NFL Draft 2014: Ranking the Top 5 Draft-Eligible Players in College Football
The 2014 NFL draft is still a long way away, but it’s never too early to take a look at who might go early in top half of the first round.
Players like Marqise Lee, Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney had monster sophomore seasons and look like locks to leave school early and become top 10 picks.
Players are ranked according to what they have done thus far in their college careers, as well as by the potential that they have at the next level.
With almost nine months between now and the 2014 draft, separating the top draft-eligible players is quite difficult.
There definitely isn’t a huge difference between my third, fourth and fifth best players, and it’s important to note that a lot can change over the course of a season.
Still, here’s my list of the top five draft-eligible players in the nation.
5. Jake Matthews, Tackle
Matthews played right tackle this past year, as this year’s No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel manned the left side.
This is no indictment on Matthews’ talent, though, as he should be able to hold his own on the left side without any difficulty.
Matthews could have been a top pick in the 2013 draft, but decided to come back to prove to evaluators that he can handle left tackle.
Matthews is already ranked as Gil Brandt of NFL.com’s top offensive tackle.
He’s got the right bloodlines too, as his dad is 14-time Pro Bowl selection Bruce Matthews.
He’ll be on prominent display all season as he’ll try to protect Johnny Manziel’s blind side.
Look for Matthews to do a great job of keeping the Heisman Trophy winner upright all season, and then become a top five pick in the draft next year.
4. Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker
Barr was a running back up until last season, but it was impossible to tell in watching him play.
During his junior season, Barr racked up 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss.
The outside linebacker is still raw, but that has talent evaluators drooling even more.
If he can put up the kind of numbers he did last year without much experience, what can he do once he gets more comfortable at the position?
Listed at 6’4” and 245 pounds, Barr certainly looks the part of an NFL linebacker, and CBSsports.com went so far as to compare him to All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews.
The sky is the limit for Barr, and as high as his stock is now, it could be even higher if he can turn in a second straight dominant campaign.
3. Marqise Lee, Wide Receiver
Lee is the consensus top receiver in the nation after putting up astronomical numbers over the last two seasons at USC.
In his first two years for the Trojans, Lee has 191 catches for 2,864 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Add in 139 yards on the ground and two return touchdowns, and you have the top offensive playmaker in college football.
Lee has strong hands and can blow by defenders with and without the ball, making him almost impossible to stop.
As if that’s not enough, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks notes that, “he is an ultra-competitive alpha dog that plays at his best when his team needs it most.”
In short, this guy has No. 1 receiver in the NFL written all over him, and it would be a major surprise if he makes it out of the top six or seven picks in next year’s draft.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback
Bridgewater is the consensus top quarterback in the nation and early candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.
He had great sophomore campaign, but only gained national notoriety after he torched the Florida Gators to the tune of 266 yards and two touchdowns in winning the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
You can bet that scouts had taken note of the Louisville Cardinal long before, though.
Bridgewater is smart, athletic, a great leader and has great feet that allow him to extend plays within the pocket.
Todd Mcshay of ESPN.com says Bridgewater “can pick apart defenses with his brain and his feet,” while also complimenting him on his ability to not get stuck on his first read.
Bridgewater is poised for a huge year, and he’s a near lock to be a top three pick in the draft next year.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Defensive End
In most years, a quarterback as good as Bridgewater would easily claim the top spot.
But this is not most years.
Clowney is a once-in-a-generation talent that will immediately step into the upper echelon of defensive linemen in the game.
He would have been the top overall pick in the 2013 draft, and unless the team at the top in 2014 is in dire need of a quarterback, he will be this year.
Clowney boasts an incredible combination of size and speed, and according to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, ran a 4.5 40-yard-dash at 6’6” and 270 pounds.
Bucky Brooks also reported that NFL scouts called Clowney a “meaner, nastier version of [Julius] Peppers.”
You know you’re good when scouts are saying you’re better than a three time All-Pro and you haven’t even played a snap in your junior year of college.
Clowney is sure to be double and triple-teamed all season, but there will be no stopping this incredible force from South Carolina.