BBD Editor: Dan Hope
Who are the best prospects in this year’s NFL draft? The following prospects, for the reasons outlined below, make up the top 100 players in my final rankings for the 2014 class. While these players have varying degrees of physical potential and football skill, all 100 of them have the talent to emerge as very good players from a deep draft class.
1. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
If there’s one player in this draft I’d bet on being one of the NFL’s best players at his position for many years to come, it’s Jake Matthews. Fortunate enough to inherit outstanding physical traits from his father, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, the Texas A&M offensive tackle also plays with nearly flawless technique.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Bridgewater doesn’t have the physical traits of a typical top-five selection at quarterback, and that could cause him to fall in this year’s draft, but there’s no reason Bridgewater can’t excel at the most important position on the field. The most polished and NFL-ready passer in this year’s draft, Bridgewater has outstanding mechanics and footwork, is a smart decision-maker and throws with accuracy to all levels of the field.
3. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Athletes as explosive as Clowney is in a 6’6”, 266-pound package are incredibly hard to find, and his combination of size, speed, power and pass-rushing ability give him the potential to be a superstar defensive end in the NFL. His game still has significant room to improve from a technical standpoint, and there are questions about his effort, but he is one of the few players in the draft whose physical skill set alone should lead to immediate production at the next level.
4. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
Regarded by some as the best defensive prospect in this year’s draft class, Mack is a tremendous all-around athlete who excels as both an edge defender and at the second level in space. He is a skilled outside pass-rusher, holds up with strength at the point of attack, has dangerous speed in pursuit and is fluid at dropping back into coverage.
5. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
No player in this year’s draft has more physical upside than Robinson, who has truly exceptional athleticism for a 6’5”, 332-pound offensive tackle who also dominates with power. His game is rough around the edges and he is likely to struggle as a pass blocker early in his career, but his ability to drive defenders off the line of scrimmage and pick up blocks in space makes him an outstanding run blocker.
6. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
A 6’5”, 231-pound receiver with 35 1/8” arms and terrific leaping ability, Evans is a matchup nightmare who consistently uses his verticality and strength to win jump-ball situations. A terrific athlete for his size with the strength to run through contact, Evans can also extend plays in the open field. He’s still developing as a route runner and needs a cooler head at times on the field, but he’s the most dangerous offensive weapon in this year’s draft.
7. Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
Perhaps the most versatile player in the draft, Van Noy can do it all. A fluid athlete and sideline-to-sideline playmaker, Van Noy can project to any linebacker spot and also line up as an edge defender in pass-rushing situations. He can explode into the backfield and wreak havoc, yet even better at tackling in space and dropping back into coverage.
8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Gilbert has the length, speed, quickness and ball skills of a prototypical No. 1 cornerback. His technique made massive strides in his senior season, but he was a playmaker—both in the secondary as a kickoff returner—throughout his Oklahoma State career.
9. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
A triple threat who can make plays as a receiver, returner and gadget-play runner, Watkins is a skilled pass-catcher with an impressive combination of size, speed and open-field agility. He gets open by running crisp routes and accelerating naturally, and can turn any play into a big play with his moves and ability to run through contact.
10. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Mosley doesn’t wow from a physical standpoint, but he’s one of the most complete and ready-to-produce players in this year’s draft. An instinctive linebacker who is skilled at making plays on the ball and is light on his feet, Mosley excels at making plays in space and is also both adept in coverage and an aggressive blitzer.
11. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
No player in this year’s draft class did more to help himself in the past eight months than Donald. The explosive penetrator proved he could be a consistently disruptive force by accumulating 28.5 tackles for loss in a senior season that earned him every major defensive award in college football. By continuing to dominate at the Senior Bowl, then proving his athleticism and strength at the combine, Donald made it clear that despite being only 6’1” and 285 pounds, he is the best defensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft class.
12. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
It’s unclear whether Manziel’s improvisational, gunslinging style of play will translate to the NFL, but his uncanny ability to extend plays and create something out of nothing makes him special. His ability to scramble and keep plays alive forces opposing defenses to account for him at all times. If he continues to develop as a pocket passer, he could quickly make teams regret passing him up.
13. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Crichton does not wow with his physical traits, but he does just about everything well as an edge defender. He is a skilled pass-rusher who can beat opponents with both his speed and his hands, while he is also very good at setting the edge versus in the run. He can make plays in pursuit, has good instincts and is a sound tackler.
14. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Essentially a big wide receiver who plays tight end, Ebron has a prototypical combination of size and athleticism that consistently creates mismatches wherever he lines up on the field. He has enough speed to stretch the field, has great leaping ability and big hands and can extend plays in the open field. He’s not much of a blocker, but could quickly emerge as a go-to weapon on an offense.
15. Zack Martin, OT/G Notre Dame
Martin lacks the optimal physical tools for an NFL offensive tackle, but he is a sound technician who makes up for it with consistent hand placement, efficient footwork and great strength. He has the versatility to play any spot on the offensive line, which increases his value, and he should be able to step into an immediate starting role at either tackle or guard.
16. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
One of the breakout stars of the 2013 college football season, Beckham is an explosive playmaker as both a receiver and a returner. He has the speed to burn defensive backs deep and the quickness to make defenders miss in the open field, while he also has terrific hands and is a precise route runner. Despite limited size, he could be a playmaker both outside and from the slot.
17. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Arguably the most well-rounded receiver in this year’s draft class, Lee is a terrific route runner who glides in the open field. He doesn’t have ideal size and speed, but excels at getting open as an intermediate receiver and extends plays by finding running lanes.
18. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
A highly athletic linebacker who flies to the ball, Shazier is a playmaker in space who tackles with authority and is skilled in coverage. He is best suited to play weakside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, but has the strength and all-around game to also project as a middle or 3-4 inside linebacker.
19. Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA
An agile, technically efficient interior offensive lineman with good size and power, Su’a-Filo stands out as the best guard in this year’s draft class. His foot skills allow him to counter inside penetrators and make run blocks in space, while he can also drive defenders off the line of scrimmage.
20. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
With a rare combination of size, length, burst and power, Hageman has the potential to play multiple interior defensive line positions in any front. He is a boom-or-bust player whose game needs significant technical development, but he has great versatility and star potential as both an interior pass-rusher and a strong run-stopper.
21. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
A terrific athlete who has an exceptional frame at 6’7”, 309 pounds and can win with power, Lewan has all the physical tools to be a star offensive tackle. He moves well in space to pick up run blocks and can handle speed rushers off the edge, but his pass-blocking technique needs refinement. Character concerns could push him down draft boards.
22. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
The best in-line tight end prospect in this year’s draft, Seferian-Jenkins has a combination of size and athleticism that is difficult to defend. He won’t necessarily stretch the field as a receiver, but he is a terrific red-zone threat with great hands and can run through contact. As a blocker, he is like an extension of the offensive line.
23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Clinton-Dix has the range, coverage skills and tackling ability to play either safety spot on an NFL defense. He is a good athlete who can drop deep with fluid hips and quick feet, but he is also aggressive at coming up in the box and making stops versus the run.
24. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Barr has an ideal physical skill set for a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he also has the size to project to 4-3 defensive end and the athleticism in space to project to other linebacker positions. He is an explosive pass-rusher who can bring heat around the corner, but he needs to develop as a run defender and in pass coverage to be an every-down player.
25. Chris Borland, ILB, Wisconsin
Borland’s measurables don’t pass the eye test for an early-round pick, but his play on the field does. Perhaps the best true middle linebacker in this year’s class, Borland is a physical run-stuffer who excels at filling gaps at the line of scrimmage and has outstanding instincts. Despite limited athleticism and length, he holds his own in pass coverage, though he is used more effectively as a blitzer.
See page 2 for prospects 26-50.