2014 NFL Draft Projections: Potential Landing Spots for Top Defenders

Jesse ReedCorrespondent IDecember 31, 2013

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Defensive lineman Kony Ealy #47 of the Missouri Tigers reacts after a sack of quarterback Tyler Murphy #3 of the Florida Gator sduring the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr, Kony Ealy and Darqueze Dennard are but a few of the top defensive prospects that could be selected early in the 2014 NFL draft.

Given the need many bad NFL teams have at the quarterback position, however, there's a chance they could slide down the board a bit on draft day. 

Here's a look at where some of the top draft analysts project the top defenders to land, along with my prediction for where they'll end up:

Matt Miller (B/R)DrafttekDane Brugler (CBS Sports)Jesse Reed
Jadeveon ClowneyNo. 7 (Tampa Bay)No. 5 (Oakland)No. 2 (St. Louis)No. 5 (Oakland)
Anthony BarrNo. 12 (NYG)No. 2 (St. Louis)No. 5 (Oakland)No. 6 (Atlanta)
Khalil MackNo. 9 (Buffalo)No. 6 (Atlanta)No. 11 (Tennessee)No. 7 (Tampa Bay)
Justin GilbertNo. 10 (Detroit)No. 21 (San Diego)No. 25 (Cincinnati)No. 23 (Philadelphia)
Darqueze DennardNo. 21 (San Diego)No. 10 (Detroit)No. 10 (Detroit)No. 11 (Tennessee)
Kony EalyNo. 11 (Tennessee)No. 39 (Jacksonville)No. 31 (Denver)No. 10 (Detroit)
C.J. MosleyNo. 14 (Chicago)No. 7 (Tampa Bay)No. 9 (Buffalo)No. 14 (Chicago)


Jadeveon Clowney Could Potentially Slide Out of Top Five

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - OCTOBER 12:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks rushes the quarterback and is blocked by David Hurd #69 of the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on October 12, 2013 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  (Photo by Wesley Hi
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Before the 2013 season began, Jadeveon Clowney was being hailed by many in the media as the next guaranteed NFL superstar. After his phenomenal 2012 season, during which he tallied 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for a loss and three forced fumbles, it was easy to assume he'd continue to dominate.

Clowney's junior season at South Carolina didn't go as planned—putting it mildly—and the player who was once thought to be a lock as the top pick could fall on draft day. 

Statistically, he put together his worst season in three years, tallying 35 tackles, three sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. Any analyst worth his or her salt will tell you he still put some good tape together, but there's no sugar-coating his struggles, either.

Clowney showed up to the season out of shape, and he learned the hard way that his physical abilities—which are noteworthy—won't get him far without rigorous preparation and conditioning.

He also made some poor choices, including getting pulled over twice in the month of December for driving really, really fast, as detailed by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. 

Some have wondered if his stock will suffer in light of these issues, but analyst Josh Norris of NBC Sports doesn't see it as an issue:

It's far more likely he'll slide out of the top five because of the overwhelming need the top teams have for a quarterback. 


Kony Ealy Could Be Biggest Riser of 2014

Dec 7, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers defensive lineman Kony Ealy (47) forces a fumble against Auburn Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall (14) during the first quarter of the 2013 SEC Championship game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: John David M
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has been tooting Kony Ealy's horn, but he's one of the only major draft analysts doing so nationally these days. In his latest mock draft, he offers this comparison while discussing Ealy's talents:

Missouri's Kony Ealy will draw comparisons to Aldon Smith, and they aren't far off. Ealy is long but has strength on his 275-pound frame to attack blockers, runners and passers. He's also versatile enough to play outside the tackle, head-up or even inside as a three-technique on passing downs. 

It's clear by where Dane Brugler (No. 31) and Drafttek.com (No. 39) have Ealy slated that Miller is either ahead of the curve on the defensive end or off his rocker.

Hint: He's not off his rocker. 

He was among the top pass-rushers in the SEC in 2013, as shown by Mizzou Recruiting, proving he can produce against NFL-level talent:

Once Ealy goes through the NFL Scouting Combine and shows off his freakish athleticism, size and speed, it won't be long before Ealy's stock takes off like that of Ziggy Ansah last year and Aldon Smith before him. 

Ealy recently discussed his journey at Missouri, via Nate Latsch of FoxSports.com:

Coming in I redshirted my freshman year as I should have. You had All-Americans in front of you like Aldon Smith, Brad Madison and Jacquies (Smith). It gave me opportunities to learn and learn from those guys who are at next level doing great things and learn from Coach Kool who is a good coach and has put into the NFL multiple NFL-caliber players.

It's time for Ealy to take his game to the next level. Before the 2014 NFL draft kicks off in New York on May 8, you can be sure everyone will know about his potential, because guys like Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper Jr. won't stop talking about him leading up to the big day. 


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