Underclassmen Analysis: Record-Shattering 102 Early Entrants into 2014 NFL Draft

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the top prospect among the defensive underclassmen in the 2014 NFL Draft. (Photo: David Manning — USA Today Sports)

Defensive Linemen

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (6’6”, 274 lbs)

Clowney’s freak athleticism and skills make him a once-in-a-generation prospect. He came under scrutiny this season for his effort and durability, but when he’s on the field he’s a game changer.

Current Projection: Top 5

Scott Crichton, Oregon State (6’3”, 265 lbs)

After Clowney, Crichton may be the most NFL-ready 4-3 defensive end in the draft and is a safe pick. He gets a good burst off the ball and does everything well but nothing elite.

Current Projection: Round 2

Kony Ealy, Missouri (6’5”, 275 lbs)

An explosive player with strength and a long frame, Ealy has the potential to sneak into the top ten picks. He’s a three-down lineman who is solid against both the run and pass and is scheme versatile.

Current Projection: Top 15

Ego Ferguson, Louisiana State (6’3”, 309 lbs)

Though not as athletic as teammate Anthony Johnson, Ferguson has good athleticism. He doesn’t stand out when watching him, but he’s stout at the point-of-attack and gets the job done.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Carlos Gray, North Carolina State (6’3″, 296 lbs)

Carlos Gray played nine games this season for NC State. He finished with 2.5 sacks on the season.

Current Projection: Undrafted

Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (6’2”, 292 lbs)

During the BCS National Championship, Jernigan showed what makes him a top prospect: excellent first-step quickness, active hands and good power. While his play lacks consistency and he’ll take plays off, he has the potential to be a top interior pass rusher.

Current Projection: Top 20

Anthony Johnson, Louisiana State (6’3”, 294 lbs)

Johnson’s initial quickness is his best trait, which allows him to split offensive linemen and get in their chests. However, he plays too high and offers little against the pass.

Current Projection: Round 3

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (6’3”, 245 lbs)

After leading Boise State in sacks the last two years, Lawrence will take his explosiveness and speed off the edge to the pros. His acceleration is streaky, but his upside as a dangerous pass rusher will be very enticing.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Aaron Lynch, South Florida (6’6”, 244 lbs)

After an impressive freshman year at Notre Dame, Lynch gained plenty of hype. However, he disappointed this past season at South Florida. If he can find his explosiveness again to team with his length and power, he could be a steal.

Current Projection: Round 3-4

Chris McCain, California (6’6″, 250 lbs)

McCain was kicked off of California’s team in September due to conduct detrimental to the team. McCain was Cal’s active leader in career sacks and tackles for loss when he was dismissed.

Current Projection: Round 5-6

Viliami Moala, California (6’2”, 315 lbs)

Once a top prep recruit, Moala finally showed his potential during his junior season, and his rawness could encourage a team to give him a shot.

Current Projection: Undrafted

Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama (6’4”, 290 lbs)

In his first season as a starter, Pagan registered 33 tackles and two sacks. He’s stout against the run while his pass rushing skills are still a work in progress.

Current Projection: Round 3-4

Louis Nix, Notre Dame (6’3”, 340 lbs)

For a man weighing 340 pounds, Nix carries his weight extremely well and is actually quite nimble. With his quickness and outstanding strength, he’s an excellent interior defender. The surgery he had on his knee during the season will raise some questions though.

Current Projection: Round 1

Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina (6’4”, 298 lbs)

Using his power and long arms, Quarles does a good job of driving linemen back and collapsing the pocket. He fits well as a 4-3 nose tackle but could also work in a 3-4 scheme.

Current Projection: Round 3-4

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6’7″, 312 lbs)

Possessing an imposing combination of size, strength and quickness, Tuitt is an intriguing prospect. He struggled with inconsistency this past season but he has vast upside.

Current Projection: Round 1-2

George Uko, Southern California (6’3”, 275 lbs)

With good burst and speed, Uko could develop into a solid interior rusher at the next level. He racked up 11.5 sacks during his college career while playing all along USC’s defensive line.

Current Projection: Round 4

Linebackers

Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6’1”, 243 lbs)

A pure edge rusher, Bradford shows a good first step quickness and change-of-direction. Due to his lack of length, he’ll have issues rushing the edge, but his aggressive style will help especially as a situational rusher.

Current Projection: Round 4-5

Khairi Fortt, California (6’2”, 240 lbs)

After transferring from Penn State, Fortt brought athleticism to the Golden Bears linebacker corps. He fits best as a 3-4 inside linebacker and will have to improve his coverage skills to be a three-down guy.

Current Projection: Round 6-Undrafted

Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (6‘6”, 252 lbs)

Hubbard has good speed and is able to use that, good power and length to beat tackles around the edge. Despite that ability, he lacks explosion off the line and will disappear at times.

Current Projection: Round 3

Ronald Powell, Florida (6’4”, 240 lbs)

Before injuries hindered his career, Powell was an explosive pass rusher with good size. However, he’s had several knee injuries and will require extensive medical exams and clearance before anyone takes much of a chance on him.

Current Projection: 6-Undrafted

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6’2”, 230 lbs)

Although he may not run the fastest 40-times at the Combine, Shazier is one of the fastest linebackers in the nation. He’ll need to bulk up, but his suddenness and aggressive play is a dangerous combo.

Current Projection: Round 1

Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (6’4”, 236 lbs)

An extremely athletic linebacker, Smallwood can do everything a team needs in a linebacker. Teams will love his ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Defensive Backs

Nick Addison, Bethune-Cookman (6’2”, 180 lbs)

A playmaker in the Wildcat secondary, Addison is athletic and has good ball skills. He’ll likely perform well at the Combine and pro days and may work his way into the draft.

Current Projection: Round 7-Undrafted

Dion Bailey, Southern California (6’, 200 lbs)

After two seasons at strong-side linebacker, Bailey moved to safety. Lacking adequate linebacker strength, he better projects to strong safety where he can take advantage of his fine instincts and coverage skills.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Bashaud Breeland, Clemson  (6’, 185 lbs)

In his first season as a starter, Breeland recorded four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He’s athletic, runs well and does well in press coverage.

Current Projection: Round 5-6

Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, Alabama (6’1”, 208 lbs)

A ball-hawking safety with excellent range, Clinton-Dix epitomizes an NFL free safety. He’s solid in all phases of the game and can contribute from day one.

Current Projection: Round 1

Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky (6’3”, 198 lbs)

After transferring from Florida following his dismissal, Dowling twice earned a first-team All-Sun Belt selection. He’s very athletic and has good ball skills.

Current Projection: Round 5-6

Victor Hampton, South Carolina (5’10”, 202 lbs)

Hampton is an aggressive cornerback who shows off his competitive nature on the field. While his aggressive style will lead to mistakes, he flies around the field and can hold his own in man coverage.

Current Projection: Round 3

Kameron Jackson, California (5’9”, 175 lbs)

Jackson is a smaller corner without great speed who will need to perform extremely well leading up to the draft to be selected.

Current Projection: Undrafted

Albert Louis-Jean, Boston College (6’2″, 195 lbs)

Terrance Mitchell, Oregon (6’, 189 lbs)

Leading a strong Oregon defense with five interceptions, Mitchell showed he could cover and make plays on the ball. He flashes a physical presence and shows a willingness to support the run.

Current Projection: Round 4-5

Calvin Pryor, Louisville (6’2”, 208 lbs)

A hard-hitting safety with excellent instincts, Pryor is solid against both the pass and run. While he doesn’t have exceptional speed, his instincts and closing burst help him cover plenty of ground.

Current Projection: Round 1-2

Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (6’, 190 lbs)

One of the most athletic players in this class, Purifoy saw time all over the field on both offense and defense. While he can stay with receivers and is solid in run support, he needs quite a bit of technical work. At this point, he’s arguably more athlete than football player.

Current Projection: Round 2

Ed Reynolds, Stanford (6’2”, 206 lbs)

Using his physicality and instincts, Reynolds has been a playmaker in the Cardinal secondary. He’s underrated and could compete to be one of the first safeties off the board.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Marcus Roberson, Florida (6’, 195 lbs)

While Purifoy attracted most of the attention, Roberson may end up being the better pro player. He’s more technically sound than his counterpart and plays with good awareness and instincts.

Current Projection: Round 2-3

Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5’11”, 192 lbs)

Roby entered the year as a lock for a top ten selection, but a poor season devastated his stock. He has the speed and change-of-direction skills to be a top corner, but his inconsistencies, especially his instincts, will need improvement.

Current Projection: Round 2

Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama (6’, 210 lbs)

Despite missing most of the 2013 season due to an ACL tear, Sunseri chose to enter the draft. The son of a coach, he is a very smart safety with good instincts.

Current Projection: Round 6-7

Pierre Warren, Jacksonville State (6’2”, 200 lbs)

A first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection this season, Warren is a good athlete with size. He’ll need to do very well in the months leading up to the draft to have a shot at being selected.

Current Projection: Undrafted

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Blake Bortles, Early Entrants, Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater, Underclassmen

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