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Yes, finally, the NFL Draft is almost upon us. With only a week left before hand, there is going to be loads of chatter swarming around the league concerning teams’ top picks and the best players available.
Since the draft was pushed back until May, these extra couple of weeks have given scouts and personnel time to delve into prospects a little more than previous years, but it has also given way to a lot of unnecessary and puzzling declarations, such as the those surrounding Teddy Bridgewater that are knocking him for things like his hand size and “lean frame.”
Either way you look at it, both good and bad have come out of this new schedule.
By now, teams have their own boards finalized, and their plans are set for the big event. All workouts and meetings with prospects are just about over with, so there is not a lot left for these players to do except wait.
So, to help pass the time while we wait for the big day, here is a look at my own personal Big Board.
1. Jadeveon Clowney: DE South Carolina
Anyone who has followed college football recently knows about Jadeveon Clowney. The massive hit that he left on Michigan running back Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl received national news attention and sparked a huge ascent for Clowney’s draft stock. While his 2013 season was not quite as stat sheet stuffing as his 2012 season, he was still able to have a huge impact for the Gamecocks and keep himself in contention to be taken within the first several picks for this May’s draft. The physical gifts that Clowney possesses are unreal and can not be ignored, so don’t expect many teams to pass up on a talent like him.
2. Teddy Bridgewater: QB Louisville
Over the course of last season and up until the Combine, Bridgewater has been widely considered the consensus top quarterback at the position in this draft class. However, there are a lot of skeptics out there who would argue otherwise. When watching Bridgewater on tape, there is no denying he is the best in terms of accuracy, poise, and decision making of this class. The Louisville product is one of the most pro-ready quarterbacks to enter the draft in the past several years and would immediately elevate his team’s offensive efforts. It would be shocking to see him make it out of the Top 5 picks.
3. Jake Matthews: OT Texas A&M
Having blood lineage that leads back to the NFL is always a positive for prospects who are trying to make it into the league themselves. In the case of Jake Matthews, it is more than his just his relatives that make him such an intriguing player. Matthews has started on the Aggie’s offensive line for nearly his entire career and offers everything that you are looking for in a potential All-Pro left tackle. With the size, experience, and impeccable technique, there is a lot to like about Matthews’s future in the league.
4. Khalil Mack: OLB Buffalo
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The athleticism and edge rushing abilities of Khalil Mack were instrumental in his success at the collegiate level and look to transition very well into the pros. In fact, Mack could end up being one of the most productive and impactful players of this class. While at Buffalo, he was able to show just how big of an impact he can make on a defense and nearly lead his team to several victories single handedly, Ohio State being the biggest example. All of this, combined with his size and strength, will have teams clamoring to draft him onto their roster.
5. Sammy Watkins: WR Clemson
The top wide receiver in this draft, Sammy Watkins has a ton to offer for any team lucky enough to grab him. With blazing speed and stellar playmaking ability, Watkins is a threat to score from anywhere on the field. The quarterback who is able to utilize the former Clemson Tiger as one of their weapons will be sending thanks out to their front office and coaching staff.
6. C.J. Mosley: ILB Alabama
Leading a defense like the one that the Crimson Tide has been able to produce is no small feat, and it has been a role that Mosley has thrived under. Mosley was able to fly around all over the field and make plays for Alabama. With great instincts, athletic ability, and tackling prowess, we could see him develop into a very high-level starter.
7. Greg Robinson: OT Auburn
Greg Robinson is one mammoth of a man, standing at 6’ 5” and weighing in at 332 lbs. His size and strength come in handy quite often for Robinson, but his drive and balance help make him the most dominant run blocker in this draft. There are a few technique issues in pass protection that he needs to work out, but there is a huge amount of upside and potential with him.
8. Kony Ealy: DE/DT Missouri
There are some who argue that Ealy is more productive and effective when he is at the defensive tackle position, but I feel that he can play both and still get the same results. Ealy is quick off of the snap and is strong enough to move past blockers. The scary thing is that he still has room to grow and become stronger, which is why he is such an appealing prospect. I also feel that he has some work to do on his pass rushing moves and how well he uses his hands, but that will come with good coaching.
9. Aaron Donald: DT Pittsburgh
Donald had one of the most statistically productive seasons in a single season for a defensive player. In 2013, he was able to amass 59 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks. All of which would be what led him to earning as many awards as he did, such as the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and many more. While he may be a little undersized (6’ 1”, 285 lbs), Donald is explosive off the ball with his quick first step and his active hands; he is able to penetrate gaps and get into the backfield.
10. Mike Evans: WR Texas A&M
The next best thing to Watkins, Mike Evans, is a very attractive option for receiver-needy teams outside of the Top 5. Not much of a downfield burner, Evans is able to consistently win with his size and leaping ability. Standing over 6’ 5”, he displays strong hands and good concentration to go up and snag balls out of the air over the smaller defensive backs. This guy is a very dangerous red-zone threat.
11. Derek Carr: QB Fresno State
For me, there is a lot of uncertainty within this entire class of quarterbacks, and there are only two players who seem to stand out from the rest. The first is Bridgewater, which probably wasn’t a big surprise. However, the other one might be just that, a surprise, as it is Derek Carr. He didn’t have very many opportunities to throw the ball down the field for much of his time at Fresno State, but he was able to display a huge arm with better accuracy and ball placement than people give him credit for. There are some footwork and technical issues that need to be smoothed out before he makes a name for himself in the NFL.
12. Anthony Barr: OLB UCLA
Having only played linebacker for two years, there is a lot more learning for Barr to do before we see him make the kind of impact that he has the potential for. With that said, the strides that he has made in those two years are impressive, and he only has more room to grow. There are a lot of technique issues that he needs to refine, and his pass rushing moves and skills are not there yet, but the amount of athleticism and potential that he carries with him is unmistakable.
13. Eric Ebron: TE UNC
In an overly weak tight end class, Eric Ebron stands out as the best of the group. There is no denying that he is one of the most athletic players in this entire draft and that shows up on tape. So many times, you will see Ebron use his size, speed, and vertical jump to make tough catches in traffic. With strong hands and good concentration to track the ball in the air, Ebron is everything you want in a physical receiving threat from the position.
14. Jason Verrett: CB TCU
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Possibly my favorite prospect in this years draft, TCU’s Jason Verrett is so close to being the perfect mold of a shutdown corner. The only thing that really holds him back from this title is his size, as he only stands at about 5’ 9”. Aside from that, he is everything any defensive coach could ask for and more. In fact, his size will rarely hinder him from making plays, even on the bigger receivers. Verrett is a very fluid corner in space and is more than aggressive in press-man coverage. He is fast enough and has flexible hips that help him keep up with receivers down the field and in and out of breaks or cuts. When the ball is in the air, Verrett has a stellar vertical and is so good at timing and positioning himself that he is able to bat down the ball or make the interception on nearly every pass thrown his way.
15. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: S Alabama
There seems to be a sort of theme with Alabama players always being in abundance throughout the draft, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is another great example of that. There is a lot to like about Clinton-Dix as he shows good range, instincts, and tackling ability on film. He is very aggressive in coming up to stop the run and will make big hits on any receiver that comes across his area of the field.
16. Taylor Lewan: OT Michigan
Experience is huge for any prospect making a transition from the collegiate level to the NFL, and that is exactly what Taylor Lewan brings with him. Starting for 48 of the 50 games that he was able to play in at Michigan, Lewan combines his experience with the size, strength, footwork, and balance that is needed to play the position at a high level. There are some off-field issues that teams are looking at but with the abilities that he possesses, it will be hard to pass up on him.
17. Odell Beckham Jr.: WR LSU
An explosive receiving threat who has the ability to score from anywhere on the field, this former LSU Tiger is dangerous. He is able to make plays after the catch with his agility and elusiveness but doesn’t pop off the screen with his speed. His skills aren’t just limited to catching passes either, as he is fast and agile enough to make a big impact in the punt and kick return game, which is something that he excelled in while at college. His hands and fluid route running are solid and while he may have some concentration problems, that is something that he can work on and fix.
18. Louis Nix: NT Notre Dame
The ideal 3-4 nose tackle, Louis Nix is huge and disruptive. While at Notre Dame, Nix was consistently forcing offenses to double team him to keep him from getting into the backfield. Even then, it was hard to stop him. With powerful rip and swim moves, he was able to disrupt running lanes and force the quarterback outside of the pocket. There are some concerns about how well his knee will hold up after surgery, but Nix would be perfect at eating up blocks and moving piles in the right scheme.
19. Jordan Matthews: WR Vanderbilt
One of the more complete receivers in this class, Jordan Matthews is another favorite of mine. Strong hands and good route running ability, Matthews is a reliable receiver who is able to gain yards after the catch with his field vision and speed. His burst in and out of cuts is exceptional, and he should be a number one target in the pros.
20. Darqueze Dennard: CB Michigan State
There are two cornerbacks in this draft who I love to watch and see transitioning very well into the NFL, the first being Verrett and the second is Darqueze Dennard. The most skilled and effective man coverage corner of this group, Dennard is a very physical defender when he is pressed up on a receiver. He uses strong jams at the line of scrimmage to knock receivers off of their routes and disrupt their timing. He also shows good anticipation and timing on balls in the air. The tightness in his hips is a little disconcerting, but on the right team he could become a lockdown corner.
21. Ra’Shede Hageman: DT Minnesota
Another huge defensive tackle, Ra’Shede Hageman is a load to handle. His high motor and strength help him blow past and get through lineman with relative ease, but his inconsistency is his biggest concern. There are times when we don’t see the same kind of impact or level of play from him as we do in the games where he is dominant. However, there is no denying the skill set that he possesses and there will be plenty of teams gunning for him when May 8th rolls around.
22. Justin Gilbert: CB Oklahoma State
I do believe that Justin Gilbert can be a top tier corner in this league, but his abilities are not up to the level that both Verrett and Dennard are at as he has some problems losing his man in and out of breaks. What helps make Gilbert such an intriguing prospect is his playmaking abilities as a kick returner as he was able to score six touchdowns in his time at Stillwater. His break on the ball and closing speed are very good, and his hips are fluid when turning and running.
23. Johnny Manziel: QB Texas A&M
The biggest question mark in this years draft, Johnny Manziel is the wildcard prospect. There is no telling where he could go or what he can do in the NFL, but it could be something special. Johnny has improved in a lot of areas since his Heisman Trophy winning season and that should not be overlooked. His accuracy and touch on the ball have improved, and he has a big enough arm to make the tough downfield throws. The only real problems with Manzil’s game are his durability concerns and his erratic movements in and out of the pocket. When forced out, there is no one better at making plays on the move than him, but it can also leave him vulnerable to hits and in the NFL, these players can bring a lot more power than at the collegiate level. Johnny Football has the potential to be the next big thing in this league.
24. Morgan Moses: OT Virginia
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A recent riser in my overall rankings, Morgan Moses has first round capabilities. Moses uses his leverage well and has good footwork in both pass protection and run blocking. Especially in pass protection, you will see great balance and technique that help him fend off defensive lineman and linebackers who are rushing the edges. There are times where he lets his pad level get a little too high, and he is not quite as polished as some of the other tackles prospects, but he could develop into a very effective player at the next level.
25. Jimmie Ward: S Northern Illinois
Jimmie Ward is a rangy free safety who plays with the aggressiveness and passion. He is more than willing to come up and make the tackle or big hit on the ballcarrier in run support, and his coverage abilities are also very good. Ward can do a bit of everything, and he does it all with ease. He is a bit undersized, but he plays a lot bigger than he actually is and shows up each and every play.