2014 NFL Draft defensive prospects to watch for the Arizona Cardinals

USA TODAY Sports

These are a few names on the defensive side of the ball to keep your eye on during the college football season.

There have been some interesting movements on the defensive side of the ball for the Arizona Cardinals.

When the Cardinals drafted Kevin Minter, signed Karlos Dansby and Jasper Brinkley and ignored the pass rushing outside linebacker position, it felt like the talk of seeing a 4-3 defense was still possible.

Since then, Matt Williamson of ESPN has talked about that possibility multiple times, the most recent being late last week:

While that may change the positional needs on the defense, the overall needs will stay relatively similar, at least this early in the process, of what prospects I'll be looking at on the defensive side of the ball.

Again, Alex Mann's defensive roster will be what I use as the early indication of what the Cardinals roster will look like.

Note: The reason I begin looking at the team needs this early is because it allows me to start my player analysis for the 2014 NFL Draft and gives me a positional list that will turn into names to start watching.

The needs are in order of what I feel is the biggest need at this time and rankings do not reflect player abilities, but are more about who I am looking forward to watching the most in the upcoming college season.

Pass rusher:

Looking early at 2014's list of names at the premier position of pass rusher, there is one name that stands out above the rest:

  1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina: There's little doubt that Clowney is going to be an early pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The question will be if 3-4 teams like Arizona (if that's their primary alignment still) or the New York Jets get an early shot, do they see him as having the ability to stand up consistently and play OLB?
  2. Khalil Mack, OLB Buffalo: I am biased, I'll admit that right now, but Mack may be my favorite defensive prospect to watch play at this time. He is EXPLOSIVE and a relentless worker on defense. He has a nose for the big plays, and his progression will be fun to watch in 2013.
  3. Anthony Barr, OLB UCLA: Barr is new to the defensive side of the ball, but his natural ability to play in space, and his unreal closing speed when he turns the corner getting to the quarterback makes him a moldable piece that looks like the real deal at the next level.
  4. Kyle Van Noy, OLB BYU: The smallest player on this list, Van Noy is the new breed of pass rusher, much like Barkevious Mingo in the '13 class, and his explosiveness off the edge and effort, makes him an ideal fit in a 3-4 defense.
  5. Adrian Hubbard, OLB Alabama: There are concerns recently with the physical health of Alabama players, as they seem to be run through the grinder in Tuscaloosa. Well that's what makes Hubbard so intriguing; he's a one year starter that showed a lot of promise as a 3-4 OLB and he may not have the wear that others do.
  6. Trent Murphy, DE Stanford: Another tweener who can get after the quarterback, but his versatility and strength is what has me keeping an eye on the Cardinal.

Defensive tackle:

Dan Williams is in the final year of his contract, David Carter seems to be more of a rotational type and if the Cardinals are staying in a 3-4, they may need to look at finding a replacement (eventual or immediate depending on his season) for Darnell Dockett.

  1. Stephon Tuitt, DE Notre Dame: Tuitt was maybe the second best player on the defense for Notre Dame, after the number two guy on this list, but his ability to play the end spot in the 3-4 or play a one technique defensive tackle if a move is made to a 4-3 makes him the guy I am watching the most in 2013.
  2. Louis Nix III, DT Notre Dame: Nix is an absolute force on the interior of the defensive line and, while he offers less versatility than Tuitt, he may be the best interior defensive lineman prospect in the entire draft.
  3. Will Sutton, DT Arizona State: Sutton is a mini Dockett and he would likely be a good guy to play behind, and maybe replace, Dockett.
  4. Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State: Jernigan is growing in popularity among the draft community, and for good reason. Timmy is a quick twitch, strong interior presence, which may be able to bounce to an end position if the Cardinals stay in a 3-4.
  5. Anthony Johnson, DT LSU: The Michael Brockers replacement is a freak of an athlete that would work well in the Cardinals one gap 3-4 scheme or as a 4-3 defender.

Others to watch: Henry Anderson (Stanford), DeAndre Coleman (California)

Safety:

Yeremiah Bell, Rashad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu don't necessarily inspire long term assurance as the quarterback of the secondary.

  1. Haha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: The junior to be is an excellent deep safety prospect, who plays the centerfield position well. It will be fun to watch what type of responsibility is put on Clinton-Dix, as he now takes over as the veteran in the Bama secondary.
  2. Craig Loston, LSU: The hard-hitting Loston will step in to replace the departed Eric Reid, and should get the chance to showcase his ability as the deep man in a very good defense.
  3. Tre Boston, North Carolina: The versatile Boston has lined up at both corner and safety, and showcases natural ball skills. I want to see him play a little more effectively as a deep safety, but that's what 2013 is for.

While the Cardinals may need to look at the outside linebacker position if they stay in the 3-4, or the defensive end position in the 4-3, they need a guy that can rush the passer consistently, and either take advantage of double teams that the interior guys command, or command a double team on their own.

It will also be interesting to follow what the corners opposite Peterson do in 2013, because that could determine how early they look for one in the '14 draft.

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