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Phil Steele: Top 25 Defensive Ends for 2025 NFL Draft ahead of 2024 college football season

On3 imageby:Dan Morrison07/08/24

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Top 25 DEs for 2025 NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is usually headlined by quarterbacks. That’s no surprise, given that it’s widely regarded as the most important position on a team. It’s also that value on the quarterback position that makes defensive ends so valuable.

There are plenty of talented defensive ends in college football going into the 2024 season, including plenty of players who will be eligible for the 2025 NFL Draft. So, in his annual preview, Phil Steele made sure to rank the Top 25 Defensive ends for the draft. This comes before the season starts, so there is a chance these rankings change over time as new players emerge. However, they do act as a good look ahead at players to keep an eye on.

So, here are the defensive ends who Steele expects to hear early in the NFL Draft, and potentially become future stars in the NFL.

1. James Pearce Jr.Tennessee

James Pearce - Tennessee
(© Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel/ USA TODAY NETWORK)

Tennessee star James Pearce Jr. is considered by many to be one of the best draft-eligible players in 2025 and it’s no different for Steele. He sees the same mix of production and raw talent that NFL teams should love, and as he enters the season as a Preseason All-American First Team selection, Pearce has plenty of hype to live up to but at the same time, he seems capable of it.

In his previous two seasons at Tennessee, Pearce has played in 13 total games. With that playing time, he’s made 33 total tackles, 16.5 of which were tackles for a loss, and 12 of which were sacks. He also has an interception, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. With a six-foot-five-inch frame, he seems like the ideal defensive end for an NFL team.

2. Mykel WilliamsGeorgia

Mykel Williams Georgia Bulldogs
Tony Walsh / UGA Sports Communications

Coming into the 2024 season, Mykel Williams is one of the most exciting defensive end prospects. Given that he plays for the Georgia Bulldogs, that’s probably not a surprise, with the Bulldogs sending tons of talented defensive linemen to the NFL Draft during the Kirby Smart era. Now, it seems like Williams should be the next one.

Williams has played two seasons and 28 games for Georgia so far. In that time, he’s had 46 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, and nine sacks. He’s also defended two passes and forced a fumble. An incredibly athletic player, he’s going to look to build on those numbers in 2024 and ahead of the draft.

3. Nic ScourtonTexas A&M

Texas A&M edge rusher Nic Scourton
Texas A&M edge rusher Nic Scourton. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics)

Nic Scourton is in his first season at Texas A&M after transferring in from Purdue. It may well end up being his only season with the Aggies, as the NFL Draft is likely going to come calling for him after the season. After all, he blends elite size and athleticism for a defensive end and a productive year against SEC offenses would be excellent for his stock.

In two seasons at Purdue, Scourton played in 25 games and was incredibly productive in the Big Ten. He had 72 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. He also defended three passes and forced two fumbles while at Purdue. With that, he was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection.

4. J.T. TuimoloauOhio State

j.t. tuimoloau-ohio state-ohio state football-buckeyes
Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau runs after recovering a Jack Sawyer strip sack during the second half of a 37-3 win over Minnesota. (Matt Parker/Lettermen Row)

J.T. Tuimoloau is the first defensive end Phil Steele had on his list that is going into their senior season in 2024 instead of their junior season. Maybe he came back to improve his draft stock or because he felt like he had unfinished business in college. Either way, after being a two-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection, Tuimoloau, the Buckeyes are happy to have him back.

With three seasons of experience, J.T. Tuimoloau has played in 39 games for Ohio State. So, he has more than enough experience. He also has 83 career total tackles to go along with 22 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks this season. On top of that, he has two interceptions, seven passes defended, and a forced fumble to go along with a defensive touchdown. By the time 2024 is done, he’ll have some of the best career numbers in the country.

5. Patrick PaytonFlorida State

Florida State DL Patrick Payton
Chris Leduc | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Patrick Payton is part of what should be an incredibly exciting Florida State defensive line. This comes in a season when the Seminoles are trying to replace Jared Verse‘s production and Payton should be a key piece of that. The former ACC Rookie of the Year in 2022 is now looking to take a step forward and get attention for the NFL Draft next year.

After playing in one game in 2021 and taking a redshirt, Payton played 27 games in 2022 and 2023. For his college career, he has 75 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, and 12 sacks. On top of that, he’s defended 13 passes and has three forced fumbles. That production blended with his athleticism makes him an interesting prospect.

6. Jack Sawyer — Ohio State

Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer at Northwestern during the 2022 season. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer at Northwestern during the 2022 season. (Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)

The first team to have multiple defensive ends on Phil Steele’s list of Top 25 draft-eligible players at the position is Ohio State with Jack Sawyer making the list. Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise given how successful the Buckeyes have been at developing talent at the position over the years. So, the 2025 NFL Draft will likely be another when the Buckeyes get a long look.

In his three previous seasons at Ohio State, Sawyer played in 38 games. He has 85 total tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss to go along with 14 sacks. He’s also defended four passes to go along with three forced fumbles. That comes after he was a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection last season.

7. Marvin Jones Jr. — Florida State

New FSU defensive end Marvin Jones Jr. calls first spring with Seminoles, 'amazing.' (Gene Williams/Warchant)
New FSU defensive end Marvin Jones Jr. calls first spring with Seminoles, ‘amazing.’ (Gene Williams/Warchant)

After two seasons with Georgia, Marvin Jones Jr. transferred to Florida State ahead of the 2024 season. It’s a year where he’s expected to make a major impact on the field for the Seminoles and be a key piece of the team’s defensive line. It’s also a season that could set him up for success in the NFL Draft.

In 25 games over two seasons at Georgia, Jones had 16 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, and 2.0 sacks. He’s also forced a fumble. Those numbers don’t necessarily compare well to some of the other players that Steele highlighted. However, what’s great about Jones is what he projects to be. He’s athletic and should be able to take another step forward on the field in 2024.

8. Landon JacksonArkansas

Landon Jackson
Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Over the past few seasons, Landon Jackson has become a formidable mainstay on the Arkansas defense. He finished last season as a Second-Team All-SEC, according to Steele. On top of that, Steele also has selected him as a 2024 Second-Team Preseason All-SEC selection. So, it’s not a surprise he’s ranked so highly among the draft-eligible players.

In the last three seasons, Jackson has played in 30 games, with the vast majority of his playing time coming over the last two seasons. He has 67 total tackles with 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. On top of that, he has two passes defended and a forced fumble.

9. Dani Dennis-SuttonPenn State

penn-state-freshmen-defenders-abdul-carter-and-dani-dennis-sutton-were-ready-for-early-success-james-franklin-says
Penn State defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton. (Greg Pickel/BWI)

A Third-Team All-Big Ten selection in 2023, Dani Dennis-Sutton has perhaps been overlooked on a talented Penn State defense. However, Steele is very excited about the season he could put together in 2024. So, it’s not a surprise to see him on this list of draft-eligible defensive ends.

In two seasons in Happy Valley, Dennis-Sutton has played in 26 games. He has 43 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. He also has an interception, two passes defended, and two forced fumbles. It’s success that he’ll want to build on moving forward with Penn State.

10. Ashton GillotteLouisville

Senior defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte had 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Louisville’s 33-20 upset over Notre Dame last year. (Photo courtesy Louisville athletics)
Senior defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte had 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble in Louisville’s 33-20 upset over Notre Dame last year. (Photo courtesy Louisville athletics)

A First-Team All-ACC selection in 2023, Ashton Gillotte is coming into the 2024 season with high hopes. A good year could both mean that he helps Louisville compete for the ACC while he sets himself up to hear his name in the NFL Draft come the spring. Certainly, Phil Steele thinks he’s got the ability to do that.

Ashton Gillotte has played three seasons and 39 games during his time at Louisville. While there, he’s been incredibly productive, with 88 total tackles, 30.5 tackles for a loss, and 22 sacks. He’s also defended a pass and forced four fumbles. Now, he’s looking to build on those numbers and impress NFL scouts.

Steele’s 11-25 DEs for the 2025 NFL Draft

11. Ethan BurkeTexas
12. Princely UmanmielenOle Miss
13. Jah JoynerMinnesota
14. Derrick MooreMichigan
15. Jordan BurchOregon
16. Steve LintonBaylor
17. David BaileyStanford
18. Jasheen DavisWake Forest
19. Roman Oben Jr.Notre Dame
20. Akheem MesidorMiami
21. Shemar Stewart — Texas A&M
22. Jared Ivey — Ole Miss
23. Barryn Sorrell — Texas
24. Tyler BattyBYU
25. Fadil DiggsSyracuse