Already excited about the 2014 NFL draft? Good.
Scouting players for the NFL draft is a yearlong process. As soon as one draft ends, research begins on building a watch list and then a Big Board for the next year's class. That's where we're at now.
As the summer comes to an end, my research of which players to watch gets prioritized, leaving me with a list of the top 500 draft-eligible players in college football. Not every player listed will declare for the draft or live up to expectations. There will be surprises, letdowns and newcomers along the way.
This is not a final list, but a look at where players are projected to find themselves drafted at the current time. Throughout the year, I will update this list every two to three weeks to give you a fresh look at the draft positioning of the best of the best in college football. If there's someone missing, it's likely because of limited time to evaluate prospects before the season kicks off.
Be patient. Great players will find their way onto the Big Board.
*Updated November 12, 2013*
Our own Josh Zerkle called the 2013 NFL draft "The Year of the Fatty." The 2014 crop may again be plump.
Headlined by superstar defensive end prospect Jadeveon Clowney, this season's draft class is anchored by four linemen in the top 10 compared to just one quarterback, no running backs and only one secondary player. Clowney, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews each have a chance to earn "top player of the decade" honors as draft prospects at their respective positions.
There is depth here to match the star quality, with notable names and college football stars littered throughout the top 150 players I have scouted heading into the season. And there's always room for surprise players and late bloomers.
Here's a look at my top 32 players as they sit currently.
|3||Jadeveon Clowney||DE||South Carolina||6'5"||270|
|4||Jake Matthews||OT||Texas A&M||6'5"||305|
|11||Ryan Shazier||OLB||Ohio State||6'2"||226|
|16||Johnny Manziel||QB||Texas A&M||5'11"||210|
|17||Derek Carr||QB||Fresno State||6'3"||215|
|22||Louis Nix||DT||Notre Dame||6'2"||345|
|24||Bradley Roby||CB||Ohio St.||5'11"||192|
|25||Stephon Tuitt||DE||Notre Dame||6'6"||312|
|27||Will Sutton||DT||Arizona St.||6'0"||305|
|29||Jace Amaro||TE||Texas Tech||6'5"||260|
After a year in which only one quarterback (EJ Manuel) was selected in the first round, the 2014 NFL draft class looks strong.
Thanks largely to a very good group of underclassmen, we'll see a better crop of passers coming into the NFL over the next two or three seasons. The biggest question is, which underclassmen will head to the NFL?
The clear favorite for the top quarterback spot is Teddy Bridgewater, and there's little reason to think he would skip out on the 2014 draft. Marcus Mariota has Colin Kaepernick-like qualities and could also push for a top-10 selection. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has played his way into a Top 15 spot, and Derek Carr and Zach Mettenberger are pushing themselves up as the season progresses.
|4||Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||5'11"||210||16||rSo|
|5||Derek Carr||Fresno St.||6'3"||215||17||rSr|
|9||David Fales||San Jose St.||6'2"||220||93||Sr|
|11||Stephen Morris||Miami (Fla.)||6'2"||215||121||Sr|
|12||Jimmy Garoppolo||Eastern Illinois||6'2"||222||152||Sr|
For the first time since 1963, not one running back was selected in the first round. That may not change in 2014.
There are talented running backs available, but as of now, not one player you would regret missing out on in the first round. Lache Seastrunk has amazing speed, but his vision and scheme versatility have to be proven. Ka'Deem Carey and Marion Grice are potential starting running backs, but each has flaws that could push them outside the first round, where the priority now is on quarterbacks, offensive linemen and defenders.
Here are the top draft-eligible running backs for 2014.
|1||Marion Grice||Arizona St.||6'1"||204||40||Sr|
|6||Andre Williams||Boston College||6'0"||227||96||rSr|
|7||Carlos Hyde||Ohio State||6'0"||242||128||Sr|
|8||Charles Sims||West Virginia||6'0"||213||139|
|9||James Wilder, Jr.||FSU||6'1"||229||141||Jr|
|11||Ladarius Perkins||Miss. State||5'10"||195||163||rSr|
The two talented juniors have top-10 ability and, with continued success, could push themselves up the board even higher. It's remarkable considering that neither has amazing size, and yet they're considered can't-miss prospects.
Outside of the top two, there's good depth here. Rutgers' Brandon Coleman is a big, physical target with speed to move after the catch, and Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews is a premier possession receiver. And we can't forget about Oregon offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas. He'll likely be lining up at receiver (as well as running back and return man) in the NFL.
Here are the top draft-eligible wide receivers for 2014.
|2||Mike Evans||Texas A&M||6'5"||225||10||rSo|
|7||Allen Robinson||Penn State||6'3"||204||44||Jr|
|8||Odell Beckham, Jr||LSU||5'11"||193||46||Jr|
|11||Brandin Cooks||Oregon St.||5'10"||186||57||Jr|
|12||Donte Moncrief||Ole Miss||6'2"||226||70||Jr|
|25||TJ Jones||Notre Dame||6'0"||195||176||Sr|
|26||Eric Ward||Texas Tech||5'11"||206||187||rSr|
|27||Tracy Moore||Oklahoma St.||6'1"||215||192||rSr|
Draft fans and analysts have been blessed with a nice run of tight ends lately. The 2013 class included Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz—two big, tall, long receiving tight ends with major route-running upside. The 2014 class will give us another close call for the top spot with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Colt Lyerla.
The two Pacific Northwest tight ends are both big, and with their length, they present matchup nightmares for defensive coordinators. They'll provide a must-watch battle for the No. 1 tight end spot all season long.
Here are the top draft-eligible tight ends for 2014.
|1||Jace Amaro||Texas Tech||6'5"||257||29||Jr|
|8||Marcel Jensen||Fresno St.||6'5"||257||162||rSr|
Following a year in which four of the first 11 draft picks were offensive tackles, you would think a drop-off in talent level is expected. It's not.
Instead, the 2014 class may be even better than those drafted in 2013. Taylor Lewan, Jake Matthews and Cyrus Kouandjio all rank higher at this time than Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel or Lane Johnson did heading into the 2012 college football season.
And there's depth. Antonio Richardson, James Hurst and Cameron Erving are legitimate first-round prospects. At the University of Miami, former prep star Seantrel Henderson has the goods to make a D.J. Fluker-like impact on the draft class.
All in all, this is an incredibly strong group. Here are the top offensive tackles.
|1||Jake Matthews||Texas A&M||6'5"||305||4||Sr|
|7||Cedric Ogbuehi||Texas A&M||6'5"||300||52||rJr|
|10||Jack Mewhort||Ohio State||6'6"||308||102||rSr|
|12||Seantrel Henderson||Miami (Fla.)||6'7"||325||110||Sr|
|14||Cornelius Lucas||Kansas St.||6'8"||328||171||rSr|
The 2013 NFL draft saw two guards drafted in the top 10 picks—something I never thought I would witness in the modern draft era. While we won't see that level of talent in this year's class, there are several guard prospects who will receive first-round consideration.
The top of the 2014 class is a throwback to the days of big, powerful, nasty interior line play. Cyril Richardson and Gabe Jackson are both huge, earth-moving men in the middle. For zone-running teams, Zack Martin and Xavier Su'a-Filo offer quicker, more agile options. No matter your scheme, this class has a projected starter for you.
Here are the top guards available for the 2014 draft.
|2||Gabe Jackson||Miss. State||6'3"||335||38||rSr|
|3||Zack Martin||Notre Dame||6'4"||305||59||rSr|
|10||Chris Watt||Notre Dame||6'3"||312||184||rSr|
Travis Frederick was the only center drafted in the first round last year, and even that was a surprise. It would also be a surprise for any of these centers to hear their names called before the third round.
Travis Swanson, Russell Bodine and others have strengths, but also enough flaws to keep them out of the top two rounds. Unless technique and strength have been added over the offseason, we could see a year in which no centers are drafted in the top 100 picks.
Here are the top center prospects in the 2014 NFL draft.
|3||Tyler Larsen||Utah State||6'3"||312||115||Sr|
|4||Weston Richburg||Colorado St.||6'4"||298||120||rSr|
|7||Bryan Stork||Florida St.||6'3"||312||150||rSr|
|9||B.J. Finney||Kansas St.||6'3"||305||179||rJr|
Everyone in college football and the NFL knows about Jadeveon Clowney, and we'll be watching closely all season to see if the man can live up to the myth. Chances are, he can—he's that good. Clowney ranks as the top defender I've ever scouted—just ahead of Von Miller and Ndamukong Suh. But he's not the only talented pass-rusher in this class.
Former Notre Dame end Aaron Lynch is at South Florida now, and his athleticism is very appealing. He's also raw, so his stock could fluctuate depending on how well he plays early. Stephon Tuitt is a premier 3-4 defensive end coming out of Notre Dame, while Kareem Martin and Scott Crichton are solid 4-3 ends.
A sleeper to keep an eye on? Utah's Trevor Reilly.
|1||Jadeveon Clowney||S. Carolina||6'5"||270||3||Jr|
|2||Stephon Tuitt||Notre Dame||6'5"||303||25||Jr|
|13||Demarcus Lawrence||Boise State||6'3"||245||127||rJr|
|14||James Gayle||Virginia Tech||6'4"||255||129||rSr|
|15||Scott Crichton||Oregon St.||6'3"||265||130||rSr|
|17||Chaz Sutton||S. Carolina||6'3"||256||158||rSr|
If you love watching the War Daddies on the middle of the defensive line, you're going to like this class.
Louis Nix is a massive nose tackle prospect and all-around stud for Notre Dame, but he'll be pushed by pass-rushers like Timmy Jernigan, Will Sutton and Anthony Johnson for the top defensive tackle spot all season long. It will come down to the personal preference of each NFL team, but the early money is on Nix holding on to the top spot.
The depth at tackle is impressive, and in most years, second-round prospects Sutton and Ra'Shede Hageman would be first-round prospects at this point.
|1||Louis Nix||Notre Dame||6'2"||326||22||rJr|
|2||Will Sutton||Arizona St.||6'0"||290||27||rSr|
|3||Michael Bennett||Ohio State||6'3"||285||37||Jr|
|7||DaQuan Jones||Penn State||6'3"||333||80||Sr|
|12||Ryan Carrethers||Arkansas St.||6'2"||328||137||rSr|
|13||Calvin Barnett||Oklahoma St.||6'2"||300||168||Sr|
|15||Khyri Thornton||Southern Miss||6'3"||308||197||Sr|
The 2014 draft class at inside linebacker may be a letdown after years of top-notch inside linebacker prospects. So far, there is no Luke Kuechly or Manti Te'o here.
The top is led by senior Shayne Skov, but others are capable of pushing up the board with solid play in their final seasons. It's too early to establish anyone as the clear-cut leader and likely first inside linebacker drafted.
|6||Max Bullough||Michigan St.||6'2"||241||126||Sr|
|7||Andrew Jackson||Western Kentucky||6'0"||258||133||rJr|
|8||Jack Tyler||Virginia Tech||6'0"||228||193||rSr|
The outside linebacker position has risen to the limelight thanks to the rejuvenation of the 3-4 defense and marquee pass-rushers from the standing position. It is this trend that has led to the transition of some defensive ends to the OLB position.
Former running back Anthony Barr looks like the next great prospect on the edge as a do-it-all linebacker for UCLA. C.J. Mosley can play inside or outside linebacker and may be best suited on the inside at the next level. He could be a top-10 pick himself.
The depth of this group is amazing, with six players carrying a first-round grade heading into the season.
|4||Ryan Shazier||Ohio State||6'2"||230||12||Jr|
|5||Kyle Van Noy||BYU||6'3"||235||36||rSr|
|9||Denzel Perryman||Miami (Fla.)||6'0"||240||71||Jr|
|10||Jeremiah Attaochu||Georgia Tech||6'3"||242||92||Sr|
|12||Carl Bradford||Arizona St.||6'1"||241||105||rJr|
|13||Prince Shembo||Notre Dame||6'1"||252||131||Sr|
The cornerback position continues to dominate the wish lists of every NFL general manager. In a league that's becoming more reliant on the passing game, a great cornerback is invaluable.
Luckily for scouts and fans alike, the 2014 class has exceptional depth at the position. With top-tier players Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Bradley Roby and Jason Verrett all vying for the top spot, there are unique players and player types to be found in this class.
After the first round there is still considerable quality to be found. If all expected underclassmen enter, this could be one of the stronger cornerback classes in recent memory.
|2||Bradley Roby||Ohio State||5'11"||192||24||rJr|
|4||Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma St.||6'0"||200||33||Sr|
|8||Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech||6'0"||190||66||Sr|
|9||Darqueze Dennard||Michigan St.||5'11"||188||75||Sr|
|10||Antone Exum||Virginia Tech||6'0"||220||89||rSr|
|14||Rashaad Reynolds||Oregon St.||5'10"||187||136||rSr|
|16||Bennett Jackson||Notre Dame||6'0"||185||145||Sr|
|17||Deshazor Everett||Texas A&M||6'0"||182||155||Jr|
The overall talent at free safety in college football is tough to gauge right now, which is why you'll see that no safety has a preseason first-round grade. That can change, though, and quickly.
Playmakers like Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix can show better vision and ball skills, two things that would quickly put him into the first round. C.J. Barnett of Ohio State has the overall ability to push himself up the board, too; it's just a matter of seeing the players take that next step from good to great once the pads come on.
|5||C.J. Barnett||Ohio State||6'0"||203||132||Sr|
|6||Terrence Brooks||Florida St.||5'11"||197||135||Sr|
|7||Jemea Thomas||Georgia Tech||5'10"||195||170||rSr|
Much like the free safety rankings, you will see no first-round prospects at strong safety. At least not in the preseason.
The good news, though, is that there's nice variety in this group of players. In an NFL that's valuing dual-threat safeties more and more, this is a class that can bring instant-impact ability. Guys like Craig Loston and Dion Bailey will straight-up hit you over the middle. If you want ball hawks, Ahmad Dixon and Hakeem Smith have good upside there.
This isn't a top-heavy group, but I'm a fan of the overall talent and depth.
|2||Deone Bucannon||Washington St.||6'1"||215||81||Sr|
|4||Ty Zimmerman||Kansas St.||6'1"||205||140||rSr|
|6||Isaiah Lewis||Michigan St.||5'10"||210||160||Sr|