There's no denying that the National Football League is offensively driven today, with records falling like dominoes and rules that are seemingly set up to benefit that side of the ball.
Contact with a receiver? Hitting a quarterback? How dare you!
With that said, the proverbial chess game continues as NFL franchises attempt to at least slow the offensive onslaught, making elite defensive players that much more valuable, especially when it comes to the secondary or rushing the passer.
We likely won't see a defensive player taken first overall when the 2013 NFL Draft gets underway next April in New York City, but there will be plenty of defensive stalwarts selected in the first round.
Keeping that in mind, here's an it's-never-too-early-to-take-a-glance ahead look at how the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft could shake out, including a look at some of the players that may become the hard-hitting NFL stars of tomorrow.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Matt Barkley, QB, USC: A season of picking Blaine Gabbert knuckleballs out of the dirt may be enough to send 2012 first round pick Justin Blackmon back to the bottle, and it will definitely be enough to send the Jaguars back to the drawing board in search of a new quarterback.
2. Indianapolis Colts: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama: Speaking of quarterbacks, the Colts hope that they've found their signal-caller of the future in Andrew Luck. The next step is keeping him in one piece.
3. Cleveland Browns: Robert Woods, WR, USC: As Bleacher Report's own Andrea Hangst recently showed quite eloquently, Greg Little is making dropping passes something of an art form, so the Browns are apt to be in the market for a wideout next season.
4. Miami Dolphins: Sam Montgomery, DE/OLB, LSU: With a switch in defensive schemes underway on South Beach and a rookie quarterback likely to see significant action, the Dolphins will probably be looking at another high pick next year. Montgomery would make an excellent bookend for Cameron Wake in Miami.
5. Minnesota Vikings: David Amerson, CB, NC State: The Vikings secondary allowed the most touchdown passes in the NFL in 2011, and while the team added Zackary Bowman in free agency and Josh Robinson in the draft there's still work to be done in the defensive backfield.
North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson intercepted a staggering 13 passes en route to being named a second team All-American in 2011, and the 6'3" 194-pound junior recently told FOX Sports that he's intent on improving his all-around game in 2012.
"I want to have a better season because it will mean personal improvement," said Amerson, who was fifth on the Wolfpack last fall with 59 tackles. "But also because it will help us win more games."
6. St. Louis Rams: Chris Faulk, OT, LSU: Despite allowing the most sacks in the National Football League in 2011, the Rams did very little to address the offensive line in the 2012 NFL Draft. It's highly unlikely that will be the case two years in a row.
7. Oakland Raiders: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas: The Oakland Raiders gave up a lot to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer. However, Palmer is a 32-year-old passer with an elbow full of spaghetti, and the Raiders are going to have to address the future under center in the near future.
8. Arizona Cardinals: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: It wouldn't be the NFL draft without quarterbacks flying off the board early, and one more season of subpar play from Kevin Kolb should get him the hook in the desert no matter how much money the Cardinals invested in him.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: The Buccaneers traded down this year, passing on cornerback Morris Claiborne, and with Tampa Bay moving Ronde Barber to free safety the team has a significant need in the defensive backfield.
10. Seattle Seahawks: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal: Sidney Rice has been a bust in the Emerald City to this point and has a total of 22 anchors in his surgically repaired shoulders. The 6'3", 205-pound Allen topped 1,300 receiving yards for the Bears last season, and could be the number-one receiver the Seahawks were hoping they had acquired with Rice.
11. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: The Bills drafted Cordy Glenn to play left tackle after Demetress Bell left in free agency. However, Glenn may well be better suited to the right side or at guard, leaving the Bills once again with a hole on Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side.
12. St. Louis Rams (from Washington Redskins): Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: The Rams added small-school standout Brian Quick in the 2012 draft, but that isn't going to immediately solve their problems at the wide receiver position, especially if Quick experiences a steep learning curve.
13. Carolina Panthers: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: The Panthers ranked 25th in the NFL in run defense in 2011 and were regularly gashed up the middle, but the team, somewhat puzzlingly, did little to address the defensive tackle position this offseason.
Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short tallied 54 tackles and 6.5 sacks for the Boilermakers in 2011, and while opinions vary concerning Purdue's football fortunes for the upcoming season the 6'3" 310-pound beefeater is drawing rave reviews according to The Journal-Courier.
Lukewarm is the best description how some of the preseason college football magazines view Purdue’s 2012 season.Of the four sampled — Athlon, Lindy’s, Phil Steele and USA Today — none have the Boilermakers finishing higher than fourth in the Leaders Division. But there’s plenty of praise for defensive tackle Kawann Short, who was selected Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by Lindy’s.
14. Tennessee Titans: Khaled Holmes, C, USC: The middle of the offensive line is a major area of need for the Titans, and sooner or later head coach Mike Munchak is going to have to address that need whether he wants to or not.
15. Denver Broncos: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame: Second-year pro Nate Irving has been slow to adjust to the NFL and D.J. Williams can't stay out of trouble, which leaves the Broncos with a potential hole at linebacker that the 255-pound Te'o would fill very nicely after piling up 128 stops in 2011.
16. Kansas City Chiefs: Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin: If the Chiefs struggle this year and pick higher the team could look to upgrade at quarterback, but otherwise the team will look to improve the protection in front of Matt Cassel.
17. New Orleans Saints: Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: Mark Ingram was a major disappointment as a rookie, and Heisman Trophy or no if Ingram doesn't show some signs of life in his sophomore season then the Saints may look to the offensive backfield again in 2013.
18. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: Charles Tillman isn't getting any younger and Tim Jennings is seemingly always on thin ice with Lovie Smith. The Bears added a pair of cornerbacks late in the 2012 draft, but neither of those players impress as starting material.
Cornerback Jonathan Banks of Mississippi State is the sort of solid tackler that excels in Chicago's Cover-2 defensive scheme, and Bleacher Report SEC Lead Blogger Barrett Sallee had this to say about the player he ranks as the SEC's second-best cornerback in 2012.
Banks has a nose for the football, picking off five passes and breaking up 14 passes for the Bulldogs last season. The 6'2", 185-pound senior is a true shutdown cornerback that is not only an All-SEC candidate, but an All-American candidate in 2012.
19. San Diego Chargers: Johnathon Hankins, NT, Ohio State: The Chargers brought back 32-year-old Antonio Garay on what is basically a one-year deal in 2012, which could leave the Bolts looking to get younger in the middle of the defensive line next season
20. Cincinnati Bengals: Barrett Jones, G/C, Alabama: The middle of the offensive line is a prominent area of need for the Bengals even with the addition of Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, and the versatile Jones can play both the guard and center positions.
21. Dallas Cowboys: Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia: The Dallas Cowboys franchise tagged outside linebacker Anthony Spencer this year. However, if Spencer doesn't turn it on in 2012 Dallas may look to the 2013 draft and the 241-pound Jones, who tallied 13.5 sacks for the Bulldogs in 2011.
22. New York Jets: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State: Antonio Cromartie is due $7 million in salary in 2013, so it wouldn't be at all surprising to see Cromartie a cap casualty and Rhodes a member of Gang Green next season.
23. Atlanta Falcons: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU: John Abraham is 34 years old and Ray Edwards was absolutely miserable in his first year in Atlanta last year. Unless the former turns back time and the latter picks up his game defensive end is going to be a glaring need for the Falcons in the 2013 offseason.
In addition to having an exceptionally cool name Barkevious Mingo has a proclivity for chasing down opposing quarterbacks, and as ESPN's Chris Low reports LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis sees big things in store for Mingo in 2012.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis raised a few eyebrows prior to last season when he vowed that Mingo would be the premier pass-rusher in the SEC before he was done. Mingo responded with 15 tackles for loss last season, including eight sacks. He’s an absolute blur coming off the edge and has the kind of burst that gives offensive linemen nightmares.
24. Philadelphia Eagles: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Both of the Eagles starting defensive ends will be well the wrong side of 30 when the 2012 season begins, and while Philadelphia added Vinny Curry in this year's draft the 260-pound Okafor would seem to be a solid fit for Philly's "Wide Nine" defensive line technique.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee: Ben Roethlisberger turned 30 this year, and while "Big Ben" likely still has plenty of football left in him, the Steelers are both thin and old behind him at quarterback.
26. Detroit Lions: Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina: The Detroit running back corps is riddled with players with injury histories, and the 205-pound Bernard burst into national prominence after racking up over 1,600 yards for the Tar Heels a season ago.
27. Baltimore Ravens: Eric Reid, S, LSU: The solid play of Reid has been somewhat overlooked playing in a secondary with cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu, but the 208-pound junior topped 75 stops in 2011 and would be a welcome addition to the back end of the Baltimore defense.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama: Carlos Rogers played well a year ago but will be 31 when the 2012 season starts. So, by this time next year the 49ers could be looking to add both depth and youth in the secondary.
29. New York Giants: Tyler Eifer, TE, Notre Dame: The somewhat surprising release of Jake Ballard suddenly leaves the defending Super Bowl champions with a hole at tight end. They may be able to patch it temporarily with a veteran pick up, but a more permanent replacement will eventually need to be acquired.
30. Houston Texans: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: Starter Matt Scahub is 31 years old and prone to injury, and as well as T.J. Yates played when pressed into action last year it's hard to envision him as the long-term solution for the Texans at quarterback.
31. New England Patriots: Ray Graham, RB, Pitt: If Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen assert themselves this season then this pick would likely change, but it would be interesting to see how much more potent the New England offense could become with a true "feature" back.
32. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama: A.J. Hawk will be owed over $5 million in salary and bonuses in 2013, and unless the veteran's play improves this season it's likely that the Packers will pursue a younger and less expensive alternative in the 2013 draft.