The 2014 NFL draft class is shaping up to be a much stronger and much more star-studded group than the rather weak and much-criticized 2013 draft class.
Though big-name prospects such as Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney have been the headline-makers who have received the bulk of the attention and publicity so far this season, there are plenty of other talented prospects who are worthy of praise as well.
Now that we’ve reached the midpoint of the NFL regular season, there’s enough of a sample size to get a good feel for what each teams’ main weaknesses are and which areas they’ll likely need to address early in the 2014 draft. Also, the draft order has started to at least take some some semblance of shape, as the true contenders have begun to separate themselves from the pretenders.
Admittedly, a lot is bound to change between now and May 8 of next year. But at this point, here’s a look at my current projections for all 32 first-round picks, along with updated prospect rankings for each individual position.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Jacksonville appears to be on pace to set a new record for futility this season. Still, as hopeless as things now seem for the 0-8 Jaguars—who have been outscored by an astonishing 178 total points this season—there’s at least a light flickering at the end of the dark tunnel.
As the clear-cut favorite to end up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Jags should ultimately end up with a shot to select a savior signal-caller such as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
Mariota has been college football’s biggest star of the 2013 season, and he’s been the most impressive overall player in the country thus far. The 6’4’’, 211-pound redshirt sophomore has completed 64 percent of his passes, averaged over 10 yards per throw, tossed 20 touchdowns without an interception, rushed for 511 yards and accounted for 29 total touchdowns, as he’s led the Ducks to an 8-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
The dynamic dual-threat quarterback has the potential to be a Colin Kaepernick-esque difference-maker at the next level. Mariota’s an outstanding playmaker who could completely change the complexion of Jacksonville’s offense and, ultimately, the fortunes of the floundering franchise.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Like Jacksonville, Tampa Bay has also suffered through a dismal, winless season so far this year. However, also like the Jaguars, there is at least hope for a Bucs squad which would benefit greatly from finding a new young franchise quarterback to build around for the future.
There’s a chance that new potential franchise signal-caller could be Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater is one of the best pure passers that we’ve seen in college football in the last decade. The 6’3’’, 196-pound junior is a prototypical pro-style passer, who possesses tremendous arm strength, great touch and the natural playmaking instincts in the passing game that scouts surely love.
He’s also a natural leader who players will rally around, as evidenced by the fact that he’s helped revitalize a Cardinals program that was mired in mediocrity before his arrival.
The former blue-chip recruit from Miami would be the perfect player to lead his home-state team back to relevancy.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Minnesota’s quarterback troubles have been well-documented this year. However, the Vikings’ absolutely atrocious defense, which has allowed an average of 32 points per game, has been just as much to blame for their 1-6 start.
Obviously, the team will be looking to take a quarterback early in the 2014 draft. But if Minnesota doesn’t end up having a shot at either Marcus Mariota or Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings’ backup plan should be to select a standout defensive prospect such as South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
Though Clowney hasn’t lived to the unbelievable hype that was bestowed upon him during the offseason, there’s still no denying that the 6’6’’, 274-pound freakish physical specimen is a rare prospect who is loaded with potential.
The explosive edge-rusher has the potential to be a perennial All-Pro, and a dominant and dynamic defender in the NFL. Clowney would be a terrific replacement for Jared Allen, who is almost certain to be gone after his contract runs out at the end of the season.
Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
This past offseason, St. Louis tried to solidify its offensive line by signing left tackle Jake Long to a lucrative deal. However, Long’s presence will likely, in turn, open up a hole on the right side, as free-agent-to-be Rodger Saffold will probably look for left tackle money on the open market this offseason.
If Saffold leaves, as expected, the Rams could use one of their two first-round picks to find his replacement on the right side of the line.
Obviously, the tackle that Jeff Fisher would love to have the most is Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, the son of Hall-of-Famer Bruce Matthews—a player who Fisher coached during his time with the Oilers/Titans.
Matthews has been manning the left side of the Aggies line during his final season, but it seems that the 6’5’’, 305-pound senior would be best suited for right tackle at the pro level, which is a position he played for the first three years of his collegiate career.
Long and Matthews would certainly form quite a tackle tandem in St. Louis.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
Though Brian Hoyer showed some intriguing flashes during his limited time as a starter this season, unfortunately, his body of work was limited by a season-ending injury. That means the Browns will likely be looking to select a quarterback with one of their two first-round picks in the 2014 draft in order to finally stabilize the position.
Since Browns GM Mike Lombardi and Alabama coach Nick Saban have a close relationship that stems back to their days working together in Cleveland during the Bill Belichick era, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lombardi take a strong interest in Saban's current quarterback pupil, AJ McCarron.
Since the start of the 2012 season, his second year as a starter, McCarron has transformed from a game-manager into a game-changer, as he’s developed into one of the most efficient passers in all of college football.
The 6’4’’, 214-pound senior has been the face of college football’s biggest program, and he’s handled the pressure and the spotlight with great poise and tremendous leadership. From a talent standpoint, McCarron may not be the most awe-inspiring and physically gifted quarterback in the 2014 draft class, but he’s clearly got all the traits to be a successful starter at the pro level.
Ultimately, the two-time national championship-winner has the potential to be an even bigger and better version of Bengals QB Andy Dalton. He’s the type of highly successful winner and leader that the Browns desperately need behind center.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
The Rams’ run defense has just not been up to snuff this season. St. Louis has allowed an average of 116 rushing yards per game, and the team currently ranks 23rd in the league in run defense.
Michael Brockers may be a promising young tackle, and Kendall Langford is a solid veteran, but it’s clear that more help is needed inside in order to contend with the power rushing attacks of the top two teams in the NFC West, the Seahawks and the 49ers.
Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman is undoubtedly the top defensive tackle prospect in the 2014 draft class. He’s a player who would immediately help strengthen the interior of the Ram’s defense.
Though Hageman hasn’t received nearly the same amount of publicity as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, he’s a similar type of physical marvel as Clowney.
The 6’6’’, 311-pound senior is unbelievably explosive and agile for a player of his size, and he’s the type of player who will only continue to rise up draft boards during the postseason workout phase of the draft process.
Hageman may not play for a nationally recognized powerhouse program, but he is a unique talent who should gain a cult following among the NFL scouting community, just as Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe did leading up to the 2012 draft.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
The Steelers have managed to score just eight passing touchdowns in their first seven games, which is awful. Not only does Pittsburgh’s offense lack a dangerous red-zone receiving weapon, but the team's receiving corps also lacks size, as Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton are all under six-feet tall.
Ben Roethlisberger would greatly benefit from the addition of a big receiving target, who can create mismatches with his size and give Roethlisberger a wide catch radius to throw to.
That’s just what Texas A&M’s Mike Evans can offer.
After opening eyes and generating considerable buzz with an impressive debut season as a redshirt freshman last year, the 6’5’’, 225-pound Evans has now put together a true breakout performance in 2013. In eight games of action, he’s hauled in 48 catches, averaged over 22 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns.
Evans has solidified his status as an elite receiver prospect with a sensational sophomore season. He’s the type of big receiving weapon who would instantly add a new dynamic to the Steelers’ struggling offense.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
First-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, a Rex Ryan disciple, has installed a new-look hybrid defense in Buffalo this season. So far, the defense has shown some signs of promise, but it’s clear that the unit would benefit from adding another versatile, outside edge-rusher to the fold.
UCLA’s Anthony Barr is the type of tenacious, aggressive and physical outside linebacker who would add a valuable new dimension to Pettine’s defense.
Barr, a former running back who made the switch to the defensive side of the ball before the start of last season, has risen to incredible heights and he’s emerged as a true defensive star since making the transition.
The powerful 6’4’’, 248-pound sack-machine is the type of dangerous defender who would instantly make Buffalo’s defensive front-seven more intimidating.
Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
The Giants’ offensive line has been an utter disaster this season, and it’s been the team’s most glaring flaw—which is saying a lot, because New York certainly has a lot of them.
So how can New York clean up the mess in the trenches?
My solution would be to move short-armed rookie right tackle Justin Pugh inside to offensive guard, where he is better suited. Pugh, the team’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft, has struggled mightily in his first year, but he could ultimately be a solid long-term replacement for 33-year-old veteran David Diehl, who is in the last year of his contract.
Then, I would switch massively disappointing left tackle Will Beatty—whom, for some reason, the organization handed an utterly insane five-year, $37.5 million contract to this offseason—to the right side, where his lack of pass-blocking skills could at least be better masked.
Finally, I would spend a first-round pick in 2014 on a franchise left tackle prospect such as Florida State’s Cameron Erving.
Erving is soaring up draft boards, and it’s likely he’ll ultimately solidify his status as a top-10 pick by the time May rolls around. The 6’6’’, 320-pound former defensive tackle is unbelievably agile and physically gifted for a man of his size. He proved just how skilled he really is when he dominated the matchup with defensive end Vic Beasley in Florida State’s rout of Clemson a few weeks ago.
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
The Matt Schaub era in Houston has come to an unceremonious end this season.
It seems that the entire Texans fan base has completely turned on Schaub, following his poor performance in the first few weeks of the season. It’s almost a certainty that the organization will cut the struggling 32-year-old signal-caller loose once the season ends.
That means that the team will likely be looking for a new starting quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft. How ironic would it be if Houston selected Fresno State’s Derek Carr, the younger brother of former Texans quarterback David Carr?
Though David, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft, may have been a huge disappointment in Houston, Derek looks like he has the potential to have a much more successful pro career.
The 6’3’’, 205-pound senior has looked like a franchise-caliber quarterback prospect so far this season. Carr has completed 69 percent of his passes, tossed 25 touchdowns and thrown 36 passes of over 20 yards or more, which is tied with Teddy Bridgewater for 11th most in the nation. Most importantly, he’s led the Bulldogs to a 7-0 record, and he’s guided them into position to be a potential BCS buster.
Recently, former Eagles scout John Middlekauff tweeted that he would be “shocked if Carr isn’t a top-10 pick.” After seeing the way the Fresno State quarterback has performed so far, and after factoring in his intangibles and character, I agree with Middlekauff.
The Texans are a quarterback-needy team that will likely be picking in the top 10, so there’s a realistic possibility that they could end up being interested in the strong-armed signal-caller’s services.
It would certainly make for an interesting storyline.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The Raiders finally have a young quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, who the fan base can get excited about. Pryor is still raw, but he’s an incredibly gifted playmaker who has a bright future ahead of him.
In order for the explosive dual-threat quarterback to reach his full potential and grow into an efficient and consistent passer, however, Oakland will need to surround him with better weapons at the wide receiver position.
USC’s Marqise Lee is a perfect candidate to be the Raiders’ No. 1 receiving target of the future. After taking home the Biletnikoff Award after his sensational sophomore season in 2012, Lee has suffered through an injury-riddled campaign this year. However, he’s still clearly got the talent to be a top-15 pick in the 2014 draft.
If he can stay healthy in the pros, the 6’0’’, 195-pound junior has the potential to be the next Reggie Wayne.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Atlanta’s offense has been a big disappointment this season, but the rushing attack, in particular, has been terrible. The Falcons have managed to average just 62 yards on the ground per game this year, which is the lowest average in the entire league.
Over-the-hill 30-year-old veteran Steven Jackson certainly doesn’t appear to be the long-term solution in the backfield, which is why the Falcons could turn to the 2014 draft to find their running back of the future.
Though very few running backs receive first-round grades in this pass-happy era, the top rushing prospect in the 2014 draft class—Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon—is one of the rare rushers who deserves that kind of lofty ranking.
With Montee Ball gone, Gordon has had the chance to prove himself in a more expanded role in 2013, and he’s definitely made the most of the opportunity. The 6’1’’, 203-pound redshirt sophomore has averaged 9.5 yards on 107 carries, scored 11 touchdowns and totaled over 100 yards rushing in six of the seven games he’s played in.
The extremely explosive Badger back has all the tools and traits necessary to become an upper-echelon featured back in the pros.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Arizona had glaring offensive line woes, heading into the 2013 draft, which is why the team opted to select offensive guard Jonathan Cooper with the No. 7 overall pick. Though Cooper should develop into a stalwart starter in the interior, the line still has a noticeable hole to fill on the outside at left tackle.
The Cardinals didn’t have a shot at landing one of the top-three tackles in the 2013 draft class: Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel or Lane Johnson. However, there’s a good chance that they could land a talented young blindside protector such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan in 2014.
Lewan may not be quite the same caliber of elite prospect as former Wolverine Jake Long was when he was selected No. 1 overall in 2008, but the massive 6’8’’, 309-pound senior is still a complete tackle prospect who has all the skills to develop into the long-term leader of an NFL offensive line.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
After losing talented tight end Jared Cook this offseason, Tennessee now has a No. 2 tight end, Delanie Walker, masquerading as a No. 1 option at the position.
The Titans’ passing attack would clearly benefit from adding a big, athletic, seam-stretching tight end who can cause the same type of matchup problems as Cook once did.
The top tight end prospect in the 2014 class—North Carolina’s Eric Ebron—is exactly that type of player. Ebron has displayed eye-catching explosiveness this season, as he’s averaged 17 yards on 35 catches and scored three touchdowns.
The impressive-looking 6’4’’, 245-pound junior’s stock should only continue to climb during the workout phase of the draft process. By the time May rolls around, it’s likely Ebron will be considered a near lock to be the first tight end selected in the 2014 draft, and he could certainly be considered a potential top-20 pick.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
For those of you sports fans who enjoy thinking back and playing the “What If?” game, here’s a good question to ponder: what would have happened if Johnny Manziel had stuck with his original commitment to Oregon and ended up playing for Chip Kelly in Eugene?
Seeing the type of elite, dual-threat quarterback that Manziel has now developed into, it’s certainly fun to think about just how good he could have been in Kelly’s spread offensive system.
With Kelly now in the NFL, it’s potentially a pairing that maybe—just maybe—we could see one day soon in Philadelphia.
With Mike Vick heading out of town after this season and plenty of questions still surrounding Nick Foles, it’s likely that the Eagles will be looking for a quarterback early in the 2014 draft. Why not Manziel? His dynamic skill-set would certainly seem to be perfect for Kelly’s offensive system.
Yes, there’s no doubt that scouts will be concerned about the defending Heisman-winner’s attitude and maturity. But college football’s resident rock star has got the type of rare natural playmaking ability and charisma to outweigh those personality concerns. If he reaches his full potential, and if he learns how to be the true leader of an NFL locker room (admittedly, they are two pretty big "ifs"), Manziel could ultimately end up being a hybrid of Brett Favre and Steve Young.
Johnny Football is one of the most unique figures we’ve ever seen in college football, and Chip Kelly is one of the most unique coaches to come along in years.
It’s a theoretical coach-quarterback marriage that potentially could produce plenty of magic and excitement if given the chance.
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Miami opted not to give defensive tackle Randy Starks a long-term contract this offseason, instead choosing to stick Starks with the franchise tag. That means there’s a good chance this could be the 29-year-old tackle’s last year with the team.
If that ends up being the case, it’s likely that Miami will go searching for a young, explosive upfield penetrator in the 2014 draft to team with Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick.
One top defensive tackle prospect who fits that mold is Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan.
Jernigan is a former highly touted recruit who has really started to come into his own in 2013, as the 6’2’’, 292-pound junior has flourished in his new role as the focal point and leader of the Seminoles defensive line.
He’s totaled two sacks, five tackles for loss and 12 solo stops in his first seven games, and he’s been one of the key components of a Florida State defense which currently ranks within the top 10 nationally in both total defense and scoring defense.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Geno Smith has had an up-and-down rookie campaign so far. While Smith has made his fair share of bonehead mistakes, part of his struggles can be blamed on the fact that the Jets have one of the weakest groups of offensive skill-position talent in the league.
New York simply does not have a bona fide No. 1 receiving threat on its current roster. If the Jets want Geno to improve and reach his full potential, they’re going to have to find him some better and more dangerous weapons to throw to.
Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is a speedy and explosive big-play receiving threat who would form a powerful passing partnership with Smith.
After suffering through a sophomore slump in 2012, Watkins has seemingly regained the form he had back in 2011, when he became the biggest breakout freshman in college football. The 6’1’’, 205-pound junior has already caught 58 passes for 813 yards and scored five touchdowns in eight games this season, even though opposing defenses have been focusing most of their attention on keeping him contained.
Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame
After waving goodbye to Aubrayo Franklin and Antonio Garay during the offseason, the Chargers were basically forced to hand Cam Thomas the starting nose tackle job this year out of necessity. So far, Thomas hasn’t done much to slow down opposing rushing attacks. San Diego has allowed 4.8 yards per carry, which is currently tied for the highest average in the league.
If the run defense doesn’t improve over the second half of the season, the Bolts will likely go looking for a better option at nose tackle in the 2014 draft.
Notre Dame’s Louis Nix is the top 3-4 nose tackle prospect in the 2014 class, and he would be an instant upgrade over Thomas, who is in the final year of his rookie deal and may not be around next year anyway.
The massive and powerful 6’2’’, 342-pound junior may not make a ton of flashy plays, but he certainly knows how to use his size and strength to clog up running lanes and eat up double-teams. Nix may have been overshadowed by Manti Te’o in 2012, but now, he’s finally starting to garner the recognition he truly deserves.
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Charles Tillman has been one of the best cover corners in the league for the past few years. But now, the 32-year-old Tillman has really started to show his age, as he’s basically been either ineffective or injured for the majority of this season.
If the team chooses to bring back the veteran corner, who is in the final year of his contract, he’ll likely either move to safety or be in a more modified role in the future.
Because of Tillman’s regression, cornerback will probably be high on the Bears’ priority list for the 2014 NFL draft.
At this point, TCU’s Jason Verrett appears to be the top prospect in what is shaping up to be a loaded corner class.
Verrett has had a spectacular collegiate career. He’s displayed top-notch coverage ability and ball skills as well as a great deal of fearlessness and confidence. This season, the 5’10’’, 176-pound senior has picked off two passes and broken up 12 throws, even though quarterbacks have been hesitant to test him.
Though Verrett may not have the same type of size as Tillman, he makes up for his lack of height with impressive instincts in coverage and a natural feel for the game.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
After dealing with some serious criticism for his subpar performance in his second season, Cam Newton has looked revitalized so far in 2013. Newton has finally started to live up to the hype he attained, following his magnificent season at Auburn.
Still, it obviously wouldn’t hurt for the Panthers to find their young budding star quarterback some more receiving help, especially since 34-year-old Steve Smith is in the twilight of this career and Brandon LaFell is playing in the final year of his contract.
If Carolina chooses to spend its first-round pick in 2014 on a wide receiver, the team won’t be able to find a much more complete prospect than Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews.
After a breakout campaign in 2012, in which he led the SEC with 94 catches, Matthews has looked just as sharp so far this season, hauling in 66 passes for 890 yards and five touchdowns.
The 6’3’’, 206-pound senior is a big, athletic and sure-handed pass-catcher, and he would form a terrific tandem with Newton in Carolina.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Baltimore’s defense doesn’t currently feature a true No. 1 corner in the secondary. The deficiencies in the defensive backfield have been quite apparent this season, as the Ravens have allowed an average of eight yards per pass attempt, which is the fifth-highest average in the league.
The team will likely turn to the 2014 draft to find a young corner who can come in and help shore up the secondary. Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a player who could do just that.
Though Marcus Mariota has been the Duck who’s been hogging up all the attention so far this season, Ekpre-Olomu has quietly put together a very impressive campaign of his own in 2013. Ekpre-Olomu has been the leader of a secondary that has allowed just 5.3 yards per pass, which currently ranks third in the nation.
The 5’10’’, 185-pound junior may not possess elite size, but he’s a tough and confident cover man who has skills to go toe-to-toe with NFL wideouts.
Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
During the lead up to each of the past two drafts, there were rumors swirling that the Cowboys had an interest in the top safety prospect in both respective classes (Mark Barron in 2012 and Kenny Vaccaro in 2013).
Since they didn’t manage to land either player, and since safety is still a weak spot for Monte Kiffin’s new-look defense, it wouldn’t be shocking if we once again hear Dallas’ name connected to the top safety prospect in the 2014 draft class—Alabama’s Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix is Nick Saban’s latest star defensive back at Alabama, following in the footsteps of former first-round picks such as the aforementioned Barron, Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick and Kareem Jackson.
The 6’1’’, 208-pound junior is a former blue-chip recruit, who possesses the type of size, speed, physicality, instincts and radar for the football that you would expect from a Tide defender.
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Browns cornerback Joe Haden is undoubtedly one of the top young defensive players in the league, but the problem is that Cleveland lacks a proper complement to Haden on the other side of the field.
The front office can change that, though, by spending one of its two first-round picks on a corner to pair with Haden for the future.
The team may not have to go looking far to find that prospect. Ohio State’s Bradley Roby is a talented young corner who would be a terrific counterpart to Haden in Cleveland.
Though Roby has had a few rough outings in 2013—most notably against Wisconsin and Cal—the 5’11’’, 192-pound junior is still a speedy cover man who has shown a knack for coming up with crucial momentum-swinging plays during his three years as a starter in Columbus.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Detroit has the best overall wide receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson. Unfortunately, what the Lions don’t have is a true No. 2 receiver who could properly compliment Megatron and divert the attention of opposing defenses away from him.
Drafting a young receiver like LSU’s Odell Beckham, Jr. would solve that problem.
Beckham has been one of the most impressive receivers in college football this season. The explosive and electric 6’0’’, 187-pound junior has hauled in 48 catches, averaged 21 yards per reception, scored eight touchdowns and totaled 24 catches of over 20 yards, which currently ranks second in the country.
The dangerous home-run threat is a receiver who opposing secondaries would have to respect. Beckham is the type of playmaking pass-catcher who would form a tremendous 1-2 receiving punch with Johnson in Detroit.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Cincinnati weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the NFL’s young rising star defenders. However, the rest of Cincinnati’s linebacker corps—which features rapidly declining 35-year-old strong side linebacker James Harrison and mediocre middle linebacker Rey Maualuga—leaves a lot to be desired.
The Bengals could use upgrades at both positions, which is why they’ll likely be targeting a linebacker early in the 2014 draft.
Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is a talented and versatile prospect who has the skill-set to excel as either a strongside or middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense. He would be an instant upgrade over either Harrison or Maualuga.
Since being anointed the leader of Alabama’s defense at the start of the 2012 season, Mosley has managed to take his game to an elite level. After leading the Tide’s top-ranked defense with 107 tackles, including 66 solo stops and four sacks, last season, the 6’2’’, 232-pound senior is putting together another awesome All-American-caliber campaign in 2013.
The combination of Mosley and Burfict would give the Bengals one of the best linebacker tandems in the NFL for years to come.
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
If you’re searching for Seattle’s weak spot, it’s not really all that hard to find. The Seahawks’ offensive line just doesn’t seem to be equipped to hold up for the long haul this season, and it will likely be the team’s undoing in the playoffs.
With so much uncertainty surrounding oft-injured left tackle Russell Okung, it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see the the team target a tackle early in the 2014 draft.
Tennessee’s Antonio “Tiny” Richardson—a player who Pete Carroll’s former protege Lane Kiffin once recruited—could be a player the team could take a real interest in.
The 6’6’’, 327-pound Richardson is a gigantic tackle, who at the very least could be used as a road-grading run-blocking right tackle in the short-term. If Okung can’t hold down the fort on the left side, Richardson could eventually be switched to the other side of the line to protect Russell Wilson’s blind side.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
During his time with the Eagles, Andy Reid focused on strengthening his team in the trenches by often selecting offensive and defensive linemen early in the draft. In his first draft with Kansas City, Reid employed that same strategy by selecting offensive tackle Eric Fisher with the No.1 overall pick of the 2013 draft.
Fisher is clearly the lineman that the Chiefs want to build around for the future. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if they once again select another offensive lineman in the first round of the 2014 draft, especially if they have a shot at the top guard prospect in the class: Baylor’s Cyril Richardson.
The 6’5’’, 340-pound Richardson is a massive mauler who would strengthen the interior of Kansas City’s line. He would be an immediate improvement over either Jon Asamoah or Jeff Allen.
Though Reid struck out the last time he picked a Baylor guard in the first round (Danny Watkins), Richardson is basically the exact opposite type of prospect. He’s a big, nasty, tone-setting run-blocker who would be a great building block alongside Fisher.
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if the 49ers elect to use a high pick in the 2014 draft on a wide receiver, considering that Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are both returning from serious leg injuries, and also because Anquan Boldin and Kyle Williams are both playing in the last year of their contracts.
LSU’s Jarvis Landry is a gifted young receiver who would really boost San Francisco’s sluggish passing attack, which currently ranks 31st in the league, averaging just 190 yards through the air per game.
Just like his Tiger teammate Odell Beckham, Jr., Landry has flourished in Cam Cameron’s offense this season, catching 58 passes for 882 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games of action.
The 6’1’’, 195-pound junior is a former 5-star recruit, who has managed to live up to his high school hype. You won’t find many other receivers in college who can match Landry’s combination of athleticism, hands, focus and body control.
Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Denver may have the most powerful offense in the NFL. Ultimately, though, there’s a good chance that the Broncos defense—most notably the team’s spotty secondary—will let the team down in the playoffs once again this year.
The front office needs to find a way to improve a defensive backfield, which has allowed 7.8 yards per pass and given up 39 passes of more than 20 yards, which is the most in the league.
With Champ Bailey’s career winding down, the Broncos could turn to the 2014 draft, which will feature one of the deepest and most talented groups of cornerback prospects in the last decade, to find their No. 1 corner for the future.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert would be a terrific long-term replacement for Bailey, as he has all the tools to develop into a top-flight cover corner.
Coming into the 2013 season, everyone already knew about just how explosive of an athlete Gilbert is, given his knack for making big plays in the return game. But this year, the 6’0’’, 200-pound senior has proven that he can be a shutdown corner in coverage as well. He’s picked off four passes in just seven games and has been the centerpiece of a Cowboys secondary that has allowed just 5.8 yards per pass.
Gilbert’s stock is already soaring, and it will likely only continue to climb if he dazzles scouts with blistering times during workouts.
Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
One of the biggest surprises of the first half of the season was Rob Ryan’s remarkable revitalization of the Saints defense. After a historically bad performance in 2012, New Orleans’ new-look 3-4 defense has been mighty impressive in 2013, allowing an average of just 17 points and 332 yards per game.
The unit has obviously exceeded expectations. Still, there a few noticeable flaws that need to be corrected during the offseason, most notably at outside linebacker.
Junior Galette has the potential to be a solid starter, but the defense would definitely benefit from adding an explosive edge-rusher to complement him on the other side of the line.
Buffalo’s Khalil Mack is the type of chaos-causing pass-rushing threat who would be a great fit for Ryan’s defense. After gaining a reputation as one of the MAC’s most feared defenders during his first three seasons, Mack has now established himself as one of the top overall defensive prospects in the 2014 class with a spectacular showing during his final year.
The 6’3’’, 248-pound senior has totaled seven sacks, 54 tackles—including 32 solo stops and 11 tackles for loss—and he’s also picked off three passes, returning two of them for touchdowns.
Admittedly, Mack has dominated weaker competition in the MAC. Still, it’s obvious that he’s the type of ball-hawk and playmaker that should develop into a valuable defensive difference-maker at the next level.
Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
Over the last few years, Brandon Spikes has been one of the best run-stuffing inside linebackers in the league. This season, Spikes has once again looked impressive, as he’s totaled 50 tackles, including 28 solo stops. Unfortunately, his solid performance in a contract year will only serve to drive up his price tag once he hits the free-agent market after the season ends.
If the Patriots are unable to bring back Spikes, they could look for his replacement in the 2014 draft.
Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood is the type of big, athletic, highly distinctive and intelligent defender that Bill Belichick would love to have in the middle of his defense.
Since he plays for a winless Huskies squad, Smallwood hasn’t received much attention this season, but he’s certainly got the attention of the NFL scouting community. The 6’4’’, 236-pound junior has averaged a whopping 11 tackles per game, and he’s proven to be a high impact playmaker as well as a true defensive captain and leader.
Smallwood has the size, skills, intangibles and physical tools to become a solid starting Mike linebacker in a 4-3 defense in the NFL.
Weston Richburg, OC, Colorado State
Is Evan Dietrich-Smith anything more than a short-term stopgap solution at center?
That’s a question that the Packers will have to answer this offseason, once the former undrafted free agent’s contract runs out.
Though Dietrich-Smith has been decent since taking over the starting job from Jeff Saturday midway through last season, it’s clear that Green Bay could use an upgrade at the position. That’s why I believe the Packers could be one of the teams who takes a strong interest in the top center prospect in the 2014 draft class: Colorado State’s Weston Richburg.
Richburg may not be a household name just yet, but he’s a player who will continue to receive more attention as the draft draws closer. The 6’4’’, 300-pound senior is a four-year starter who has size, agility, toughness, intelligence and fundamentally sound technique that scouts look for in a top-flight center prospect.
After proving himself in a spotlight game against Alabama earlier in the season, Richburg’s stock is certainly on the rise. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be shocking if he finds a way to sneak into the latter part of the first round, just like Cowboy's rookie center Travis Frederick did in the 2013 draft.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (R-Soph.)*
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville (Jr.)*
3. AJ McCarron, Alabama
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State
5. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (R-Soph.)*
6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU
7. Tajh Boyd, Clemson
8. Jeff Mathews, Cornell
9. Aaron Murray, Georgia
10. David Fales, San Jose State
11. Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
12. Stephen Morris, Miami
13. Bryn Renner, North Carolina
14. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
15. Keith Price, Washington
16. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
17. Keith Wenning, Ball State
18. Derek Thompson, North Texas
19. Connor Shaw, South Carolina
20. James Franklin, Missouri
21. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
22. Denarius McGhee, Montana State
23. Chase Rettig, Boston College
24. Casey Pachall, TCU
25. Jamal Londry-Jackson, Appalachian State
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Blake Bortles, UCF
- Braxton Miller, Ohio State
- Brett Hundley, UCLA
- Brett Smith, Wyoming
- Bryce Petty, Baylor
- Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
- Devin Gardner, Michigan
- Kevin Hogan, Stanford
- Sean Mannion, Oregon State
- Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin (R-Soph.)*
2. Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (Jr.)*
3. Jeremy Hill, LSU (G-Soph.)*
4. De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon (Jr.)*
5. Bishop Sankey, Washington (Jr.)*
6. Charles Sims, West Virginia
7. Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona (Jr.)*
8. Marion Grice, Arizona State
9. Rajion Neal, Tennessee
10. Jerome Smith, Syracuse (Jr.)*
11. James White, Wisconsin
12. (FB) Trey Millard, Oklahoma
13. Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State (Jr.)*
14. Silas Redd, USC
15. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska (Jr.)*
16. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
17. Dri Archer, Kent State
18. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
19. Roderick McDowell, Clemson
20. Jeff Scott, Ole Miss
21. Michael Dyer, Louisville (Jr.)*
22. Alfred Blue, LSU
23. Damien Williams, Oklahoma
24. Stephen Houston, Indiana
25. LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Adam Muema, San Diego State
- Brendan Bigelow, California
- Devonta Freeman, Florida State
- Dominique Brown, Louisville
- George Atkinson III, Notre Dame
- Henry Josey, Missouri
- James Wilder Jr., Florida State
- Kenny Hilliard, LSU
- Storm Johnson, UCF
- Tre Mason, Auburn
1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M (R-Soph.)*
2. Marqise Lee, USC (Jr.)*
3. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (Jr.)*
4. Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
5. Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (Jr.)*
6. Jarvis Landry, LSU (Jr.)*
7. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (Jr.)*
8. DeVante Parker, Louisville (Jr.)*
9. Paul Richardson, Colorado (Jr.)*
10. Devin Street, Pittsburgh
11. Davante Adams, Fresno State (Jr.)*
12. Mike Davis, Texas
13. Cody Hoffman, BYU
14. Josh Huff, Oregon
15. Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma
16. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
17. Isaiah Burse, Fresno State
18. Tevin Reese, Baylor
19. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
20. Shaq Evans, UCLA
21. Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
22. Ryan Grant, Tulane
23. TJ Jones, Notre Dame
24. Robert Herron, Wyoming
25. Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Allen Robinson, Penn State
- Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- Brandon Coleman, Rutgers
- Cody Latimer, Indiana
- Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
- Jamison Crowder, Duke
- Jordan Leslie, UTEP
- Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
- Justin Hardy, East Carolina
- Rashad Greene, Florida State
1. Eric Ebron, North Carolina (Jr.)*
2. Jace Amaro, Texas Tech (Jr.)*
3. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington (Jr.)*
4. CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa
5. Arthur Lynch, Georgia
6. Ted Bolser, Indiana
7. Marcel Jensen, Fresno State
8. Justin Jones, East Carolina
9. Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
10. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
11. Trey Burton, Florida
12. Blake Jackson, Oklahoma State
13. Kaneakua Friel, BYU
14. Chris Coyle, Arizona State
15. Colt Lyerla (Jr.)*
16. Gabe Holmes, Purdue
17. Nexon Dorvilus, Florida Atlantic
18. Asa Watson, NC State
19. Alex Bayer, Bowling Green
20. Rob Blanchflower, UMass
21. Jordan Najvar, Baylor
22. Nehemiah Hicks, Texas A&M
23. Gator Hoskins, Marshall
24. Evan Wilson, Illinois
25. Justin Perillo, Maine
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- A.C. Leonard, Tennessee State
- Clive Walford, Miami
- Jake McGee, Virginia
- Jake Murphy, Utah
- Kyle Carter, Penn State
- Nick O’Leary, Florida State
- Randall Telfer, USC
- Richard Rodgers, California
- Rory Anderson, South Carolina
- Xavier Grimble, USC
1. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2. Cameron Erving, Florida State (Jr.)*
3. Taylor Lewan, Michigan
4. Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (Jr.)*
5. James Hurst, North Carolina
6. Morgan Moses, Virginia
7. Zack Martin, Notre Dame
8. Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State
9. Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee
10. Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt
11. Charles Leno, Boise State
12. Kevin Graf, USC
13. Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
14. Seantrel Henderson, Miami
15. Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
16. Rob Crisp, NC State
17. Kenarious Gates, Georgia
18. Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
19. Michael Schofield, Michigan
20. Billy Turner, North Dakota State
21. Donald Hawkins, Texas
22. Joel Bitonio, Nevada
23. Matt Hall, Belhaven
24. Davonte Wallace, New Mexico State
25. Matt Patchan, Boston College
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Brandon Scherff, Iowa
- Cameron Fleming, Stanford
- Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
- Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama
- Eric Lefeld, Cincinnati
- Jake Fisher, Oregon
- La’El Collins, LSU
- Sean Hickey, Syracuse
- Spencer Drango, Baylor
- Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
1. Cyril Richardson, Baylor
2. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
3. Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
4. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (Jr.)*
5. Anthony Steen, Alabama
6. Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
7. Antwan Lowery, Rutgers
8. Travis Swanson, Arkansas
9. John Urschel, Penn State
10. Spencer Long, Nebraska
11. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
12. Dakota Dozier, Furman
13. Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
14. Chris Elkins, Youngstown State
15. Brandon Linder, Miami
16. Chris Watt, Notre Dame
17. Jon Halapio, Florida
18. Zach Fulton, Tennessee
19. Bryan Stork, Florida State
20. Kadeem Edwards, Tennessee State
21. Chris Burnette, Georgia
22. Will Simmons, East Carolina
23. Zac Kerin, Toledo
24. Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
25. Mason Walters, Texas
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- AJ Cann, South Carolina
- Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
- David Yankey, Stanford
- Josue Matias, Florida State
- Malcolm Bunche, Miami
- Russell Bodine, North Carolina
- Ryan Kelly, Alabama
- Trai Turner, LSU
- Tre Jackson, Florida State
- Xavier Su’a-Filo, UCLA
1. Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
2. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State (Jr.)*
3. Louis Nix, Notre Dame (Jr.)*
4. Will Sutton, Arizona State
5. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
6. Dominique Easley, Florida
7. DaQuan Jones, Penn State
8. Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State
9. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
10. Caraun Reid, Princeton
11. DeAndre Coleman, California
12. Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
13. Bruce Gaston, Purdue
14. Demonte McAllister, Florida State
15. Jay Bromley, Syracuse
16. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
17. Byran Jones, Arkansas
18. Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss
19. Robert Thomas, Arkansas
20. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
21. Levi Brown, Temple
22. Ashton Dorsey, Texas
23. Zach Kerr, Delaware
24. Beau Allen, Wisconsin
25. Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected To Return
- Anthony Johnson, LSU
- Carl Davis, Iowa
- Christian Covington, Rice
- Danny Shelton, Washington
- George Uko, USC
- Grady Jarrett, Clemson
- Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
- Leon Orr, Florida
- Michael Bennett, Ohio State
- Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
1. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (Jr.)*
2. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (Jr.)*
3. Scott Crichton, Oregon State (Jr.)*
4. Kareem Martin, North Carolina
5. Vic Beasley, Clemson (Jr.)*
6. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
7. Michael Sam, Missouri
8. Trevor Reilly, Utah
9. Cassius Marsh, UCLA
10. Chaz Sutton, South Carolina
11. Jonathan Newsome, Ball State
12. Chris Smith, Arkansas
13. Ben Gardner, Stanford
14. James Gayle, Virginia Tech
15. Taylor Hart, Oregon
16. Josh Mauro, Stanford
17. Denico Autry, Mississippi State
18. Dee Ford, Auburn
19. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
20. J.R. Collins, Virginia Tech
21. Ed Stinson, Alabama
22. Ethan Westbrooks, West Texas A&M
23. Darryl Cato-Bishop, NC State
24. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
25. Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Aaron Lynch, South Florida
- Brock Hekking, Nevada
- Henry Anderson, Stanford
- Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama
- Kony Ealy, Missouri
- Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
- Marcus Rush, Michigan State
- Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
- Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
- Trey Flowers, Arkansas
1. Anthony Barr, UCLA
2. CJ Mosley, Alabama
3. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
4. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut (Jr.)*
5. Trent Murphy, Stanford
6. Kyle Van Noy, BYU
7. Shayne Skov, Stanford
8. Christian Jones, Florida State
9. Jonathan Brown, Illinois
10. AJ Johnson, Tennessee (Jr.)*
11. Morgan Breslin, USC
12. Telvin Smith, Florida State
13. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
14. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State
15. Max Bullough, Michigan State
16. James Morris, Iowa
17. Keith Smith, San Jose State
18. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
19. Prince Shembo, Notre Dame
20. Steven Jenkins, Texas A&M
21. Devon Kennard, USC
22. Lamin Barrow, LSU
23. Greg Blair, Cincinnati
24. Jeremiah George, Iowa State
25. Xavius Boyd, Western Kentucky
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Adrian Hubbard, Alabama
- Amarlo Herrera, Georgia
- Carl Bradford, Arizona State
- Denzel Perryman, Miami
- Eric Kendricks, UCLA
- Hayes Pullard, USC
- Jake Ryan, Michigan
- Ronald Powell, Florida
- Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
- Trey Depriest, Alabama
1. Jason Verrett, TCU
2. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon (Jr.)*
3. Bradley Roby, Ohio State (Jr.)*
4. Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
5. Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (Jr.)*
6. Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
7. Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
8. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
9. Jaylen Watkins, Florida
10. Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
11. Byron Jones, Connecticut (Jr.)*
12. Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State
13. Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
14. E.J. Gaines, Missouri
15. Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech
16. Bene Benwikere, San Jose State
17. Deion Belue, Alabama
18. Osahon Irabor, Arizona State
19. Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
20. Ross Cockrell, Duke
21. Dexter McDougle, Maryland
22. Marcus Williams, North Dakota State
23. Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame
24. Carrington Byndom, Texas
25. Jimmy Legree, South Carolina
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Blake Countess, Michigan
- Damian Swann, Georgia
- Demetrious Nicholson, Virginia
- Jalen Collins, LSU
- Marcus Roberson, Florida
- Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
- Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
- Quandre Diggs, Texas
- Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
- Wayne Lyons, Stanford
1. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama (Jr.)*
2. Craig Loston, LSU
3. Terrence Brooks, Florida State
4. Calvin Pryor, Louisville (Jr.)*
5. Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky (Jr.)*
6. (CB) Antone Exum, Virginia Tech
7. Hakeem Smith, Louisville
8. Tre Boston, North Carolina
9. Sean Parker, Washington
10. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
11. Deone Bucannon, Washington State
12. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
13. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
14. Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
15. Tevin McDonald, Eastern Washington (Jr.)*
16. Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State
17. Christian Bryant, Ohio State
18. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
19. Jeremy Deering, Rutgers
20. Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
21. Alden Darby, Arizona State
22. Julien David, Howard
23. Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
24. Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
25. Nat Berhe, San Diego State
The Top 10 Underclassmen Who Are Projected to Return
- Adrian Amos, Penn State
- Corey Moore, Georgia
- Derron Smith, Fresno State
- Dion Bailey, USC
- Ed Reynolds, Stanford
- Erick Dargan, Oregon
- Jordan Richards, Stanford
- Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
- Kyshoen Jarrett, Virginia Tech
- Ronald Martin, LSU