The proliferation of dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks is sending NFL teams on a hunt for penetrating defensive tackles capable of collapsing the pocket from the inside out, funneling the new-age passers to linebackers.
As such, quickness may be overtaking size and strength as a preferred trait among interior defensive linemen, making explosive defenders like Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh), Will Sutton (Arizona State) and Dominique Easley (Florida) more highly regarded in the 2014 NFL Draft than they might have been only a few years ago.
So-called undersized defensive tackles will have plenty of competition; the 2014 draft class could be loaded with talented traditional interior defenders, starting with Minnesota senior Ra'Shede Hageman.
The Big Board isn't a mock draft. There is no attention given to team needs or the projected selection order. It is simply a ranking of the 32 best prospects potentially eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
1. Jadeveon Clowney*, DE, South Carolina (6-6, 268): Clowney has failed to live up to our astronomical expectations, but scouts aren't as concerned with his mediocre production as the media seems to be. When on the field, Clowney remains a dominating presence capable of making a game-changing play on each snap of the ball. He produced his best game of 2013 on Oct. 19 in a highly anticipated rematch with Tennessee left tackle Antonio Richardson.
2. Teddy Bridgewater*, QB, Louisville (6-3, 220): In an era in which college quarterbacks' numbers are often inflated by short passes and relatively simplistic schemes, Bridgewater's sparkling production is due to Pro Bowl-caliber accuracy. His success (73.2 percent completion rate with 23 touchdowns against only two interceptions) comes out of a pro-style offense that forces him to make tough throws. Bridgewater's slight frame and level of competition are concerns.
3. Marcus Mariota*, QB, Oregon (6-3, 214): Say what you will about Oregon's up-tempo offense, but the fact that Mariota has attempted 225 passes for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns and still hasn't been intercepted is a testament to his accuracy and decision making. He'll have his toughest matchup of the regular season in Palo Alto on Thursday against a physical and savvy Stanford defense.
4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (6-4, 238): A running back until last season, Barr exploded in 2012 to the tune of 21½ tackles for loss and 13½ sacks. He has been equally dominant this year (38 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, six sacks, four forced fumbles in seven games), demonstrating a combination of quickness and power that translates into rare explosiveness.
5. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 305): Any questions about Matthews' ability to hold up at left tackle might have been answered with dominating performances against Arkansas' speedy Chris Smith and Mississippi's powerful Robert Nkemdiche. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, Jake proves the cliché true -- the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
6. Sammy Watkins*, WR, Clemson (6-1, 200): Watkins was one of the few Clemson players who appeared unfazed by Florida State's speed a few weeks ago. Watkins accounted for nearly double the all-purpose yardage of any other Clemson player against the Seminoles, demonstrating the explosiveness and soft, reliable hands that help him project as a No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
7. C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama (6-2, 232): While a bit undersized, Mosley might be the best pound-for-pound player in the country. Athletic and instinctive, he is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against the run and pass.
8. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (6-3, 248): With an eye-popping 56 tackles for loss, 18 sacks and 11 forced fumbles already on his résumé entering the 2013 season, rest assured that scouts knew Mack well. The best player outside of BCS schools, Mack stepped up with dominating efforts against Ohio State and Connecticut this year to establish himself as a legitimate top-20 prospect.
9. Eric Ebron*, TE, North Carolina (6-4, 245): Ebron doesn't get nearly the national attention of Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins or other highly regarded tight ends, but scouts are fascinated with his rare combination of size and speed. The UNC staff was so enamored with Ebron's athleticism and physicality that they lined him at defensive end at times last season. The junior needs polish, but is precisely the type of physical mismatch the NFL is looking for in today's tight end.
10. Cameron Erving*, OT, Florida State (6-5, 310): Erving played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman defensive tackle but looked like a natural when moved to left tackle a season ago. Long, balanced and athletic, he's a hidden factor in the dynamic play of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Erving erased Clemson's Vic Beasley, who entered the big ACC matchup on Oct. 19 leading the country with eight sacks.
11. Johnny Manziel*, QB, Texas A&M (5-11, 210): After the season, scouts will poke holes in Manziel's grade due to less-than-ideal size and the distraction he might prove to be off the field. During the season, however, it is impossible not to simply marvel at his magical ability on it. Showing the same remarkable elusiveness as a year ago and improved arm strength, Manziel is a first-round pick whenever he elects to leave College Station.
12. Mike Evans*, WR, Texas A&M (6-5, 225): Like his famous quarterback, Evans is a redshirt sophomore, but he could have quite the decision to make after the season if he continues to dominate the SEC. Deceptively fast with great body control as well as timing, Evans is an exciting split end prospect who reminds scouts of Tampa Bay Buccaneers star Vincent Jackson.
13. Cyrus Kouandjio*, OT, Alabama (6-5, 312): Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's best lineman) to center in 2012. The reason for the switch was Kouandjio, a physically blessed athlete who some have compared to former Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.
14. Antonio Richardson*, OT, Tennessee (6-6, 332): Boasting an exciting combination of size, athleticism and power, "Tiny" looks like the second coming of former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl tackle Erik Williams. After containing Clowney a year ago, however, Richardson struggled in his rematch with the South Carolina star, consistently getting beaten off the snap.
15. Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford (6-6, 261): Used as a standup outside linebacker as a well as a down defensive lineman for the Cardinal, Murphy is equally impactful in the passing game, running game and on special teams. Eight tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss, 2½ sacks, a blocked kick and a pass broken up against Oregon State on Oct. 26 earned Murphy my Top Prospect of Week 9.
16. Marqise Lee*, WR, Southern Cal (6-0, 195): Lee has been hampered by a knee injury and unsteady play at quarterback this season, but he has also dropped too many passes. A year after scoring 14 touchdowns as part of a Biletnikoff-winning campaign, Lee has only one TD this season. Lee's struggles could push him down the board, but he has too much impressive tape to drop too far.
17. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan (6-7, 310): With an incredible combination of size and athletic ability, Lewan has earned comparisons to former Michigan standout Jake Long throughout his career with the Wolverines. Lewan has been the obvious bright spot up front for Michigan, which has struggled with injuries and penalties.
18. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota (6-6, 311): Blessed with an extraordinary combination of size and athleticism, Hageman could join Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe as recent big defensive tackles whose real rise up draft boards doesn't begin until the scouting combine. Hageman looked unblockable at times in Minnesota's Oct. 26 upset of Nebraska, logging two tackles for loss, including a sack.
19. Ryan Shazier*, OLB, Ohio State (6-2, 226): Shazier might be 10-15 pounds lighter than scouts would prefer but his instincts, speed and bone-jarring hits make him a fearful defender that offenses must account for on every snap. The Buckeyes' leading tackler and most consistent defender, Shazier stood out in their comeback win against Iowa.
20. Vic Beasley*, OLB, Clemson (6-3, 235): Beasley led Clemson with eight sacks in limited duty as a sophomore and already has 10 through nine games in 2013. Like most of the Tigers, Beasley struggled against Florida State, the most talented team he'll face in the regular season. Beasley is similar to surprise 2012 first-round pick Bruce Irvin for his slim frame and explosive burst, but Beasley also flashes rather than dominates.
21. Cedric Ogbuehi*, OT, Texas A&M (6-5, 300): Overshadowed by all of the talent on the Aggies' roster, Ogbuehi is an exciting prospect in his own right. A standout at right guard a year ago, Ogbuehi (pronounced ah-BOO-hee) stands to make a lot of money if he continues his early stellar play at right tackle. He informed the media Oct. 18 of his intentions to return to College Station for his senior season, but might rethink things should the undisclosed injury that kept him sidelined the past two games (UTEP, Vanderbilt) prove serious.
22. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor (6-5, 335): A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic. Scouts love Richardson's talent, but the extended splits in Art Briles' scheme fooled us before with former first-round picks Jason Smith (No. 2 overall in 2009) and Danny Watkins (No. 23 in 2011).
23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix*, FS, Alabama (6-1, 208): Death, taxes and a Nick Saban-coached defensive back earning first-round grades from NFL scouts are among the sure things in life. Clinton-Dix has an exciting combination of athleticism and instincts. He quickly proved back to his playmaking ways following a two-week suspension for accepting a loan from an Alabama coach by logging five tackles and recording his first interception of the season against Arkansas.
24. Stephon Tuitt*, DL, Notre Dame (6-5, 303): Offseason sports hernia surgery might have played a role in Tuitt weighing 20 pounds more this season than a year ago, and early on the extra weight seemed to slow him. He has played much better of late and is simply too gifted to fall far on draft day should the junior elect to leave South Bend early.
25. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU (5-10, 182): Verrett lacks the size so en vogue in today's NFL, but agility and ball skills never go out of style for cornerbacks. Verrett led the Big 12 with 22 passes defended and six interceptions in 2012. His stellar coverage (six tackles, two passes broken up) against Oklahoma on Oct. 5 earned him the Top Prospect of Week 6.
26. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU (6-3, 235): While Ziggy Ansah received most of the hype at BYU in 2012, Van Noy was far and away the more consistent defender, registering an eye-popping 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, two interceptions and two blocked kicks. Van Noy isn't as physically dominating as his former teammate, but his instincts and agility make him a playmaker nonetheless.
27. Brandon Scherff*, OT, Iowa (6-5, 315): The latest of Kirk Ferentz's prodigies along the offensive line, Scherff ranks among the more physical run blockers in the country. A left tackle for the Hawkeyes, his future might lie at right tackle or even inside at guard; he does not have the ideal athleticism to handle NFL speed rushers.
28. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh (6-0, 285): Donald might not look the part of a high-round draft pick but his burst off the snap and quick, active hands make him a tough matchup for offensive linemen. Through eight games, Donald has nine sacks. Scouts are eager to see what he can do in November with the Panthers' toughest opponents (including Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami) coming up.
29. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (6-0, 200): In terms of size, agility and speed, no cornerback offers a more intriguing skill set than the Cowboys star. Gilbert ranks among the nation's leaders with four interceptions this season (through eight games) and has returned five kickoffs for touchdowns during his time in Stillwater.
30. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State (6-0, 305): Perhaps due to concerns about how he would hold up in the NFL, Sutton gained weight for his senior season and hasn't been as dominant as last year, when he recorded an astounding 23½ tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Though Sutton's production has tailed off (5½ tackles for loss, two sacks through eight games), some of this is due to the extra attention he has received after winning the Morris Trophy a year ago as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman (over Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei, among others).
31. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida (6-2, 285): Easley has a longer, leaner frame than the two "undersized" defensive tackles ranked ahead of him and his production has come against better competition. Easley suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee in late September and must prove his health before any NFL team is willing to invest a high pick, but his explosiveness made him a standout in the SEC throughout his career.
32. Ka'Deem Carey*, RB, Arizona (5-10): Carey led the country with 1,929 rushing yards in 2012. Despite sporting a noticeably bulkier, stronger frame, he is on pace to pass that production this year. With great vision, quickness and improved power, Carey is one of the few running backs with the complete game to warrant first-round consideration.
Just missed the cut
Bishop Sankey*, RB, Washington
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Louis Nix III*, DT, Notre Dame
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu*, CB, Oregon
Lache Seastrunk*, RB, Baylor
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
Ego Ferguson*, DT, LSU