We’ve spoken with various league sources throughout the season about the 2014 NFL draft, and with the Senior Bowl in the rearview mirror and the scouting combine close enough to sniff, we thought we’d take our first crack at a list of the top 50 draft prospects.
This obviously will change in the coming months, with key interview, medical and workout information that will come out in Indianapolis, in players’ pro days and during private workouts and visits.
But for now, here’s how we see things standing in terms of overall talent (different from league value), regardless of position and taking no consideration for where teams pick in the draft. This is not a mock draft, but rather a more clear indication of the prospects’ overall grades.
1. Clemson WR Sammy Watkins — No major holes in his game. Projected as a future No. 1 "X" receiver.
2. Auburn OT Greg Robinson — The best run blocker in the draft. Has the feet to play left tackle.
3. Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews — Some feel he has higher upside than ex-Aggie Luke Joeckel.
4. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney — From a talent perspective, none better. Motivation questions persist.
5. Buffalo DE-OLB Khalil Mack — Turn on the Ohio State tape: a glimpse of future dominance.
6. Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel — Size, character and durability are major worries, but best playmaker in draft.
7. Central Florida QB Blake Bortles — Candidate to go No. 1 with size, toughness, smarts and upside.
8. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley — His position will push him lower than this, but a pure all-around player.
9. Texas A&M WR Mike Evans — Don’t worry about the speed; he gains separation and makes huge plays.
10. Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater — No glaring weakness but perhaps no true “wow” factor.
11. Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard — Physical, confident corner who plays with chip on his shoulder.
12. Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald — We suspect, like it is with Geno Atkins and Jurrell Casey, Donald’s size won’t be an issue.
13. UCLA DE-OLB Anthony Barr — Physically speaking, few are more impressive, but production dip is concerning.
14. Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro — Big, fluid and dangerous down the seam. A Day 1 impact player.
15. Fresno State QB Derek Carr — Wants to be great and has arm strength, commitment to get there.
16. Notre Dame OT-OG Zach Martin — Short arms but technically sharp with possible left-tackle potential.
17. North Carolina TE Eric Ebron — Lithe, athletic difference maker in the slot who can carry safeties.
18. Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier — Best comparison I have heard is to the Buccaneers’ Lavonte David.
19. Missouri DE-OLB Kony Ealy — Filled a highlight reel this season but still has room to round out his game.
20. Auburn DE-OLB Dee Ford — Not a fit for every scheme, but a cannon-shot edge rusher in Robert Mathis/Bruce Irvin mold.
21. USC WR Marqise Lee — Enigmatic talent still has sky-high upside to put 2013 behind him.
22. Louisville S Calvin Pryor — Has some similarities to George Wilson and T.J. Ward, but taller and perhaps rangier.
23. Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan — Inside penetrator who could thrive in one-gap scheme.
24. Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III — The 2013 tape wasn’t pretty with injury, but top nose tackle available.
25. Minnesota DT-DE Ra’Shede Hageman — A monster who is a better player than his stats suggest.
26. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan — Aggressive, defensive mentality but could be best on right side.
27. Alabama S Hasean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix — Is he a true difference maker? Versatility makes him attractive.
28. Florida State S-CB Lamarcus Joyner — Outstanding football player with instincts, guts who lacks size.
29. LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. — Wasn’t asked to run full route tree in college but could become more diverse pro.
30. Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin — Older prospect in need of polish but has big frame, intriguing skills.
31. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde — Scouts see some Eddie Lacy in him; can catch the ball, too.
32. Penn State WR Allen Robinson — Not fast, but a fluid glider with sound hands and good catching radius.
33. Florida CB Marcus Roberson — Not all agree he’s this good, and he must add weight, but climbing fast.
34. Arizona State DT Will Sutton — This year’s most divisive prospect. Too heavy but finds ways to disrupt.
35. BYU LB Kyle Van Noy — Jack of all trades has a little K.J. Wright and Karlos Dansby in him, with plus coverage ability.
36. Virginia OT Morgan Moses — Ford told me that Moses was his toughest matchup at the Senior Bowl.
37. Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert — Not as good as he thinks he is, but fluid with kick-return ability.
38. Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Massive mover whose commitment to the game is sometimes questioned.
39. Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks — Has a little DeSean Jackson in him, with a touch of Steve Smith.
40. Florida DT Dominique Easley — ACL injury knocked him off course, but a top-20 talent when healthy.
41. Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio — Upside should land him higher, but technical work is much needed.
42. Notre Dame DE-DT Stephon Tuitt — Dominant bowl game, flexibility will have scouts reevaluating 2012 tape.
43. Georgia Tech DE-OLB Jeremiah Attaochu — Like Ford, a scheme-fit square peg who can scream off the edge.
44. Ohio State CB Bradley Roby — Got off to poor start with suspension, Wisconsin game struggles.
45. Stanford OG David Yankey — NFL-ready, tough, battle-tested competitor who can pull and mash.
46. Northern Illinois S Jimmie Ward — Smart, fluid, competitive safety who can play up or back.
47. Auburn RB Tre Mason — Handled massive workload, showed toughness and quickness in brilliant season.
48. Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews — Expected more from him at Senior Bowl but solid all-around game.
49. UCLA OG Xavier Su’a-Filo — Quick, agile lineman who has handled multiple positions ably.
50. TCU CB Jason Verrett — Playmaker who finds his way to the ball, but might be a slot corner only.
Just missed the cut: LSU WR Jarvis Landry, Oregon State DE Scott Chrichton, Washington State S Deone Bucannon, Wisconsin LB Chris Borland, Stanford DE-OLB Trent Murphy, Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
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