2014 Orange Bowl Prospect Preview: Ohio State vs. Clemson

An up-and-down senior season for Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd could use a strong finish in the Orange Bowl. (Photo: Joshua S. Kelly — USA Today Sports)

Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson, Sr. (6’1”, 225 lbs)

Tajh Boyd came into his senior season with the physical potential to establish himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class, but with a need to improve upon a number of flaws in his game. Those improvements have not shown up in his game this year, and he instead projects to be a mid-round draft choice.

Boyd’s flaws are not a matter of arm talent, as he has shown the ability to throw the ball deep downfield with accuracy when he has a clean pocket. But when he has to deal with pressure in the pocket and is unable to launch it deep with time, his mechanical flaws repeatedly get exposed.

He is a good athlete who can make plays as a runner and as a scrambler looking to throw, but he tends to bail out of the pocket too quickly.

His accuracy is inconsistent on all levels of the field, even on checkdowns and screen passes. He compensates for this by running outside of the pocket to shorten his throws, but that is a tendency that NFL defenses will pick up on and scheme for accordingly (see Robert Griffin III’s second-year struggles in Washington for an example). Boyd also tends to stare down his intended targets through the duration of passing plays, enabling defensive backs to read his eyes and break in on passes.

Boyd’s signature trait is his ability to change his arm angle and still make accurate throws in the face of rushers, and he has a quick release and great escapability with his feet, but he needs to become more comfortable in the pocket and accurate from it. As his game currently stands, he might be a fine choice for a read-option offense, but he has to develop as a pocket passer to achieve any sustained success as an NFL quarterback.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State, Jr. (6’2”, 215 lbs)

Braxton Miller may be viewed in a similar prism as Tajh Boyd should he declare for the 2014 NFL draft. While he has the demonstrated arm talent to drive the ball downfield with velocity when he has a clean pocket, and he is very good at extending plays with his feet, his need to develop as a pocket passer makes him a likely mid-round draft selection.

Miller displayed significant improvement in his junior season as a pocket passer, but his downfield accuracy continued to be inconsistent, even at times when there was no pressure in the pocket. He has shown he can throw the ball with zip to all levels of the field, but he has inconsistent downfield touch, too often overthrowing or underthrowing his receivers.

While Miller’s passing is a work in progress, he has very high upside because he is a dynamic athlete and running threat. He is a long strider in the open field who accelerates quickly, has great downfield speed, sees the field well as a runner and can make defenders miss with his open-field moves. He is also effective at extending plays as a scrambler behind the line of scrimmage, which has allowed him to make many big plays as a thrower on the run.

That said, he needs to become a more comfortable pocket passer if he is going to have any sustained NFL success. He consistently looks to escape the pocket under pressure, and while he has great escapability, he tends to run into trouble by extending plays too long. Durability is also a concern for Miller, who missed two games this season due to injury but has also been known to get knocked out of games with minor injuries throughout his career.

Miller still has significant development in front of him to be a successful NFL starting quarterback, but he has a rare physical skill set. The potential his unteachable tools give him could make him a surprisingly high draft selection on Day 2.

Jack Mewhort, LT, Ohio State, Sr. (6’6”, 308 lbs)

Although Hyde and Miller were both exceptional this season, some would argue the key to the success of OSU offense was the play of senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, an all-Big Ten selection who has been a dominant leader of the Buckeyes offensive line this season.

Mewhort does not eye-popping measurables, but he is as technically sound as any offensive lineman in the 2014 draft class not named Jake Matthews.

Though Mewhort does not have great quickness, he makes up for it with refined, consistent footwork as both a pass and run blocker. Meanwhile, he is a physical, aggressive blocker who attacks defenders rather than retreating and catching them, and when he gets his hands on a  blocker, he rarely loses the battle.

He does a very good job of sustaining blocks at the line of scrimmage, especially as a pass protector. He kick-slides naturally and once engaged with a blocker, he keeps his body in front of them and locks out his long arms.

Mewhort is a solid run blocker who has the power to drive opponents off the line of scrimmage, but he has some struggles with picking up and sustaining blocks at the second level.

Mewhort has experience playing both tackle and guard at OSU, and has the versatility to play both positions at the next level. With his combination of strength, ability to sustain blocks at the line of scrimmage and clean footwork, he may project best as a left guard. But while he might have some troubles picking up outside blocks in space as a limited athlete, he has the all-around game to also succeed as an offensive tackle.

Ohio State left tackle Jack Mewhort will face a tough test in the final game of his collegiate career. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch — USA Today Sports)

Even in a draft class laden with talent at the offensive tackle, Mewhort’s all-around skill set and versatility should make him a second-round draft choice.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson, Jr. (6’2”, 235 lbs)

If NFL scouts question Mewhort’s ability to handle speed rushers on the outside, he will have a chance to prove himself Friday when he goes up against Clemson’s Vic Beasley, who will give Mewhort one of the toughest tests of his career as one of the nation’s most explosive pass-rushers.

Beasley has 12 sacks this season, tied for sixth-most in the nation, in large part due to his first-step quickness. When he times his get-off correctly, he has a tremendous burst and quickly accelerate to speed to reach the quarterback in a hurry.

Beasley has the speed to chase down runners in pursuit, which will be an important trait for him both against the run and as a pass-rusher in this game going up against Braxton Miller.

He has great quickness in both his upper and lower bodies, and has shown the ability to beat blockers with both. He has beaten left tackles with the outside dip-and-rip technique, while he also does a terrific job of putting an outside-inside shake on his blocker and beating him with an inside rip.

Considering his noticeably lean he is on the field, Beasley is a surprisingly strong bull rusher, which he achieves by getting low pad level to out-leverage opposing blockers and drive them back.

That said, Beasley is going to have to bulk up to play defensive end or even 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level. He has a very difficult time getting off of blockers who get their hands on him, even when those blockers are tight ends. As a result, he gets turned and driven away from plays too easily, which might relegate him to a situational pass-rusher role at the next level until he can increase his size and strength.

With a switch to linebacker likely in his future, Beasley needs to become a better playmaker in space, though he is a sound tackler and has some experience standing up and dropping into coverage. He does not have great balance and might not have a true position in a 4-3 defensive scheme, but his sheer upside as an athlete and pass-rusher make him a potential first-round pick.

More Prospects to Watch:

Brandon Thomas, LT, Clemson, Sr. (6’3”, 315 lbs)

Both left tackles in this game have accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl and both are NFL prospects, but Clemson’s Brandon Thomas will almost certainly be projected inside to guard due to a lack of length. If he shows in Mobile he can make that conversion, he should be a solid Day 3 draft pick as a strong, physical blocker with decent feet.

Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson, Jr. (6’2”, 245 lbs)

In what could be the final game of his career if he decides to declare for the 2014 draft, Clemson’s Stephone Anthony will face the tough task of occupying the middle behind the line Carlos Hyde will be running through. It will be a big opportunity for Anthony, a physical hitter and strong tackler with the athleticism to project both inside or outside at the next level, to make an impression on NFL scouts.

Martavis Bryant is expected to join his teammate Sammy Watkins in heading to the NFL next season. (Photo: Joshua S. Kelly — USA Today Sports)

Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson, Jr. (6’4”, 200 lbs)

Though Martavis Bryant has a raw game that would benefit from another year at Clemson as the likely No. 1 target following Watkins’ expected declaration for the draft, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reported Friday that Bryant is also expected to declare. While he needs to become a more consistent hands catcher and route runner, he has an enticing combination of size and speed that could make him an intriguing Day 3 draft selection, even in a deep wide receiver draft class.

Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson, Sr. (5’10”, 200 lbs)

McDowell was productive in his only season as Clemson’s lead tailback and likely worked himself onto the radar of NFL scouts. While he does not have the explosive burst of some of Clemson’s other recent tailbacks, he is a tough runner who can make defenders miss in the open field and has good receiving ability out of the backfield, making him a late-round possibility.

Chandler Catanzaro, K, Clemson, Sr. (6’1”, 200 lbs)

Chandler Catanzaro is a possible Day 3 draft selection as the arguable top kicker in the 2014 draft class. He has made all but one field goal attempt in each of his past two seasons and has a career field goal percentage of 81.7 percent. He has made a number of clutch, game-winning kicks in his Clemson career and has a strong leg to drill field goals from deep.

Andrew Norwell, LG, Ohio State, Sr. (6’6”, 316 lbs)

Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State, Sr. (6’3”, 298 lbs)

Though Mewhort is the unit’s star prospect, the entire left side of the Ohio State offensive line extending to the center has a good chance to make it in the NFL.

Andrew Norwell has the size and strength of an NFL guard, and though he does not have terrific foot quickness, his big frame and overall technically sound game should make him a late-round consideration. Corey Linsley is a slightly-undersized center but a good athlete who is physical and tough at the line of scrimmage, quick off the snap and has been the anchor in the middle of one of college football’s best offensive lines for the past two seasons.

Kenny Guiton, QB, Ohio State, Sr. (6’2”, 208 lbs)

It would come as a surprise if Ohio State coach Urban Meyer does not find a creative way to get backup quarterback Kenny Guiton on the field in his final college football game, especially considering how effectively Guiton stepped in when Miller was injured earlier this season. Though he has just two career starts at OSU, Guiton is a good-enough passer and athlete to draw late-round consideration or be signed as an undrafted free agent by an NFL team to compete for a backup quarterback job.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Andrew Norwell, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Brandon Thomas, Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson, Corey Linsley, Game Previews, Jack Mewhort, Kenny Guiton, Martavis Bryant, Ohio State, Orange Bowl, Prospect Previews, Roderick McDowell, Ryan Shazier, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Tajh Boyd, Vic Beasley

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