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“The Amateur Ward” Lighting Fools Up and Picking ‘Em Off: Top 2014 Defensive Prospects for NFL Draft

Welcome back ladies and gents. As you should know, I am rating the top rookies for FANTASY and NOT real life. Thus, some players will be ranked higher or lower than you had them on your NFL team’s Draft Board. This year’s defensive pool is deep and lean at the same time. Deep in the sense that there are a lot of good players that could emerge as stars in the league, but lean in the sense that most positions are top-heavy. Hope everyone enjoyed Part 1 of the Rookie Rankings:  Offensive Players last week.

Without further ado, let’s rank defensive rookies.

1.) Jadeveon Clowney (DE) – I’ll be honest, instead of trying to sum up Clowney in words, I’ll just do this:  Whaddup Vincent!

Yo Vincent Smith, how’s your day going? SMACK! Yes, ladies and gents, Clowney is the best prospect in the draft and the best defensive prospect in years. Draft him EARLY and enjoy the stud!

2.) Khalil Mack (OLB) – Some criticize Mack for playing in a weak conference (MAC) in college, but he is the best linebacker in the draft. Hard-hitting and wraps up nicely, Mack will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. Also will be a proficient run stopper for those leagues that count stuffs.

3.) Anthony Barr (OLB) – If you wanted to argue, Barr could be above Mack, but Barr is really linebacker 1b here, as both him and Mack are going to dominate.  Barr hits harder than Mack and gets off the line quickly. Only concern here is he sometimes struggles against more physical offensive linemen.

4.) Justin Gilbert (CB) – Gilbert will be a dual threat in the NFL as a pass picker and as a return man. While not quite as explosive as Patrick Peterson at the cornerback position, Gilbert should be able to make a name for himself in the NFL picking passes and returning kicks for scores.

5.) C.J. Mosley (ILB) – Too many mocks have Mosley falling outside the top 15. NO WAY. Mosley bursts into the backfield like a cannonball. Great instincts as he keeps his eyes on the quarterback and wraps up running backs as soon as they touch the ball. He still has a learning curve, but he will be the most productive inside linebacker in this year’s draft class. Draft as your LB3 or IDP play.

6.) HaHa Clinton-Dix (S) – The one thing you can’t teach in the NFL:  Instincts. Clinton-Dix has them, and he looks the part of a ballhawk. He may not be the most physical safety, but he has great instincts and always makes a play on the ball. Expect a handful of picks and passes defensed from him in his rookie season. Nice sleeper at the safety position.

7.) Calvin Pryor (S) – Watching Pryor play reminds me of Troy Polamalu. He might be the hardest hitting safety in the draft, and he’s also a ballhawk. He’s not higher on this list because he still needs to learn some fundamentals of tackling, not just knocking someone flat. If he can adjust his style to the NFL, he could emerge as a dark horse for top 20 safety status.

8.) Aaron Donald (DE) – If he plays mainly DE in the NFL as opposed to DT, this guy could really rack up the sacks. He’ll never be the quickest off the line, but the Pitt product could surprise with a 9-sack season if he is in the right situation this year. Those leagues counting stuffs should nab him earlier than usual.

9.) Ryan Shazier (OLB) – Shazier is a great hitter and uses his instincts well, but can struggle at times against more physical linemen. In dynasty leagues, he is worth a shot as a flier, and depending on the situation. Easily could be a surprise this season.

10.) Dee Ford (DE) – He and Kony Ealy (11) play similarly. The difference is that Ford is quicker off the line. Coming out of Auburn, don’t be surprised to see Ford pushing for starter snaps by mid-season. A little raw, but loads of upside. A nice sacks sleeper for the 2014 season, not to mention he is underrated as a run-stopper.

11.) Kony Ealy (DE) – Ealy seems like he will be good against the pass as a defensive end. He needs to work on getting off the line a little quicker and bulk up some, as he might get pushed around by bigger linemen. He is a little less raw than Dee Ford, but they both can get to the QB. Leagues that reward passes defensed may get a handful of passes defensed to go with some sacks. Book him as a sleeper.

12.) Bradley Roby (CB) – If you are looking for one sleeper that you can get later than expected, look at Roby. He is a physical CB and is also not afraid to deliver the blow. The knock on him is he can be beat by faster receivers and good route runners. Nice instincts, just needs to learn to read routes more and not just light suckers up.

13.) Stephon Tuitt (DE) –  Tuitt is going to rack up the sacks, but also the penalties, as he leads with his helmet too often. He is not explosive off the line, and has trouble with more talented opposition. While he may never rack up tackles or stuffs, he should be a sack specialist and create turnovers.

14.) Timmy Jernigan (DT) – Normally when you draft DTs you do so as your last round picks. Jernigan is a big man who is quicker than most DTs, and actually mobile enough to catch a scrambling QB. When picking your DT next season, if you miss one of the DT studs (Melton, Ratliff, Dockett), know that Jernigan is worth a look. He’ll need a little adjustment period, but has the potential to be a fantasy-friendly DT and not just a WW-fodder.

15.) Demarcus Lawrence (OLB) – Lawrence is a bit undersized to be a full-time DE, but if he could adjust to being an OLB (played in college as well), he could be a sneaky source of sacks and net a healthy tackle total. He is wiry and raw, but also a great tackler. He will likely start opposite a DE1 or another stud outside linebacker this season, but as his game progresses, he could be a steal in the right situation. Definitely worth a look in dynasty and keeper leagues.

Hope you all enjoyed this week’s installment. As always, feel free to comment, like, share, praise, or thrash this piece as I’m here to help everyone win and learn from what the fantasy community is truly looking for. Peace, from the A!

I am a recent college graduate from a small liberal arts school in Atlanta, GA. I'm a sports junkie and a diehard Atlanta sports fan.



  1. Bryan Robinson

    April 29, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Nice roundup, Ben. I’ll admit I’m definitely on board with Donald, but as a Cowboys fan I doubt I’ll see him and his production fall to the mid-first round. One guy I’m intrigued by from a fantasy perspective is Ryan Shazier and his ability to be a chase-down OLB in a 4-3. I imagine he’s going to go late 1st and end up on a productive teams.

  2. Ben W

    April 30, 2014 at 10:29 am

    Bryan, I agree with you on Shazier as I also see him as a nice sleeper for this season. For most rookies, especially defensive, the amount of playing time/exposure in their first season is crucial to their development. You hear all this “developmental player” pick, but the reality is without consistent playing time, that player will never pan out. There are countless cases where team drafted a player for “developmental” reasons, but then that player never panned out. All depends on the ingenuity of the team to get the player on the field for snaps.

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