All 32 NFL teams begin the 2013 season with a blank slate, but it won't take long for the bottom dwellers to separate themselves from the pack of contenders and send their fans scrambling to analyze who may arrive as reinforcements in the NFL Draft next spring.
It's early, but the 2014 draft class certainly appears much stronger than the previous crop. The talent is still rich on the offensive line, but the skill position talent missing in 2013 has returned, including at quarterback, making presumptive No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney's perch a little more precarious than most realize.
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.
(* indicates underclassman)
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (6-6, 268, 4.65)* -- It is difficult to describe Clowney and not fall into the trap of hyperbole. He has more than lived up to his billing as the top prep prospect in the country in his first two seasons with the Gamecocks, and boasts the skill set to rank among the truly elite prospects of his generation.
2. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6-5, 305, 5.14) - Luke Joeckel received most of the attention at Texas A&M last season, but there are some who believe Matthews (the son of Hall of Famer, Bruce) will wind up the better prospect. If Matthews handles the jump to left tackle as smoothly as scouts anticipate, a top five selection is a virtual lock.
3. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (6-3, 220, 4.65)* -- Bridgewater has dominated the Big East in his first two seasons while easing concerns over his level of competition with an MVP performance in a Sugar Bowl win against an extremely talented Florida defense.
4. OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (6-4, 238, 4.73) - As the No. 5 pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, Ziggy Ansah showed what a breakout season can do for a pass-rusher. Barr, a former running back, exploded onto the Pac-12 last year to the tune of 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. If he can duplicate that success as a senior, he could wind up in the top 10, himself.
5. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (6-5, 312, 5.12)* -- Some questioned the wisdom of moving Barrett Jones from left tackle (where he'd 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 Bowler Chris Samuels, the No. 3 overall pick out of Alabama in 2000.
6. DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-5, 303, 4.89)* -- Overshadowed by Manti Te'o and even nose guard Louis Nix III a season ago, Tuitt's length, power and surprising quickness will ultimately earn him the highest grade from NFL scouts.
7. WR Marqise Lee, Southern Cal (6-0, 195, 4.51)* -- The reigning Biletnikof winner as the nation's top receiver, Lee possesses extraordinary agility and burst, making him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
8. CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 190, 4.42)* -- The Buckeyes used to churn out first round defensive backs annually. Roby, who possesses spectacular straight-line speed and quick hands, will renew the tradition.
9. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson (6-1, 225, 4.68) - Every team is looking for "the next Russell Wilson." In terms of his size, poise, mobility and arm talent, Boyd is one of the few quarterbacks to warrant comparison to the Seahawks' young standout.
10. OLB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (6-2, 232, 4.56) - Athletic and instinctive, Mosley is a true three-down linebacker capable of making plays against the run and pass. He's among the best all-around football players in what appears to be a much stronger 2014 draft class, but his lack of elite size could keep him out of the top 10.
11. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6-7, 310, 5.04) - Possessing an incredible combination of size and athletic ability, Lewan has earned comparisons to former Michigan standout Jake Long.
12. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame (6-3, 326, 5.17)* -- Possessing broad shoulders, a thick lower half and surprisingly quick feet, Nix III is a classic run-stuffer with enough burst and determination to threaten the pocket, as well.
13. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson (6-1, 200, 4.49)* -- It was Watkins, not USC's Lee, who was the more impressive pass-catcher as a freshman, but injuries and suspension led to a disappointing sophomore campaign for the Clemson star while Lee won the Biletnikof Award. Long and athletic, expect Watkins to re-emerge in 2013.
14. DE Aaron Lynch, South Florida (6-5, 248, 4.76)* - Along with Tuitt and Nix III, Lynch starred at Notre Dame before sitting out last season per NCAA rules regarding transfers. Long, athletic and powerful, only has to answer questions about his commitment to earn a top 20 selection as the talent is obvious.
15. OT Cameron Erving, Florida State (6-5, 310, 5.26)* - 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 offers immense upside.
16. OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU (6-3, 235, 4.67) - Overshadowed by Ansah, 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 in 2012. What can he do for an encore now that opponents will be focusing on him?
17. OT Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (6-6, 332, 5.16)* -- Nicknamed "Tiny," Richardson and his game proved anything but last season at left tackle for the Vols. Richardson is certainly a bit raw after just one season of starting action, but he's shockingly smooth for a man of his size.
18. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor (6-5, 335, 5.27) - A dominating drive blocker who projects best at guard but spent the entire 2011 season protecting Robert Griffin III at left tackle, Richardson is massive, powerful and shockingly athletic.
19. CB Jason Verrett, TCU (5-10, 182, 4.49) - 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.
20. DT Anthony Johnson, LSU (6-3, 305, 5.29)* -- Four former Bayou Bengals have heard their name called in the first round since 2008. Johnson will have his work cut out for him with Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery in the NFL, but his prototypical blend of size, power and athleticism makes him a strong bet to continue LSU's dominance along the defensive line.
21. OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-2, 226, 4.58)* - Shazier may 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.
22. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (6-2, 298, 4.98)* -- Losing productive pass-rushers Bjoern Werner, Cornelius Carradine and Brandon Jenkins to the NFL is certainly going to hurt the Seminoles, but Jernigan's explosive hands make him a terror up the middle.
23. CB Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (6-0, 185, 4.47)* -- An explosive athlete with a knack for making big plays at cornerback and on special teams, Purifoy is as talented as they come. He's a better athlete than football player, at this point, however, and needs to improve in the finer techniques of the position to justify this lofty ranking.
24. OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (6-3, 335, 5.34) - While not as massive as Baylor's Cyril Richardson, Jackson's short, squatty build makes him an effective drive blocker and he possesses the light feet and balance necessary to star in a zone-blocking scheme.
25. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State (6-1, 288, 4.79) - Sutton is undeniably smaller than scouts would prefer, but he uses his natural leverage advantage well, slicing through gaps to terrorize opponents. Sutton led the Pac-12 in both tackles for loss (23.5) and sacks (13) in 2012 and was voted the conference's most dominant defensive lineman - over Star Lotulelei, among others.
26. TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa (6-6, 265, 4.65) - A throw-back tight end capable of dominating opponents as both a blocker and receiver, Fiedorowicz (pronounced feh-DOR-uh-wits) may lack in name recognition but not in talent.
27. RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (5-09, 210, 4.45)* -- Boasting a compact build with excellent vision, agility and burst, Seastrunk proved every bit the superstar once on the field for the Bears following his transfer from Oregon. If not for a couple of troubling fumbles against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, Seastrunk would be ranked even higher.
28. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina (6-4, 245, 4.67)* -- A highly athletic and versatile prospect who stars not only as a matchup nightmare and powerful in-line blocker but as an occasional defensive end, Ebron could leap to the top of the tight end class with more consistency in 2013.
29. OLB Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (6-5, 252, 4.76)* -- Hubbard is the next Crimson Tide star on defense to keep an eye on. The lanky pass-rusher recorded 10 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles in a breakout sophomore campaign and could be on the verge of much bigger things.
30. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (6-6, 267, 4.75)* -- A two-sport star for the Huskies (football, basketball), ASJ provides a unique combination of size, overall athleticism and ball-skills, making him a true mismatch for opponents. However, he was suspended for the season opener due to an offseason DUI arrest.
31. WR Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (6-2, 224, 4.49)* -- Moncrief's thick frame, deceptive speed and smooth route-running make him a nightmare for cornerbacks. He does not possess the explosive moves of Southern Cal's Lee or Clemson's Watkins but might be a better player than either of them.
32. DE/OLB Trent Murphy, Stanford (6-4, 261, 4.80) - Murphy registered 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks to lead the Cardinal in both categories a season ago. The stout, broad-shouldered athlete may project best as a defensive end rather than as a stand-up linebacker for some.
Just missed the cut:
DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota
TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon*
OG David Yankey, Stanford*
WR Jordan Matthews, South Carolina
WR Kasen Williams, Washington*
Rob Rang is a senior analyst for www.NFLDraftScout.com, owned and distributed by The Sports Xchange in partnership with CBSSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @RobRang.