2011 Path to the Draft: Defensive end

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This article is part of our 2011 Path to the Draft coverage presented by Warehouse Pool Supply.

Mario Williams and Antonio Smith will be the Texans' starting defensive ends in the 3-4, but the Texans are still expected to draft an end this weekend – possibly as early as the first round.

Williams, the Texans' all-time sacks leader, will be a key cog in new coordinator Wade Phillips' defense. Hall of Famers Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Elvin Bethea all excelled as 3-4 ends under Phillips, and he expects much of the same from Williams.

Antonio Smith doesn't get a ton of credit, but he plays with a mean streak and has been one of the Texans' most disruptive defensive players since joining the team in 2009.

Depending on who else is available, most draft analysts think the Texans will consider taking a defensive end at No. 11 overall on Thursday. A player like Cam Jordan of Cal or J.J. Watt of Wisconsin probably wouldn't start as a rookie, but they'd have a chance to make an impact as a rotational player.

One day before the 2011 draft, Wes Bunting and Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post examine potential defensive end options for the Texans in an exclusive feature for HoustonTexans.com:

National Football Post analysisIf the Texans are serious about getting Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams some help, here are some impact possibilities:

DAY 1 DEFENSIVE END OPTIONS AT 1.11

1. Cameron Jordan, California (6-4, 287, 4.76): One of the most physically gifted defensive ends in this year's draft class, Jordan racked up 51 tackles and six sacks en route to earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season. He displays an impressive first step off the snap in the pass game when lined up inside and is consistently one of the first defensive linemen moving off the football. Jordan is sudden and violent with his hands on contact and loves to work his arm over to free himself inside. Is virtually certain to be on the board when the Texans go on the clock at No. 11.

2. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (6-5, 290, 4.84): Watt has a motor that never stops, which is one of the main reasons he accumulated 62 tackles, seven sacks and first-team All-Big-Ten honors during his 2010 campaign at Wisconsin. Delivers a nasty jolt at the point of attack in the run game, extends his arms well, keeps his base down and can really rock opposing blockers on contact. Displays some short-area quickness when asked to slip blocks and does a nice job making his way into the backfield. However, when trying to cross the face of opposing linemen inside, Watt gets too upright with his pad level, doesn't protect his frame and can easily be washed away down the line. There's a chance he slips into the top-10 (Tennessee, Dallas), but there's a better possibility of him being available at No. 11.

DAY 2 DEFENSIVE END OPTIONS AT 2.10 AND 3.9

1. Cameron Heyward, Ohio State (6-4, 294, 4.90): A four-year contributor at Ohio State, Heyward recorded 15 sacks during his time with the Buckeyes and even earned first-team All-Big-Ten honors last season just like J.J. Watt (above). He's a bit of a DE/DT tweener who has the versatility to line up both on the strong side at end and inside to the three-technique on passing downs. Possesses an average/good first step off the line and does a nice job keeping his pad level down for such a big guy. Heyward doesn't strike us as a dominant pass rusher in the NFL, but he has the versatility to create mismatches in a 3-4 as well as a 4-3 front. 

2. Christian Ballard, Iowa (6-3, 283, 4.77): Flew a bit beneath the radar at Iowa due to the success of teammate Adrian Clayborn, but keep in mind that this kid racked up 93 tackles and eight sacks over the past two seasons while being named honorable mention All-Big-Ten in 2010. A tall, long-armed prospect with a really explosive first step, Ballard has the ability to consistently fire off the football, gain leverage and work his way into the backfield as a bull rush guy. However, he allows his pad level to get upright when changing directions and can be pushed past the pocket once he gains a step. Will definitely be available in the second round with a slight possibility of falling to the third. 

DAY 3 DEFENSIVE END OPTIONS AT 4.8, 5.7, 6.13, 7.11 AND 7.51

1. Lawrence Guy, Arizona State (6-4, 305, 5.01): A physical inside presence who recorded eight sacks over the last three years with the Sun Devils, Guy is an intriguing late-round possibility for the Texans. He's a tall, long-armed defensive lineman who displays impressive bend and natural flexibility when asked to coil up into his stance. Possesses a good combination of instincts and burst off the snap and is consistently the first defensive lineman firing off the football and attacking up the field. However, isn't real physical at the point when asked to anchor inside. Guy needs to continue to improve and must find the football more consistently.

2. David Carter, UCLA (6-5, 297, 5.03): Carter racked up a career-high four sacks in 2010 with the Bruins despite missing two games due to injury. He has the ability to consistently dictate initially to opposing blockers inside and works hard trying to disengage. Needs to do a better job playing with a lower pad level, but Carter does exhibit some natural strength at the point of attack. Isn't overly sudden when trying to slip blocks, but he does have the athleticism to fight his way off opposing linemen laterally, using his length to surge his way up the field. Should be on the board late, should the Texans desire to take a look.

Follow Bunting and Fortenbaugh on Twitter @WesBunting* and @JoeFortenbaugh. Click here to check out more from the National Football Post at their scouting department page.*

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