NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
After continuing the investigation into this year’s 2014 NFL Draft player pool, it’s time to take a look at the top-five prospects at each position, with the draft now less than six months away.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville*
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon**
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M**
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA**
5. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Notes: Bridgewater is facing some serious competition from the more explosive Mariota as of late, but the latter’s minor accuracy hiccups and lack of late-game passing experience keep him slightly behind the Louisville passer at this point. Manziel’s psychological and character evaluations may impact his stock, but he’s easily one of the top three passers in the class on tape. Hundley gets the slight edge over Boyd because of his higher ceiling, although he has encountered concerning problems when attempting to go beyond his first read. Two straight disappointing performances don’t help his cause.
1. Bishop Sankey, Washington*
2. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor*
3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin**
4. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon**
5. Charles Sims, West Virginia
Notes: Sankey finishes atop the rankings here because his running is slightly more decisive, and his production more consistent, than Seastrunk, another potential starting option at the pro level with a knack for making big plays. Gordon is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt so far on the season, a dynamic option with significantly more size than De’Anthony Thomas, who projects as more of a specialized option. Charles Sims’ decision to leave Houston for West Virginia creates some character concerns, but his power and explosiveness are undeniable.
1. Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
2. Mike Evans, Texas A&M**
3. Marqise Lee, Southern California*
4. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
5. Allen Robinson, Penn St.*
Notes: Marqise Lee was projected as a lock to go high in the first round, but he was quickly usurped by Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, a pair of bigger, stronger options who are the only two receivers that should have secured a first-round draft slot by now. Jordan Matthews, the physical, 6’3” Vanderbilt receiver, is on pace to top his 94-1,323-8 line from last season, while Allen Robinson is set to do the same. Those two, along with Lee, are in the first-or-second-round range, with a fairly comfortable lead over their nearest competition at the position.
1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina*
2. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington*
4. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
5. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
Notes: Eric Ebron, a tight end with incredible athleticism, could ultimately end up being selected within the first ten picks. Beyond that, none of the other tight ends are too likely to go in the first round, although there’s a chance for both Amaro and Seferian-Jenkins, two big-yet-versatile options. Fiedorowicz is really the only other player projected to go high, but he projects as more of a reliable inline option. Colt Lyerla began the season as my second-ranked tight end, but he will have trouble being drafted after quitting Oregon’s team and being arrested for possession of cocaine.
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
3. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama*
4. Cameron Erving, Florida St.*
5. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee*
Notes: Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan have seemingly secured top-ten draft positions at this point, while Cyrus Kouandjio also appears likely for the first round, following in D.J. Fluker’s footsteps. Cameron Erving should go fourth as a lanky, athletic tackle with considerable upside as a blindside protector. Antonio Richardson’s outing against Jadeveon Clowney last week exacerbated lingering concerns about his ability to man the left tackle position in the NFL.
1. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
2. David Yankey, Stanford*
3. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi St.
4. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
5. Anthony Steen, Alabama
Notes: Zack Martin plays left tackle for the Irish, but his build is probably better suited to guard at the next level, a position he’s somewhat overqualified for. Yankey played left tackle for the Cardinal last season, but he’s been forced into left guard duty this year. Behind him is Gabe Jackson, a massive, athletic guard with an SEC pedigree. Cyril Richardson is one of the biggest linemen in the class, but his awareness in pass protection led to a fourth-place ranking. Anthony Steen is a reliable option, but may lack the measurable to earn a second-round draft pick.
1. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado St.
3. Tyler Larsen, Utah St.
4. Bryan Stork, Florida St.
5. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Notes: This is a position where the first four players are somewhat interchangeable. Swanson may have the edge owing to his size and SEC experience, but Richburg has also impressed against major programs. All of these players, with the exception of Ikard, could be drafted as high as the fourth round, with the Oklahoma pivot probably projecting as more of a fifth-or-sixth-round pick.
1. Louis Nix, Notre Dame*
2. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
3. DaQuan Jones, Penn St.
4. Timmy Jernigan, Florida St.*
5. Anthony Johnson, Louisiana St.*
Notes: Louis Nix is the centerpiece of this year’s defensive tackle class, a nimble nose tackle with the ability to fit into either an even or an odd front. However, the other defensive tackles in the top five also have a shot at the first round, with Hageman and Jones getting a slight edge over Jernigan and Johnson because they could realistically project into a variety of defensive schemes, whereas the latter two are a little bit more limited, preferably playing three-technique in a 4-3 defense.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina*
2. Vic Beasley, Clemson*
3. Ed Stinson, Alabama
4. Scott Crichton, Oregon St.
5. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
Notes: Jadeveon Clowney obviously ranks atop this list as a lock to be selected within the top-five picks. Other than that, the only defensive end who possesses a realistic shot at going in the first round is probably Clemson’s Vic Beasley, an undersized rusher who is tied for the league lead in sacks thus far with ten. The next three ends could be drafted in any order, whether you value production (Crichton), versatility (Stinson), or raw physical tools (Martin.)
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA
2. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
3. Kyle Van Noy, Brigham Young
4. Ryan Shazier, Ohio St.*
5. Adrian Hubbard, Alabama*
Notes: Anthony Barr has been such a disruptive rusher over the past two seasons that he could potentially be drafted ahead of even Jadeveon Clowney. His presence has somewhat obscured the outstanding four years of productive starting experience Khalil Mack has, a rusher who somewhat resembles Bruce Irvin. Van Noy is another productive rusher, but doesn’t possess ideal bulk for a 3-4 outside linebacker, while Ryan Shazier is an athletic player whose instincts need considerable work.
1. C.J. Mosley, Alabama
2. Christian Jones, Florida St.
3. Max Bullough, Michigan St.
4. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky*
5. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut*
Notes: Mosley can play almost anywhere aside from a rush linebacker position. He’s easily the top conventional linebacker in the class. Christian Jones is second, as an athletic player who is well-suited to the current game. Max Bullough ranks third, someone who is a bigger, more physical player, but who also possesses surprising movement skills. Jackson is your traditional thumper, while Smallwood is a slightly-undersized tackling machine.
1. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon*
2. Bradley Roby, Ohio St.*
3. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida*
4. Jason Verrett, Texas Christian
5. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St.
Notes: Bradley Roby’s inconsistent performances in 2013 have dropped him behind Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, although the Ohio State defender possesses the higher upside of the two and is more naturally suited to man coverage. Purifoy’s physical tools create the impression that, with a focus on defense, he could be a quality starter, while Verrett rounds out the top four, a group which could all go in the first round. Dennard is competing with the likes of Kyle Fuller and Marcus Roberson for draft positioning.
1. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama*
2. Curtis Lofton, Louisiana St.
3. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida St.
4. Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
5. Deone Bucannon, Washington St.
Notes: This is a particularly poor class of safeties. Clinton-Dix is really the only possibility for the first round, but no one should confuse him with a prospect of Mark Barron’s caliber. The next two players are in close competition, with Lofton as a physical, reliable strong safety and Joyner as more of an undersized hybrid cornerback/free safety with return ability. Exum plays cornerback at Virginia Tech, but could be drafted a safety. He is a first-or-second-round talent recovering from microfracture surgery.