Many NFL analysts believe that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a rare talent who will be selected by the Texans with the No. 1 pick in the draft.
A three-year contributor and two-year starter for the Gamecocks, Clowney blossomed as a sophomore in 2012 when he was named SEC defensive player of the year after recording 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks with three forced fumbles.
In his 2014 NFL Draft Preview, Nolan Nawrocki writes that Clowney "is one of the most unique talents in the draft and could easily be a double-digit sack producer in the pros from either end." Nawrocki also states that Clowney "is every bit worthy of the first overall pick" in part because he "will immediately upgrade a defensive line and improve the production of those around him."
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Clowney as the top prospect in the draft and predicts that he will be selected first by the Texans, writing: "Question his raw productivity stats, but the tape tells another story. Not a lock at No. 1, but I think he belongs there."
Other defensive ends who could garner first-round consideration include Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Missouri's Kony Ealy.
Tuitt recorded 49 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss and 7.5 sacks last season as a junior. The 6-5½, 304-pounder also intercepted a pass in the end zone for a touchdown against Michigan.
Kiper ranks Tuitt as the 28th best prospect in the draft, writing: "Inconsistency was an issue in 2013, but so was a nagging injury that slowed him down. When healthy, he can thrive."
Ealy was a two-year starter at Missouri. The 6-4, 273-pounder was named first-team All-SEC last season as a junior, registering 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for loss and 9.5 sacks with six passes defensed, one interception he returned 49 yards for a touchdown and three forced fumbles.
Nawrocki describes Ealy as a "big, athletic, ascending, pass-rush talent with the size, burst and flexibility to pressurize the edge as a right defensive end."
The consensus top defensive tackle in the draft is Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald. The 6-1, 285-pounder was a productive four-year contributor who won the Bronko Nagurski Award, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award last season as a senior after compiling 59 tackles, an NCAA-leading 28.5 tackles-for-loss and 11 sacks with four forced fumbles.
Kiper ranks Donald as the 11th best prospect in the draft and predicts that he will be selected by the Giants with the 12th pick in the first round, writing: "Donald's ability to disrupt from the interior with quickness, power and violent hands is unmatched in this draft."
Nawrocki describes Donald as a "short, scrappy, instinctive, highly productive defensive penetrator who does not look the part, but inspires confidence he can be an exception to the rule."
The next tier of defensive tackles includes Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Notre Dame's Louis Nix III.