Jamie Collins hasn't lost momentum since his strong performance at the combine, and he could go at the end of the first round. (Bobby McDuffie/Icon SMI)
In the absence of QB prospects like Andrew Luck or top-flight running backs like Trent Richardson, could this year's draft shine a spotlight on the defensive side of the football early? It certainly seems possible, especially given the number of players with elite potential there -- and the challenge facing coaching staffs to slow the league's recent offensive breakthroughs.
Who are the top prospects at each position? Here's a look at the top five, plus a few risers and fallers as we approach the draft.
1. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
2. Star Lotulelei, Utah
3. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
4. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
5. Jesse Williams, Alabama
I'm not quite as high on Lotulelei as others, but he still received a bump thanks to clean medicals and a nice Pro Day showing. There's a bit of a drop-off from Richardson to Williams, but any of the five listed here could wind up as Round 1 selections.
Rising: Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern.
Williams has had a positive buzz surrounding him for several weeks now -- enough that could push him into Round 2, when all is said and done. He stands around 340 pounds but is athletic for that size.
Falling: Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin.
Hughes is another hulking presence at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, but off-field issues -- he was dismissed from Tennessee's program before landing at Tennessee-Martin -- could wind up driving him down pretty far in this draft. Those issues are nothing new, but Hughes is not the sure-thing prospect for which teams might brush those worries under the rug.
1. Ziggy Ansah, BYU
2. Bjoern Werner, Florida State
3. Tank Carradine, Florida State
4. Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
5. Datone Jones, UCLA
A hearty welcome to the top five for Tank Carradine, who's here with an asterisk. Should Carradine prove at his April Pro Day that he's 100 percent (or closing in on 100 percent) after a knee injury ended his 2012 season, he could warrant a top-15 pick. The other change: Dion Jordan, the No. 1 DE in our last ranking, has been moved to the OLB category -- he sounds as if that's where he would prefer to play, even if he won't say it specifically, and he'd be a better fit there.
Rising: Tank Carradine.
As mentioned above, Carradine's status in the draft thus far has hinged and will continue to hinge on his knee. If he's able to allay the fears about using a Round 1 pick on an injury risk, Carradine's college tape speaks for itself. There may not be a better pure pass-rusher in this draft.
Falling: Sam Montgomery, LSU.
Montgomery's work ethic continues to be the No. 1 concern for teams considering the LSU product, and he fact that he admitted to taking games off against lesser foes did nothing to help that situation. Don't be shocked if Montgomery drops beyond Round 2, in spite of his obvious talent.
1. Dion Jordan, Oregon
2. Jarvis Jones, Georgia
3. Barkevious Mingo, LSU
4. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
5. Sio Moore, UConn
Again, Jordan's on the move, from the DE category here -- he's a more natural fit as a 3-4 OLB than a defensive end, both from a pass-rushing perspective and in terms of his overall game. To make room for him here, Jones and Mingo dropped a spot, while Stanford's Chase Thomas fell just outside the top five.
Rising: Jamie Collins, Southern Miss.
Collins was one of the stars of February's combine, and he has not lost any of that momentum in the month since. There's even a little talk that he could sneak into the latter portions of Round 1, where several 3-4 teams are in need of an athletic pass-rusher.
Falling: Brandon Jenkins, Florida State.
Jenkins, 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, posted a 5.0 40 time at his Pro Day, simply furthering the notion that he's a bit of a defensive "tweener", stuck between being an undersized DE and a slow OLB.
1. Alec Ogletree, Georgia
2. Arthur Brown, Kansas State
3. Kevin Minter, LSU
4. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
5. Kiko Alonso, Oregon
This is the same order coming out of the combine, but keep an eye on Alonso (more on that in a second). There are plenty of positions that appear to be wild cards heading into the draft, and this one is no different. Any of those top five could go in Round 1, with Brown and Ogletree carrying the potential to really climb.
Rising: Kiko Alonso.
Alonso plays an aggressive game against the run, doing what he can to make himself a force in the hole. If you compare his tape to that of Minter or Te'o, it's Alonso that often comes off as the more athletic talent. He may still wind up lasting on the board longer than Minter or Te'o, but that doesn't mean those players will be better pros.
Falling: Nico Johnson, Alabama.
Johnson had sports hernia surgery in February, then muddled through Alabama's Pro Day. The Crimson Tide have a second Pro Day scheduled for April 2, so he'll get another shot, but the book is somewhat closed here -- Johnson will be a solid two-down linebacker but likely not much more.
1. Dee Milliner, Alabama
2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
3. Desmond Trufant, Washington
4. Jamar Taylor, Boise State
5. Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
This is another group where no one can seem to agree on rankings -- at least after Milliner (and even that's a bit in question, as Trufant has closed the gap). I'm partial to Taylor and Poyer, but it would not be that hard to slot in David Amerson, Darius Slay, Johnthan Banks or a few others. The point being, this is a deep crop.
Rising: David Amerson, N.C. State.
True to form for the cornerbacks, opinions vary wildly on Amerson. But he flew down the 40 track at the combine (4.4) and then followed up his work in Indy with more impressive numbers at N.C. State's Pro Day. Though he was inconsistent in college, Amerson has the upside to warrant an early selection.
Falling: Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State.
Banks improved his 40 time from the combine (4.59) to his Pro Day (4.51), and he is not a corner that lives on his speed anyway. Still, you can make an argument that he's actually the second best Mississippi State CB available, behind Darius Slay. Both are very talented defensive backs, but Slay has done more since the end of the season.
1. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
2. Matt Elam, Florida
3. Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
4. Eric Reid, LSU
5. D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
Cyprien and Reid changed places in this ranking, but everyone after Vaccaro may (and probably should) end up being selected in Round 2 or later. Swearinger remains a tantalizing prospect -- he's an absolute missile out of the defensive backfield.
Rising: Josh Evans, Florida.
A lot of people overlooked Evans, the other Florida safety, to focus on Elam. And while Elam stands well in front of Evans as a prospect, the latter will be picked at some point, probably on Day 3. He may turn out to be a steal there, too, as a player who can step in and cover right away.
Falling: Eric Reid.