2013 vs. 2014 Position-by-Position NFL Draft Class Comparison

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2014

2013 vs. 2014 Position-by-Position NFL Draft Class Comparison

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    Chad Jackson/Associated Press (Austin) and Streeter Lecka/Getty Images (Watkins)

    This year's NFL draft class is deep.

    It has even been called the deepest class ever, per USA Today's Jarrett Bell. Perhaps having a record 98 underclassmen declare for the draft has something to do with it, but draft talent ebbs and flows like the Nile River when there is a drought or it rains.

    We have the benefit of hindsight for the 2013 class, so perhaps this is an unfair comparison. But we also know what the 2013 class brought to the table during draft season, and it is interesting to see what the differences are between last year's incoming rookies and this year's greenhorns.

    Which class is better or deeper at each position? Click through to find out.

Quarterback

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    Top 2013 prospects: Geno Smith, West Virginia; EJ Manuel, Florida State; Mike Glennon, North Carolina State; Matt Barkley, USC; Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

    Top 2014 prospects: Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville; Blake Bortles, UCF; Derek Carr, Fresno State; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois; Aaron Murray, Georgia; AJ McCarron, Alabama

     

    Remember when Ryan Nassib was talked about as a potential top-10 pick? Those were fun times.

    The 2013 class of quarterbacks was not very good, and the ignoble characterization is magnified when the group is juxtaposed against the fantastic 2012 class. Comparing last year's lot to this year's prospects isn't much better.

    Geno Smith was the top quarterback in the 2013 class. Then draft season hit.

    Smith fell all the way out of the first round and into the lap of the New York Jets, and he wound up being arguably the most successful rookie starter. Of course, the definition of "success" for last year's class was set low—the Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ratings for rookie quarterbacks are ugly, and Smith was actually the worst in that regard.

    Still, he started the most games and got the most wins.

    This year's class is full of unknowns, but it's hard to believe only one quarterback will be taken in the first round, despite the polarization we have seen with the top prospects.

    Teddy Bridgewater, in particular, seems to be in free fall. Size concerns and a disastrous pro day seem to have sunk his draft stock. But will teams ignore all the great tape?

    Then there is Johnny Manziel, who could go with the top pick overall or fall out of the first two rounds depending on whom you're asking. He is on the Russell Wilson spectrum at under 6'0", but the dynamic quarterback is too good to fall too far, despite how he has been dissected during draft season.

    Seemingly the only lock for a top pick at quarterback is Blake Bortles, who has prototypical combination of size and athleticism but needs more polish than his peers.

    There are other intriguing options in this year's draft, too. It just seems so much better than last year's crop, though hindsight helps that assessment.

     

    Verdict: 2014 class wins

Running Back

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    Top 2013 prospects: Eddie Lacy, Alabama; Giovani Bernard, UNC; Johnathan Franklin, UCLA; Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina; Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt; Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State; Montee Ball, Wisconsin

    Top 2014 prospects: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona; Carlos Hyde, Ohio State; Devonta Freeman, Florida State; Andre Williams, Boston College; Tre Mason, Auburn; Bishop Sankey, Washington; Jeremy Hill, LSU

     

    What a mighty fall the running-back position has taken.

    For the first time in nearly 50 years, no running back was taken in the first round of the 2013 draft. The same fate likely awaits this year's class.

    That is not to say there weren't quality and ultimately productive backs in last year's class.

    Eddie Lacy won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, after all, and Giovani Bernard kept pace with him for much of the season. Le'Veon Bell was a productive starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and late-round gem Zac Stacy was a revelation for the St. Louis Rams.

    The devaluation of the running-back position in a pass-happy NFL might be responsible for the fall in the draft, but it goes beyond that with this year's class. Top prospects Ka'Deem Carey, Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill all have off-field concerns that are putting a drag on their draft stock.

    And the position is saturated.

    There are 70 running backs listed as draft eligible for this year's NFL draft, according to CBS Sports, a ridiculous number for a league that has room for 32 starters and, perhaps, 50 or 60 spots offering significant playing time.

    That might make it seem like this is a deep draft at the position—and in some respects it is—but last year's class was higher quality with fewer risks from top to bottom. 

     

    Verdict: 2013 class wins

Wide Receiver

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    Top 2013 prospects: Keenan Allen, Cal; Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee; Tavon Austin, West Virginia; DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson; Robert Woods, USC; Justin Hunter, Tennessee

    Top 2014 prospects: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Odell Beckham Jr., LSU; Marqise Lee, USC; Brandin Cooks, Oregon State; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Allen Robinson, Penn State; Davante Adams, Fresno State

     

    The wide receiver position is loaded in the 2014 class. But does that make it better than last year's group?

    Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin were duking it out for top honors before Austin pulled ahead, but Keenan Allen stole the show during the 2013 season.

    The former Golden Bear was knocked into the third round because of injury concerns, and the San Diego Chargers took full advantage. Patterson and Austin both flashed their potential; however, neither made a huge impact throughout the season.

    It would have helped if they were utilized more.

    This year's class is headlined by Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. They might not be quite as electrifying as Patterson and Austin were in college—though Watkins is close—but the rest of the class is simply loaded. 

    Behind Watkins and Evans lies a plethora of talented receivers with a wide array of talents. Oregon State's  Brandin Cooks, USC's Marqise Lee, LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin are all potential first-rounders, and Penn State's Allen Robinson Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief, Fresno State's Davante Adams and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews aren't far behind.

    The 2013 class is no match, even with some of the exploits from last year's rookie receivers.

     

    Verdict: 2014 class wins

Tight End

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    Top 2013 prospects: Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame; Zach Ertz, Stanford; Jordan Reed, Florida; Travis Kelce, Cincinnati; Gavin Escobar, San Diego State; Vance McDonald, Rice

    Top 2014 prospects: Eric Ebron, North Carolina; Jace Amaro, Texas Tech; Troy Niklas, Notre Dame; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington; C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa

     

    Last year's tight-end class was headlined by the talented Tyler Eifert. Behind him, however, there was plenty of uncertainty.

    There was upside, to be sure, and we saw some of that play out in the 2013 season. Jordan Reed and Zach Ertz both made some big contributions to their teams at times.

    This year seems similar, with the athletic Eric Ebron leading the charge and much of the rest of the class a bit muddled. Jace Amaro is, perhaps, the clear No. 2, but previous off-field issues and a poor draft season have seen him plummet from first-round projections in recent weeks.

    It's tough to evaluate the differences between these two classes because we have the benefit of hindsight for some players with question marks heading into the 2013 class. If Amaro can develop quickly, he and Ebron might eclipse last year's class alone as rookies.

    If he doesn't and Ebron's drop issues persist, however, the 2013 class will easily win this battle.

     

    Verdict: Too close to call

Offensive Tackle

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    Top 2013 prospects: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M; Eric Fisher, Central Michigan; Lane Johnson, Oklahoma; D.J. Fluker, Alabama; Justin Pugh, Syracuse; Menelik Watson, Florida State; Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff; David Bakhtiari, Colorado

    Top 2014 prospects: Greg Robinson, Auburn; Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; Taylor Lewan, Michigan; Zack Martin, Notre Dame; Morgan Moses, Virginia; Joel Bitonio, Nevada

     

    Pass-rushers are at a premium, which makes pass-protectors even more valuable. 

    How else can we explain how two relatively quarterback-needy teams (Kansas City, Jacksonville) took a left tackle at the top of the draft when they already had a quality incumbent at the position?

    Of course, it's more complex than that—we have already seen that the 2013 quarterback class was lacking—but it's likely offensive tackles will go near the top of the draft this year.

    Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews will duke it out like Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel did last season, but it doesn't look like we will get a repeat of the first two picks of the draft, barring trades of course. The question is whether the rest of the class can match last year's group.

    Lane Johnson, D.J. Fluker and Justin Pugh were all actually better than Joeckel and Fisher were, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), though the latter two were like fish out of water at right tackle.

    If Taylor Lewan can get his off-field act together, he could gain traction as a top pick alongside Robinson and Matthews. The others in this year's class have potential, but they have a hard act to follow.

     

    Verdict: 2013 class wins

Offensive Guard

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    Top 2013 prospects: Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina; Chance Warmack, Alabama; Larry Warford, Kentucky; Kyle Long, Oregon; Dallas Thomas, Tennessee; Barrett Jones, Alabama; Brian Winters, Kent State

    Top 2014 prospects: David Yankey, Stanford; Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA; Brandon Thomas, Clemson; Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State; Cyril Richardson, Baylor; Trai Turner, LSU

     

    Offensive tackles are increasingly important, yes, but that doesn't mean the interior of the offensive line is chopped liver.

    Last year's group is going to be hard to top by the 2014 class, however. Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack were great at the top of their class, though Cooper was knocked out for the season before it even began.

    Larry Warford was fantastic for the Lions, a bit of a surprise out of the third round. He was the fourth-best offensive guard in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Warmack and Kyle Long had middling seasons, while Dallas Thomas couldn't crack the active roster despite the turmoil on that Miami Dolphins offensive line.

    This year's class is less heralded than the 2013 class, however. Xavier Su'a-Filo headlines a decent group that includes an overrated David Yankey and a now-injured Brandon Thomas, who unfortunately suffered a torn ACL at a workout for the New Orleans Saints, per ESPN's Adam Caplan.

     

    Verdict: 2013 class wins

Center

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    Top 2013 prospects: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin; Brian Schwenke, Cal; David Quessenberry, San Jose State

    Top 2014 prospects: Marcus Martin, USC; Weston Richburg, Colorado State; Travis Swanson, Arkansas

     

    Center is probably the least sexy position in the draft outside of the special teamers, with apologies to the kickers and punters heading into the NFL. As such, there isn't much to talk about.

    Last year saw the Dallas Cowboys mocked for taking Travis Frederick—a relatively unknown lineman with a mid-round grade most everywhere—in the first round. It turned out well for owner Jerry Jones, though, as Frederick wound up being one of the best interior offensive linemen in that rookie class.

    There just isn't much data to go on here. This year's class seems to be just fine, as was last year's.

     

    Verdict: Too close to call

Edge-Rusher

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    Top 2013 prospects: Dion Jordan, Oregon; Ezekiel Ansah, BYU; Barkevious Mingo, LSU; Bjoern Werner, Florida State; Tank Carradine, Florida State; Jarvis Jones, Georgia; Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

    Top 2014 prospects: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina; Anthony Barr, UCLA; Khalil Mack, Buffalo; Kony Ealy, Missouri; Dee Ford, Auburn; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Scott Crichton, Oregon State

     

    It seems that every year we get more quality pass-rushers in the draft.

    This is an interesting battle between draft classes. This year's class has more star power—folks have been salivating over Jadeveon Clowney for over a year now—but is it more talented overall?

    Questions about work ethic aside, Clowney is simply better than everyone in last year's class heading into his rookie season.

    Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack are just as athletic as any of last year's prospects, perhaps even more so. All of these three posted comparable or better numbers than the top guys in last year's draft, including No. 3 overall pick, the freakishly athletic Dion Jordan.

    It helps this year's class that the 2013 crop was held back for varying reasons. The Miami Dolphins and New York Giants couldn't get Jordan and Damontre Moore on the field, respectively, and the 49ers' Tank Carradine was still recovering from a knee injury.

    Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo and Bjoern Werner weren't terribly productive as rookies, either, ending up near the bottom of Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) rankings at 3-4 outside linebacker.

    This year's class is simply bigger and badder than last year's at edge-rusher.

     

    Verdict: 2014 class wins 

Interior Defensive Line

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    Top 2013 prospects: Sheldon Richardson, Missouri; Star Lotulelei, Utah; Sharrif Floyd, Florida; Sylvester Williams, North Carolina; Kawann Short, Purdue; Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State; Datone Jones, UCLA

    Top 2014 prospects: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Louis Nix III, Notre Dame; Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota; Timmy Jernigan, Florida State; Scott Crichton, Oregon State

     

    Last year's interior defensive linemen panned out quite nicely.

    Star Lotulelei should have been drafted in the top five, but a health scare dropped him out of the top 10. His loss was Carolina's gain, and the Panthers scored again with Kawann Short in the second round. Both were very good in the middle of a great Panthers defense.

    The cream of the crop, however, was Sheldon Richardson, who was a force for the New York Jets. He won the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, helping the Jets defensive line become one of the league's best. 

    This year's class? A ton of potential lies in the likes of Aaron Donald, Louis Nix and Ra'Shede Hageman, but last year's class was particularly good. ESPN's Mike Reiss noted this year's class isn't particularly deep, either.

      

    Verdict: 2013 class wins

Linebacker

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    Top 2013 prospects: Arthur Brown, Kansas State; Alec Ogletree, Georgia; Manti Te'o, Notre Dame; Kiko Alonso, Oregon; Sio Moore, Connecticut; Jamie Collins, Southern Miss

    Top 2014 prospects: C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Chris Borland, Wisconsin; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Telvin Smith, Florida State; Carl Bradford, Arizona State

     

    Drama was the name of the game last season for the linebacker class. Well, one linebacker in particular—Manti Te'o, whose catfishing plight captured the rapt attention of the media and the public. It has since faded, and Te'o had a decent rookie year with the San Diego Chargers.

    There is no such drama in this year's class. Just talent.

    That isn't to say there wasn't talent last year. Arthur Brown was a particular draftnik favorite, but he fell to the late second round, which was Baltimore's gain.

    The only first-round linebacker that wasn't an edge-rusher was Alec Ogletree, and he was alright as a starter for the St. Louis Rams. He ranked among the bottom 10 at 4-3 outside linebacker over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), though.

    Kiko Alonso was also particularly good, making a bid for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award with his fantastic play for the Bills.

    It will be interesting to see if this year sees more than one non-edge-rushing linebacker in the first round. C.J. Mosley is all but a lock, possibly within the top 15, at inside linebacker. Ryan Shazier is one of the most athletic players in the draft, perhaps enticing enough for a team to take him in the first round.

     

    Verdict: Too close to call

Cornerback

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    Top 2013 prospects: Dee Milliner, Alabama; D.J. Hayden, Houston; Desmond Trufant, Washington; Darius Slay, Mississippi State; Xavier Rhodes, Florida State; Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State; Jamar Taylor, Boise State; Tyrann Mathieu, LSU; Logan Ryan, Rutgers; Leon McFadden, San Diego State

    Top 2014 prospects: Bradley Roby, Ohio State; Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Jason Verrett, TCU; Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Marcus Roberson, Florida; Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska; Keith McGill, Utah

     

    This year's cornerback class is deep. But so was last year's.

    Cornerbacks are increasingly in demand at the college and pro levels, so it should be no surprise there are so many quality youngsters entering the draft every year now. 

    Last year, we saw nine cornerbacks drafted in the first two rounds and 16 in the first three, a testament to the depth, quality and demand at the position. There weren't any taken in the top five, though, and it seems likely that will be the case in May.

    Were it not for off-field concerns, Tyrann Mathieu might have been the first one taken last year. As it stands, the Arizona Cardinals got one of the steals of the draft in the third round. Mathieu was tied for third best in the league over at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Fellow rookie Desmond Trufant wasn't far behind, rating seventh in the league.

    There wasn't a ton of great play from other rookie cornerbacks last year, but it's quite possibly the toughest position to play as a rookie. Dee Milliner, D.J. Hayden, Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay and Logan Ryan still logged a lot of snaps as a big part of their defenses, proving valuable out of the draft despite not-so-lofty grades.

    This year, guys like Bradley Roby from Ohio State, Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State, Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State, Kyle Fuller from Virginia Tech and Jason Verrett from TCU will all likely be first-round selections. There is a bit more fluidity behind, them, however.

    We'll find out if so many cornerbacks get drafted in the first few rounds this year, but for now, last year's class stands out above the 2014 crop.

     

    Verdict: 2013 class wins

Safety

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    Top 2013 prospects: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas; Jonathan Cyprien, FIU; D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina; Eric Reid, LSU; Matt Elam, Florida; T.J. McDonald, USC; Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

    Top 2014 prospects: Ha'Sean "HaHa" Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois; Deone Bucannon, Washington State

     

    Good safety play is becoming more important as the league's passing attacks continue to present defenses with diversifying looks.

    Last year's class didn't have any stud prospects, but there were several quality guys. Kenny Vaccaro was the best of these, playing outstanding strong safety for the New Orleans Saints.

    This year's class features two safeties that might be slightly better prospects than anyone in last year's class in HaHa Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.

    NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called last year's safety class a deep one, per Rich Campbell of The Washington Times, and said this year's isn't, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Zach Berman. 

    "I don't think the safety class is as deep as some of these other classes," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "If I had my 10 favorite players from watching them on tape, Calvin Pryor's one of them. He's like a bigger Bob Sanders. He's better in the box. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is better [away from the line]. He's got more range and ball skills back there."

    Mayock said there is a group of four safeties before there is a drop-off in talent, adding Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner, a 5-8 cornerback who could project as a safety, and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward, who is 5-11 and 193 pounds. 

    Lamarcus Joyner may have played cornerback in college, though he is well-suited for the position change.

     

    Verdict: 2013 class wins