NFL Draft: Highlighting Top Offensive Playmakers in 2014 Class
The 2014 NFL Draft has one thing in spades that the 2013 draft seriously lacked. This year, offensive playmakers can be had early and often.
Only one offensive skill player was selected in the top ten last year, and that was Tavon Austin. This year, there could be as many as five going early, especially if teams take quarterbacks as soon as they can.
There may be many more playmakers this year, but what does each one bring to the table for the 32 NFL teams? Are some more flash than substance? The top ones will be looked at in depth here.
The players in this slideshow will be ranked based on their playmaking ability, not necessarily in "best to worst" order or what order they should be drafted in next year.
Stats are from ESPN.
8. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
I like Tajh Boyd as a draft prospect heading into next year, but since he's does not quite have the playmaking or dual threat ability of other quarterbacks on the list, he starts it off.
While Boyd does not have the running ability of others higher on this list, he is athletic enough that he can evade defenders in the pocket and make plays on the fly if he needs to. His accuracy is also among the best in the draft, both on film and on the stat sheet (he completed over 67% of his passes last year).
Despite his great pocket awareness, I do wonder if he is as good as he is because of his supporting cast. He had DeAndre Hopkins last year and has had Sammy Watkins throughout most of his career, two of college football's best receivers the past few seasons.
As the only senior quarterback in the top portion of the draft, he is the most polished if nothing else, and with a good secondary cast there's no question he can make plays. If he ends up on a team lacking good wide receivers though, does he have the playmaking ability himself to make things happen? That's not as easy to agree on.
7. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Brett Hundley is a quarterback who manages to be on most mock draft lists already, yet still feels somewhat under the radar, at least compared to Johnny Manziel and other underclassmen.
Nonetheless, Hundley has been following up a great freshman season with a great sophomore season, consistently completing about two-thirds of his passes every game.
The scouting report of him on CBS Sports notes that he has a great size-speed combination, and while he is not a guy who will rush for 100 yards, he is able to use his legs to evade defenders, making plays with his arm in the process.
He fits the mold of a taller Tajh Boyd rather than a scrambler like quarterbacks further down on the list, hence why he fails to crack the top five. He is still a playmaker with his arm and can run if needed, but that's not his go-to move.
6. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
Choosing which running backs to include or not was surprisingly difficult, since that position in particular seems to change week to week in college football in terms of who is the best playmaker.
This could very well change since Melvin Gordon has been rapidly rising up the ranks, but for now De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon still has the most playmaking ability of any running back right now.
Thomas is perhaps the fastest RB in the class, and can run a sub-4.4 40 time without much effort. In his worst season he averaged 7.6 yards a carry, but since Oregon has been loaded with running backs he's never had the lion's share of the workload.
So far, he has 338 rushing yards in three games and has taken over big time for Oregon at the running back spot. Because of his small size, he may have limited use. If a team is convinced he can be this year's Tavon Austin, who he has drawn comparisons to, then his playmaking ability could make him go much earlier than expected.
5. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
The top two wide receivers in the country bring the type of playmaking ability that only Tavon Austin came close to in last year's draft, and as a result both are expected to be first-round picks.
The first is Clemson's Sammy Watkins, who had an amazing freshman season back in 2011, and after taking a backseat last year appears to be back to top playmaking form, which included a 77-yard touchdown pass against Georgia.
That type of ability cannot simply be coached. Aside from his speed and ability to gain yards after the catch, he is confident in his abilities, going so far as to request that cornerbacks use press coverage on him if they want any shot at limiting his ability.
Watkins is a receiver who can play the game, there's no question in my mind about that. How he produces now that he's the top target over the course of the season will determine his draft stock as the draft inches closer.
4. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The USC Trojans ended up with a gem in Marqise Lee, a junior who has 1,721 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns last season, becoming perhaps the best WR draft prospect since A.J. Green.
Lee has been such a playmaker that he even overshadowed Robert Woods, who was a second-round draft pick last year in spite of the shadow. He has the speed to break away from receivers and gain yards, and he is able to evade defenders with ease as well.
At 6'0", Lee is a bit undersized, especially since most of the elite wide receivers in recent years have been rather tall. That has not hurt his ability to gain yards for USC, however, and if he can improve on his route-running ability, he could become an even better playmaker.
He has not showcased his abilities as much this year, perhaps due to opposing defenses concentrating on him in particular, but he has such explosive ability that even a comparatively subpar season should not hurt his draft stock much.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Johnny Manziel is going to be the most scrutinized player in whatever draft he decides to declare for, there's no question in my mind about that, and scouts can find plenty of reasons both to draft him and not to draft him.
When it comes to his playmaking ability, however, there's no question about that. After 26 touchdowns, 1,410 rushing yards and 3,706 passing yards his freshman season, he already has 12 touchdowns and a 70% completion percentage in his first four games, and may end up with an even better statline than last year.
On the draft front, the only major concern aside from his off-field issues is his height. In fact, it was the big question about his NFL future in a recent Los Angeles Times article, rather than his play-creating ability.
Unlike other sophomores who still have some room to grow, when I watch Manziel play I see someone whose skill set is already quite established, and that will only serve him better moving forward.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Marcus Mariota is just a sophomore and will likely not declare, but if he does, then he could be the player with the highest ceiling in this year's draft class.
Mariota has the best size-speed combination of the quarterbacks out there, and his 456 passing yards against Tennessee show that he has a great arm as well.
He has not been the most accurate passer, with a completion percentage of just under 60% this season. That being said, he is still growing from week to week, and if he's struggling in the passing game he is able to utilize his rushing game and remain a formidable weapon.
The biggest mark against him is running a simplistic scheme at Oregon, which means he may be limited to a dual threat-style scheme, and while that might hurt his draft status, it does not affect his position on this list, as his play style only enhances his playmaking abilities.
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
It's safe to say that Teddy Bridgewater is the best offensive player in the 2014 NFL Draft, and is likely the first overall pick. Is he the best offensive playmaker on top of that?
You would be hard pressed to find an argument against that. In his game against Kentucky, there were a few times he seemed rattled and unable to find receivers. What that tells me, however, is simply that he's not invincible, which no quarterback is going to be in the NFL.
In spite of having an off game once in a great while, Bridgewater has a quick passing release, a great arm, and is a smart and mature guy who will not have off the field troubles. For those who look at numbers, he has completed over 70% of his passes this year, and has 14 touchdowns to only one interception.
Bridgewater has been referred to as a taller Russell Wilson by Dane Brugler, but I see him more as a modified Andrew Luck, someone who can be athletic and make any play when needed. With that kind of skill set, it's no wonder he is considered a top pick.