He can bend, turn and burst. Branch has some pass-rushing ability with a strong punch. He sometimes gets stalled on contact and gets bulled against the run at times.

10. Vinny Curry, Marshall, 6-3, 266. Curry does not have the flash to be a speed rusher, but he can be an effective base end. He plays with good power and has enough athleticism. He is decent against the run. His effort level is high. His combine workout was disappointing. Some teams see him as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

11. Tyrone Crawford, Boise State, 6-4, 275. He has a nice combination of size, strength and quickness. Crawford plays hard and smart. He is fundamentally sound. He knows how to play against double teams. He is not a great pass rusher, but he is solid. He worked out well at the combine to help his stock.

12. Olivier Vernon, Miami, 6-2, 261. He played in only six games last season because of a suspension, then left school with a year of eligibility remaining. He was rated higher before the season than after. He does have traits teams are looking for, including speed and explosiveness. He plays hard and shows strong hands. He has been more effective versus the run than the pass. Vernon is shorter than ideal. He isn't very experienced but could develop into a very good player. His workouts have been excellent.

13. Jake Bequette, Arkansas, 6-5, 274. This persistent pass rusher uses strength and leverage to get the job done. He is a little mechanical in his rush. His speed off the edge is ordinary. He has been a four-year starter with production, and a solid 2011 season has boosted his stock. He is considered a leader who gets the most out of his abilities.

14. Frank Alexander, Oklahoma, 6-4, 270. He came on strong late in his career and had a pretty good combine. Alexander has the size and quickness to be a decent NFL end. He uses his hands well but is not overly physical. Alexander gives good effort. He has not been as productive as he could have been. Some see him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. He also has lined up at tackle.

15. Jared Crick, Nebraska, 6-4, 279. He was considered one of the best ends in the draft before last season, but injuries held him back and his stock has gone down. Crick could be a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle. He is more effective playing over a guard than out wide. He has shown he can penetrate a gap. He is not a dynamic pass rusher, but he is a relentless one.

16. Cam Johnson, Virginia, 6-3, 268. He has pass-rushing ability but doesn't always show it. Johnson is explosive and has great acceleration. Scouts question his effort. A former basketball player, wide receiver and defensive back, he is very athletic. He does not play with much power. Johnson played well in the Senior Bowl.