2013 NFL Draft Positional Rankings: Defense

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Defensive Positional Rankings

NFL Draft
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL draft is less than two week away. Hours and hours of games have been watched, players have been studied, and at this point it’s almost paralysis by analysis when it comes to the prospects. And with that, it’s time for a final update to my positional rankings, starting with the defense.

It cannot be overstated just what a fascinating group of players this draft class is. There is almost no consensus at the top of any position, which makes trying to predict which players will be drafted when all but impossible. But these rankings serve a different purpose. This is how I differentiate players and their talent, not the order they are drafted in. This is an important distinction compared to say a mock draft, which is strictly a prediction and does not factor in my personal preferences on any players, and to my top 100 big board, which is simply a list of the players I believe will be the first 100 drafted, and is less about which is taken when.

Looking at the positions on defense, this group is deep and athletic. Other than inside linebacker, this is a defensive class that should produce multiple starters from the very beginning of the season. This class of rush outside linebacker is diverse and athletic and goes well into the fourth round with talent. The defensive line talent is just as interesting, and while not quite as deep boasts a very good group, especially in the first two rounds. Another group of particular interest are the defensive backs. I have graded out 12 cornerbacks and six safeties as top 64 picks, so that gives you some indication as to just how teams in a pass now league can bolster their secondaries in this draft in a hurry. In fact, with the NFL moving more toward the passing game, this draft class might be ideal for players who can help neutralize that.

Curt covers the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL draft, and college football for Rant Sports. Connect with Curt on Twitter @nfldraftboard.

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4-3 Defensive Ends

NFL Draft
Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

This is the group of guys who can put their hand on the ground, rush the passer from a base 4-3 set and still be able to set the edge as a run stopper. This group is loaded at the top with 8-10 players who should be able to come in and contribute right away, even if it's only as a situational pass rusher.

1. Tank Carradine, FSU

2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

3. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

4. Dion Jordan, Oregon

5. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

6. Datone Jones, UCLA

7. Bjoern Werner, Florida State

8. Alex Okafor, Texas

9. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

10. Corey Lemonier, Auburn

11. Margus Hunt, SMU

12. Malliciah Goodman, Clemson

13. Sam Montgomery, LSU

14. Michael Buchanan, Illinois

15. Lavar Edwards, LSU

16. Devin Taylor, South Carolina

17. David Bass, Missouri Western

18. Cornelius Washington, Georgia

19. William Gholston, Michigan State

20. Quinton Dial, Alabama

21. Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

22.Joe Kruger, Utah

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3-4 Defensive Ends

NFL Draft
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

With more and more teams moving to a base 3-4 defense, the value of these 5-technique ends and their responsibilities continue to grow. Gone are are the days of these over-sized defensive ends who do nothing but occupy blockers. Now teams expect these guys to not only stuff the run, but also rush the passer and allow the back end to play coverage. This group is very talented and athletic with four or five first-round prospects.

1. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

2. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

3. Datone Jones, UCLA

4. Star Lotulelei, Utah

5. Margus Hunt, SMU

6. Jessie Williams, Alabama

7. Bennie Logan, LSU

8. Joe Kruger, Utah

9. Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Done

10. Craig Roh, Michigan

11. Quinton Dial, Alabama

12. Abry Jones, Georgia

13. Joe Vellano, Maryland

14. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

15. William Campbell, Michigan

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4-3 Defensive Tackles

NFL Draft
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you are looking for a penetrating pass rusher or a big, wide-bodied run stopper, this group has you covered. This is one of the deepest groups I've see in recent years, with eight or nine players who should see immediate playing time.

1. Star Lotulelei, Utah

2. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

3. Jesse Williams, Missouri

4. Sharrif Floyd, Florida

5. Sylvster Williams, North Carolina

6. John Jenkins, Georgia

7. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State

8. Kawann Short, Purdue

9. Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State

10. Akeem Spence, Illinois

11. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

12. Bennie Logan, LSU

13. Everett Dawkins, Florida State

14. Anthony McCloud, Florida State

15. Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin

16. Cory Grissom, South Florida

17. William Campbell, Michigan

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3-4 Defensive Tackles

NFL Draft
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Every 3-4 team needs a massive nose tackle who can eat up double teams and over power interior linemen. They collapse the pocket and force offenses to commit players. This is a group highlighted by great size and strength, and some surprising athleticism.

1.Jesse Williams, Alabama

2. John Jenkins, Georgia

3. Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State

4. Kwame Geathers, Georgia

5. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

6. Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin

7. Anthony McCloud, Florida State

8. Cory Grissom, South Florida

9. Akeem Spence, Illinois

10. Jordan Hill, Penn State

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4-3 Outside Linebackers

NFL Draft
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The role of an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense can be very wide or very narrow, depending on the scheme. But, most are expected to read and react, stopping the run, blitz and drop into coverage. This group all have shown potential to develop into great outside backers. I have included some of the hybrid type players high on this list because I feel like their athleticism could be better used in a 4-3, where they do more than simply rush the passer.

1. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

3. Dion Jordan, Oregon

4. Chase Thomas, Stanford

5.Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi

6.Sean Porter, Texas A&M

7.Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

8. John Simon, Ohio State

9. Brandon Jenkins, FSU

10. Travis Long, Washington State

11. Sio Moore, Uconn

12. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina

13. Jelani Jenkins, Florida

14. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri

15. Meshak Williams, Kansas State

16. Lerentee McCray, Florida

17. Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse

18. Michael Mauti, Penn State

19. Kenny Tate, Maryland

20. Brandon Magee, Arizona State

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3-4 Rush Outside Linebackers

NFL Draft
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This is the group that 3-4 teams will look to when they want the best players to chase down the quarterback. This group goes 15-deep as players I would feel comfortable with my team drafting to rush the quarterback. There are some injury concerns and some players who will need to transition to get the most out of their game, but this might be the deepest position in the entire draft.

1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia

2. Barkevious Mingo, LSU

3.Dion Jordan, Oregon

4. Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

5. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

6. Bjoern Werner, FSU

7. Tank Carradine, FSU

8. Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi

9. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

10.Alex Okafor, Texas

11. Corey Lemonier, Auburn

12. Sean Porter, Texas A&M

13. Sam Montgomery, LSU

14. Brandon Jenkins, FSU

15. Chase Thomas, Stanford

16. Meshak Williams, Kansas State

17. John Simon, Ohio State

18. Travis Long, Washington State

19. Lavar Edwards, LSU

20. DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina

21. Trevardo Williams, Uconn

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Inside Linebackers

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Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

This is an unusual group of inside linebackers, mainly because it seems most the top players have some serious questions to their games. But it's a solid, while not spectacular group that can provide depth for most teams, and several of these players could develop into starters.

1.Arthur Brown, Kansas State

2.Alec Ogletree, Georgia

3. Kevin Minter, LSU

4. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame

5. Niko Johnson, Alabama

6. Kiko Alonzo, Oregon

7. Jon Bostic, Florida

8. AJ Klein, Iowa State

9. Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

10. Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech

11. Albert Rosette, Nevada

12. Tom Wort, Oklahoma

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NFL Draft
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The order that these cornerbacks come off the board will depend greatly on what kind of defense a team runs. There are cornerbacks who are better in zone, while some excel in man and some that show balance in both. This is a group at the top of big tall cornerbacks with excellent speed and quickness, and I have 15 of them coming off the board in the first two rounds.

1. Desmond Trufant, Washington

2. DeMarcus Milliner, Alabama

3. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

4.Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

5. Xavier Rhodes, FSU

6. Logan Ryan, Rutgers

7.David Amerson, North Carolina State

8. Robert Alford, SE Louisiana

9. Jamar Taylor, Boise State

10. DJ Hayden, Houston

11. Blidi Breh Wilson, Uconn

12. BW Webb, William & Mary

13. Darius Slay, Mississippi State

14. Sanders Commings, Georgia

15. Will Davis, Utah State

16. Leon McFadden, San Diego State

17. Tharold Simon, LSU

18. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

19. Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

20. Johnny Adams, Michigan State

21. Micah Hyde, Iowa

22. Terrence Brown, Stanford

23. Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech

24. Steve Williams, California

25. Dwayne Gratz, Uconn

26.Nickell Robey, USC

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NFL Draft
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SPORTS

This safety class is a mixed bag. There are a few very good all-around players, but many of the safeties beyond the very top are what most consider more strong safety prospects. For them, it's going to take a team willing to take a shot on them and try and mold them into more of a coverage type player. Some of these safeties could get pushed down into later rounds for that very reason.

1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas

2. Eric Reid, LSU

3. Matt Elam, Florida

4. Phillip Thomas, Fresno State

5. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International

6. DJ Swearinger, South Carolina

7. TJ McDonald, USC

8. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

9. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

10. Robert Lester, Alabama

11. Shawn Williams, Georgia

12. Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

13. Zeke Motta, Notre Dame

14. Earl Wolff, North Carolina State

15. Bradley Douglas, Kansas

16. JJ Wilcox, Georgia Southern