NFL Draft: Why Outside Linebacker Will Be Deepest Position in 2014 Class

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NFL Draft: Why Outside Linebacker Will Be Deepest Position in 2014 Class
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The 2014 NFL draft is starting to take shape. Only two weeks of college football have been played, but the haves are starting to separate from the have-nots, and the deep positions in next year's draft class are making themselves known.

The offensive tackle position, led by Jake Matthews, is, again, deep as it was last year, and Teddy Bridgewater leads a quarterback class that is vastly improved from the 2012 draft. Marqise Lee and Sammy Watkins lead a strong wide receiver class at the top, but the depth is less impressive there.

Only one position combines the elite talent at the top of the draft with a high number of players scheduled to be taken in the first two rounds of the draft, and that position is outside linebacker.

Anthony Barr's junior year was great enough to make him the top linebacker prospect in this year's class.

There are two outside linebackers who could potentially go in the top 10 selections. Alabama's C.J. Mosley has been elite both against the run and the pass, and the senior is easily one of the most polished defensive players in the draft, if not the most.

The second is UCLA's Anthony Barr, who has shown the same kind of rapid upside that made Ezekiel Ansah a top-five draft pick last year. He had 13.5 sacks last season, which was his first full season at linebacker after moving from the running back spot.

Already there's something for both types of draft philosophies. Those who want the established, solid prospect have Mosley, while those who love both college production and immense upside have Barr. Mosley will likely go around pick 10, while Barr could potentially be a top-five selection if his production remains strong.

Just because a position has a couple great prospects does not automatically make it elite, however; you need depth—players who can become longtime starters who are available even after the top talent is taken.

In the NFL, you have to make big, but legal hits. Ryan Shazier has that part of his game down pat.

There are at least six other outside linebackers who could be selected in the first two rounds, according to CBS Sports' prospect rankings, and that's not counting others who may make an impact as the season moves on.

Like Barr, Ryan Shazier has a great deal of upside. The Ohio State linebacker only has two full seasons under his belt, yet he is able to make plays all over the field, and this year, so far, he has emerged as the leader of the Buckeyes defense.

Should Shazier continue to improve week to week, he could potentially be a mid first-round pick, though a safer bet for him right now is a selection in the 20s should he decide to declare after this season.

Not only do the outside linebackers come from the big schools, but the position also has its share of gems from smaller colleges as well who should be first-round selections.

For all the upside Ansah had coming out of BYU last year, his mentor Kyle Van Noy had far more eye-popping numbers and is nearly as good a prospect, complete with 13 sacks and six forced fumbles last year.

The leader of BYU's defense should be a late first-round selection, but his leadership abilities on the field combined with his production could vault him into the top 20.

Khalil Mack's performance against Ohio State added another name to an already deep draft position.

The most unknown of the top prospects, at least until the season began, was Khalil Mack out of Buffalo. Mack is hidden away in the MAC on a Buffalo squad that doesn't have much else, but was dominant throughout his first three years there.

His season debut against Ohio State not only showcased him much better than Shazier, but his 2.5 sacks and ability to single-handedly keep the game close for the first half also rocketed his draft stock. His performance against top competition means he is one to watch out for, even if he is not as dominant the rest of the way.

Florida State's Christian Jones, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard and USC's Morgan Breslin all have shown enough strengths in their playing abilities to be second-round picks, and they could even be late first-round possibilities should they continue to impress.

If another player or two comes out of nowhere like Ansah did last year as a premier pass-rusher, then that will only make the position even stronger come draft day.

Outside linebacker may not be as significant a position as quarterback or offensive tackle, but having that marquee pass-rusher or run-stopper makes a big difference for any team. With so many to choose from, a lot of offensive playmakers could end up fearful of this draft class when all is said and done.

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