2014 vs. 2015 Position-by-Position NFL Draft Class Comparison

Curt Popejoy@@nfldraftboardContributor IApril 15, 2015

2014 vs. 2015 Position-by-Position NFL Draft Class Comparison

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    An easy way to judge the strength of an NFL draft class is to look to the past and compare a previous group to see which was stronger. There are many parallels between the 2014 and 2015 groups, in particular if you look closely by position. Some groups run fairly close at the top, while for others, the disparity is vast.

    Let’s take a position-by-position look at these two classes to get a feel for which classes were better at the top and which positions favor each year. Obviously at this point, these rankings and comparisons are largely conjecture based on analysis. Nevertheless, it is still fascinating to see just how the talent and types of prospects dominate the top of the positional rankings from one season to the next.

    I looked at these two classes based on how loaded each position was at the top. And by top I mean the first two rounds.

    Note: 2014 NFL draft data came from NFL.com's history section. Round projection is based on my personal rankings compared next to those on CBSSports.com.

Quarterbacks

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    2014 was a year of considerable debate as it pertained to the quarterback position. The prime players were the following:

    2014 prospects

    • Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
    • Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
    • Blake Bortles, UCF
    • Derek Carr, Fresno State
    • Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois 

    It was impossible to find any consensus as to which order these five guys were going to go, Bortles was the target of the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 3 and looked to be the real deal.

    By comparison, the 2015 class has far fewer elite prospects. Looking at the first players who could go in the first two rounds, here is how it breaks down: 

    2015 prospects 

    • Marcus Mariota, Oregon
    • Jameis Winston, Florida State
    • Brett Hundley, UCLA

    2015 has the advantage in that either Winston or Mariota is a mortal lock to go No. 1 overall. This is an edge over Bortles. Don’t be shocked if the quarterback who doesn’t go No. 1 isn’t off the board by pick No. 6. After Bortles, is wasn’t until No. 22 that the Cleveland Browns drafted Manziel.

    However, in the final analysis, 2014 gets the nod here. The fact that guys such as Bridgewater and Carr slid so far doesn’t discount their talent. These two trump Hundley by a mile; they, along with Bortles, could have easily been Nos. 1-3 in 2015 as well.

    Advantage: 2014

Running Backs

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    When you break down the 2014 and 2015 running back classes, there is a clear edge here. And I think we all recognize that it is with the 2015 class.

    However, that’s not to say the 2014 class was terrible because it wasn’t. Here are the top performers from last year: 

    2014 prospects 

    • Bishop Sankey, Washington
    • Jeremy Hill, LSU
    • Carlos Hyde, Ohio State

    Not must impact in the first two rounds; however, all three have starter-type potential. However, it was clear that the league wasn’t going to get overly excited about jumping on any elite running back prospects. All three guys ended up being selected between pick No. 54 and pick No. 57.

    By comparison, the 2015 class is not only top-heavy, but it also appears to be pretty loaded with guys who will come off the board in the first two rounds. But the real edge is at the very top. First, a look at the guys projected to go in the first two rounds in 2015: 

    2015 prospects

    • Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
    • Todd Gurley, Georgia
    • Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
    • Tevin Coleman, Indiana
    • Jay Ajayi, Boise State
    • Duke Johnson, Miami

    Even with double the potential picks in the first two rounds, having Gordon and Gurley as guys who could drop straight into the middle of the first round, the advantage becomes much more clear. Even if we extrapolate beyond these top guys, the number of players in 2015 who could be contributors well outpaces the 2014 group.

    Advantage: 2015

Wide Receivers

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Of all the groups on this list, wide receiver might be the most hotly debatable.

    The 2014 wide receiver class was historic in nearly every sense of the word. The numbers that this group put up are something no rookie class might ever approach. Just the guys from the first two rounds are amazing, but they go much deeper. However, here is the top: 

    2014 prospects 

    • Sammy Watkins, Clemson
    • Mike Evans, Texas A&M
    • Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
    • Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
    • Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
    • Marqise Lee, USC
    • Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
    • Paul Richardson, Colorado
    • Davante Adams, Fresno State
    • Cody Latimer, Indiana
    • Allen Robinson, Penn State
    • Jarvis Landry, LSU 

    Wow, what a group. And as I pointed out, this group went even deeper.

    The 2015 class, for all its talent, is really going to struggle to even approach what the 2014 group did. However that doesn’t diminish just how good this group is. Here’s a look at the top guys: 

    2015 prospects

    • Amari Cooper, Alabama
    • Kevin White, WVU
    • DeVante Parker, Louisville
    • Dorial Green-Beckham, Oklahoma
    • Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
    • Breshad Perriman, UCF 

    While this 2015 class might not put up the freakish numbers 2014 did, all six of the 2015 names have the potential to still be great. You put them on the right team, and they could put up numbers that would challenge 2014.

    Advantage: 2014

Tight Ends

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    As we roll forward with our comparison, we find another clear victory for the 2014 class. Where quarterback was a win, but a close one, last year’s tight end class wins in a near-landslide. The 2014 class had some freakish physical specimens with enormous upside going forward. The top of the 2014 class looked like this: 

    2014 prospects

    • Eric Ebron, North Carolina
    • Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
    • Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
    • Troy Niklas, TE Notre Dame

    All four of these young men (minus Niklas) flashed some impressive potential in their rookie seasons, and both are poised to blow up in 2015. 

    Comparing this group to the top of the 2015 class, this latest crop really pales. Here are the 2015 players projected to go in the first two rounds: 

    2015 prospects

    • Maxx Williams, Minnesota
    • Clive Walford, Miami

    Yep. That’s it. And to be quite honest, a second-round grade on Walford is bring more than generous.

    While I concede that if Williams had been in the 2014 class, he’d have been in the mix to be the top tight end, but it would be close. No, this matchup goes squarely to the 2014 class.

    Advantage: 2014

Offensive Tackles

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    For this comparison, I am going to keep things simple. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the discussion of which of these 2015 offensive tackle prospects project best to tackle and which to guard. Rather than get swept up in all that, let’s just look at them as tackles and call it good for now.

    In 2014, nine offensive tackles were drafted in the first two rounds. And among those nine, seven of them played prominent roles for their teams as rookies. Truly a great group.

    2014 prospects

    • Greg Robinson, Auburn
    • Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
    • Taylor Lewan, Michigan
    • Zack Martin, Notre Dame
    • Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
    • Joel Bitonio, Nevada
    • Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
    • Jake Mewhort, Wisconsin
    • Justin Britt, Missouri

    Comparing this group to the upcoming one, 2015 falls just a bit short.

    The top offensive tackle prospects are well ahead of the top players in 2015, and even Iowa’s Brandon Scherff would have a hard time supplanting any of the top three. 

    2015 prospects

    • Brandon Scherff, Iowa
    • La’el Collins, LSU
    • Andrus Peat, Stanford
    • Ereck Flowers, Miami
    • T.J. Clemmings, Pitt
    • D.J. Humphries, Florida
    • Jake Fisher, Oregon

    2014 not only wins in terms of sheer volume of top prospects, but the level of talent at the top is superior. However, the 2015 class is talented. All seven of these guys could end up as starters at some point in their rookie years, albeit not at tackle.

    Advantage: 2014

Interior Offensive Line

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    Doug Benc/Associated Press

    We are lumping guards and centers in for this, primarily because there aren’t enough of either in the conversation to split them up. Not to mention, when you consider just how many top tackle prospects might end up guards from both of these groups, the waters get muddied even more.

    2014 only saw two interior offensive linemen drafted in the first two rounds. However, it is a case of quality over quantity, as both ended up as starters and look to have long, promising careers.

    2014 prospects

    • Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA (Guard)
    • Weston Richburg, Colorado State (Center)

    The 2015 class has double the prospects projected to go in the first two rounds, but it is hard to look at any two players and think they will be any better pros than either Su’a-Filo or Richburg. 

    2015 prospects

    • Cameron Erving, FSU (Center)
    • Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (Center)
    • A.J. Cann, South Carolina (Guard)
    • Laken Tomlinson, Duke (Guard)

    The one edge that 2015 has over 2014 in terms of projections is that Erving could go pretty high in the first round, compared to the No. 33 pick for Su’a-Filo. These two groups are really a push.

    Advantage: 2015

'EDGE'

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Bare with me because once again the players who make this list won’t be the ones everyone agrees with. The variance among 3-4 and 4-3 defenses means that there are multiple types of players who line up and come off the edge. For this, they are all getting tossed into the same pot here as "EDGE" players.

    So with that broad definition, here is the group from 2014:

    2014 prospects

    • Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
    • Dee Ford, Auburn
    • Marcus Smith, Louisville
    • Trent Murphy, Stanford
    • Kony Ealy, Missouri
    • Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
    • Kyle Van Noy, BYU
    • Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech 

    An expansive group, but in terms of early returns, somewhat disappointing. However, there’s no doubt guys such as Clowney and Ford will rebound from disappointing rookie seasons.

    As we look to the 2015 EDGE class, things are a little different. This group is stacked at the top. I mean absolutely stacked. It doesn’t matter if you run a 4-3 or a 3-4, if you need a pass-rush specialist or an all-around defensive end, there is something here for you. 

    2015 prospects

    • Shane Ray, Missouri
    • Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
    • Randy Gregory, Nebraska
    • Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
    • Preston Smith, Mississippi State
    • Danielle Hunter, LSU
    • Nate Orchard, Utah
    • Dante Fowler Jr., Florida
    • Vic Beasley, Clemson
    • Eli Harold, Virginia
    • Shaq Thompson, Washington

    Out of the gate, the 2015 class is going to put the 2014 group to task. There are no fewer than six guys on this list who could come in and start from the first snap and disrupt opposing offenses. I know that the 2014 class was all about Clowney, but until he is able to get on the field and start doing what was asked, I’ll take the four or five guys at the top of the 2015 class to be better for a longer period of time.

    Advantage: 2015

Defensive Tackles

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The 2015 class gets back-to-back wins here with defensive tackles on top of EDGE players. The 2014 defensive tackle class might have produced the top defensive rookie in Pitt’s Aaron Donald, but in terms of the early names, this group was somewhat underwhelming. 

    2014 prospects

    • Aaron Donald, Pitt
    • Dominique Easley, Florida
    • Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
    • Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
    • Timmy Jernigan, FSU
    • Ego Ferguson, LSU 

    Even though this is a solid group, it is hard to give them a bump over the 2015 class.

    Here is a look at the top projected defensive tackles for this year's draft:

    2015 prospects 

    • Leonard Williams, USC
    • Danny Shelton, Washington
    • Arik Armstead, Oregon
    • Malcom Brown, Texas
    • Eddie Goldman, FSU
    • Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
    • Carl Davis, Iowa
    • Grady Jarrett, Clemson
    • Michael Bennett, Ohio State
    • Xavier Cooper, Washington State

    While the edge here isn’t huge, if you just match the first four from each list, the edge goes to 2015. Then you figure in the sheer volume of defensive tackles looking to go in the first 64 picks, and it’s a pretty clear advantage for 2015.

    Advantage: 2015

Outside Linebackers

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The value of a true 4-3 outside linebacker has become somewhat devalued in terms of the draft. 

    Looking at the 2014 draft, only three outside linebackers were drafted in the first two rounds, and one of them, Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier was drafted to play inside linebacker. The upside of the 2014 class is that the other two 4-3 outside linebackers who were drafted had massive rookie seasons. Here are the 2014 outside linebackers: 

    2014 prospects

    • Khalil Mack, Buffalo
    • Anthony Barr, UCLA
    • Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

    Mack and Barr are already practically stars in the league, so that’s big points to this group.

    Looking at the 2015 group, depending on who you project to a 4-3 outside linebacker, this group is almost completely devoid of top-flight talent. For this exercise, here’s the only 4-3 linebacker of the group: 

    2015 prospects

    Kikaha Hau’oli, Washington

    The talent Mack and Barr possess makes this a landslide win for 2014. Obviously, depending on who you project to outside linebacker, the 2015 group could be slightly better, but it can’t touch 2014.

    Advantage: 2014

Inside Linebackers

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    As much as the league dings the value of outside linebackers in the draft, inside linebackers have it even worse.

    Without including Shazier in this because he was an outside linebacker in college, the number of inside linebackers taken early in 2014 is a grand total of one. 

    2014 prospects 

    C.J. Mosley, LB Alabama

    Granted Mosley had an exceptional rookie year, but still, it was clear that this position as a whole wasn’t a strength.

    Things look significantly better in 2015, as there should be multiple inside linebackers taken in the first two rounds. 

    2015 prospects 

    • Eric Kendricks, UCLA
    • Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
    • Paul Dawson, TCU
    • Stephone Anthony, Clemson
    • Denzel Perryman, Miami 

    That is a really strong group. The versatility of this class is a strength of these linebackers and should carry all of these prospects to starting spots early in their careers.

    In terms of a comparison, the 2015 class has a clear edge at the top.

    Advantage: 2015

Cornerback

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Along similar lines as wide receiver, the two cornerback classes we are talking about here are close and incredibly talented. Cornerback is one of those premium positions in the NFL that always gets lots of guys in the first two rounds.

    The 2014 class saw seven cornerbacks come off the board, and some of them had impressive rookie seasons. 

    2014 prospects 

    • Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
    • Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
    • Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
    • Jason Verrett, TCU
    • Bradley Roby, Ohio State
    • Lamarcus Joyner, FSU
    • Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska

    Interestingly, of those seven, five of them were taken in the first round. A clear indication of the value the league places on this class.

    Looking at the 2015 class, things are a bit more balanced. Just like in 2014, there are seven cornerbacks slated to go in the first two round, but there could be more in the second round than the first. And just like in 2014, all bets are off as to the order the cornerbacks will come off the board. It is always about scheme fit and the individual grades a team gives them.

    2015 prospects 

    • Trae Waynes, Michigan State
    • Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
    • Marcus Peters, Washington
    • Jalen Collins, LSU
    • Byron Jones, UConn
    • Ronald Darby, FSU
    • Eric Rowe, Utah

    Which group is stronger? At this point it is just too close to call. If all the talent of the 2015 class plays to potential, it has a chance to be much better pros. But on paper right now, these two classes are a push.

    Advantage: Push

Safeties

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    We wrap up this comparison with the safeties.

    Now, the 2014 safety class was interesting at the top. When the New York Jets drafted Louisville’s Calvin Pryor in the first round it was confusing. Nevertheless, Pryor was one of four safeties that went in the first round that year. Pryor came off the board first but was probably the worst of this group. 

    2014 prospects 

    • Calvin Pryor, Louisville
    • Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
    • Deone Bucannon, Washington State
    • Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois

    When we put this group up against the 2015 class, it is clear 2014 has the edge. Why is it so obvious?

    There are only two safeties in the 2015 class who warrant consideration in the first two rounds. 

    2015 prospects 

    • Landon Collins, Alabama
    • Damarious Randall, Arizona State

    Are Collins and Randall good enough to top the 2014 class? That’s a tall task. Clinton-Dix and Bucannon have already left a mark on the league in their rookie seasons, so catching them with these two prospects might be too much to ask.

    Advantage: 2014