James Pearce Jr. leads 2025 DE class and is one of the top players in the draft

A look at the 2025 defensive end class which is one of the top positions in the NFL Draft.
James Pearce Jr.
James Pearce Jr. / Donald Page/GettyImages

Now that we have released our watch list for each offensive position in the 2025 NFL Draft, it’s time to start looking at the defensive side of the ball. This group is led by James Pearce Jr. who could be the top pick in the draft in 11 months. The group also has several small school players to watch including Terrell Allen of Tennessee State.

2025 NFL Draft: One defensive end to watch in each conference

ACC: Patrick Payton, Florida State: Going into the 2023 season I named Flordia State’s Patrick Payton my breakout defensive end after being a backup in 2022. He lived up to that expectation as well finishing the year with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Big 10: Jack Sawyer, Ohio State: OSU may have one of the top defenses in college football this season and one of the leaders of this unit is Jack Sawyer. Sawyer is the only FBS edge to earn 85.0-plus grades both as a pass rusher and as a run defender in 2023 according to Pro Football Focus.

Big 12: Kanious Vaughn, Utah: A transfer to watch this season is Kanious Vaughn who will be playing for Utah this season after starting his career at UTEP. Last season he accounted for six sacks and two forced fumbles.

SEC: James Pearce Jr, Tennessee : One of the top defensive players in the 2025 NFL Draft will be Tennessee defensive end James Pearce Jr.. This past season he made 14.5 tackles for loss and finished seventh in the nation with ten sacks.

Non-Power Four: Terrell Allen, Tennessee State: An FCS prospect that has a good chance of being invited to the Senior Bowl is Tennessee State defensive end, Terrell Allen. The 2023 Buck Buchanan Award winner which goes to the top defensive player in the FCS recorded 28 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks last year.

2025 NFL Draft defensive end watch list

James Pearce Jr, Tennessee

Ashton Gillotte, Louisville

Jack Sawyer, Ohio State

Kaimon Rucker, North Carolina

JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State

Antwaun Powell-Ryland, Virginia Tech

Terrell Allen, Tennessee State

Nic Scourton, Texas A&M

Aaron Lewis, Rutgers

Kyle Kennard, South Carolina

Elijah Roberts, SMU

Devean Deal, TCU

Ben Kopenski, Tulsa

Owen Ostroski, Tulsa

Desmond Little, UAB

Dani Dennis-Sutton, Penn State

Jah-Marien Latham, Alabama

Deontae Craig, Iowa

Derrick Moore, Michigan

Jah Joyner, Minnesota

Danny Striggow, Minnesota

Chris Hardie, Jacksonville State

CJ Bazile Jr., Liberty

Quindarius Dunnigan, Michigan State

Maurice Westmoreland, UTEP

Kanious Vaughn, Utah

Cashius Howell, Texas A&M

Brian Ugwu, Miami of Ohio

Caiden Woullard, Oklahoma

Bradley Weaver, Ohio

Ta'ita'i Uiagalelei, Arizona

Russell Davis II, Washington

B..J. Green, Colorado

Prince Dorbah, Arizona State

Jordan Burch, Oregon

Jamil Muhammad, USC

Keyron Crawford, Arkansas State

Isaac Walker, Georgia Southern

Mikail Kamara, Indiana

Adin Huntington, Louisiana Monroe

Owen Porter, Marshall

Elijah Alston, Miami

Sam Burton, Marshall

Ben Bell, Texas State

Patrick Payton, Florida State

Rueben Bain Jr., Miami

Davin Vann, North Carolina State

Red Hibbler, North Carolina State

Dayon Hayes, Colorado

Jasheen Davis, Wake Forest

Tyler Batty, BYU

Malachi Lawrence, UCF

Ethan Burke, Texas

Barryn Sorrell, Texas

Steve Linton, Baylor

Sean Martin, West Virginia

Pryce Yates, UConn

Bo Richter, Air Force

PJ Ramsey, Air Force

Ahmed Hassanein, Boise State

Tre Smith, San Jose State

Paul Fitzgerald, Utah State

Blaine Spires, Utah State

Malachi Moore, Alabama

Landon Jackson, Arkansas

Princely Umanmielen, Ole Miss

Mykel Williams, Georgia

Paris Shand, LSU

Jared Ivey, Ole Miss

Johnny Walker Jr., Missouri

Fadil Diggs, Syracuse

Nate Clifton, USC

Anton Juncaj, Arkansas

David Walker, Central Arkansas

Daylan Dotson, UCF

Brody Grebe, Montana State

Maven Kretche, Minnesota State