May is quickly unfolding, which leads us to deciphering the next wave of college football talent in the 2014 NFL draft.
There's better top-heavy depth at the quarterback position, but plenty of appealing talent along the offensive line remains too. Also, considering pro football is a pass-oriented league and that inflates the marketability for pass-rushers.
It will be an eerily similar draft to 2013; however, 2014 features a greater variety of talent across the positional spectrum.
Note: Highlighted players in italics.
1. Oakland Raiders: Jadeveon Clowney, DE (South Carolina)
The overall talent of Jadeveon Clowney lands him in Oakland at No. 1. With a strong combination for exploding at the snap and seeking out the rock, Clowney is a menace the Raiders need along the line.
2. New York Jets: Taylor Lewan, OT (Michigan)
A key reason why the Jets struggled offensively was the lack of quarterback protection: 47 sacks allowed in 2012.
By the same token, Gang Green only averaged 3.8 yards per rush and their quarterbacks combined for a 55.2 completion percentage. New York clearly had to draft a quarterback and Geno Smith's talent does provide more hope in the future.
Bringing in Michigan's Taylor Lewan simply addresses the need to field a more productive offense. Last fall the Wolverines only gave up 18 sacks and averaged 183.8 rushing yards per game.
Lewan's ability to wall the edge instantly widens Smith's window of development. At the same time, the Jets have a more physical ground game to establish balance.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Teddy Bridgewater, QB (Louisville)
Jacksonville has the offensive talent to make big plays. But the Jaguars need a quarterback to spread the field. Enter Teddy Bridgewater, who brings reliable decision-making and a strong arm to the table. Ultimately, Jacksonville moves with more efficiency and controls the tempo.
4. Arizona Cardinals: Jake Matthews, OT (Texas A&M)
Sticking with the offensive line will keep Arizona on the correct path. Jake Matthews possesses talent to immediately contribute on the edge, and he's also a sound run-blocker. The Cardinals then find balance, which cuts back on sacks and unfavorable third-down situations.
5. San Diego Chargers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT (Alabama)
The Bolts still need to give Philip Rivers a reliable pass-blocking tackle. D.J. Fluker has potential, but opting for former Crimson Tide teammate Cyrus Kouandijo seals off the edges. As a result, Rivers has more time to survey and press downfield to then set up the run.
6. Buffalo Bills: Marqise Lee, WR (USC)
Buffalo's offense needs one more receiver to field explosive balance. Marqise Lee supplies the talent for getting yards after the catch, not to mention he's capable of stretching a secondary. In turn, Lee complements C.J. Spiller's ground game and quickens EJ Manuel's development.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Lamarcus Joyner, S (Florida State)
Lamarcus Joyner has the potential to blanket much ground in Cover 1. Dallas also needs to play more man-to-man, because Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr are a strong cornerback tandem. And with Joyner back deep, the Cowboys will assist their pass rush to generate more turnovers.
8. Detroit Lions: Kareem Martin, DE (North Carolina)
Detroit's defensive line is almost complete. Pairing Kareem Martin opposite Ziggy Ansah simply presents more talent on the edges. Given Martin's knack for wreaking havoc behind the line, that impact strongly complements Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on the inside.
9. Carolina Panthers: Darqueze Dennard, CB (Michigan State)
First off, the Panthers neglected to pick a cornerback or safety in the 2013 draft.
Second, that comes as a surprise since Carolina gave up a 66.8 completion percentage and snagged just 11 picks. The NFC South is a pass-oriented division above all else, so lacking in coverage will continue to prevent the Cats from making a run at January.
As for the future, taking Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State helps lock away half the field. He has defended 16 passes in the previous two seasons (six picks) and recorded 94 tackles.
The Spartans ranked No. 9 in pass defense last fall and only gave up a 53 completion percentage. Carolina needs a guy like Dennard, because its front seven is capable of taking over games with more time to apply pressure.
10. New Orleans Saints: Kyle Van Noy, LB (BYU)
Last season the Saints recorded only 30 sacks. Well, Kyle Van Noy collected 13 in 2012 and registered 22 tackles for loss. Include the presence of Kenny Vaccaro at safety to make plays on the ball and Van Noy's impact up front crashes the backfield. In short, New Orleans wins more on first down to get off the field on third down.
11. Tennessee Titans: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE (Texas)
Tennessee has to get a long-term answer at defensive end. Jackson Jeffcoat is a complete player, so his entire repertoire helps against the run and with the pass rush. Considering the Titans' group of linebackers, Jeffcoat's instincts and ability to beat blocks gives Tennessee a sound front seven.
12. Cleveland Browns: Jason Verrett, CB (TCU)
Cleveland has the front seven to stuff the run and crash blocking schemes at the snap. Taking Jason Verrett, though, emphasizes dependable coverage behind the upgraded pass rush. The Browns now possess a complete defense and consistently challenge at winning the field-position battle.
13. Philadelphia Eagles: Johnny Manziel, QB (Texas A&M)
The dynamics of Johnny Manziel are an ideal fit for Chip Kelly's offense. Additionally, Philadelphia offers explosive talent at receiver and running back to feed from Manziel's athleticism. As a result, the Eagles are able to expand the playbook and keep defenses off balance.
14. New York Giants: Louis Nix, DT (Notre Dame)
Louis Nix is a force between the tackles. He has the awareness to quickly react against the run and size to draw double-teams. Nix will even apply interior quarterback pressure, which then collapses the pocket. He's a great get for the Giants as well, since Big Blue lacked in the trenches last year.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Street, WR (Pittsburgh)
Pittsburgh remains a run-oriented offense and that will improve with the drafting of Le'Veon Bell. Taking hometown prospect Devin Street in 2014 just adds balance. Play action becomes a more legit threat and the Steelers discover more efficiency inside the red zone.
16. Miami Dolphins: Gabe Jackson, G (Mississippi State)
The interior of Miami's offensive line receives a significant boost in Gabe Jackson. Coming from the SEC he'll obviously punish defenders at the immediate point of attack. The Dolphins also need to generate balance to build effectiveness. Jackson's presence creates a tougher ground attack, as well as forming a barricade within the pocket.
17. Chicago Bears: Ryan Shazier, LB (Ohio State)
Ryan Shazier's reliable nose for the ball is exactly what Chicago's needs at linebacker. Although D.J. Williams certainly has talent, he'll also turn 31 years old before this season. Shazier is a great long-term solution with his coverage instincts and ability to easily dissect running plays.
18. St. Louis Rams: Ka’Deem Carey, RB (Arizona)
This fall will be telling for St. Louis' rushing attack. Having relied on Steven Jackson for so long, Daryl Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy have some big shoes to fill. That said, creating competition in 2014 with Ka'Deem Carey only help as he racked up 2,232 total yards last fall.
19. Kansas City Chiefs: James Hurst, OT (North Carolina)
Kansas City will become tough postseason contenders as long as the Chiefs keep relying on Jamaal Charles. Well, maintaining a physical style occurs with James Hurst, a tackle that can get upfield or reach from the backside. Factor his pass-blocking talent and Hurst easily helps K.C. establish balance.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ben Gardner, DE (Stanford)
Tampa Bay will improve in coverage this season. Then again, after ranking last in 2012 there's nowhere else to go but up.
The Buccaneers weren't dominant in the trenches either. Managing just 27 sacks, nine came from Michael Bennett who jumped ship to Seattle in free agency (via Pro Football Talk). So, the Bucs have to replenish along the defensive line to complement the upgraded secondary.
Stanford's Ben Gardner is responsible for 24.5 tackles for loss between 2011 and 2012, as well as seven defended passes and 12 sacks. The Cardinal always field a strong defense and it's because of playmakers like Gardner that establish consistency.
With his incredible knack for disrupting the backfield, Tampa initially sees its sack numbers rise. The resonating impact creates turnover opportunities to give the offense additional possessions.
21. St. Louis Rams (via WAS): Ed Reynolds, S (Stanford)
The cornerback duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins will continue locking down one-on-one. St. Louis selecting Ed Reynolds in 2014 then creates an influx of forced turnovers. Offering great skills to change the field position, Reynolds sees numerous opportunities courtesy of Finnegan and Jenkins.
22. New England Patriots: Jordan Matthews, WR (Vanderbilt)
The deep threat capability of Jordan Matthews is what Tom Brady needs when dropping back. New England has the running game to slam defenses, but the aerial assault has to field a young No. 1 target. Matthews is that prospect, which only gets the Patriots to present consistent balance.
23. Baltimore Ravens: Greg Blair, LB (Cincinnati)
Greg Blair is a sound linebacker that knows when to fill lanes, take on blocks and sink into coverage. Baltimore's front seven provides the pass rush to limit his responsibilities, not to mention Arthur Brown has similar all-around talent. In short, the Ravens instantly reload their defensive front to remain in AFC title contention.
24. Green Bay Packers: Morgan Breslin, DE (USC)
Attacking better up front keeps Green Bay in the NFC title discussion. This area will be better in 2013, but landing Morgan Breslin emphasizes defending the run and the pass rush for 2014 and onward. Now the Packers control the trenches more consistently and provide the secondary with more turnover opportunities.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Murray, QB (Georgia)
The Vikings are obviously a run-first offense with Adrian Peterson. Impressively enough, Peterson's astounding performance throughout 2012 happened despite Minnesota possessing an inconsistent passing game.
Now picture Peterson's potential impact with quarterback Aaron Murray from Georgia. It's quite scary to any defense.
Murray enters the 2013 season with a career 61.5 completion percentage and 95 touchdowns to only 32 picks. Even better, he won't be constantly relied on in Minnesota because of Peterson. It'll be a simple game plan of feeding him the rock and then working off play action.
And Minnesota supplies the receiving playmakers in Greg Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph as well. Ultimately, Murray will be restricted to limited attempts, and Minnesota's enhanced passing efficiency forces a defense to occasionally focus attention away from Peterson.
26. Cincinnati Bengals: Ty Zimmerman, S (Kansas State)
A safety with dependable playmaking skills easily inflates the Bengals' pass defense. Ty Zimmerman has 10 picks on 20 defended passes in three seasons, as well as 182 tackles. Cincinnati's pass rush will asphyxiate the line and that greatly complements Zimmerman's chances to locate the ball in coverage.
27. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Barr, LB (UCLA)
Indianapolis desperately needs to keep improving its pass rush. For one, Anthony Barr is a beast and possesses No. 1 rusher potential. Second, the Colts have to field a dominant front seven. The AFC South is emerging as a physical division and controlling the line of scrimmage will become a competitive advantage.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Daniel McCullers, DT (Tennessee)
Daniel McCullers' impact to San Francisco will draw double-teams and siphon blocks to get interior quarterback pressure. Given the 49ers' linebacking corps, blocking schemes won't be able to entirely focus on isolating McCullers. The end results are more clogged lanes and continued dominance of the line.
29. Atlanta Falcons: Will Sutton, DE (Arizona State)
In 2012 the Falcons managed a dismal 29 sacks. Arizona State's Will Sutton logged 13 last fall, which nearly equals half of Atlanta's total. Already fielding a secondary to make plays, the Falcons become even stronger Super Bowl contenders with an enhanced pass rush.
30. Houston Texans: Brad Roby, CB (Ohio State)
Houston's coverage will be much more reliable in 2013. The safety duo of Ed Reed and D.J. Swearinger is capable of shelling in Cover 2 and 3, which forces plenty of passing attempts underneath. That then amplifies the impact of Brad Roby in 2014. His eye for the ball works well in zone, and Roby knows how to also change the field position.
31. Denver Broncos: Brian Blechen, S (Utah)
Just like the Cowboys and Rams, Denver possesses two sound cornerbacks in its secondary. Therefore, selecting Brian Blechen benefits regarding turnovers, because Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shield in man-to-man. Plus, the Broncos have the front seven to force plenty of ill-advised throws.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Cody Hoffman, WR (BYU)
Cody Hoffman is a true playmaking receiver. Seattle nearly has a complete team, but featuring Hoffman creates balance and also heightens the explosiveness. If anything, his deep skills immediately develop as a competitive advantage in the defensively tough NFC West.
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