NFL Draft 2014: Projections for Top Defensive Players on Board

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2014

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Jadeveon Clowney #7 of the South Carolina Gamecocks gets the crowd excited in the first half of their game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Capital One Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

There is a lot of depth at various defensive positions in this year's draft, but interestingly enough, the top of the board is dominated by offensive players. In my latest mock draft, seven of the top-10 picks were on the offensive side of the ball.

So, where will the top prospects on the defensive side of the ball end up? Will one of them go No. 1 overall? Could teams trade up to land them?

Let's break it down.


1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

I think there is a very good chance the Houston Texans trade this pick, mostly because Jadeveon Clowney doesn't schematically feel like the best fit in a 3-4 defense. And they very well could flip the pick with a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars—though the in-division implications make that less likely—and use the No. 3 pick to select outside linebacker Khalil Mack.

But if they stay put, the pick should be Clowney. While this draft is as deep as we've seen in years past, there aren't many transcendent superstars available, at least in the projections. Clowney is one of them.

His athleticism is insane for a man of his size, and he forced SEC teams to game plan for him and consistently double- and even triple-team him last season, leading to a dip in his production. Opposite J.J. Watt, he would wreak havoc. 

The Texans are going to try to trade this pick, but if they can't, Clowney has the talent to become the face of the franchise.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

Michael Conroy

It's possible Mack could be the top overall pick. It's probable he'll be gone in the first five selections. And it's certainly feasible the Jacksonville Jaguars will nab him at No. 3 and develop him in a hybrid role, even if Mack traditionally wouldn't be the most logical fit in a 4-3 scheme.

It's interesting to note Mack comes from relatively humble origins as a prospect, as Bruce Feldman tweeted:

But Mack's tenaciousness and football savvy make him an intriguing player, especially for a team desperate to upgrade its pass rush. From Kevin Weidl of ESPN:

The Jaguars could always go quarterback here, but chances are, they'll be able to upgrade on the edge when they select Mack. Gus Bradley is a defensive-minded coach, so I think he'll focus more on pressuring the quarterback than upgrading at quarterback.


10. Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

The Lions have options at No. 10, but upgrading the secondary should be an absolute must. There seem to be four consensus top players in the secondary: cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.

Personally, I feel the Lions should focus on corner, and I have Gilbert atop my board.


For starters, I think he's a bit more scheme versatile than Dennard, who thrives as a press-man corner. Gilbert is also the superior athlete, and the fact he can contribute in the return game is a bonus. 

He seems like a great fit for the Lions. But I also wouldn't be surprised if they added any of the top-four secondary prospects.


11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA

Alex Gallardo

Anthony Barr is an interesting prospect. He has top-10 potential in this draft given his size and athleticism, but he lacks some polish and could find himself dropping in the second half of the first round.

He seems ideally suited to playing a hybrid edge-rusher role in Tennessee, which is adjusting to a new scheme this season. But he's also prepared to make himself a more traditional 4-3 end, as he told Rowan Kavner of after meeting with the team's defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli:

'I spoke with him at length today, Barr said. 'He showed me a lot of tape of (Julius) Peppers and Simeon Rice and (Warren) Sapp, so I think he wants me playing that defensive right end position to go after the quarterback, and that’s something I’m all for.'

Marinelli always refers to his defensive linemen as 'rush men,' with the main goal to get up the field as fast as possible. After years of having to read, react and diagnose at linebacker, he’d get the chance to use his skillset as an explosive pass rusher in a new way in Dallas. That’s a situation that excites Barr, who said there’s nothing better than sacking and knocking down the quarterback.

'That’s something I take pride in the last couple years, it’s something I enjoy doing,' Barr said. “So If I’m asked to do that, I’ll be very happy to do it.'

While the Titans would be using him as more of a hybrid linebacker and rusher than Dallas, the fact Barr is open to making the switch to playing a more pure pass-rushing role would bode well in Tennessee, which would need him to fulfill several roles.

Cornerback is also a big need for the squad, yes, but Barr's potential and fit at a major area of need make him the pick here.


13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

I just really love this fit for the Rams. Clinton-Dix is a true center fielder at safety, and his rangy game would pair perfectly with T.J. McDonald.

Pryor is an interesting player and one heck of a hitter, but it remains to be seen if he would be effective roving across the middle or playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

But Clinton-Dix butters his bread playing over the top, making him just what St. Louis needs in its secondary. 


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