Even rookie Cam Newton tossed for over 4,000 yards in Carolina; therefore, another impressive performance from him and other veterans means defenses must make significant additions for the immediate future
So, let's take an early look at the perfect defensive fits that take pro football by storm as rookies in 2013.
1. Oakland Raiders: Matt Barkley, QB (USC)
Oakland needs a long-term solution at quarterback and Matt Barkley is the answer. With a tough schedule and a vulnerable defense in 2012, the Raiders get Barkley at No. 1 in 2013 to rebuild the franchise.
2. Minnesota Vikings: David Amerson, CB (North Carolina State)
David Amerson has the potential to make an immediate impact for Minnesota. The Vikings need talent in the secondary and Amerson recorded 12 picks in 2011. With similar production in 2012, Amerson is a great fit at No. 2 overall.
3. Miami Dolphins: Robert Woods, WR (USC)
The Dolphins need a receiver that can stretch the field and make plays by getting immediate separation at the line. Plus, Miami doesn't have a true No. 1 target anyway to field a balanced offense.
4. Tennessee Titans: Kawann Short, DT (Purdue)
One of the most impressive defensive players in college football right now, Purdue's Kawann Short has accumulated 143 tackles, 33.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and defended 13 passes in three seasons for the Boilermakers.
Fortunately for the Tennessee Titans, Short fills a need along the defensive line because the AFC South is only getting to be a more competitive division. With running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, Tennessee's best chances at contending are to stop the run—a current and major weakness.
Well, another strong performance in 2012 by Short makes him a top five selection, and Tennessee recorded an NFL-low 23 sacks in 2011. Short provides interior pressure in passing situations and will draw a constant double-team to free up the linebackers.
Although it's a league dominated by pass-happy offenses and quarterbacks, every team's best chance at winning comes from having a strong pass rush and the ability to control the line of scrimmage.
5. Indianapolis Colts: Jarvis Jones, LB (Georgia)
Indianapolis simply needs to get a young stud pass-rusher to help linebacker Pat Angerer in the front seven. Jarvis Jones has the ability to provide that, as he recorded 13.5 sacks and 70 tackles in 2011.
6. St. Louis Rams: Barrett Jones, OT/OG (Alabama)
The Rams gave up a league-high 55 sacks in 2011 and the NFC West has made defensive upgrades for the 2012 season. St. Louis however, can improve the pass protection and ground game with a dynamic lineman in Barrett Jones to present a multidimensional attack.
7. New York Jets: Ricky Wagner, OT (Wisconsin)
With the Bills and Patriots making solid additions to their front sevens, the Jets need to counter-attack with tackle Ricky Wagner. Coming from a pro-style offense in Wisconsin, Wagner will be reliable in pass protection and dominate the lanes for Shonn Greene on the ground.
8. Seattle Seahawks: Sam Montgomery, DE (LSU)
How well Bruce Irvin develops in 2012 will determine Seattle's need for a true 4-3 defensive end the 2013. Sam Montgomery, though, is a complete defender that can anchor the edge against the run and provide a pass rush opposite of Chris Clemons.
9. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Eric Reid, Safety (LSU)
The Rams made defensive improvements this offseason (namely Cortland Finnegan), but still need a reliable safety as well. Eric Reid has the ability to roll down for a blitzing linebacker and can sit in Cover 1 to help over the top for more turnover opportunities.
10. Cleveland Browns: Tyrann Mathieu, CB (LSU)
Tyrann Mathieu is arguably college football's best playmaker and shutdown corner. The Browns need a guy like that to play opposite of Joe Haden and be a factor at changing the field position. If Cleveland can land Mathieu in 2013, watch out for the Browns' defense that season.
11. Carolina Panthers: Jonathan Banks, CB (Mississippi State)
It's easy to overlook the contributions and production of Johnthan Banks at Mississippi State because the Bulldogs featured a beastly defensive lineman in Fletcher Cox heading into the 2012 draft.
Well, already presenting one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, Carolina has to continue addressing the defense. In 2011 the Panthers ranked No. 24 against the pass and still are in the need of a top prospect at corner to add talent in the secondary.
Banks has been a consistent performer for the Bulldogs in a rough SEC West the past three years, as evidence by 30 defended passes, 11 picks, four forced fumbles and 158 tackles.
Banks also provides more appeal since he collected 166 punt return yards and took one back to the house in 2011. With one year to go, Banks can really develop into a complete player and return man before the 2013 draft.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brandon Jenkins, LB/DE (Florida State)
To keep improving the defense, especially the pass rush, Tampa Bay can really make some noise with Brandon Jenkins. A consistent performer against the run and pass, Jenkins can get into the backfield from the outside or inside.
13. New Orleans Saints: Johnny Adams, CB (Michigan State)
If the Saints don't address the pass defense at some point, New Orleans will see early exits in the postseason. Michigan State's Johnny Adams has impressive ball skills and reliability to contribute as a rookie and will change the game, as he's total 219 yards on eight interception returns.
14. Chicago Bears: Robert Lester, Safety (Alabama)
How much Brandon Hardin can develop as a rookie will determine how much the Bears will need Alabama safety Robert Lester. Still, regardless of Hardin's contributions, Lester suits well in a pass-heavy division to slow down the explosive offenses of Green Bay and Detroit.
15. Arizona Cardinals: Sean Porter, LB (Texas A&M)
A fast linebacker that reads well against the run and is a developing pass-rusher, Sean Porter fills a need in Arizona to field a complete defense. Despite being undersized, watch for Porter's production in 2012 because his continued consistency makes for an easier transition into the NFL.
16. San Diego Chargers: Manti Te’O, LB (Notre Dame)
Pitting Melvin Ingram on the outside opposite of Shaun Phillips, the San Diego Chargers get a big boost to the front seven with Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
A great interior defender to complement the outside players, Te'o has amassed 320 tackles and defended six passes for the Irish. Yes, he still has to develop as an intermediate pass defender, but Te'o's reactionary skills also force a quarterback to not throw in his zone either.
As a run defender, there's arguably no one better in college football. Te'o has the size to take on and get off blocks to control between the tackles and the speed to make plays on the outside. This in turn, will allow the Chargers to use Ingram and Phillips for inside blitzes to create more havoc in the backfield.
The AFC West still presents sound running games for the Bolts' to defend if they want to fight for a division title, but the presence of Manti in the middle will limit production and get offenses to be one-dimensional.
17. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aaron Murray, QB (Georgia)
The Jaguars may have two quarterbacks in Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne, but both still have quite a bit of proving to do under center. Aaron Murray doesn't have ideal size, but his experience under center and fast development have prepared him well to impact Jacksonville's improved offense.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Lattimore, RB (South Carolina)
In all three of their recent Super Bowls, the Steelers haven't had a consistent starter running back for more than three seasons (Willie Parker gained over 1,000 yards from 2005-07). So from a long-term perspective, Marcus Lattimore is the best solution as a complete back that can help setup the play-action pass.
19. New York Giants: Kevin Reddick, LB (North Carolina)
The one weakness on the Giants is the inability to consistently defend the intermediate passing game. With the rest of the NFC East improving at receiver, snagging Kevin Reddick in 2013 is a great move because the man has defended 11 passes the past two years.
20. Kansas City Chiefs: Tyler Eifert, TE (Notre Dame)
Kansas City is missing one piece to its offense: a complete tight end. Tyler Eifert, however, solves that issue because his size bodes well against any defender in single coverage downfield. Eifert's athleticism also helps in extending running lanes, so the Chiefs can remain a run-balanced offense.
21. Buffalo Bills: Keenan Allen, WR (California)
To complement Stevie Johnson out wide, the Bills need a big receiver to beat single coverage and help keep defenders from loading the box against the run. Keenan Allen has great size to make plays downfield and can go over the middle to move the chains.
22. Atlanta Falcons: Alex Okafor, DE (Texas)
If the Atlanta Falcons want to continue being legitimate division contenders and take that next step to being Super Bowl contenders, the pass rush must improve. Considering that John Abraham is already old, the Falcons made a strong selection with Troy's Jonathan Massaquoi in 2012.
Fast forward to 2013 and selecting Texas' Alex Okafor in Round 1 immediately creates one of the league's better and more prominent pass-rushing duos.
The past two seasons for the Longhorns, Okafor has recorded 9.5 sacks, added 20 quarterback hurries and forced three fumbles. Now, he's still a developing project but coming off a strong 2011 season does provide Okafor with great momentum for 2012.
It also helps that the Big 12 is a pass-happy conference just like the NFC South is a pass-happy division. Okafor will have plenty of opportunities to get sacks, tackles and create turnovers, which is what Atlanta needs most to stop having early playoff exits.
23. Cincinnati Bengals: Tavon Austin, WR (West Virginia)
The Bengals are slowly but surely becoming Super Bowl contenders and Tavon Austin completes Andy Dalton's receiving corps heading into 2013. With A.J. Green on the outside and Mohamed Sanu at the No. 2 spot, Austin is the ideal slot man to make plays over the middle and widen a zone defense to create wider passing windows.
24. Detroit Lions: T.J. McDonald, Safety (USC)
The Lions were horrendous against the pass in 2011 and do need a safety that can make a big impact as a rookie. USC's T.J. McDonald enters his final college season with 12 defended passes and 163 tackles, so another strong campaign makes him a viable option for Detroit in Round 1 of 2013.
25. Dallas Cowboys: Travis Frederick, OG (Wisconsin)
Now that Dallas has upgraded its defense, Big D can focus on providing increased pass protection and polished running lanes on offense. Travis Frederick works the trenches for Wisconsin, and if the Badgers have another strong season, he could go sooner than No. 25 overall.
26. Baltimore Ravens: C.J. Mosley, LB (Alabama)
Ray Lewis isn't going to be controlling the middle for the next 10 seasons, so to eventually fill his void, Baltimore makes a smart move in getting Alabama's C.J. Mosley. With 15 defended passes in two seasons, Mosley has increased expectations for 2012.
27. Denver Broncos: Desmond Trufant, CB (Washington)
The Broncos have made impressive defensive additions heading into the 2012 season, but with Champ Bailey turning 34 before this fall, Denver needs to keep getting young talent in the secondary. Desmond Trufant has displayed continuous improvement the past three seasons and is one of the more underrated corners in college football.
28. Philadelphia Eagles: Jelani Jenkins, LB (Florida)
The final missing piece to Philadelphia's defense is bringing in a solid outside linebacker. Jelani Jenkins defended seven passes in 2011 and took his lone interception back for a touchdown. A reliable run defender, Jenkins will keep producing for the Gators in 2012.
29. Green Bay Packers: Rod Sweeting, CB (Georgia Tech)
Green Bay definitely upgraded the defense via the 2012 draft, but considering the Packers ranked dead last against the pass, No. 27 in allowing 4.7 yards per rush and sacks, much work remains to get back to the Super Bowl. Rod Sweeting becomes the next piece of the puzzle, and he has 20 defended passes from the past two years heading into his final college campaign.
30. New England Patriots: Montee Ball, RB (Wisconsin)
Although New England has two sound ball-carries in Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley, Montee Ball is an every-down back that will keep the Patriots offense balanced. A Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011, anticipate another impressive year from Ball, as he rises to a first-round selection.
31. Houston Texans: Shayne Skov, LB (Stanford)
Shayne Skov may have durability concerns at the moment, but he can remove all doubt with a strong 2012 season at Stanford. 2010 was his last full season and he had 83 tackles and seven sacks, so his ability to play well between the tackles is a great complement to Brian Cushing in Houston's 3-4 front.
32. San Francisco 49ers: Lane Taylor, OG (Oklahoma State)
If San Francisco wants to field a complete offense, getting Alex Smith some improved pass protection will help. Lane Taylor is a pass-blocking specialist for Oklahoma State, and his ability to control the interior simply allows the 49ers to field a balanced offense with more potential explosiveness.
John Rozum on Twitter.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!