2014 NFL Draft: Top defensive prospects

Scott Halleran

The combine is underway - linebackers and defensive linemen work out today - so let's look at some of the top defensive prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.

NFL Coaches, GM's and Scouts are in Indianapolis this weekend to watch this years top NFL Prospect participate in the 2014 NFL Combine. I give you a look at the top prospects at each position on the defensive side of the ball, and if the Broncos will/should have interest in them.

Defensive End:

  1. Jadeveon Clowney, 6'6 272lbs, South Carolina
  2. Kony Ealy, 6'5 260lbs, Missouri
  3. Jackson Jeffcoat, 6'5 260lbs, Texas
  4. Trent Murphy, 6'6 252lbs, Stanford
  5. Scott Crichton, 6'3 265lbs, Oregon State
Other Notables: Demarcus Lawrence, Kareem Martin, Marcus Smith, Michael Sam, and Chris Smith

Overview:

Jadeveon Clowney had all the hype since last year, and it continues into this year. Clowney figures to be a top 5 pick in May's NFL Draft. It will be interesting to see if he tests well at the NFL Combine though. He doesn't put up good numbers, his stock may drop some. Kony Ealy is one of my favorite prospects in this years draft. He's an athletic freak, and has a ton of potential. I look for him to be one of those workout warriors at the combine.

Jackson Jeffcoat is one of those "tweeners". He has the frame to add some weight to be a 4-3 DE, but might be best as a 3-4 OLB. Trent Murphy is in the same position I believe. He's another "Tweener", but has the strength and ability to do well at either DE or OLB in the NFL. He's your classic try hard player. He's one of my favorites in the Draft as well.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

I think so.

A lot depends on Free Agency of course. Von Miller is one mistake from being suspended for an entire season, and he's coming off a torn ACL. Shaun Phillips isn't getting any younger, and is also a Free Agent. Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey are Free Agents as well. So the Broncos pass rushing unit is up in the air.

Pass Rushers go early, so it's still way too early to target in on one guy, but if the Broncos could come away with Kony Ealy or Trent Murphy in the first round, I would be a happy guy.

Remember, you can never have too many pass rushers.

Defensive Tackles:

  1. Louis Nix, 6'2 345lbs, Notre Dame
  2. RaShede Hageman, 6'6 318lbs, Minnesota
  3. Stephon Tuitt, 6'6 312lbs, Notre Dame
  4. Aaron Donald, 6'1 288lbs, Pittsburgh
  5. Timmy Jernigan, 6'1 298lbs, Florida St.
Other Notables: Will Sutton, DaQuan Jones, Ego Ferguson, Anthony Jones, and Kelcy Quarles

Overview:

I really like this group. Louis Nix is your typical Nose Tackle. He's a big big man. I've been watching Hageman at the Senior Bowl a lot this week. He's got an impressive build, just very inconsistent. Most draft sites list Tuitt as a DE, but I included him as a DT. Like Hageman, Tuitt could be viewed as a 3-4 DE, or a 4-3 DT. That versatility will certainly help their stock in the draft.

Aaron Donald is a guy who has been tearing it up at the Senior Bowl. He doesn't have elite size, but he has been showing great pass rushing ability in the practices. Interior pass rush is valued by NFL defenses, so he's making himself some money this week. Timmy Jernigan anchored that impressive Florida St. defense this past season. He's a solid NFL prospect.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

Maybe.

The Broncos seem set at Defensive Tackle. Terrance Knighton has been quite a find by John Fox/Jack Del Rio this season, and rookie Sylvester Williams has flashed some ability recently. Also Malik Jackson has been solid as a pass rushing DT. Also Derek Wolfe can play some DT as well. So I think the Broncos are set there.

I say "Maybe" because you can never have enough solid defensive line players. If a defensive tackle is high on the Broncos draft board, I say go for it. It all starts upfront in the trenches.

Outside Linebacker:

  1. Anthony Barr, 6'4 248lbs, UCLA
  2. Khalil Mack, 6'3 248lbs, Buffalo
  3. Ryan Shazier, 6'2 230lbs, Ohio St.
  4. Kyle Van Noy, 6'3 244lbs, Brigham Young
  5. Dee Ford, 6'2 243lbs, Auburn
Other Notables: Trevor Reilly, Michael Sam, Jeremiah Attaochu, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard

Overview:

This group is heavy in "Von Miller type" players. They can play outside linebacker in a 4-3, but are best used as a pass rusher. Anthony Barr and Khalil Mack are those type of players. They're best at rushing the passer, but can do everything if called on. Barr and Mack will be fighting to be the top 4-3/3-4 OLB taken in the draft. Both figure to be top 15 players. Kyle Van Noy and Dee Ford also fit that mold. Van Noy, and Ford might be first round picks. They will need a strong showing in the process to be that though.

Ryan Shazier is your only typical 4-3 OLB in the top rankings. He's a little undersized, but a heck of an athlete, and is a very very good tackler. Some view him as a Inside Linebacker, and other view him as a outside only guy. He reminds me a lot of Danny Trevathan.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

They could.

As I mentioned earlier, the Broncos might be losing a few pass rushers this offseason, and Von Miller is returning from a late season ACL injury. So the Broncos could target one of these Pass Rushers. Barr and Mack will be long gone by the time the Broncos pick, but Noy or Ford could be potential options in the late first.

Ryan Shazier could be an option if the Broncos let Wesley Woodyard walk. He could play Inside on base downs, or be Nickel only. He's a helluva player though, and I'd be okay with him in a Denver Broncos uniform.

Inside Linebacker:

  1. C.J Mosley, 6'2 232lbs, Alabama
  2. Yawin Smallwood, 6'3 236lbs, Connecticut
  3. Shane Skov, 6'3 245lbs, Stanford
  4. Chris Borland, 5'11 248lbs, Wisconsin
  5. Christian Jones, 6'4 234lbs, Florida St
Other Notables: Avery Williamson, Jordan Zumwalt, Lamin Barrow, Greg Blair, and DeDe Lattimore

Overview:

Alabama's C.J Mosley is the top Inside linebacker prospect in this group. He will go somewhere in the first round, where really depends on how well he tests/interviews in the coming weeks and months. After Mosley Small and Skov will be your next best options. I'm a big Skov fan, so i'm interested to see how well he looks at the Combine.

Chris Borland is an interesting prospect. I've been watching him during this weeks Senior Bowl practices, and he's a favorite of Mike Mayock. He's got talent, but is short (5'11) and has short arms. So it will be interesting to see if his stock rises or falls.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

I don't know.

I've been on the Nate Irving bandwagon all year. I'd still like to see him get a shot. I don't think Wesley Woodyard is our answer at Middle Linebacker unfortunately. He seems better suited at the weak side spot, and used in Nickel packages. Plus he is also a Free Agent next season.

The Broncos have gone with Veteran guys at the middle linebacker spot the last two seasons. Keith Brooking in 2012, and Paris Lenon this season. I'm not sure if they will spend a premium pick on a Inside Linebacker when they have had success with veteran guys. I'd love to see Mosley or Skov added though.

Cornerback:

  1. Darqueze Dennard: 5'11, 197 pounds, Michigan State
  2. Justin Gilbert, 6'0 200lbs, Oklahoma St.
  3. Marcus Roberson, 6'0 195lbs, Florida
  4. Bradley Roby, 5'11 190lbs, Ohio St.
  5. Jason Verrett, 5'9 175lbs, TCU

Other Notables: Lamarcus Joyner, Kyle Fuller, Aaron Colvin, Pierre Desir, E.J Gaines, and Louchiez Purifoy

Overview:

A solid group here. Dennard and Gilbert are your two top corners here. Both are very good prospects and figure to be top 20 picks in Mays NFL Draft. These two will be competing to be the first cornerback taken.

After those two guys, the rest all will be battling with each other to be the next cornerback taken. I like Roberson, but he has injury questions. Roby has blazing speed but is a little raw, and struggles against the run. Jason Verrett is a ball hawk but is only 5'9 175lbs.

A guy who I could leap frogging some of the guys I mentioned above is Virginia's Kyle Fuller. He lacks the speed you want in a corner, but he has everything else you want. He's active in the run game and he has smooth hips and natural footwork for an easy transition in coverage.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

Yes.

Even if the Broncos re-sign DRC, or sign another Corner via Free Agency I believe they will look to add a corner in the draft. Champ Bailey might be cut, Chris Harris is recovering from an ACL injury(but is "Ahead Of Schedule") and Kayvon Webster struggled as a rookie.

I would look for a corner somewhere in the day one or two of the Draft.

Safety:

  1. Hasean Clinton-Dix, 6'1 208lbs, Alabama
  2. Calvin Pryor, 6'2 208lbs, Louisville
  3. Ed Reynolds, 6'2 206lbs, Stanford
  4. Jimmie Ward, 5'11 191lbs, Northern Illinois
  5. Deone Bucannon, 6'1 214lbs, Washington St

Overview:

Some will say that Alabama's Ha-Ha Clinton Dix is the top safety in the Draft, but I'd say Louisville's Calvin Pryor is the best safety in the draft. Pryor has everything you want in a safety. He's a ballhawk, he can do man or zone, he can tackle, and he can play in the box if called on. He's a complete safety.

Clinton Dix is still pretty good though. Clinton - Dix reads and reacts to the QB's eyes, and has a quick burst to make plays. Dix is also dangerous when he has the ball in his hand. He has plus hands for the interception and shows vision and natural open-field running skills with the ball in his hands. Clinton - Dix does need work on tackling though. Tends to try to grab and pull ball carriers down instead of tackling them.

Ed Reynolds is another solid prospect. Reyonolds demonstrates good agility and acceleration to handle covering athletic tight ends out of the slot as well as supply deep help over the top. There's some negative to him though. Had his fair share of "leading with the helmet" hits in college, and suffered an ACL injury that made him miss the entire 2011 season.

Will The Broncos Have Interest?:

Possibly, the Broncos do need a bit of help at safety.

If the Broncos do not address the safety position in Free Agency they could target Clinton - Dix or Pryor. Unfortunately I do not believe either will be available when the Broncos pick at 31.

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