Defensive End – Top Names: Jadeveon Clowney and Stephon Tuitt
Figuring out the depth of positions on defense is considerably more difficult because of the wide variety of different schemes there are. In the end though it comes down to two basic schemes: the 4-3 defense and the 3-4 defense. Defensive ends for each scheme are very different types of players with different responsibilities. So it will be important to note those differences before measuring the depth. We’ll start with the 4-3 style. At the top of the draft class there is no better overall player than Jadeveon Clowney. He is a classic hand-in-dirt-type who can rush the passer with the best and then knife into the backfield to blow up running plays. However, beyond him the talent level takes a dip, perhaps with the next best available dropping into the second round. The same goes for the 3-4 defensive end, though teams may find those types easier to find because they can often be converted from undersized defensive tackles to the position. Stephon Tuitt is by far the best on the board but like Clowney the talent level slips into Day 2 after him.
Depth Rank: C
Defensive Tackle – Top Names: Louis Nix III and Ra’Shede Hageman
Like with ends, the defensive tackle position is different between a 3-4 and 4-3. Those in the 3-4 are generally pure run stoppers, hulking mammoths with good quickness who eat up double teams and plug lanes. Those in a 4-3 are tasked to do that too, but they also are required to get up field and pressure the quarterback. For example, Louis Nix III who is widely rated as the best interior tackle in the 2014 class is a pure nose guard. His large frame and quickness make him a premium run stopper but he doesn’t have the speed to get after the quarterback much. After him is very difficult to identify because scouts see talent but not enough production. A good example is Ra’Shede Hageman. Physically he is a freak of nature, not only big and strong but remarkably fast for his size. He is an ideal interior pass rusher but hasn’t shown enough dominant qualities on the stat sheet to support it. For first round talent this group is lacking, but there are several solid choices between the second and third.
Depth Rank: B-
Linebacker – Top Names: Anthony Barr and C.J. Mosley
This class is not just deep and talented but it’s that across the board. Both 3-4 and 4-3 teams should have a load of options of inside and outside linebackers. Anthony Barr stands atop the 3-4 pass rushers but a number of quality players have begun to file in behind him such as Khalil Mack out of Buffalo and Vic Beasley from Clemson. It doesn’t end there though. C.J. Mosley from Alabama is arguably the best all around player in the entire draft, able to do everything well. Scouts view him as one of those rare types who fit in any scheme. Throw in the speedy, athletic Ryan Shazier from OhioState and 4-3 teams have plenty of options as well from the first round down.
Depth Rank: A
Cornerback – Top Names: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Jason Verrett
It won’t be the first position to get attention in the 2014 NFL draft, but teams that will need lots of help at cornerback probably won’t see a more favorable draft. The options stack up from the first round on, featuring at least three or four quality players every round. Leading the pack is the explosive Ifo Ekpre-Olomu from Oregon and hard-nosed Jason Verrett out of TCU. This class is heavy on corners who do well in press coverage and corners who thrive in zone. Several of the best ones also boast favorable height, which is something coaches continue to favor.
Depth Rank: A+
Safety – Top Names: Hasean Clinton-Dix and Lamarcus Joyner
The 2013 class was very favorable when it came to safeties. So if any team failed to pick one up they may regret it. The 2014 class is not looking particularly strong in any round. In fact the best player at the position, Alabama free safety Hasean Clinton-Dix is the only one with a first round grade and he was suspended for team policy violations. There really isn’t any high profile superstar talent to pinpoint in the group. Lamarcus Joyner is a standout ball hawk for FloridaState but is also 5’8″. The question marks go on and on.
Depth Rank: D