2014 NFL Draft: 8 Players with Most to Gain from Hot Start in 2013

Jon Dove@https://twitter.com/#!/Jon_Dove42Contributor IAugust 8, 2013

2014 NFL Draft: 8 Players with Most to Gain from Hot Start in 2013

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    In the end each NFL prospect will be evaluated based on his total body of work. However, it’s important to create positive vibes and get off to a hot start. Those prospects who jump out of the gate have an opportunity to grab a hold of a team’s attention before other prospects at their positions.

    Conversely, a slow start could force evaluators to focus on the negative parts of a prospect's game.

    This is the last thing a player wants to see happen as he works to reach his goal of getting drafted by an NFL team.

Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Clemson

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    Sammy Watkins enters this season locked in a battle with USC’s Marqise Lee to possibility be the first wide receiver taken in the 2014 draft. Both players are extremely talented, but Watkins suffered a bit of a sophomore slump last season.

    A slow start to the season could potentially set Watkins back in the race.

    Teams are going to take a close look at both of these prospects to determine who has the better future. Lee has proven to be a consistent contributor and a top-notch competitor.

    With how close these two prospects are at this point, any negative attention will have an impact. However, Watkins is still and elite talent and will get heavy consideration from any team picking in the top-10.

Logan Thomas, Quarterback, Virginia Tech

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    Entering last season, Logan Thomas was seen by some as a contender to be the first player selected in the draft. Thomas saw his draft stock take a major hit after he showed little development and struggled in all aspects of the game.

    He has a chance this year to erase the poor taste from everyone’s mouth. Thomas is still a top-notch talent with the potential to develop into a difference-maker at the next level.

    A fast start would help evaluators look past what was a disastrous 2013 season.

    Showing major improvements would also speak to Thomas’ work ethic. Evaluators want to see a player who works to improve his game.

Aaron Lynch, Defensive End, South Florida

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    Aaron Lynch is one of the more talented prospects eligible for the 2014 draft but has been out of the spotlight after sitting out last season due to his decision to transfer from Notre Dame to South Florida. Look for Lynch to quickly remind everyone that he’s a pass-rushing force and someone who could work his way into the early part of the top 10.

    It’s not out of the question that with a fast start Lynch could challenge Jadeveon Clowney to be the first defensive player off the board. Lynch has the size, explosiveness, sudden movements and motor NFL teams look for in a pass-rusher.

    This is a player that has a chance to develop into a game-changer at the next level.

Anthony Barr, Outside Linebacker, UCLA

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    The hype train is already a little out of control surrounding UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Some are projecting him as a potential top-five pick (subscription required). While Barr possesses a ton of athleticism and upside, he’s far from a finished product.

    However, he has a chance to keep the train moving by opening the season on a hot streak. The more positive attention he can create, the better chance he has of living up to that top-five potential.

    On the other hand, a slow start could turn attention to the many holes in his game. Barr relies too much on his athleticism and needs to develop a wider range of pass-rush moves.

    If he didn’t use this offseason to widen his arsenal, major question marks will arise.

Devin Gardner, Quarterback, Michigan

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    I’ve compared Michigan’s Devin Gardner to last year’s version of Matt Scott in that it seems that he’s getting a lot of love as a sleeper prospect.

    However like Scott, Gardner has very limited overall quarterback skills. He finds most of his success based on his athleticism and an offensive scheme that creates a lot of spacing.

    Gardner needs to capitalize on the positive buzz surrounding his pro potential. However, the more likely scenario is that evaluators get a better look at his suspect footwork and decision-making process. He could quickly go from a sleeper prospect to a non-prospect in a matter of weeks.

Seantrel Henderson, Offensive Tackle, Miami

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    Seantrel Henderson has the physical abilities to be one of the first offensive tackles off the board.

    However, he has yet to show the type of consistency he’ll need to be effective at the next level. Henderson’s tendency to lose focus is something the savvy pass-rushers in the NFL would exploit.

    If he can show that he has matured and is ready to live up to his potential, Henderson could work his way into the first- or second-round discussion. With the buzz surrounding Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, there will be plenty of scouts with eyes on this Miami offense.

Antone Exum, Cornerback, Virginia Tech

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    Antone Exum is working his way back from a knee injury that forced him to miss several games last season. Before the injury, Exum showed enough talent to be considered one of the better cornerback prospects in the country.

    A report from Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times suggests that Exum could miss a few weeks of the season as he continues to rehab.

    However, the sooner he can get on the field, the better it will be for his draft stock. Teams will want to see that he has regained his quickness and isn’t suffering from any lingering issues.

Teddy Bridgewater, Quarterback, Louisville

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    Teddy Bridgewater will be one of the more scrutinized college players throughout the upcoming season.

    He’s seen as the top quarterback prospect by most and a contender to be the first player drafted in the 2014 draft. This means the spotlight will be on him right from the start of the season.

    A slow start would give some of the other quarterbacks in this class a chance to steal the spotlight. It would also create some doubt in the minds of NFL decision-makers. As we saw during the last draft, franchises aren’t afraid to be a little cautious when considering adding quarterbacks in the early rounds.